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Why Do Volunteers Leave?

Whether you’re having issues with volunteers leaving, or you just want to make sure they stay with your organisation for as long as possible, it’s always a good idea to ascertain why your volunteers quit. And while that might sound like a simple task, it’s often harder than you think.
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You see, for most people, giving honest, critical feedback is difficult. They might say they no longer have the time, but the truth is, it is more likely that they have de-prioritised working with your organisation potentially due to something they experienced or didn’t experience through volunteering, (or it’s a combination of things).
In this edition, we share the key reasons why volunteers quit (and how to keep them coming back) below. 

They No Longer Have The Time

According to research done by Volunteering Australia in 2016, the main reason given was due to lack of time. And while this may be true for some (such as those who have children, or start full time work), this largely means that people’s priorities have changed, and thus are directing their time elsewhere. 
The solution here is to make volunteering as worthwhile as possible – as minimal time and effort, and maximal convenience as possible to keep it up the list of priorities. 

The truth is, that volunteers aren’t obliged to keep volunteering; the cost of living keeps us going back to work every day, so ultimately, there has to be some intrinsic need that’s being fulfilled to keep volunteers coming back. 

Check out our previous blog that discussed “what is driving your volunteers” for more info.

They need to Gain Employment

One of the number one reasons people sign up in the first place is because they are looking to gain experience and a network in order to enter the workforce. So, understandably, it stands to reason that gaining employment would be one of the main reasons a volunteer decides to quit. 

In that instance, ask them for feedback on their time with your organisation. If they have a positive review, ask if they can share it with you in writing to use on social media, your website or in marketing materials, and ask them to spread the word with their friends. 

If you know they’re looking for work, and really value their contribution, perhaps you might have a suitable job opportunity at your organisation? Make sure your volunteers in addition to your current staff are the first to know about job openings.

They Feel Like No One is Listening

When a volunteer shares their feedback, they want to feel like they’ve been listened to. Even if they are suggestions your organisation is not likely able to fulfil, we recommend you communicate this with them. Even just knowing you’ve been listened to is enough to satisfy their concerns. 

If they express that they have an issue they would like addressed, or feel like they are constantly going to the effort of providing feedback –  and nothing changes –  the next step for a volunteer would be to quit. 
Ensure that you let them know they are being heard, and that their opinions and suggestions are vital to the success of your organisation.

Their Expectations Are Not Met

When a volunteer’s expectations are not met, this can be due to a number of things. 
Either they have not been given specific roles and responsibilities, or expectations have not been explicitly laid out or understood by either the volunteer or the organisation. There will also be an expectation by the volunteer that their reason for volunteering will be fulfilled.

Volunteers need as much structure as possible, and instructions need to be clear; you cannot assume that everything is understood by everyone, so it is vital to check they understand the task at hand. 
Volunteers expect to spend most of their time doing the actual task (something fulfilling!), and not doing admin, or chasing the organisation for more information.

In addition, you may find the need to ensure there are volunteering activities to meet the needs and expectations of your volunteer base.

Tip for Volaby users: Ask your volunteers in their onboarding survey about their expectations so you know from the outset their reason for volunteering. You can also add questions about what they expect from you as an organisation, and outline what you expect from them as a volunteer in their onboard workflow in the Admin Console!


They Feel Burnt Out 

Burnout is often defined as a state of chronic stress. This tends to first lead to exhaustion, then dis-enchantment, and finally, many volunteers will quit.  Signs may include the volunteer becoming cynical or more irritable, they may become angry, or you may notice they no longer seem to be enjoying themselves. 
It happens for many reasons. Volunteers in rural areas where the communities rely on them for the running of essential services are particularly susceptible. This is because they are often depended on where government resources are very limited. 
In urban areas, burnout may be caused by a volunteer organisation tending to underestimate what the work entails. It may be caused by a lack of appropriate training, or undue pressure placed by the organisation on the volunteer to help out even when they are unable to. 
Make sure you check in if you suspect a volunteer is suffering from burnout. Ask them how you might be able to help alleviate the stress. In addition, make sure you offer a broad range of volunteer activities suitable for all skill levels and time commitments (such as micro-volunteering) so that should a volunteer feel the need to step back, they can do so without feeling the need to quit volunteering for good. 

In fact, according to Psychology Today, something so simple as listening and showing empathy with your volunteers (regardless of the focus of their concern) can be enough to reduce their stress and subsequent burn out – plus it is a strong gesture from you and your organisation that shows how much you care about them.

They Are Unaware of Their Impact

According to Volunteering Australia’s research, the most common reasons for volunteering are “to help others, for personal satisfaction and to do something worthwhile”.  

If most volunteers are motivated to get involved because they want to make a difference in the world, then failing to showcase their impact will likely cause them to quit. 
They may work on a lot of big projects where progress or change is not obvious; you need to show them how their contributions have made a difference along the way, remembering to position them as THEIR achievements (because they are). 

This might be in the form of visuals (e.g. posting before and after pictures or a community garden they worked on), sharing stats (such as how much money they were able to raise or houses they were able to save from flooding), or heartfelt comments or videos from recipients. 

Or perhaps even a “humble shoutout” that could be you posting them on your Facebook page and tagging them, saying how amazing they are. People don’t volunteer because they want praise, but a lack of it can cause someone to feel unappreciated and disengage.

They Are Not Contacted Frequently Enough

Not being contacted frequently is a common reason as to why volunteers quit. This is a hard one for a lot of volunteer organisations, because even when organisations feel like they are communicating above and beyond, some volunteers still feel like they’re not receiving enough.
The key to good communicating is to make sure you’re communicating via multiple channels. It’s also a good idea to find out which channel of communication each volunteer prefers during their onboarding, and how frequently they’d like to be notified. Do they want to receive texts? Do they want phone calls? Do they want emails? 
If you’re sending out emails via a platform such as MailChimp, you may wish to create, for example, an audience group of people who like to receive monthly emails only, and another audience group who is happy to receive all methods of communication. 
Allow them opportunities to opt out of certain communication along the way too, and for those who you haven’t heard from for a while, speak to them in person to see if they’ve been receiving what you’ve been sending them. 
We’ll share more on effective communication methods in a later blog post (we can then change this sentence and link once the other one is done). 

They Don’t Make Any Friends Or Feel Like Part of a Team 

Sometimes, even if all of the other reasons ring true, volunteers show up time after time because of the friendships they make (as they want to support a team who supports them).  If you’re a member of a gym like a Fitstop or F45, you’ll know how many people keep coming back due to the sense of community they’ve built – even when they really don’t feel like getting out of bed.
While you may not be able to ensure you only recruit people who will become best friends, if your mission is clear and people join because their values align with yours, then you’re likely to attract people who’ll get along. On top of this, people who get a lot out of volunteering with your organisation will spread the word to their friends, and it will become a social occasion they look forward to.  

In fact, according to Volunteering Australia’s research, the main reason someone first starts volunteering is because they knew someone else who was involved, or who invited them. So, how do you ensure that they make friends, or feel part of a team?  Check in on your volunteers regularly, host ice-breaking events outside of volunteering time or even just before a task is due to start, and assign mentor or buddy volunteers to help with new volunteers when they first sign up. 

Keeping your volunteers engaged and happy, and feeling connected to the cause and other volunteers is key to ensuring they stay on the books and signing up for tasks.

Need More Solutions For Retaining Volunteers? 

Volunteers are busy people, and you are too. It is almost impossible to meet the needs of your organisation and of your volunteers without the right processes in place. 
Volaby is a user-friendly software program that takes all the hard work out of volunteer management, helping you to sustain and scale your organisation, and you and your volunteers to focus more time on achieving your missions. 
Our platform enables volunteers themselves to sign up and create their own volunteer profile, and even roster themselves for upcoming volunteer activities, allowing them to connect more directly with the organisation and fellow volunteers, manage their own participation levels, and reach out with ease. 
Our platform is made by nonprofits, for nonprofits. We’ve made it easy-to-use and intuitive for all users. We invite you to get in touch and trial Volaby for free today, with no obligations.
We look forward to speaking with you soon. 

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