Recruiting and Retaining Volunteers
Daniel Gregory  -  2007/9/26
We have all the info on recruiting, supporting and retaining, but the folks to whom that falls are overburdened with client response, reports, etc. The focus and follow up with volunteers slides down the priority list - only the highly committed stay! I am wondering if you have seen ways that organizations structurally create the time, attention and resources so that what it takes to maintain volunteers becomes a priority. It is built into job descriptions, and we have lots of training, discussion, etc. but how does this become a REAL part of the work and get the necessary time and attention devoted to it when staff is pulled in so many directions?
1.  Margo Schaefer
 I think this volunteer committee is a great idea, and it speaks to a goal we've had for awhile, which is to create tiered volunteer positions so our long term volunteers get some much deserved recognition, and we by raising their status create some mentoring roles for them. Thanks!
2.  dan g
 That's a tough one. And I am not sure there is one technique that always works best. I have tried by creating a culture where staff are seen as supervisors when they may only supervise volunteers, as a way of increasing their skills. I have done volunteer/staff relation trainings where we talk about how it's the staff's responsibility to keep volunteers coming back each week. And they do this sometimes by simply thanking them for coming that day. Maybe you could form some sort of retention committee with a few of your long term volunteers and ask for their guidance.
Do you have any suggestions regarding how to find and retain volunteers to work with perpetrators?
1.  dan g
 No I am sorry I do not have any experience with volunteers working with perpetrators. Maybe there are some faith based programs, or you might check with your Department of Corrections. Maybe this link will be a start..
Does your work carry you into the State of California; if so where would be the best point of contact for you in the state? If not, are you willing to provide referrals? Equally significant, are there points of contact in California to recruit volunteers to not only work in the fields of child abuse but substance abuse, womens rights and juvenile delinquency as well?
1.  dan g
 I am not in California for work that often. You may want to start with and see what they can do to point you in some directions.
Are there any standards in the industry as far as attendance rates for volunteers? For instance, what percentage of volunteers show up for shifts over a day/month/year? We are struggling to get a handle on whether our current rate of 25% not showing up for their regularly scheduled crisis line shift is typical.
1.  Molly Silverman
 Thanks, Dan. It is nice to know that other experience the same sort of attendance from volunteers. Thanks for your feedback!
2.  Margo Schaefer
 For NEW volunteers, I would be THRILLED with a 75 show up rate - for our longer-termed volunteers, I would be alarmed with 25 no-show - yesterday one of our two year volunteers was in a SERIOUS car accident our of state, and made her daughter call us to say she wasn't coming before she went into surgery! I think separating new people's performance from established people's will give you a better handle. And then the survey - for new people, I want them to have a mentor - a regular person who will call them if they don't show up and say - just wanted to make sure everything's OK and you don;t need anything. Hope I'll see you next week at this time, and if not, please give me call. NICELY reminding them that is common courtesy to show up or let us know, but cementing that idea that someone is expecting them, and it's not just a faceless agency, or a paid staff person who will be disappointed, but another volunteer. Just educating all the time...good luck!
3.  dan g
 In looking at my own agency, we have about the same rate that you do, and I know its a struggle. We have tried to combat this by involving volunteers in decision making on all levels; strategic planning, scheduling, etc. It also helps to make sure they have meaningful work to do, not just planting, painting and picking. Again, I would suggest going back to your volunteers and asking them the question, and maybe they can help you come up with creative solutions for your needs. I think recognition is a big part of keeping volunteers coming back. But it doesn't need to be a big dealit be as simple as making sure people know their name. And making sure people thank them for coming in. And the annual recognition events so that everyone can see the big impact they are making as a group.
We are starting a volunteer victim advocate program in a law enforcement agency to provide advocacy to victims of intimate partner violence. Eventually we would like to expand the scope to other crime categories as well. Given your experience at the Pima County Attorney's Victim Witness Program, can you recommend a few law enforcement-based programs I could contact for some guidance?
1.  dan g
 I would definitely contact the Pima County Attorney Victim Witness Program in Tucson. I think Mesa (AZ) Police Department has a LE based victim assistance program as well. You may want to check NOVA, National Organization for Victim Assistance for some suggestions also.
After a period of time, volunteers get bored with the same routine. Do you have any ideas for keeping their interest and/or a rewards program?
1.  dan g
 Keeping volunteers engaged I think is an ongoing issue in the industry. I wish I had the magic answer. To me it almost seems cyclical - we have tried working with staff to help them keep their volunteers engaged. We have formed volunteer committees to try to get answers. I don't always think rewards programs are the best answer - just because someone has volunteered 100 hours a month and someone else only has volunteered 10, doesn't necessarily mean the one with the higher hours deserves more recognition than the one who donates 10 hours. To me it just means that the one with 100 hours has the time. When the one who donates 10, may only have 10 extra hours because they work fulltime, plus go to school plus take care of a familyso im always careful about rewards for time donated. Again tho, I would ask those doing the volunteer work - how to keep other volunteers engaged.
Greetings Dr. Gregory, I am thankful you are handling this very sensitive topic related to the kind of services we provide here through Crime Victim Care of Allen County. For the last one year, I have recruited and trained 17 volunteers. more than half of these volunteers are immigrants and we present 14 different languages in our team. I wonder what I should do best to keep their volunteering spirit up especially when they (immigrant volunteers)become victims of compassion fatigue as they provide care to victims. Secondly, how do you keep them motivated to contunie volunteering even when your organizxation has no money to reimburse their milleage or even provide them with lunch when they are on duty? Third, how often should I offer continued education to my volunteers?
1.  dan g
 I would suggest you start by keeping them involved in planning, decision making, etc. Keep them motivated by reminding them of the importance of the work they are doing - how they are making a difference. Maybe try to get some donated perks - coupons, small gifts, thank yous. You can look online for inexpensive, creative ways of thanking and recognizing volunteers. Learn all you can about Vicarious Traumatization and ways to combat it. Continued education - when I was volunteering doing crisis intervention with crime victims, we were required to go thru the training every three years, plus we had an educational component as part of each monthly volunteer meeting. Sometimes it was simply some role playing - everyones favorite!
What types of projects are being done at other nonprofits that keep the volunteers interested? How is recruitment done in order to get long lasting volunteers? What is being done at other CAC's to keep their volunteer programs running effectively?
1.  dan g
 Keeping volunteers interested - again, involving them. I have worked to create a culture at my agency that volunteer is a rate of pay, not a position. Volunteers should be involved at all levels - decision making, event committees, Board, leadership, etc. I think the more involved and invested they feel the more supportive they will be.
What strategies do you recommend to recruit minority populations?
1.  Jimmy Render
 Churches are a great source to recruit minority volunteers.
2.  dan g
 For us it has helped to actually go to that minority population and ask them - maybe different populations have Chambers of Commerce, for example. Go to them and ask, whats they best way to recruit volunteers in that population. Also, every state now has some sort of Commission for Volunteerism - to administer AmeriCorps dollars in the state. They would be a great starting point for questions about volunteerism in your state. You can find yours by going to
With over 1,000 volunteer hours logged monthly and volunteers being assigned to various committees and programs, how can we better track individuals to be sure they're involved and engaged?
1.  dan g
 Wow, well first off I would say with over 1000 hours logged that it looks like you have great involvement. Maybe some sort of survey or questionnaire ... and attaching a prize to returning them always helps. Or asking staff how volunteers seems to be feeling, like taking a temperature.
From our Victimology Class... Do you use the media to attract volunteers to your program and by what method?
1.  Kate
 What media outlet have you gotten the best response from, and have you found all three to be cost effective?
2.  dan g
 Yes, my agency, a crisis shelter for abused and neglected children, uses print, radio and TV for volunteer recruitment.
Our 24 crisis intervention/information & referral HelpLine celebrated 30 yrs of service this yr. Our volunteer base however has dwindled to a crippling state. Recruitment efforts include newspaper, radio, churches, colleges, websites and community contact. Response is very minimal. We have noted requests for episodic volunteer experiences and irregular volunteer activity among recruits i.e., short term committments including training - which do not support our program. We can report excellent moral among the few volunteers that we do have. Could you encouage us on what else we might do to build our volunteer base.
1.  dan g
 This has been becoming a familiar issue to many programs in the last few years, you are not alone. People are so busy and have so many commitments that the day of the long term, weekly volunteer is slowly becoming extinct. We have experienced the same thing. Again, I would go to your committed volunteers and ask for their help in recruitment, maybe they have ideas on where to go find people like themselves. Maybe they have ideas on how to make changes so that you could use short term or episodic volunteers. Programs that use volunteers are going to really need to change their way of thinking over the next few years as the GEN X folks enter retirement, but are still active and looking for things to do. I really think groups that use volunteers are going to need to find a way to utilize these highly skilled folks who will be offering their skills as volunteers. The reality is that they are capable of doing what they want but we are going to have to break down some traditional barriers we have set up around using volunteers and for what jobs. Again, this goes back to a way of thinking - volunteer is a rate of pay, not a job position.
What success or models have you seen that bring diverse faiths together to address tangibly assisting those releasing from prison?
1.  dan g
 I am sorry but I really do not have any experience with this this I did find this link though - Also, maybe try your State Commission as a starting point.
How do you find your volunteers in the first place? What is your turnover rate?
1.  Michelle
 We put out press releases for local media and once in a while we'll send out a community mailer advertising for volunteers. We also put our information online at We find that turnover is high and this is not usually due to one thing specifically. First off, it's hard to find dedicated people to volunteer their time long term in an area of victim advocacy that is so sensitive (Rape Crisis Intervention). Aside from burnout, we find that the people who volunteer, have other obligations and their attentiveness to scheduling usually surrounds what else is going on in their lives. In return for the training we provide, we ask for a year of service. With this though we understand that people have lives and that's where turnove happens too.. people move, get married, have children, change jobs etc. and end up cutting out the only thing that is often an option. Unfortunately that sometimes is volunteer work. Hope I've been helpful.
2.  dan g
 Our turn over rate varies throughout the year. We always loose people when school ends each semester and we lose a lot of folks as the weather warms up, as I am in Arizona. It just happens. We are lucky enough to be well known in our community. But we utilize out local Volunteer Center for recruitment. We use print, radio and TV ads at different times in the year. We use word of mouth by asking our volunteers to recruit for us. We have been around long enough now, 35 years, that we get college age volunteers, who had parents who volunteered here when they were in college.
Do you have any suggestions for interviewing applicants? I feel like my interviews aren't engaging, and that I don't really get to know the people I'm trying to recruit.
1.  janae
 Ask very open-ended questions. I always start out by telling the interviewee to tell me about his or herself. I ask many questions. My interviews usually last from 45 minutes-one hour. I am very thorough because volunteers are very valuable and it is important to have a person dedicated to your cause.
We are starting a new volunteer position, which provides crisis support to dv victims. What suggestions do you have for supporting volunteers who are burnt out?
1.  Sherri Michel-S
 I would suggest constantly talking with them about the work they are doing, ie. case staffings, etc. Support and mentor them. Give them a break when they need one, don't over work them as volunteers.
2.  janae
 We have similar positions at the DV shelter where I work. I place the volunteers very particularly when working directly with the clients-it takes a special and well-equipped person to handle this sensitive issue well.
3.  dan g
 Burn out in volunteers. Compassion Fatigue. Vicarious traumatization You should learn all you can about these subjects and their differences. This is a good read - As is this article - Sometimes volunteers need a break, and may try doing another job for a while. Important to make sure they do stuff to keep themselves healthy, in body mind and spirit.
How would you hold volunteers to the same expectations as staff in regard to accountability to their commitment in a program?
1.  dan g
 Holding volunteers accountable. I guess I would ask - how come they are different than paid staff? Here, we tend to think of volunteers as unpaid staff, and hold them to the same accountability as staff. We ask them to sign a Commitment Statement, and we have policies and guidelines for volunteers about absences and attendance.
Do you have any suggestions for retaining virtual (online) volunteers?
1.  regine
 We are just starting with an online volunteer training. Our idea is for the volunteer to reach me, the volunteer coordinator, easily, any time in the process for questions, feed back, support etc.
2.  dan g
 Online volunteers. Thats a new one to me. But I guess I would suggest applying the same principals to in person volunteers. Involve them in the process and the problem solving. Ask them the question, I bet they have the best suggestions. Volunteers always like perks, and especially simple thank yous.
What do you think are the best techniques for recruiting volunteers in the 18-25 age bracket?
1.  dan g
 I would go to your local university, or even better, comunity college. The people attending community college tend to already be invested in the community and not going anywhere, and are looking for experience.
Is it difficult to keep a full staff of 300 volunteers?
1.  dan g
 Yes. There is always turn over, its just the nature of the beast. We lose students each semester and we lose winter visitors when the weather gets warmer. We have a decicated Volunteer Resources Manager who is always recruuiting, screening and training volunteers.
I work as Victim Services Coordinator in my county's Adult Probation Department, and I hope to gain some useful ideas about this topic because I have on several occasions been in a situation where more help would be wonderful. While utilizing volunteers seems as though it would be good on many levels, I can't help but feel concern about 2 areas in particular. They are: 1) How does one insure confidentiality? 2) Realistically, can most volunteers be counted on in terms of being reliable? It's sometimes hard enough to get paid employees to be reliable. Currently, I have wonderful paid employees, however, in the past I have had to deal with high absenteeism and a poor work ethic, which ultimately kept a higher stress level than necessary.
How do you get volunteers to trainings when they all have full time jobs and work different schedules?
1.  Michelle
 We try to do two trainings a year. One we'll offer twice a week (one weeknight 6 - 10 and one weekend day 9 - 4) for the people with regular job schedules. Then we try to offer another for students, homemakers, retired etc. which is usually during the summer. That schedule would be Monday from 9 - 4 for example, for the length of the summer. When we interview we ask what would suit that person best and keep them on our possible list for that training. OF course all that being said, you and your agency have to be on board with flexing your work daystimes to accomodate the scheduling.
2.  dan g
 Break down barriers..offer the same trainings at different times to accomodate the most people. Sometimes we have videotaped trainings for people to watch later or check out. Make them interesting so people don't want to miss them. Start on time and end on time.
If you have a tiny budget, how do you reward volunteers, or keep them feeling appreciated?
1.  dan g
 Start by making sure everyone knows their name. That just shows simple respect. Make sure they have the tools to do their job, and the space. Do simple things, like if they really helped you out of a pinch, get them a roll of lifesavers...use thank you cards. Make sure they are thanked each time they leave.
When recruiting vounteers, what is the best way to keep them interested in working with your organization while their paper work is being processed(state/local backgroud checks,etc.) as wellas other processes that may prove to be lengthy?
1.  dan g
 At my agency we offer them the opportunity to help with any special events that are going on in the mean time. We also let them start before the offical fingerprint check comes back. Part of that packet they have to sign an affidavit that says they have not been convicted of anything. And they can start before the check is complete, just as staff.
What community resources could we use to recuit committed, long term volunteers?
1.  dan g
 Look for your local volunter center or united way...maybe a university or community college. Look for Service Learning programs for people who want to get experience.
Our volunteers will work in a police station. This means that they will need to go through a background check and particpate in a 6 hour training; this seems to turn people off, I was wondering if you could offer any suggestions on how to make this seem less burdensome. Next I was wondering since there are specific requirements pertaining to the type of volunteer we need is there any place you could suggest looking that we may not have thought of. Finally, what kinds of rewards and incentives do you use to help retain volunteers?
1.  dan g
 What is it that turns people off, the training time or the background check? We got a grant from a foundation to pay the costs associated with background checks for seniors, to help with that barrier. Or volunteers tend to want more training than they get so I'm not sure what to say if the traiing time turns yours off. Again I would use your curent volunteers for ideas on where to find others....birds of a feather flock together. Rewards...again I think simple is best. thank yous, cards, little gifts, parties once a year..etc. Also, ask your group how they like to be recognized.
Do you have any suggestions on how to recruit volunteers for a children's organization?
1.  dan g
 I am at one, and honestly for us it is easy. People love to help kids. We tell stories ... how volunteers will be making a difference. All our recruitment pieces have pictures of the volunteers with kids.
I feel like our volunteers would be more excited and motivated to continue offering their time if we were able to recognize them in some way. With funding being so tight though, we aren't able to purchase food, supplies, gifts etc. to award for service. Is there anything we can do, without money, to boost morale? We've planned pot luck picnics and parties in the past and have had extremely low interest or turnout. Help please.
1.  Margo Schaefer
 We have had MUCH success with donations of movie tickets, pizzas, etc by getting gift certificates good for Sunday - Thursday as these are not busy times for the businesses. We have two florists who call us when they have flowers not selling, when they are still quite fresh, but they know they will not sell all they have. Our farmer's market flower vendors often give us what they have left at the end of the day, and Monday volunteers come into a bouquet they can take home. Our local arts organizations often donate tickets for opening nights, and our performing arts center, University Theater and sports teams will donate tickets as they do not sell out, it's good promotion and costs them nothing! Good luck (and I must say- it feels REALLY fun to dole these things out!)
2.  dan g
 Could you go to the community and ask for donations? Maybe you could go to a company or service organization and ask for a small grant. Ask you volunteers what you could do to help make their experience more rewarding or what they would like to see happen.
3.  Jean
 At our agency, we do tokens with our employees. Basically, the agency recognizes an employee for something they have done (eg helping a co-worker, finishing a project on time, putting in extra effort, etc)and receives the token. Next month, the token is returned and given to another. A token may be as simple as a roll of duct tape with a card stating that they have been recognized for their work that holds everything together. This idea could be used with volunteers as well. We put out a monthly volunteer newsletter sent via email. Volunteers could be recognized in your newsletter as well as announcing upcoming events and needs. A quick email, phone call, or small card helps to recognize volunteers as well.
How do you suggest we recruit and keep volunteers in a very small rural area?
1.  Julie
 Maybe try local Schools, or if you have clubs that focus on community efforts such as Kiwanis.
2.  dan g
 That is a struggle...maybe start with the faith based community, church newsletters. Or try your State Commision... look for them at
I have been the volunteer coordinator for almost three years and am getting fewer and fewer responses to our ads for training sessions. I live in a small community and feel that we may have tapped out those interested in this type of volunteering (crisis line). Do you have any suggestions?
1.  dan g
 Yes, we have had the same issues. The days of the long term volunteer are going away and episodic and short term is what's happeneing. You may need to get creative and think of possible ways for groups to help, or families...or opportunities for short term commitments. People are so busy with familes and other activities these days. I know its hard to recruit.
How do you hold volunteers to the same expectations as staff regarding accountability and commitment to the program?
1.  dan g
 We ask volunteers to sign a commitment statement that talks about so many missed shifts, confidentiality, and we let them know in the interview that it's a privilige to volunteer here, not a right. And yes, we have fired volunteers.
We would like to get college sociology departments involved in our volunteer mentoring program. It could be a college credit and a way for students to be involved as a volunteer mentor. How do you recoomend that we appeal to these college departments?
1.  philip day
 Thanks, Dan, for your response. I'm setting up interviews now to get the process rolling.
2.  dan g
 Just go talk to them. Learn about service learning..sell this as a way for their students to get real, hands on experience, before they get to the internship part of their studies.
What are the pros and cons of volunteers working in the Law Enforcement Community. Particularly, with a local police agency?
1.  Debbie
 Another point to remember is that law enforcement based advocates do not have the same rules about confidentiality and privilege as do community based advocates. So when a victim opens up, they need to be told that what they are saying is not confidential.
2.  dan g
 Well in my experience, I would watch out for the Cop Groupies...they can give your group a bad name fast. Volunteers can really be a big help to them too, especially when working with victims. Talk to the Pima County Victim Witness program they have lots of experience.
What strategies have you used to recruit and retain male volunteers? We are trying to recruit men for mentoring.
1.  dan g
 I would suggest asking the men in your program now to help you with that. Maybe you could get to service clubs, such as Optimists. Or maybe you have a college in your community. I know our big brothers big sisters program works alot with the University and the Community College here in Tucson.
I am the Coordinator for the Pro Bono program at the SC Attorney General's Office. We have about 100 trained attorneys and 50 that are active. What advice do you have for attracting attorneys to take cases on a volunteer basis? We hosted an appreciation luncheon last year that went well, and we also attempt to spread out the caseloads so as not to burden any one attorney with too many cases, but what other ways regarding retainment do you suggest we implement?
1.  dan g
 Again I would start by going to the source...ask your current volunteers how to best recruit their peers.
I work for a DV shelter and I recently went to a workshop about advertising by using MySpace and Have you had any experience with these websites and, if so, have you had any success?
1.  Julie
 There are several of our local agencies that have posted on Craigslist through the local Nickle Ads paper.
2.  regine
 We have, but with limited success. What is the hardest part is that the kids you want to attract can find the site. I think it is a worthwhile mission, the how to is what makes the difference in whether it is successful.
3.  dan g
 No, we have not used them at our agency and I do not know anyone who has used them, sorry.
Are you aware of any standards or best practices regarding teen volunteers, especially working with children in a shelter environment? Thanks.
1.  dan g
 We have a minimum age of 16 to volunteer in our shelter for abused children. We shelter kids form birth up to age 8. I think with teens it may be best to start them out in more of an experiential learning environment. Teach them about the issue, such as child abuse then let them come up with creative projects to help. Grow them into regular shelter volunteers as they learn aout the issue. Look online for programs around youth and service learning.
Can you please explain what you mean when you say Volunteers are a "rate of pay"?
1.  Debbie
 I use the rate of pay to show the city fathers what we WOULD have had to spend, for all the hours they get from volunteers.
2.  dan g
 Meaning that Volunteer is the rate of pay the person is getting - it's not necessarily their job or position. I think volunteers should be seen as unpaid staff.
As the coordinator of a large law enforcement victim assistance program, I am always looking for new innovative (free) training opportunities for my volunteer staff. We have monthly training meetings and it seems like we do the same sort of training over and over again. I know that keeping them involved means keeping their interest, but sometimes I just don’t know what else to do. Our initial training for new advocates is 50 hours, so building on that can be frustrating.
1.  dan g
 Maybe do some collaboration trainings with the agencies your victims turn to. Maybe a DV shelter. We did some cross traiing with the volunteers at our shelter and the Victim Witness volunteers. Work with Law Enforcement..maybe you could have a K9 training, or a creative way to learn about forensics.
Where to begin with using volunteers? We have volunteers and want to increase their use but some commanders seem hesitant to "think outside the box."
1.  dan g
 Talk to the Pima County Attorney Victim Witness Program. They have had volunteers doing crisis intervention with victims at crime scenes for 30 years. Really...volunteer is a RATE OF PAY not a job.
What is the current estimated dollar value per hour of a volunteers time?
1.  dan g
 for 2006 it was $18.66 per hour. You can look at this link ...
For over 20 years we operated primarily with volunteers (interns, concerned citizens, previous victims etc.). Now, we are having difficulty even locating interested people to volunteer. We deal with homicide, dui, aggravated assault, family violence (children and adults).
Thanks for your response. My sense about what turns our volunteers off is the process that they have to go through before they can start the work i.e. interview, background, training and getting up to speed on working with victims. Do you any suggestions on how to convey the importance of the training and skill building?
1.  Debbie
 Our trainees go through at least 50 hours through a LE agency, and receive a certificate. They all seem very proud that it is such an extensive and serious prerequisite. They like the idea that this could go on a resume, and be considered more than just trivial side interests. They also understand that we may be placing them with an already vulnerable person and that would require a background check. So far I have had only one person who said a background check would violate her rights and that was a good indicator to me, just by itself!
I am hearing from our grant Program Staff as well as some of the information today we are not the only agency experiencing a major decrease in people interested in volunteering. I am curious what your theory/opinion is about this change.
1.  Ken the PDV
 In our town of 65,000+, we have not had a major decrease in volunteers. Our latest Volunteer Academy class had 25 people undergoing training.Our academy courses are given on the average of twice a year.Of course it does help that the our volunteers are proud of their organization and go out into their neighborhoods and speak up the program they belong to. Our biggest problem is to hold the new Volunteers' attention so that they last longer than 1 or 2 months with the department.
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