11 May 2021 | 2 min read


Here we are in week four of our Back to Basics series, and this time we’re covering the topic of ENCOURAGEMENT. What do we mean by encouragement? This step in the lifecycle of your volunteer focuses on retention. Now that you have your dream team recruited and trained, our objective should be to keep them. According to the Urban Institute, nonprofits interested in increasing retention should recognize volunteers, offer training and professional development. 


Other than recruitment, retention is one of the biggest challenges volunteer managers say they find most overwhelming. And we get it. After all the work of finding and training team members, it can be disheartening to see them drop out. But there’s hope! Read on to see our top four tips on encouraging your team. 


1) Don’t Get Worked Up by the Numbers

It’s important to know that you should expect a certain amount of volunteer turnover. In the United States, the volunteer retention rate tends to be between 52% – 75% (depending on the state). Volunteers leaving for life changes, family responsibilities, a move, or any other hundreds of reasons is a natural part of the process. Don’t get discouraged when you see team members drop off. It’s normal. 


2) Speak Multiple “Languages”

Recognition and gratitude are huge parts of the retention process. But not all of your team feels valued by the same efforts. Not everyone is excited to get a plaque during a team dinner. For some, a high-five or thank you note is way more meaningful. The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace is a fantastic book that can help you “translate”. In the book, Chapman and White break down the five primary ways people receive love in the workplace and how leaders can boost the way they make their team feel valued. Trust us. This book will take your appreciation skills to the next level.  


3) Make a Plan

Michael Hyatt is famous for his quote, “What gets scheduled gets done.” And for a good reason. Kevin Kruse conducted interviews with over 200 billionaires, Olympians, straight-A students, and entrepreneurs, and one of the common themes he found among all the interviewees? Ultra-productive people keep to their schedules. So why bring this up for volunteer managers? Because one of the most severe derailers of a retention strategy is actually carrying it out. Schedule encouragement. Put it on your calendar—set alarms on your phone. Put sticky notes around your office. Whatever it takes. But whatever you do, go in with a plan. 


4) Keep it Authentic

If you’re going to develop meaningful relationships with your team, give up on any perfectionism tendencies. Skip the urge to be polished. Instead, focus on being authentic. Authenticity isn’t about being overly transparent. It’s about letting go of the fear that comes from caring what other people think. Authenticity is a practice. So don’t worry about making gratitude or recognition look good. Don’t take forever searching for the perfect words for that thank you. Fight the urge to make yourself look good. Instead, focus on the team and how to make them feel engaged and needed.