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Current nonprofit sector research and recommendations for effective day-to-day practice from ASU faculty, staff, students, and the nonprofit and philanthropic community.
If you research the topic of volunteer retention, you will find many lists of “best practices” or “high priority” tasks for nonprofit managers. While these lists are valuable, and applicable to specific types of nonprofits, it is difficult to find a list that can be applied to the majority of nonprofits, regardless of mission and size.
The following list contains best practices that are easy to implement across a wide range of nonprofits. They are also common-sense solutions, which can be easily understood and transferred into practice. These practices are mutually beneficial to volunteers and nonprofit organizations.
1. Create Clear Job Descriptions – State the title of the position, what job duties are included, what type of environment volunteers will be working in, and the name of the person they report to. Most importantly, state the mission of the organization, and show how the position directly contributes to the accomplishment of that mission.
Why Is This Important? Volunteers want to know what they are getting in to before they sign on for a job. Creating a clear, concise job description gives them a good idea of what will be required of them, and allows a chance to ask questions. Nonprofit managers can save time and money by screening out volunteers who are not ready to commit to the task at hand.
2. Ensure Good Matches Through Onboarding – Going through an onboarding process further orients the volunteer to the organization. It also allows them to connect personally with a staff member. Onboarding does not have to be extensive or cumbersome. It could be as simple as showing a volunteer the work space and making introductions.
Why Is This Important? Volunteers need to feel like an important part of the team. A welcoming environment can calm nerves and help the volunteer save time trying to find simple answers to “newbie” questions. Nonprofit managers can use this process to complete necessary forms and connect with the volunteer on a personal level.
3. Empower Volunteers for Independence – Volunteers want to use their time wisely, and most of them do not desire or require constant supervision. When volunteers have demonstrated competence in a certain task, nonprofit managers can be hands-off and allow them to work with less supervision.
Why Is This Important? It gives volunteers autonomy, and makes them an important part of the organization. Too much supervision can cause volunteers to lose their motivation and interest in the cause. Nonprofit managers can use their time for other tasks and may find these empowered volunteers to be a great source of insight and valuable feedback.
4. Communicate Regularly with Volunteers – With today’s technology, nonprofit managers have many different modes of communication at their disposal. Social media, email blasts and social networking sites can be used to keep volunteers in the loop. Sharing important events and milestones with volunteers keeps them connected to the team.
Why Is This Important? Volunteers who feel connected are more likely to be of service to the organization again. It may bolster productivity and allow volunteers another avenue to express their support. Nonprofit managers can benefit from quick means of communication at little cost.
5. Recognize the Efforts of Volunteers – Everybody wants to feel that his or her work is important and noticed. Simple acts of gratitude, like a note of thanks, or a “shout out” on Facebook can keep a volunteer going for a long time.
Why Is This Important? Recognition and appreciation make people feel good. People who feel good about the organization and work they are doing are more likely to be motivated to continue doing that work. Nonprofit managers can practice their appreciation skills, and get in the habit of giving out positive feedback.
Jill Robeck is a graduate student of the Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at ASU. She currently resides in Minnesota with her husband and three children.