Reducing Volunteer Turnover

Turnover is a natural part of any organization. We all know how difficult it can be to recruit and train good people. And any nonprofit leader will tell you losing valuable team members can be a terrible blow.

I can’t admit to having done extensive research on this topic, but I have had my share of conversations with volunteers over the last several years and here are the top 10 reasons I have heard:

  1. Relocation
  2. Burnout
  3. New opportunities
  4. Family Issues
  5. Hurt by other volunteers / the organization
  6. Not enough time
  7. Not using their gifts
  8. Don’t feel needed
  9. Lost their interest
  10. Not what they expected

There are some reasons that a volunteer leaves that we have no control over such as relocation and family issues. But most of the others on this list are things that can be prevented.

Here are a couple of practical ways you can stop unnecessary volunteer turnover.

Regular team check-ups – Are you taking the time to check-in with your team on a regular basis? This may feel like an overwhelming task, but it doesn’t need to be. Set a calendar reminder to walk by x-amount of volunteers and have a quick conversation. It doesn’t need to be a long or an in-depth counseling session. Just start with a simple question or two, “How are you doing? Is everything going okay? Do you like what you are doing? Are there any issues? Can I help with anything?”

Reassess current volunteer roles – Are the right people in the right positions? In smaller organizations we usually just need bodies…forget about finding the ‘right person’ for the role! But research shows that (especially among Millenials), people get the most value out of serving when they are using their gifts, skills, and interests.

Focus on team health – Sometimes people need to take a break. At our church, we have the rule, “attend one, serve one” where volunteers attend a service for their spiritual growth and then serve at the next one. We also encourage volunteers to take a couple weeks (or months) off when they need it. Family issues, health, even just a well-deserved break. I hate the thought of anyone on my team feeling burned-out. Volunteers who are growing spiritually and practicing good self-care are healthy volunteers! They are the ones who serve with excellence and make the organization look good.

Say “Thank You” – It’s incredible how often this simple practice gets overlooked. I think as leaders we sometimes get so busy that we forget how powerful a simple expression of our gratitude can be to our team. People need to know that the work they are doing counts – no matter how small the role they play.



Christina Angelakos has a doctorate in Strategic Leadership from Regent University. She loves working with teams in both the corporate and nonprofit marketplace. Follow her on Twitter @ChristinaAngel

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