Sunday, June 3, 2012

High turnover rate of volunteers or are you bleeding volunteers

So you have come up with a plan and gone out and spent countless weekends and evenings talking up your organization and your volunteer pool is growing, but no one is showing up  for events or answering your email (hint: volunteers very seldom tell you they left, they just fade away).  When you think about losing volunteers, and you think about all the time you spent getting them. Sigh.
So what happened?
A study in Volunteering in America points to many things that cause you to bleed volunteers and you have to stop them cold.  There are many, lets just tackle a few:
Organizations try to fit a round peg in a square hole - When you bring a disaster volunteer into your organization, I am sure you have job descriptions made out for all positions.  Utilize these job descriptions to help your volunteer find the right fit for them, also consider their physical ability, education and skills for the job. You both need to agree that it is the right fit.  If you force them into the wrong position they will quietly leave.  It doesn’t mean to make special job for them stick to your plan.

The volunteers weren’t invited to do things - Volunteers don’t join to sit on a database, especially in the disaster world, they join to DO!  Invite the volunteers to come and help out, no matter what the event.  I talked in an earlier section about why I conduct orientation in person, it is the time when I personally invite them to help and be involved.  In my organization we use email for our first reach to fill positions, and I always write in a casual style and make the volunteer feel as if I am talking directly to them.  While I have hundreds of volunteers I want each to feel I am talking to them.

Volunteering takes too much time - A big mistake is not to be ready for the volunteer when they show up.  When I started in volunteer management I had a manager who utilized volunteers I got for him.  I noticed that he sat around for over an hour shooting the breeze with this group when they came in.  It came to pass that the volunteers where frustrated, while they liked the manager, they felt like they were being wasted, they didn’t come to talk they came to work.   So I worked with the manager to help him understand what he was wasting.  Helped him stack up tasks and have them ready when the group showed up, a few minutes of chit chat and I would point at my watch and he would send them out.  These three guys were some of the most productive volunteers I ever saw.  The manager eventually moved to emailing the tasks out to the volunteers ahead of time and often times they went straight to the assignment location instead of the office first.

Organizations do not take effective volunteer management practices - It is important to not only plan a recruiting plan, but also a plan to utilize your disaster volunteers.  It is more important and this is harder than finding them.

In the end you have to take the time and the effort to be involved with your volunteers. You have to talk to them, get to know them and spend time moving them in the direction you want.  Building a volunteer pool that is effective is not like collecting things.  You can’t just stack them up and wait.


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