Here at Volunteer University, we have learned that encouragement (thanking, motivating, and showing value to your team) is a vital element of a good retention strategy. 

But here’s the catch, it is not enough to encourage your team. You have to do it consistently. Don’t wait until once a year to show appreciation. For an encouragement strategy to be impactful, it needs to be constant, and it has to be done over time. 

Reliability Vs. Validity. 

In research, there are the concepts of Reliability and Validity. Reliability refers to how consistently a method measures something. It is reliable if you can consistently achieve the same result by doing the same thing in the same settings. Validity refers to how accurately a method measures what it is supposed to. We use these concepts when working on encouragement strategies. What works for your team? Is your encouragement strategy reliable – do you get results by doing the same things over time? Is it valid – producing the results you want (happier volunteers who stay longer in your organization)? 

Encouragement Needs To Be Consistent Over Time. 

There is something powerful about time. How often have you had a leader introduce a plan and stick to it for a while, only to see it fizzle out after a few weeks or months? Trust needs time to grow. Your encouragement strategy will gain more power as time passes. It will gather momentum as your team sees you consistently value them and their efforts. Encouragement means much more when practiced over greater lengths of time. Commit to your encouragement strategy. Make it a part of your lifestyle and work habits until it becomes as natural as breathing or checking your email. Your followers will feel the difference between a long-term strategy. 

Be Creative. 

Now is your chance to get imaginative and find ways to prove your gratitude. Keeping things fresh and genuine is important, especially since encouragement is a long-term strategy. You don’t want your team to feel that encouragement is something you do without thinking. It should be heartfelt and meaningful. And your team should feel your sincerity. So try to think out of the box when you come up with ways to show your team they are valued. You don’t have to stick to the same old ways of appreciating your team that other Volunteer Managers follow. Discover ways that are unique to your organization’s culture and style. Make it fit the team’s preferences. Don’t feel stuck doing things a certain way because that is how everyone else does it. Your encouragement strategy has to work for you and your team, no one else. 

Don’t Overthink It. 

Don’t make encouragement more complicated than it needs to be. Send handwritten cards. Make calls. Give a high five to a team member as you pass them in the hallway. Hand out company swag items like mugs or shirts. Tell your team how much you value their efforts. You don’t have to make it a big deal. Simple can be just as effective if it’s sincere. But make it a habit. 


We recently released our new book: VOL U 101: Introduction to Volunteering. It may sound like an introductory course in volunteer management, but don’t let the title fool you. The book covers everything from volunteer recruitment to retention and everything in between. It’s a fantastic resource for anyone who leads teams. Get your copy HERE

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