Why do people stop volunteering? Is it because they don’t have enough time? Are they no longer interested in the cause? Or is there another reason altogether? In this blog post, I’ll take a look at some of the reasons why volunteers might stop donating their time and what organizations can do to prevent it.
Don’t Take It Personally
As a leader, it’s very easy to take it personally, but there are many reasons why volunteers quit.
The truth is, it’s not all up to you!
When volunteers give up, it can be difficult for any leader. Even the greatest leaders in history have lost some of their most loyal followers. So it’s important to understand why your volunteers are leaving if you want to keep them on board.
Main Reasons Why Volunteers Quit
There are many reasons why people volunteer their time and energy.
The reason for community service is a desire to give back to the community and improve the lives of others. Some volunteers are motivated by spiritual beliefs or their concern for the local or global community, while others want to instill a sense of pride in their family through volunteering.
Whatever the reason for their resignation, many volunteers have a good idea of what they want to do with their time and talents, but there’s one thing that often derails even the most dedicated volunteers.
Good leadership is challenging, even for the best leaders, and it’s hard to please everyone.
When volunteers are unhappy with your leadership, the first way they let you know is by leaving.
Sometimes it may not be your leadership, but your personality. Some people just don’t get along with others and that’s okay, you can’t please everyone all the time.
The remaining volunteers who work under you’ll most likely express their dissatisfaction; the most straightforward and loyal among them will even tell you so:
- You’re too bossy or lead them around by the nose too much
- Your expectations are too high
- You aren’t available when they need you
- They’re unhappy with how you communicate and interact with them
- They’re confused about your leadership style
You should also consider negative feedback from volunteers, even if you don’t agree with it or it’s hard to take.
Part of being a leader is how much you can learn about yourself and turn it into positive personal development.
We don’t usually learn from compliments but from our own mistakes.
Whether you agree or not, if volunteers complain, you probably made a mistake somewhere, even if it’s not the one they think you made. It’s always good to explore the possibilities of where you went wrong so you can do better next time.
You’re Always Learning
The more observant you’re, the more you’ll pick up.
If you see someone doing something right, it’s not a bad idea to ask them how they did it.
Remember that people generally don’t like change unless it’s for the better. If you start changing things for the better, volunteers will most likely stay and try, because with any change comes hope.
Trial and error is your best chance for success. If you have the courage to make mistakes, you’ll learn from them and get better. If you don’t make mistakes, you’ll never learn what not to do!
Study Leadership Styles
Study leaders. Learn from other leaders by studying their leadership styles, successes, failures, and mistakes so you can avoid them and understand why they made them.
Learning about leadership styles will benefit your organization, your volunteers, and yourself in the future.
One of the most important lessons I learned is that you’ve to try very hard to be a leader! It’s not easy to get everyone on the same page. If you notice that you’re frustrated or angry with your team members, it can be helpful to think about what kind of leader you’re.
Are you demanding or authoritarian? Are you persuasive or participative? Are you competitive or collaborative? Once you’ve figured out what kind of leader you’re based on your actions, you can change your leadership style accordingly.
It may be that someone quits because he or she’s a new job, is working more, or has children and family responsibilities that prevent them from taking as much time as they used to.
Sometimes volunteers also quit because they lost a loved one, such as a spouse or parent, which causes them to reevaluate their lives and priorities.
For a volunteer, it can be hard to give up the feeling of making a difference or being part of something bigger than yourself. It can even feel like you’re letting others down when you no longer devote the time to them that you used to.
As a leader, it’s important to be supportive, especially if the person leaving has already accomplished a lot. It’s the right thing to do, and you never know if your paths will cross again.
In my career, I’ve had many volunteers who’ve lived because new priorities arose, and some have come back a few years later to thank me for my support and understanding.
Others have even recommended others to volunteer in my community or have written a post or blog about their experiences.
In a world where people volunteer with good intentions, it’s often the case that when you give, you get. It’s important not to miss the opportunity to build long-term, healthy relationships with your former volunteers.
Unlike paid work, during volunteer recruitment, we always ask each potential volunteer how much time he or she can give so I can get an idea of whether the volunteer role is suitable.
Brand ambassadors for nonprofits, for example, need to be responsive to maintain audience engagement. A potential volunteer who can only provide one hour a month would hardly be suitable for the volunteer role.
In any volunteer position, volunteerism requires a time commitment.
Unlike older volunteers, exhaustion isn’t uncommon among younger volunteers, as they struggle a bit more with time management due to the lack of paid work experience.
It’s important that you take care of the mental health of your volunteers, for example, by making sure that they’ve enough time in their volunteer shift to recover from what they’d to do before volunteering with you.
For example, if they’re employed elsewhere as paid staff before they start their volunteer service with you, it might be a good idea not to give them the most urgent tasks in case they’re late. This way you avoid stress for everyone.
Lack of New Volunteer Opportunities
Volunteer engagement is always a challenge for nonprofits.
Unlike a paid staff member, a volunteer can leave as quickly as they came because there’s no real commitment on either side.
That’s why it’s especially important for a small nonprofit organization to identify volunteer needs and provide them with the right opportunities.
People engage with a volunteering opportunity for many reasons, including gaining experience, contributing to society, and improving their resumes. Your volunteers might be looking for the following opportunities:
Learning New Volunteer Management Skills and Gain Work Experience
Learning a new skill is worth its weight in gold for any volunteer. During volunteer recruitment, we ask each potential volunteer what their ideal volunteer experience would be.
This is a win-win for everyone. For the new volunteer, because he/she gets the opportunity to express what he/she wants, for the organization, because it’s easier to find the right volunteers when a new volunteer opportunity comes up, and because this way it’s more likely that the volunteer will do great work because of his/her motivation.
It’s also good for volunteer retention.
If you do the same thing day in and day out, you’re likely to get bored and look elsewhere for fulfillment. There’s no incentive to stay. In this case, volunteers may feel that the organization doesn’t care about them.
Lack of Responsibility
Sometimes volunteers need to feel like they’re really accomplishing something and feel responsible for important tasks, this gives them a sense of accomplishment.
Lack of New Positions
As for paid staff, it’s also important for volunteers to develop if they stay in an organization for a long time. Once volunteers know their tasks, they may like it and stay, or they may want to experience something new.
Some nonprofits struggle with volunteer retention because their volunteer activity is limited and some in-demand volunteer skills aren’t needed by the nonprofit.
First, the volunteer’s vision might be different from the organization’s vision.
If your organization wants to do something different than what the volunteer wants, the volunteer might feel uncomfortable and eventually leave.
Second, the volunteer’s vision might match the organization’s vision, but he or she realizes that there’s a discrepancy between what he or she’s been told. In this case, it’s a process of self-reflection for the organization.
Make Your Vision Clear From the Beginning
Every organization should offer an interview and volunteer program guidance after volunteer recruitment. This will help volunteers understand where they’ll end up. It’s important that your organization’s vision is clear to your volunteers.
The interview and orientation should also explain what’s expected of volunteers during their time with you. Volunteers need a clear picture of your vision and their volunteer role in the organization and know what’s expected of them. It’s important that you let them know that you’re willing to guide and support them during their volunteer service.
It’s also important that the organization provides the volunteer with materials to help him/her get oriented while learning how things work in your organization (e.g., procedures).
Volunteer program guidance can be provided online or in person at the site. If possible, the volunteer coordinator should schedule an in-person meeting or online meeting with the new volunteer to make it more interactive.
The more detailed the guidance, the better prepared and informed the volunteer will be to effectively support your organization.
Volunteers are often motivated because they have a goal that goes beyond a paid job opportunity. If they see their goal as “helping the homeless,” then every project should be connected to that larger mission.
How can your group make progress toward eliminating homelessness? If you assemble and distribute lunches, how does that help get people off the streets?
Lack of Integration
When volunteers don’t feel integrated into the organization, they look for a reason to leave. And it’s not just the little things that make a difference. There are some major factors that can affect volunteer retention, here are some examples.
The relationship between fellow volunteers: When people join an organization as volunteers, they become family. Not all volunteers get along well. Whether it’s posturing, competition, or personal conflict, it’s important to remain vigilant and be fair not only in their work but also in their intentions.
Lack of Communication
Communication is even more important when you’re working on multiple projects at once, each involving different volunteers. It’s crucial to create allies among your team members so they all know what to do.
Lack of Recognition
It’s a lot to ask someone to sacrifice their free time for a volunteer shift, especially in this day and age.
It’s important to congratulate them when they’ve successfully completed their volunteer activity and great skills, even if everything isn’t perfect.
Everyone needs to feel like they have a place. If the organization cares about its people, people will also care about the organization’s mission.
Lack of Self-Confidence
Some volunteers have more self-confidence than others. It’s important to understand people’s personality traits. For example, avoid putting someone who’s shy in the spotlight, especially if he or she’s made a mistake.
If someone is motivated, don’t hesitate to give him or her a new volunteer opportunity.
For example, if the coordinator is overloaded with volunteer management, the motivated volunteer can help the coordinator. In this way, both feel valued and supported, or they don’t trust themselves enough for a higher volunteer position.
Often volunteers quit because they don’t feel valued enough.
When you make a mistake, you don’t point the finger directly at a particular volunteer in front of everyone. Instead, you can mention the problem and ask everyone on the team how to solve it. The volunteer who made a mistake can learn from the team and move on without feeling personally attacked.
Lack of Recognition
When volunteers realize that you only want to keep them on the team because of their volunteer work, it becomes frustrating. Instead of feeling valued, they may feel like you’re holding them back from their dreams and goals.
Lack of Time
Lack of time can cause volunteers to leave.
It’s essential to have a regularly updated spreadsheet so you can accommodate volunteer availability.
For example, in my community, many volunteers are students and sometimes have to stop because they’ve essays or exams to write; others have full-time jobs.
Instead of losing efficient volunteers, we have a system that allows them to take the time they need through a spreadsheet where they enter their availability.
It’s also very helpful to know when new volunteers need to be recruited.
If you set realistic deadlines, your volunteers are also more likely to stay. There’s nothing worse for a volunteer than feeling like they can’t do their job.
Lack of Support
There are many things that happen to volunteers during their assignment, whether on a professional or personal level.
Remember that community service isn’t like a paid job, even if your organization operates as a business.
Unlike paid employees, volunteers want to feel like they’re part of a family, and an ideal family is the one that supports you.
Regular meetings help you stay informed and give your volunteers a chance to speak up on issues that are important to them.
It also helps you improve your volunteer management skills and make better-informed decisions about delegating tasks.
Lack of Organizational Support
Organization is key to success in any project and this is especially true for any volunteer program. A well-organized volunteer program can provide quality services to its clients and volunteers, while a disorganized program will only lead to a high dropout rate, which is always expensive.
When you have a well-organized volunteer program, you can plan your volunteers’ schedule much more accurately because you know exactly who’s available, when, and for how long. You can better plan your events and make sure that all the necessary people are present to make the event run smoothly.
You can also properly screen your applicants by asking them about their availability as part of the application process.
An organized volunteer program improves your relationship with volunteers because you know how to communicate with them and what they expect from your organization.
If you don’t have an organized volunteer program, it won’t be as easy – unplanned volunteer absences are very common in this type of program. This leads to lower volunteer productivity because they’ve less time to volunteer and deliver quality services and products.
Unplanned absences also lead to more stress for everyone involved – the organization has less time to prepare everything that needs to be prepared; volunteers feel guilty for not being able to complete their tasks.
If you want your volunteers to be productive and happy, you can’t neglect the atmosphere in your office.
A boring, quiet, or stressful environment can have a negative impact on their productivity and motivation and lead to resignation.
Create a friendly environment. Volunteers want to feel welcome in your organization, so make sure everyone who works there treats them with respect.
Remember that volunteers in every community and nonprofit organization need to know that they’re needed. They need to feel that they’re cared for, looked after, and valued.