Are you Being Strategic with Volunteer Retention?

Guestpost by James McBryan, Founder, Track it Forward

There’s no point in recruiting volunteers if you can’t retain them.  

As you know, advertising volunteer opportunities, convincing volunteers to apply, and then having them come to their first gig is a lot of work!  However, if they leave after the first volunteer event, you definitely have a retention problem.  

You’ve got a leaky bucket.  

In the world of business buzz words, we are talking about your sales funnel or, more specifically, your customer acquisition cost versus retention cost, or churn.   Whatever words you want to use, the obvious goal is to maximize retention.  

Below is a strategic guideline to help you improve your retention problem.


  1. Measure your retention rate

This may sound like a superfluous step, but if you don’t know what’s broken, you won’t be able to fix it.  Create a spreadsheet of all your volunteers in the last 3-6 months and see how far they made it through your onboarding workflow.  For example, how many sent in an inquiry, of those how many went through training, how many showed up at the first event, how many showed up at a second event, a third event, etc.  This can be achieved with a simple spreadsheet.  If your retention percentage is 100%, good for you!  But if it’s below 50%, then you’ve got a problem.

  1. Interview those that dropped out

Talk with each individual and find out why they stopped volunteering.  I’d have at least 10 conversations minimum and see if there’s a trend between all of them.  You may find out that the volunteer was placed incorrectly, or maybe they couldn’t see the impact that they would create, or maybe they all wanted to volunteer once in the first place.  Once you identify a trend, you can actually go out and do something to fix it.

  1. Execute a volunteer driven solution

Now that you’ve identified the problem and have data supporting, getting buy-in and having confidence that it will work is really easy.  You can start your solution with your existing base of volunteers and re-engage them before they completely disappear altogether.  If a volunteer was placed incorrectly, you can easily assign them to a new volunteer environment and see if they stick.  Or if they don’t really feel like they’re making an impact, send an email blast out to each of them illustrating what they achieved for your organization’s larger goal.  Expect to experiment with a couple of these strategies.  Get creative; anything is better than nothing.

  1. Make that solution stick

Once you’ve tried out a couple of solutions, pick the one that creates the maximum retention increase compared to the work put in.  I say pick one because it takes work to do retention strategies, and it’s easier to see the results with one than many.  Start by getting one win, then build off the next one if it’s necessary.
Increasing retention sounds like a full-time job, but it isn’t.  You could try this out a couple hours a week and just for a month or two.  

If you’ve never done anything like this before, you’ll get the low hanging fruit really quickly and increase your retention dramatically.  If you have done this before, then take this as a challenge to see if you can be data and volunteer driven and create longer lasting solutions that push your retention rates even higher.


James McBryan of Track it ForwardJames McBryan is an author, serial volunteer organizer, and founder of Track it Forward, an online and mobile tool to actually get volunteers to track hours.  If you do volunteer organizing only on the side, you have to read his blog designed for the part-time volunteer organizer that translates workplace management to volunteer management.