As part of our study of green organisations working with volunteers in Bristol, 62 green organisations completed surveys and 14 were interviewed. Through this process we learned more about how organisations in Bristol are going about retaining their volunteers. From the interviews we learned how some of the organisations who have long term success retaining large numbers of volunteers go about it. Volunteer retention is the goal of any volunteer organisation. In an ideal world you'd only have to recruit once for all your needs and for your volunteers to stick around for as long as you need them. Of course in reality life intervenes and most organisations find themselves recruiting volunteers on a rolling basis. However there are still those lucky few who have a high number of long term volunteers, how do those organisations do it? What are they doing differently to everyone else? And how can you enjoy the same level of success? Volunteer recruitment and retention were the most difficult areas of the survey to find patterns. It is possible this is down to the personal experience and opinion of the person taking the survey. Organisations who have no team member, paid or voluntary, working on volunteer recruitment and retention find it the most difficult to recruit volunteers. For green organisations in Bristol they described volunteer recruitment as 'not difficult' however they described volunteer retention as 'challenging'. When volunteers make a decision to volunteer they often go in with an expectation of what that experience will be like, how much time they will spend and what they will get out of it. Several organisations told us that being clear about these things in the role description and induction was vitally important to making sure you found the right volunteer and consequently they stick around. Lizzie Spencer from Windmill Hill City Farm explained how important they had found a good induction to be, 'we're trying to develop the induction so that people get a good introduction to the organisation and their role, and that helps to keep people. That's a chance to manage expectations about what the role is. That's when it can go wrong, when someone comes and thinks that they are doing something that they're not or they're just not getting out of it what they thought, it can be difficult.' Viv Munday from Sustrans says Sustrans views volunteers as a core part of their business and greatly appreciates their input, consequently they go out of their way to demonstrate that to volunteers. 'We keep in touch with them but many are self-sustaining. Their groups have regular meetings and we try to go out and work side by side with them once a year. When we go to their meetings we are engaged and listen to what they are saying.' Training is a great way to demonstrate to your volunteers that you appreciate their contribution. Sometimes if training is extensive it is worth asking your volunteers to commit to the organisation for a specific length of time, this can help you plan for the future. Depending on the volunteer and what's going on in their life though this could be asking for too much of a time commitment may make them consider to leaving. For many volunteers training can help them build confidence in what they are doing which will encourage them to stay. For many people volunteering is a doorway to a future career, and while they may leave to continue training or get a job, they will often return higher skilled and more passionate to help again in the future. Sophie Bull at St Werburgh's City Farm understands how a volunteer might go from a one-time drop-in volunteer to a regular, 'if someone identifies, they enjoy being at Boiling Wells, they've come to some taster sessions they want to come more regularly, they want to learn how to coppice hazel or do something more specific, then we'll be able to provide some training to do that and upskill that person.' Training is not the only factor; general support of your volunteers is also appreciated and can help build confidence. This may lead to employment, or it may just lead to your volunteers doing more for your organisation and becoming a more effective volunteer. Sara Venn from Incredible Edible explains how she builds up confidence in the volunteers who are looking after local gardens. 'We support the people who run the gardens in the way they need supporting. Quite a few people don't actually need that much and just want you to turn up once a month at their work party and pat them on the back, acknowledge that they're doing fine and show them how to solve some problems. Other people need real handholding and constant nudging, but it is about just looking at the individual and recognising what that person needs.' Measuring the impact of your volunteers have can be useful for several reasons: When applying for funding being able to define the impact your volunteers have previously had can really support an application. When talking to directors or trustees about increasing budget for volunteer recruitment or appreciation it is much more effective if you can give some value to the work your volunteers contribute to the organisation, whether by: Working out the monetary value of the hours they contribute Providing before and after pictures of improvements they have made Asking your service users to provide testimonials about the impact your volunteers have had on your service users lives. If you can share the impact your volunteers have had over a quarter of a year on social media, your website and newsletters it will demonstrate your appreciation to current volunteers, help them recognise their value and make them feel good. It will also inspire and encourage people not currently volunteering to have a go.
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