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How to Address Volunteer Retention During COVID-19 Pandemic?

Updated: Jul 29, 2020

Having dedicated volunteers is probably the biggest asset for a nonprofit organization. However, for many nonprofits volunteer retention can be challenging, and in times of global pandemic that we are in now, this challenge has become harder to tackle.

As the COVID-19 crisis progresses and your organizational priorities continue to shift, it is even more critical to maximize your greatest lever for success — your volunteers. In times of this hardship, here are 7 tips for you to effectively listen, support, and engage your volunteers at every step of your shared journey.

1. Cultivate Regular Meeting Routines: Foster a healthy meeting routine in your volunteer retention strategy to ensure your volunteers stay connected. While regular meetings should be a part of your volunteer retention strategy at all times, it becomes even more essential for your team of volunteers to stay connected when the world is going virtual, amid COVID-19.

So, set an expectation for your volunteers to meet at least once a week virtually, but be flexible, and let the teams come up with a plan that works best for them.

At CLASS, as part of our hiring process, we require our volunteers to meet twice a month physically and twice a month virtually with their teams. Amid the Coronavirus pandemic, we have shifted all our meetings to virtual settings. Nonetheless, we have established fixed meeting times and days, which helps us to stay organized and connected.

To make the best use of our time, we lay out a detailed agenda, identify different roles such as facilitator and notes taker, and set recurring meeting invites.

2. Create an Opportunity to Connect with Leadership: Hearing from the leadership is always inspiring, and given the uncertainty stemming from COVID-19 it is more essential than ever for you to communicate with your team.

So, to retain your volunteers and to keep them motivated, host a virtual chai time or a coffee break , presenting an opportunity to your volunteers to engage with you, ask questions, share their concerns or offer feedback.

3. Host Networking Events: Plan for a happy hour, now we don't mean literary, but bring volunteers across your organization together for a virtual drink, coffee, tea or juice, whatever works! Facilitate a relaxed rendezvous, providing an opportunity for your volunteers to get peek into each other's daily lives: profession, hobbies, and projects they are supporting at your nonprofit organization.

4. Show Your Appreciation: Everyone likes to be recognized for their hard work and achievements. Expressing gratitude and recognizing your volunteers will go a long way in retaining them. Here are a few ways you can show them your appreciation virtually:

  • Host a virtual recognition event for volunteers who have gone above and beyond to support your organization

  • Develop a "Volunteer of the Month" program, featuring your success stories on your digital assets such as email newsletters, social media, and website

  • A simple thank you note can do wonders. Design a thank you email to be sent out to volunteers when they achieve a milestone such as 100 hours or six months of service

Pro Tip: Continue with the "Volunteer of the Month" program when the world comes out of this pandemic through your digital assets and/or physical events such as fundraisers.

Pro Tip: Create a standard thank you note template so you don't have to craft a message every time a volunteer achieves a milestone. If you already have email marketing tools such as Mailchimp or Constant Contact up your sleeves then leverage them to create a heartfelt thank you note template.

5. Show Them Their Results: More than ever now, you need to keep your volunteers motivated, engaged, and connected with your mission. So, show them how their work is making a difference in the communities they serve.

  • Measure the success of your campaigns and programs and report the numbers to show the impact of their efforts

  • Bring on a client who is willing to share their experience and what the services provided by your volunteers meant to their an organization and target audience

  • Share an inspiring story of how their work has touched and changed lives. E.G. if you are an organization educating youth, share a story of how your programs enabled a young mind to become an entrepreneur

6. Offer Growth Professional Opportunity: Yes, we have all gone remote, but that shouldn't stop you from offering continuous learning opportunities to your volunteers. In an article, VolunteerHub notes that "according to a recent study, 36% of people stop participating in an opportunity because the work is not challenging enough."

Our founders at CLASS recognized this problem from their own experience, extensive research, and interviews with volunteers. They founded CLASS with the vision to change the way people volunteer and contribute. 

Read about our journey and how CLASS supports its volunteer in this blog.

While you may be grappling with many challenges and changes stemming from COVID-19, it is essential to keep offering your volunteers leadership and growth opportunity. Professional development is the key to an effective volunteer retention strategy.

Here are a few ideas on how you can provide development and growth opportunities:

  • Invite a board member to host an online training session in their area of expertise

  • Invite volunteers to cross-train one another in different tools or technologies or in helping others complete a specific task at hand

  • Seek volunteer feedback to understand how their role can be improved or optimized

  • Assess if a volunteer has been with your organization for a while in the same role and if they are willing to take on more responsibilities or explore new opportunities

Pro Tip: Provide your volunteers with career-oriented professional titles, mentorship, team bonding, and career development opportunities including regular discussions on areas on improvement. Your goal should be to entice them to treat their volunteer position as seriously as a full-time job.

7. Be Accessible: Ensure that you are accessible to your volunteers at all times, particularly those who are new to the organization to quickly resolve any issues that your volunteers might be facing while fulfilling their commitments to your nonprofit.

Here are a few strategies you can adopt:

  • Establish a regular point of contact for your volunteers. E.g. if you have multiple people working on a project, assigning a team lead or task owners might be helpful. Similarly, allocate specific people in your HR and IT departments to assist with any technical and organizational issues that a volunteer may be experiencing

  • Provide several ways such as internal messaging, emails, chat to your volunteers for connecting with colleagues, team leads and cross-functional teams

  • Create a supportive environment, encouraging your volunteers to reach out to peers to seek help and advice

Putting volunteer success at the forefront of your business is how you’ll come out stronger on the other side. Yes, it will take time and effort. But it is an effort worth making. So, go ahead and create a stellar volunteer retention strategy.

About  The  CLASS Consulting Group

The CLASS Consulting Group is a trusted advisor to the board of directors and senior leadership of nonprofits. It is a boutique management consulting firm headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area that provides consulting services to senior management and the board of directors of nonprofit organizations and offers community leadership opportunities to professionals.   

Since 2002 CLASS volunteers have been assisting nonprofit organizations in the SF Bay Area and supporting the communities in which, we all live and work. Learn more about  our mission and  story. 

Interested in finding more about our services for nonprofit organizations?  Simplyrequest  a  meeting and we’ll get in touch to tell you all about this opportunity and how our volunteer-run teams are helping nonprofits make the bay area a better place; one community at a time.   

Want to make an impact in your community? Check out volunteer opportunities here. 


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