Donors Aren’t the Only Ones: 3 Volunteer Retention Horror Stories

Your organization’s mission is the best. How could it not be? After all, you’re passionate about the cause and would do everything it takes to make your mission happen. But new volunteers don’t magically start with that mindset. You’ve got to make them believe it.

We’ve always been taught not to judge a book by its cover, and yet, first impressions can make or break your organization—especially with volunteers. Last week, we talked about donor retention horror stories that sent these donors packing. But donors aren’t the only ones.

Volunteers are just as important to the success of your mission. And these volunteer retention horror stories only needed to happen once before the volunteers went screaming for their lives.

There Was a Lack of Communication

The Story: The volunteer showed up to an organization excited and ready to lend a helping hand. The only problem is, when the volunteer arrived there was nobody there to ensure that everything was taken care of. Nobody to ensure that the volunteer was in the right place. Nobody to give instructions to the volunteer. Basically, the volunteer was left flying blindly. And to make matters worse, there was no follow-up after the already traumatic volunteer experience.

The Fix: You’re busy. But that doesn’t mean that your organization has an excuse for not thoroughly communicating with volunteers. If you really care about the success of your mission, you’ll take the time to make sure that they feel comfortable with their tasks.

Make sure that your organization has considered all possible aspects of the volunteer experience. Send them mail or email that keeps them in the loop leading up to their time volunteering. Then, don’t forget to thank your volunteers after the process is over. If they feel like their time was worth it, they’ll be more likely to come back.

You Were Condescending Toward the Volunteer

The Story: The volunteer arrived at the organization expecting to receive instructions… but not like this. The organization heads talked down to the volunteers and treated them like they were just there to do all of the dirty work that nobody else wanted to do. Plus, the volunteer received basic instructions that a five-year-old could understand. The organization completely insulted the intelligence of the new volunteer by repeating instructions too many times.

The Fix: It’s not like your organization or employees set out with the mindset to be condescending toward your volunteers. Granted, there are tons of rules that need to be followed for safety reasons and to ensure your organization is represented properly. But there’s a fine line between covering your bases and being condescending.

If you’ve done the volunteer selection process correctly, you should already trust the volunteers when they come for training or for their first day volunteering. If you want to keep volunteers coming back for more, you’ve got to trust your original instincts that they’ll do a great job with the instructions you give.

You Didn’t Explain the Mission

The Story: You know what they say about people who assume. Or, if you don’t, let’s just say you should never assume. This volunteer was placed in an organization and knew little about it. And even though the volunteer showed up and received instructions on how to do the volunteer work, they never understood how the work was actually helping the mission. Plus, the organization failed to fully explain the mission in detail in the first place.

The Fix: It’s vital that everybody understands the common goal. While some organizations have a fairly obvious goal in mind (think Red Cross or something similar), it’s not always as plain to see. All you need to do is clarify that the volunteer understands why they’re doing what they’re doing. If they’re on board with the “why” they’re more likely to be emotionally connected.

Overall, don’t underestimate the value and importance of your volunteers. They’re here to help you achieve your mission. Prove to them that your organization is worth helping, and make them feel worthwhile.

We want to know—what’s the more cringe-worthy volunteer retention story you’ve ever heard or had happen to yourself?


Lyndsey Hrabik

Lyndsey is a former editor for Nonprofit Hub and Nonprofit Hub Magazine. She now serves as a guest contributor, writing on topics such as social media, technology, marketing and starting a nonprofit.

August 13, 2013

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