In almost ten years of experience leading volunteers I have noticed several reasons that volunteers quit volunteering for an organization. Some reasons seem obvious, some reasons do not. Sometimes volunteers do not want to quit but they have to because of personal obligations, sometimes volunteers want to quit but they don’t because they feel obligated to the organization they volunteer for.
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In today’s post I share 9 reasons why volunteers often quit volunteering for nonprofit organization.
I. THEY HAD LIMITED TIME TO VOLUNTEER
A. 58 percent of volunteers did not continue volunteering because of time restrictions from:
3. involvement in other organizations (Jorge Barraza, “Emotional Expectations for New Volunteers,” p. 217).
B. An Example
An example of this is a friend of mine who spent more than twenty years in the Air Force. Him and his wife really wanted to adopt children so they began the process of doing background checks, completing paperwork, attending trainings, etc. Once they had completed their work they had to wait until there were children available to be adopted. And, then the day came when they received a phone call telling them that they could receive the children. Children (plural). Soon this family received three foster children into their home. As soon as the kids arrived the father was informed by the Air Force that he was being diployed overseas to Iraq. As you can imagine, this mother who was not used to parenting three children had a drastic change in her life circumstances where she had no time to volunteer. This is one of many examples where people have to quit volunteering because of limitations on their time from school, work, or involvement in other organizations.
II. THE ORGANIZATION DID NOT PROVIDE CLEAR COMMUNICATIONS AND EXPECTATIONS TO THE VOLUNTEER REGARDING:
“Role Ambiguity” is the “uncertainty that arises when a worker does not know what is required of him or her, how these demands will be satisfied, and how he or she is expected to behave at work. . . Role ambiguity can result in increased stress, decreased performance, and impaired efficiency. . . these negative influence and reactions to role ambiguity drain resources that are important to individuals’ well-being” (Allen and Moeller, “The Revolving Door,” p. 143).
Most adults desire some level of responsibility when volunteering. However, volunteers are likely to quit a volunteer position when the responsibilities (however large or small) are not communicated clearly to the volunteer.
One of the most common questions I received when recruiting volunteers was “how long will we volunteer?” Even though I always worked hard to tell people when we were going to start volunteering, they often wanted to know when the volunteer work would be done. Volunteers are as anxious to find out when their volunteer shift will end as they are about when it will begin.
Similiar to paid employees, volunteers need to know the boundaries about what is inappropriate and not appropriate to do while volunteering. It is okay to go to the bathroom, can volunteers arrange to meet with clients outside of their volunteer time, is it okay to make suggestions for how the work can be done better? Volunteers have shared that they are likely to quit volunteering when they do not have a clear definition of boundaries.
Essential to good volunteer recruitment and retention is being clear about what is and is not expected by volunteers. Volunteers who do not know how much is expected of them cannot fill their roles and will eventually quit.
III. THEY DID NOT HAVE A VOICE IN THE ORGANIZATION.
A. Definition of “Voice”
Voice is “the opportunity to provide input in decision-making processes (Allen and Mueller, “The Revolving Door,” p. 142).
B. For a Volunteer to Have Voice He Needs:
1. to believe that he is able to share ideas about the work.
2. to believe that those ideas are heard.
3. to believe he is respected (Ibid.).
IV. THEY FELT ALONE AND ISOLATED.
The feeling of loneliness and isolation is mostly felt by volunteers who desire for connection toward other volunteers. I think most volunteers realize that you (as the volunteer coordinator) are busy and have many jobs to do (in addition to just managing volunteers), therefore they desire their connections and relationships to be with other volunteers. .
Volunteers want to interact with other volunteers because it provides support to the volunteers, it helps them perform their tasks better, and it helps volunteers deal with difficult situations and clients
V. THEY DID NOT EXPERIENCE WHAT THEY THOUGHT THEY WOULD EXPERIENCE
A. Most Common
The most common experience that volunteers have (which they thought that they would) is that the volunteers did not get to help others like they though they would. Contrary to public opinion volunteer work is not always done to happy clients on sunny days in perfect work environments. It is often done in cold warehouses with no windows for clients who are not happy nor appreciative.
B. Less Common
The less common but often mentioned reason that volunteers quit is because the staff was unfriendly and did not have passion for the work being done. Most volunteers are surprised that when they arrive to passionately serve others that passion is not shared by the staff of the nonprofit organization. And, as a result volunteers quit simply because the people the staff they had to interact with at the nonprofit were not friendly.
[T]he process of dropout (or perseverance) is contingent on self-expectation and the distance of this expectation from actual experience during and after training. It is therefore important to pay attention to the particular nature of the gaps and discrepancies between the volunteers and managerial staffs, and particularly between anticipated and actual feelings in the organizational context of volunteerism.
Yanay and Yanay, “The Decline of Motivation,” p. 68
VI. THEY DID NOT RECEIVE THE ON-GOING TRAINING THEY NEEDED.
Ongoing training can be as simple as annual refresher courses about how to do the work and how to improve it. On-going training might also be new skills and techniques that can be taught to the volunteers. Even though training is often easy to provide and most volunteers are grateful for that training, most volunteers neglect this and their volunteers quit as a result.
VII. THEIR NEED FOR A POSITIVE SELF-FEELING WAS NOT MET BY THE ORGANIZATION.
A. Volunteers Have a “Self-Feeling” that Needs To Be Met
1. of being needed.
2. of being appreciated.
3. of being directed to what to do.
B. An Example
An example of volunteers quitting because their “self-feeling” was not met by the organization is from a journal article I read recently. This particular nonprofit trained volunteers to serve at an emergency call center for individuals who were feeling suicidal. The nonprofit would provide an excellent orientation and training for the volunteers in order to equip them to do the work assigned to them. However, once the volunteers were done with the training the nonprofit did not provide any clear direction for how much time the volunteers needed to volunteer, when the volunteers should start, or even pursue the volunteers to start volunteering. The nonprofit was explicit to state that the volunteers should have “autonomy” to sign up to volunteer when the volunteers want to. As a result of this nonprofit’s reluctance express to the volunteers that the volunteers were needed, the volunteers felt discouraged and hurt. After going through all of their training and hard work to become a volunteer they were given the message that their services were not really needed because the nonprofit never pursued the volunteers.
VIII. THEY WERE BURNT OUT
Burnout can take several different forms and variations. Based on Joseph Allen and Stephanie Mueller’s article in the Journal of Community Psychology, “The Revolving Door: A Closer Look at Major Facts in Volunteers’ Intention to Quit,” (pp. 140-141), here are some of the most common forms of burnout that cause volunteers to quit.
A. Emotional Exhaustion
1. Depleted energy
2. Dained of emotional resources
1. Personal withdrawal
2. Mental distancing
3. Is caused because a person’s energy and resources have been drained.
C. Diminished Personal Accomplishment
1. Tendency to evaluate work in a negative way
a) feelings of insufficiency
b) low self-esteem
c) professional failure may occur
d) feeling demotivated
2. View of work with recipients was seen as pointless and not helping.
IX. THEY WERE YOUNG MEN
Last summer I read a fascinating article in the Journal of Social Psychology titled, “The Motivations and Effectiveness of Hospital Volunteers” (pp. 25-34) which shared some of the differences between men, women, young, and old volunteers. I have listed some of the significant findings of that study below.
A. 2 Differences Between Men and Women Volunteers
1. Women are more dependable than men when volunteering.
2. Women are more likely to have a positive impact on nonprofit programs than men.
B. Older Volunteers Are More Dependable than Young Volunteers
Additional Questions You Can Ask About Why Volunteers Have Quit Your Organization.
- What is the job description I am asking them to do? How long is it?
- How do my volunteers catch the vision of our organization?
- What time in my schedule can I set aside to work on my volunteer program?
- Which of my volunteers needs a one-to-one conversation?
- Can volunteers come gradually or must they come all at once?
- Who will affirm the volunteers while they are serving?
- Are my volunteers doing what they love?
- Am I building apprentices in my organization?
- Is there a clear start and end?
- How do I show my volunteers they accomplished something? (Sue Miller, “Are You the Reason Your Volunteers Are Leaving”)
Question: In your experience, which of these do you see happening? Are there any others?