In many cases, longtime volunteers don’t just help tell your organization’s story – they ARE the story.
If you have volunteers who’ve been connected since your organization’s founding, they can help frame the problem your org set out to solve and outline how successfully initiatives have fulfilled the mission over the years. Like strong finances, volunteer retention can help paint a picture about the health of an organization.
Effectively managing and motivating volunteers means you’ll save time and effort with recruitment and training. But don’t simply count the years of service and print them on a certificate to present at your annual recognition event. Leverage that knowledge to ‘promote’ volunteers to take on a leadership role.
United Way of Central Iowa does just that with seasoned volunteers in their VITA tax preparation program. Of nearly 200 certified volunteers, about 20 are tapped to serve as site leaders.
“We look for long-timers and people who are natural-born leaders,” says Holly Sagar, who manages the program. “We have a former head of the county health department and a CFO. People who have stepped up their entire lives.”
These site leaders go through extra training, but Sagar says that in her 10 years of volunteer management experience, relationship-building and engagement is what converts casual volunteers into dedicated team leaders.
“We put a white board in the break-room where we ask ‘What do you see?’ and ‘What do we need to change?’ – and then we try to make it happen, Sagar says. She thinks this attitude is what gives their program an 86% retention rate.
Having a deep bench of seasoned volunteers provides many advantages – but it’s helpful to be aware of some potential drawbacks, too.
There are huge benefits to having the institutional knowledge that comes from volunteer longevity, but it also means new initiatives might be met with resistance. Identify longtime volunteers who can serve as advisers and champions of change if, say, your mentoring program wants to institute annual background checks or other best practices that haven’t been traditionally used. Ask them how they think the new policies and procedures impact their fellow volunteers, and test messaging with them to make sure your communication hits the right mark.
Relationships are key to fundraising, and longtime volunteers might have stronger community ties than a new executive director. Perhaps this means they can open doors for development staff, or fill in gaps about past communications with donors.