Back to Blogs.

Quality or quantity of volunteers? What over 1,000 conversations have taught us

After so many conversations, we have noticed a trend in between these two ideals, in particularly, when they should (and should not) be the primary focus.
Volaby Voice Thumbnails

If you can’t be everywhere at once for your organisation, where should you be focusing your time for the best outcome?

In a perfect world, the most obvious response to this topic would be… well why not both right?

Ideally yes, however we unfortunately don’t live in a perfect world, and given our already incredibly busy lives, it is probably best we try only focus on one thing at a time for the more optimal outcome.

But… which one is the right one to focus on?

Firstly, what do we mean by the quality and quantity of volunteers? Well;

Quantity of volunteers is pretty standard and refers to the actual number of volunteers, i.e. it is important to just have ‘boots on the ground’ and as many people rocking up to your activities as possible. Whereas;

Quality of volunteers refers to the level of commitment, engagement and skill this volunteer provides to your organisation.

Like all great questions, we don’t believe there is a ‘one-size fits-all’ answer to this. We have seen many organisations accomplish great things using a small and select group of amazing volunteers. Whilst at the same time, we work closely with teams that MUST have a large amount of volunteers to do what they do on a regular basis – regardless of their level of commitment, skill or experience.

Through all this, we have seen a pattern when it comes to the recruitment and retention of volunteers. In the majority of cases, the volunteer retention process looks something like:

  • Out of 100% of volunteers to who show interest in volunteering at an organisation, around 50%-60% of them typically complete their registration or expression of interest step.
  • Out of this, around ~35% of them complete necessary onboarding activities, such as inductions, police checks, etc.
  • From here, we found about ~20%-25% of these applicants make it to their first activity and complete it.
  • Then (unfortunately) we find a large drop off from here, where around 5% or less continue on volunteering for more than 12 months.

Now, this is purely based on our anecdotal evidence, and definitely varies from organisation to organisation – however for the most part, the fundamentals of the story remain the same (i.e. there is a funnel-like drop off at each stage of volunteer engagement and progression within the organisation).

Which then begs the question, should we focus our time on filling the funnel (quantity) or nurturing those who progress through it (quality)?

To help gauge this, it pays to consider the following questions:

  1. How complex is your volunteering work? How long would it take someone to learn everything they need in order to be a ‘full-trained’ and a functional volunteer that provides value to your organisation?
  2. How big is your suitable volunteer market? i.e. how many people in your community could be considered suitable for your volunteers. If you require (say) women between the ages 30 and 40 who need to be available between 8am and 12pm, and have qualifications in psychology, you are going to have smaller market to choose from then (say) an organisation who just needs anyone who can walk a dog.
  3. What is your optimal number of volunteers (per manager)? Could you operate week-to-week achieving exactly what you needed to do with LESS than 50 or MORE than 50 per manager. E.g. if you have two active managers week-to-week who each manage 40 volunteers in each of their pools, that would be considered LESS that 50 volunteers.

If your answer to the above looked like:

  1. How complex is your volunteering work?
    • “Not very complex at all”
    • “Our activities run for a couple of hours, and most people can get a good grasp of the skills within 30 mins to an hour”
  2. How big is your suitable volunteer market?
    • “Well, essentially anyone who can get down here to help”
    • “We find we get a consistent type of person volunteer all the time, but we have seen other demographics do amazing work!”
  3. What is your optimal number of volunteers (per manager)?
    • “We have a heap of different things going on at once and tend to do better the more volunteers we have available”
    • “We seem to struggle when we have less than 50 volunteers”

Then we would suggest that you should focus more on the QUANTITY of volunteers you have. Some valuable tips we have learnt from organisations that did well in this area are:

  • Making sure your network is wide and strong – if you need more and more volunteers, do you have brochures at local community areas, convenient stores, shopping centres, school notice boards etc?
  • Are you posting regularly on social media and encouraging people to follow your organisation? Have you tried paid Facebook ads for recruitment – even just a couple $ a day?
  • Have you tried posting in your suburb’s local Facebook community group?
  • If it is easy for volunteers to learn what is needed, could you easily prepare them before their first activity by sending them a video/message/photo of what to expect? Could you create a short intro video showing them what their day will look like?
  • Are you making your activities as flexible as possible? If a volunteer can’t come, is it a big deal? And can other’s be slotted in at the last minute?
  • Do you have a referral program? For those who volunteer and enjoy it, are you able to quickly and easily refer them to become a volunteer?
  • Are you sending out regular newsletters to keep your volunteers informed and up to date (as a way to save time and money connecting to large groups of volunteers)?

Alternatively, If your answers to the above looked like:

  1. How complex is your volunteering work?
    • “It can take our volunteers a number of ‘goes’ to get a good grasp on their role”
    • “More times than not, volunteers don’t suit this type of work, as it takes a special type of person to be consistently successful in this role”
  2. How big is your suitable volunteer market?
    • “We need a very specific type of person for this role.”
    • “For some reason, I thought anyone could do this role, but only a select type of person seems to come, stay and be valuable. There is also a pattern with this type of person – e.g. young males who are very tech savvy.”
  3. What is your optimal number of volunteers (per manager)?
    • “Honestly, to run this place properly, we only need a handful (10-30 people) who are committed and educated in the role”
    • “Getting the right-type of volunteer for our work is few and far between”
    • “We are happy to reject many volunteers if that means find 1 that is a good fit”

Then we would suggest that you should focus more on the QUALITY of volunteers you have. Some valuable tips we have learnt from organisations that did well in this area are:

  • Don’t be afraid to be as engaging and personal as you can (respectfully and within reason).
  • Could you call volunteers on a regular weekly basis to see how they are going in the role?
  • Are you keeping a track record of these volunteers? E.g. emails they have sent you, when they started, what their like/dislikes are, how they prefer to be contacted (SMS, call, email)?
  • Are they connecting with other volunteers in your org? Culture and a feeling of belong is a SUPER powerful means of retaining quality volunteers. Could you organise weekly/monthly catch ups outside of the role (e.g. movie days, coffee catch ups, dinners, etc.).
  • Have you asked them what they want to get out of volunteering with you? Do they want to develop a skill? Do they want to make friends? Are they looking for personal development? If so, what are you doing to nurture this? It could pay to arrange monthly/quarterly catch ups with them to check in and see if they are achieving what they need, and if not, what needs to change so that they are?
  • Are you rewarding them for genuine and authentic reasons? i.e. saying “you’re a great volunteer” may mean nothing to some volunteers. For this group, authentic is everything. Could you reward them by congratulating them on successfully carrying out a difficult but necessary conversation they have been challenged with in their role? If they have gained a certification, could you shout them out in a newsletter?
  • As far as reasonable, it pays to almost see these people as good friends of yours rather just an acquaintance.

What do you think?

Do you have other ideas or feedback around this? If so, feel free to reach out!

Please remember, this a summarised view of what we learnt by engaging frequently with the sector. This is by no means a certain for all organisations. Our intention is to help share valuable insights we have learnt along our journey, with the hope it may benefit others in our sector!

Sign-up to the

Volaby Voice

Stay up to date with all things Volaby, volunteering, and industry best practices.

See for yourself how Volaby can perform better for you.