Keep Volunteers By Providing Ongoing Training and Development

One of the most serious issues that nonprofit organizations face is the high turnover rate of volunteers. Most nonprofits have a good group of volunteers at their organization, but over time those good volunteers leave. Providing ongoing training and professional development is one thing that increases the chances that your best volunteers stay at your nonprofit organization.

Keep Volunteers By Providing Ongoing Training and Development

Photo Credit: Cambodia4Kids

For the past couple of weeks I have written about what nonprofit organizations can do to increase the chances that their best volunteers stay. In today’s post I share how providing ongoing training and professional development helps to retain volunteers.


Participating in meaningful training activities inside and outside the organization (e.g., conferences) is an important source of continuing motivation and growth [for volunteers].
Schindler-Rainman and Lippitt, The Volunteer Community, p. 62

Appropriate support structures such as . . . meetings and training and development are important for a positive experience. . . . increasing training opportunities . . . make programs as volunteer friendly as possible is recommended.
Anne Wilson, “Supporting Family Volunteers,” p. 6



Place Volunteers Where They Are Motivated & Skilled

An essential part of ensuring volunteers stay at a nonprofit organization long-term is helping volunteers serve in areas that they are motivated and skilled.

My wife once went to work at a local Homeless Gospel Mission near where we lived. As someone with a bachelor’s degree in Human Development and a master’s degree in Social Work she was excited to use some of her skills to help counsel, encourage, and support clients of the Gospel Mission. However, after my wife had clearly explained her professional experience and ideal area for volunteering to the volunteer coordinator, my wife was placed in the waiting room of the Gospel Mission where she was supposed to talk and just “hang out” with clients. Every time she showed up she was expected to randomly walk up to clients who were waiting to receive services and talk. No formal introduction was given from the Gospel Mission for my wife, no support from the staff about what my wife was supposed to do, and no understanding of the skills my wife had and what she could offer.

Do you think my wife continued volunteering for long? Of course not! She left only a week or two after she realized this Gospel Mission was not using her skills and experience in a way to help clients.

Most of the time people are willing to jump in and help a good cause even if the work is something that is uninteresting to them. However, if you want to have volunteers stay and serve for a long period of time you have to find ways to place your volunteers in areas they are motivated and skilled.

Energy flows from passion. A God-given passion—an area of intense interest—lies buried within each of us. One of the goals of volunteer experimentation is to discover that passion. Connecting our spiritual gift with an area of passion is the key to ultimate effectiveness and fulfillment in serving. It’s also one of the keys to maintaining energy when serving. When you are serving an area of passion, nobody has to fire you up to stay involved; you can’t help but show up. It feels like recess, when the bell rings and you get to do your favorite thing.
Bill Hybels, The Volunteer Revolution, pp. 81-82

In today’s post I show you some basic ways you can get your volunteers plugged into areas that they are passionate and skilled.


Volunteers need to be placed in areas that they are passionate to serve. You can find volunteers passion either by the area in which the volunteers serve or the task which the volunteers do.


How to Keep Your Best Volunteers by Creating a Great Culture

A positive and productive culture within an organization is a must if the organization is going to be successful. Most people have been part of organizations where people are focused on keeping the status-quo, watching their backs, attempting to move up the hierarchic ladder, etc.

I believe that culture within nonprofit organizations is especially important because of the focus on serving others. If the culture is not built around good teamwork and helping other people within the organization, then there will not be success in serving clients and the needs of the community.How to Keep Your Best Volunteers by Creating a Great Culture

If you regularly lead volunteers and want to ensure that your best volunteers continue volunteering for you, then read and follow the steps I have listed below. These steps show you how to cultivate a positive culture and experience for the volunteers at your organization.

How do we attract and retain the best and the brightest [volunteers] when the culture is one of dispute, contentiousness, and rarely of the sacred nature of the work in which they are engaged?
Jeff Solomon and Richard Wexler, “Standards for Volunteer Leadership,” p. 9

One of the primary reasons for either the slow decay or quick demise of many volunteer programs is a lack for staff acceptance and support. Volunteers can only work effectively as part of a team. The other part of that team is paid staff. If volunteers are rejected as legitimate co-workers, both morale and performance suffers irreparably.
Marlene Wilson, The Effective Management of Volunteer Programs, p. 152

But there’s something else that keeps me coming back week after week in my limited free time. It begins when I walk through the door, and everyone is visibly happy to see me. The warmth I feel when I walk into the room erases any trace of a stressful day. . . Volunteering has provided me with an opportunity to feel the way I did as a camp counselor years ago: like I’m making a difference. But the people I volunteer with are making a difference in my life, too, by welcoming, accepting and challenging me week after week. And once again I couldn’t be happier.
Max Martinelli, “Making Time to Make a Difference”


A. Definition for Volunteer Coordinators


How to Provide Crystal Clear Instructions when Leading Volunteers

Every week when our volunteer Alan came into the office I would provide work for him to do. Normally I would bring the work to him at his desk when he arrived and provide clear instructions about what needed to be done, when it needed to be done, what to do if he had questions, etc. However, on this day I was particularly busy and simply set work on his desk for him to start doing when he arrived instead of my taking time to walk to his desk and instruct him about what needed to be done.

What I did not know is that a coworker spent an entire day carefully sorting the names and information of donor pledge forms into a special order so that the forms could be processed into the computer. So, when Alan arrived and saw a stack of 200 pieces of paper on his desk (donor pledge forms) he did what he was always instructed to do with paper placed on this desk: separate the the pieces of paper that had printing on one side from the pieces of paper that had printing on both sides.

I had walked over to Alan’s desk to check on him when I noticed that he was sorting out pledge forms and not doing the work I had placed on his desk. Alan had undone about a day’s worth of work that one of our staff had done. Ouch! All of this headache could have been avoided if I had taken time to walk over to Alan’s desk and provide him clear instructions as soon as he had arrived.

How to Always Provide Crystal Clear InstructionsIn today’s post I am going to provide you nine simple steps you can follow to provide crystal clear instructions when leading volunteers at your church or nonprofit organizations.

The shortcut path of just simply handing volunteer Dave an assignment is fraught with pitfalls. One or two “what am I supposed to be doing, exactly” and “who’s in charge here” and poof! Dave falls off the rope bridge into the piranha infested river of “I quit” below.
Meridian, “There Are No Shortcuts

Volunteer managers operate with clarity. We know we will not keep volunteers if messages and instructions are not clear, so we frame every instruction so that it is clear. We know that muddied messages can ruin a volunteer experience and cause the volunteer to quit.
Meridian, “Management 601

I. Know what, how, and when it needs to be done and who can (can’t) do the work.


Why You Must Have Passion When Leading Volunteers

Leading volunteers is a unique deal. The leader has authority and influence over people without any real ability to enforce that authority or influence. Most volunteers arrive at a nonprofit organization in order to help, and if you are like me you have probably showed up a nonprofit organization and discovered that your passion for making a difference is not matched by the staff you interacted with. Like me, you probably felt discouraged and sensed a lack of passion from the nonprofit staff.

Why You Must Have Passion When Leading Volunteers

Photo Credit: Chris Lasher

In today’s post I show how nonprofit volunteer coordinators can show passion for what they do. And, more importantly, I am going to show how they can use their passion to lead others more effectively.

I. Sell yourself to the volunteers as a passionate leader for the work you do.


10 Simple Steps to Design Effective Volunteer Positions

To lead others well a leader must know what is expected of those being led. In businesses this is often done by the leader or HR department creating a “job description” used to attract qualified candidates to the hiring process. That job description helps the leader determine who would be the best fit for the job and it also provides clarity to the prospective job applicant about what would be expected of her. Businesses often do this process very well. However, when nonprofits attempt to recruit volunteers they often neglect this area.

Sadly, potential volunteers often hear the nonprofit cry “we need help” and show up at the organization to “help” only to discover that there is no clear direction about what needs to be done, how it needs to be done, when it needs to be completed, or who is in charge. As a result volunteers often bail out of the volunteer opportunity.

In today’s post I show you ten simple steps you can use to create simple and effective volunteer position descriptions.

10 Simple Steps to Design Effective Volunteer Positions

Photo Credit: Andrew Stawarz

It is important to consider job design before recruitment, for you must know why you need volunteers before you try to enlist help.
Marlene Wilson, The Effective Management of Volunteer Programs, pp. 101-102

When you’re engaging a volunteer to support you with a complex project or task, it’s important to lay everything out on the table. Put the desired outcomes down in writing, along with a proposed timeline and designated check-in points. Each party should sign a letter of agreement or memorandum of understanding (MoU). Everyone should be on the same page from the start about what a successful completion will look like. Then, you can take a step back and let everyone do what they do best.
Shannon David, “How to Deepen Your Impact by Engaging Skilled Volunteers”

I. Connect your organization’s vision/mission with their passion.

Leadership Strengths

How to Leverage People’s Strengths

As a follow up to my post yesterday about the importance to motivate, don’t manipulate people who you are leading, today I am sharing the most powerful way you can motivate people to work with you. Whether they are staff, volunteers, or a board member, this method will be extremely important to employ if you are serious about motivating people and keeping them engaged with your mission long-term.

Flickr Photo Credit: faceleg
Flickr Photo Credit: faceleg

Leadership expert and author, John C. Maxwell believes “people’s purpose in life is always connected to their giftedness.” When leading people it is extremely important to know what their strengths are because this helps you tap into their passion and the area they want to work in.

2 Reasons Leveraging People’s Strengths is Important