Skip to main content

Five Everyday Opportunities to Retain Volunteers

Daniel C Olsen, Senior Consultant Special Districts Association of Oregon

How often have you heard “it’s the little things that count”?

When it comes to retaining volunteers, the little things can help to make a big difference. However, you need to do them on a daily basis.

It is similar to growing a garden.  It is important to give daily attention to your garden.  They need to be watered and cared for.  Your volunteers need to care for them on a daily basis.

Five everyday opportunities to retain volunteers include:

1.     Taking a “new” look at each volunteer.

2.     Providing training in small or “micro doses”.

3.     Supporting your volunteers and encouraging them.

4.     Showing appreciation.

5.     Model the behavior you want to see in them.


See your volunteers with a renewed perspective

We form judgements about others.  However, it is important to be sure we are viewing them. We can take others for granted.  Look at your volunteers.  What do you see?  Do you see someone that is older and set in their ways? Do you see someone who is younger and inexperience.

Do you look at their strengths or their weaknesses?

Keep in mind the old saying “what you see is what you get”. What is it that you see when you look the volunteer. 

Ask yourself: what are the strengths of this person and how do they contribute to our organization?


Provide training to your volunteers in “micro doses”

Take the opportunity to provide training to your volunteers in small doses. Call it “micro doses”.  These are not formal classes.  But each micro dose of instruction can increase the volunteer member’s knowledge, confidence and ability to perform.

An example is how a member of the public is treated when they visit the station and asks for information. This can include how they are greeted verbally and the body language of the volunteer.  Is a pleasant tone of voice used. Are they courteous and respectful? Do they ask appropriate questions of the visitor?  Are there gestures open and welcoming?  Do they provide correct information?  Do they seek out others who can assist in answering the questions? Do they thank the visitor for coming into the station?

It may be the visitor’s first time into the station.  What is the impression they have after they leave?  It is an opportunity to reinforce the desired response or modify and improve the skills of the volunteer member.

Ask yourself: How can I enhance their skills and abilities?  What assignment would be beneficial?


Support your volunteers

We all make mistakes. Can your volunteers make a mistake?  How do you respond when they do?  Do you encourage them to do better?  Or do you degrade them…possibly in the presence of others?

It is important to understand them.  Was it a new task or assignment for the volunteer? Was it the first time they performed the task? Had they been given proper instruction?  Did they have the necessary tools and supplies? 

Too often, we forget to explain.

Supporting your volunteers means giving them the courage to perform. 

Ask yourself:  what can I do to encourage this volunteer?  What can I say or do for this volunteer?


Show appreciation to you volunteers in simple ways

 Do you like to be appreciated?  How about your volunteers?  What did you do to show your appreciation of volunteers today? How about yesterday?

Often times, we become busy with getting things done and forget to take a breather, look around and appreciate what a volunteer member is doing.

Il’s the little things like a “thank you” or “job well done” or “I really appreciate that”.  It is important to be as specific as possible as to the action and the reason it is appreciated.

Keep in mind that “appreciation is like rain in the desert…not expected but greatly welcomed”.  Refresh the spirits of your volunteers often.

Ask yourself: when was the last time I demonstrated my appreciation to this volunteer?


Model the behavior you want to see in your volunteers

It is said “some people speak so loudly we cannot hear what they say”. We expect our volunteers to behave in an appropriate and acceptable manner.  You can provide guidance to them through your behavior.  They are watching and listening to what you do.

This includes how you treat them and how you treat others.  This includes how we dress.

Ask yourself: what can I say, do, dress or conduct myself in a manner that I want volunteers to emulate?



·       Look at your volunteers through a different lens.  Look at the strengths and values they bring to our organization.

·       Provide everyday training in micro doses. How can I help them to perform better?

·       Support your volunteers with encouragement. Stand up for them. Encourage them.

·       Ask yourself, “how can I show appreciation”?  How can I best describe what they do and why it is important to our program?

·       Model the behavior you expect from your volunteers.  How can I set the example I expect from them?