Over the past couple of weeks (and for the next few), I’ve been out on site visits meeting with organizations that submitted applications to be Service Sites in the upcoming year (Class 25!). It’s so interesting to learn about new organizations; I really enjoy this piece of our work. We have several organizations this year that are looking to start a volunteer program from scratch, while others are looking to improve their volunteer program structures and recruit more volunteers.
One thing that comes up a lot during these conversations is the idea of volunteer retention. I’m asked this question a lot: How do we retain our volunteers?
Unlike volunteer position descriptions or policies or recruitment materials, you can’t sit down and spend time on “retention.” Retention comes from getting all of the other elements in place and, even more importantly, keeping them in place. Retention comes from putting the right volunteer in the right position. Retention comes from relationships between staff and volunteers and clients. Retention is not something that can be checked off a list; rather, retention requires an ongoing effort to engage volunteers effectively.
Partner with us and have a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator create your volunteer program? Perfect. That’s right in line with what we do. Have the VMC put all your volunteer program structures in place and recruit like crazy and plan ongoing, year-round volunteer recognition. Awesome. That’s the perfect VMC position. Ask the VMC to work on retention? Hmmm.
See, a VMC can definitely retain volunteers during the course of the term of service. But what happens next? If there’s not a plan in place to maintain those efforts, then retention falls off. Volunteer Maryland – and AmeriCorps in general – is a short-term solution. AmeriCorps members come in with crazy amounts of energy and passion and get more done in 10-12 months than often seems possible. Then they leave – and that’s exactly how it should happen. Let them infuse your organization with energy and infrastructure and, throughout that term of service, work together to figure out how you’re going to maintain it. Plan from the beginning. Use this opportunity every way you can.
Do that, my friends, and you’re on Retention Road!