NGOs volunteer retention: Top 9 strategies to keep your volunteers engaged

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

8 Minutes reading time

Whistlehub content team

Discover the secret to retaining your NGO's volunteers with these 9 top strategies! Boost engagement and build lasting relationships for maximum impact.


Volunteer retention is crucial for the success and sustainability of NGOs, ensuring consistent support and engagement in their mission. With the national average volunteer retention rate being 65%, it's apparent that many organizations face challenges in keeping volunteers engaged long-term.

This blog post explores the importance of volunteer retention, common hurdles faced by NGOs, and shares nine top strategies to improve your organization's volunteer engagement.

By implementing these practices, you can build stronger community connections and foster lasting relationships with your dedicated volunteers.

Key Takeaways

  • Retaining volunteers is crucial for NGOs to strengthen community involvement, spread awareness, boost operational efficiency, and enhance donor engagement.
  • Common challenges in volunteer retention include lack of role clarity, burnout, changes in personal circumstances, and incompatibility with organizational culture.
  • Top 9 strategies for retaining volunteers include getting to know them individually, providing training and resources tailored to their needs and preferences, matching them with relevant roles based on skills and interests, offering flexibility in scheduling and commitment level, communicating effectively and regularly through various channels including new technologies like Volunteer management software or Nonprofit CRM systems. Additionally cultivating a sense of community & belonging while recognizing contributions made by your volunteers will help you retain valued supporters committed to making your non-profit grow stronger over time positively impacting the wider community it supports.

The Importance Of Volunteer Retention In NGOs

Retaining volunteers in NGOs is crucial for strengthening community involvement, spreading awareness about the organization's mission, boosting operational efficiency, and enhancing donor engagement.

Strengthening Community Involvement

A strong volunteer base is essential for NGOs to effectively strengthen community involvement. Engaged and committed volunteers not only bring in diverse skill sets and perspectives but also help expand the organization's reach by forging connections with various segments of the local population.

An example of this can be observed in a Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund survey which revealed that people who volunteered were much more likely to provide financial support to nonprofits they were personally connected with.

By retaining passionate and skilled long-term volunteers, NGOs are better positioned to create lasting impact within communities while fostering deeper connections among individuals who share common goals.

Spreading Awareness

Spreading awareness is a key advantage of NGOs maintaining strong volunteer retention. A dedicated and committed group of volunteers can significantly contribute to raising public consciousness about the organization's mission, goals, and campaigns.

For example, imagine an NGO focusing on environmental conservation has successfully retained an active team of skilled volunteers. These individuals may spread awareness by organizing community events such as tree planting or beach clean-ups while educating participants on the importance of environmental protection.

They might even leverage their social media presence to share posts highlighting achievements or upcoming initiatives, reaching a wider audience.

Boosting Operational Efficiency

A well-retained volunteer base significantly boosts the operational efficiency of NGOs, leading to better management and execution of their projects and goals. With experienced volunteers who understand the organization's mission and processes, nonprofits can delegate tasks more effectively, minimizing the time spent on training new recruits while maximizing their impact in the community.

For example, long-term volunteers contribute to higher retention rates and increase ROI for nonprofits by putting their skills into action for a sustained period.

Moreover, having dedicated volunteers allows NGOs to allocate resources toward other pressing needs instead of concentrating solely on recruitment efforts. Consistent engagement means that these organizations can focus on refining program strategies and tapping into additional funding opportunities like grants or partnerships with other agencies.

Enhancing Donor Engagement

Enhancing donor engagement is one of the critical benefits of volunteer retention for NGOs. Engaged volunteers can help spread awareness about an organization's cause and mission, encouraging others to get involved.

They are also more likely to be financially supportive donors.

Nonprofits should prioritize equity, inclusion, and constructive feedback for volunteers in improving engagement and retention rates. By creating a strong volunteer program that provides adequate training, resources, recognition, appreciation, and networking opportunities for volunteers, organizations can deepen their connections with these individuals and build community ambassadors who champion their mission by volunteering or donating financially or in-kind donations.

Understanding The Challenges In Retaining Volunteers

Retaining volunteers can be challenging for NGOs due to factors such as lack of role clarity, burnout, change in personal circumstances, and compatibility issues with organizational culture.

Lack Of Role Clarity

One of the most significant challenges in retaining volunteers for nonprofit organizations is the lack of role clarity. Volunteers who do not have a clear understanding of their responsibilities and how they contribute to the organization's mission tend to become disengaged quickly and may even lead to volunteer turnover.

For instance, if a volunteer signed up thinking they would be working directly with clients but end up doing administrative tasks, they might feel misled or resentful. It is crucial for NGOs to communicate with their volunteers precisely what is expected of them, providing detailed job descriptions and setting clear goals so that volunteers can understand how their work fits into the larger picture.


Burnout is a major challenge in volunteer retention for NGOs. Volunteers who are overworked, stressed or unappreciated may become disengaged and eventually quit. Burnout can occur due to various reasons such as lack of support, unclear expectations, long working hours or limited autonomy.

Organizations must prioritize volunteer well-being and put measures in place to prevent burnout. This could include regular check-ins with volunteers' mental health status, adequate training and resources to carry out their roles effectively, creating a sense of community and belonging among volunteers through team-building activities or rewards programs, giving volunteers leadership opportunities where possible, as well as providing flexibility around scheduling commitments.

Change In Personal Circumstances

Volunteers are often driven by their passion for a cause, but life events and circumstances can lead them to leave an organization. Personal issues such as illness or family responsibilities can limit the amount of time volunteers can commit, or even force them to step away from volunteering altogether.

In other cases, a change in employment or location may mean that volunteers have to prioritize work or move out of the area. NGOs need to be aware of these potential challenges and maintain flexibility in scheduling and volunteer roles to accommodate these changes.

Staying connected with volunteers on a personal level through regular check-ins and support during difficult times can also show that organizations care about their well-being beyond just their contributions as volunteers.

Incompatibility With Organizational Culture

Some volunteers may not feel like they fit in with the culture of the nonprofit organization they are working for, which can lead to dissatisfaction and eventually turnover.

This can happen when there is a mismatch between an individual's values and the mission or practices of the NGO. For example, if a volunteer is passionate about environmental sustainability but finds out that their chosen organization has questionable approaches to waste management or resource consumption, it could create conflict and discouragement.

To minimize this challenge for retaining volunteers in NGOs, organizations need to be transparent about their values and operating style during recruitment and onboarding processes.

They should also prioritize regular communication channels with volunteers to ensure everyone feels heard and valued while providing opportunities for feedback regularly.

Another solution might involve creating more diverse leadership teams that bring varied perspectives into decision-making processes, thereby fostering an inclusive culture where every volunteer feels welcome and appreciated regardless of their background.

Top 9 Strategies For Volunteer Retention

  • Get to know your volunteers and their motivations, including their skills, interests, and communication preferences.
  • Provide adequate training and resources for volunteers to feel confident in their roles.
  • Match volunteers with relevant opportunities based on their skills and passions.
  • Offer flexibility in scheduling and commitment to accommodate personal circumstances.
  • Communicate effectively and regularly with volunteers through newsletters, social media updates or check-ins via phone or video chat
  • Foster a sense of community by organizing volunteer events or appreciation programs like coffee breaks, thank you notes or shout-outs on social media
  • Publicly recognize contribution of the volunteer who has gone above beyond normal contributions towards the organization
  • Collect feedback from volunteers about what they enjoy about volunteering as well as areas where improvements can be made
  • Invest in volunteer recruitment and retention tools such as Neon CRM or NonprofitEasy.

Get To Know Your Volunteers And Their Motivations

One of the best ways to keep your volunteers engaged and committed is by taking time to get to know them personally and understand their motivations for volunteering. As a nonprofit organization, it's essential to create a personalized volunteer experience that matches each individual's skills, interests, and passions.

For example, let's say you're an education-focused NGO looking for volunteers interested in tutoring disadvantaged youth. Instead of just posting general recruitment ads, consider conducting interviews with potential volunteers to learn about their teaching backgrounds or why they're passionate about education.

This way, you can match them with students who will benefit most from their expertise and create more fulfilling experiences for both parties. Research shows that personal connections between organizations and volunteers increase retention rates significantly 1.

Provide Adequate Training And Resources

Adequate training and resources are crucial for volunteer retention in NGOs. Volunteers who feel like they are not provided with the tools necessary to perform their tasks may quickly become disillusioned with the organization and leave.

Providing volunteers with necessary resources and benefits is important for volunteer retention, including access to software or hardware, training, information, and office supplies.

For example, a nonprofit that focuses on environmental conservation might provide its volunteers with outdoor gear such as boots or backpacks when working on trails or restoration projects.

Leveraging volunteer skills and strengths is also crucial for retaining them in NGOs. Volunteers who have specific skills that align with an organization's mission can be given more responsibility by taking leadership roles within the organization or becoming mentors for newer volunteers.

This helps improve their level of engagement while at the same time allowing nonprofits to make better use of all available talent pools.

Match Volunteers With Relevant Roles Based On Their Skills And Interests

Matching volunteers with relevant roles based on their skills and interests is an essential strategy for maximizing volunteer engagement and retention. When volunteers feel like they are making a meaningful contribution that aligns with their passions, they are more likely to remain committed to the organization over time.

For example, if a volunteer has experience in event planning but has never worked with social media platforms, offering them a role in organizing fundraising events rather than managing social media might be a better fit.

Matching volunteers with opportunities that resonate with their passions enhances the likelihood of job satisfaction and retention.

Offer Flexibility In Scheduling And Commitment

Volunteers come from diverse backgrounds and have varying availability. Providing flexibility in scheduling and commitment can help accommodate different schedules and ensure a broader pool of volunteers.

For instance, offering evening or weekend shifts can attract working professionals who may not be able to volunteer during regular business hours.

Flexibility is also critical in preventing burnout among volunteers. Volunteers who feel overwhelmed with their commitment are more likely to disengage or quit altogether.

Allowing them to adjust their schedule or take breaks when needed can help prevent this outcome.

Communicate Effectively And Regularly

Regular communication is essential for retaining volunteers in NGOs. Volunteers want to feel that their contributions are being appreciated and acknowledged, and they want to be kept up-to-date with the organization's progress and any changes or developments.

For example, a nonprofit could send out a monthly newsletter that features volunteer spotlights highlighting individual achievements and key information about upcoming events.

Another effective strategy is to utilize targeted communications based on each volunteer's preferences.

By keeping open lines of communication with volunteers and ensuring they always feel informed about the impact they are making through their work with the organization can lead to increased satisfaction levels and higher retention rates among active volunteers.

Foster A Sense Of Community And Belonging

Fostering a sense of community and belonging is an effective way to retain volunteers in NGOs. Volunteers who feel like they are part of a tight-knit community are more likely to continue their service, as they have built relationships with other volunteers and staff members.

Nonprofits can create this sense of community by hosting events outside of regular volunteering hours, such as volunteer appreciation days or social gatherings.

According to research from Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, 70% of volunteers say that feeling appreciated impacts their decision to continue serving at an organization. By creating opportunities for relationship building and expressing gratitude towards volunteers' contributions, nonprofits can increase retention rates among active volunteers.

It's important for nonprofits to prioritize equity and inclusion within these communities by actively engaging diverse perspectives while celebrating each individual's unique contribution throughout the volunteering process.

Publicly Recognize And Appreciate Volunteer Contributions

One of the most effective ways to retain volunteers in NGOs is by publicly recognizing and appreciating their contributions. Volunteers want to feel valued and appreciated for the time and effort they put into supporting your organization's mission.

There are various ways you can show gratitude, such as hosting an annual volunteer appreciation event or featuring a volunteer of the month on your website or social media channels.

Don't forget to also acknowledge their achievements during team meetings or through personal thank-you notes. Examples of appreciation include providing unique opportunities like meeting with organizational executives, free training sessions, discounts on merchandise sold by non-profit charity organizations and inclusion in special recognition programs.

Studies have shown that when volunteers feel appreciated, they are more likely to remain committed to the cause long-term. According to Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund survey: "Forty percent (40%) of respondents would stop donating if they no longer felt that their donations were making a difference." Therefore showing gratitude is important in maintaining relationships with donors who tend also appreciate public acknowledgement for philanthropy efforts both monetary & volunteering support alike from each NGO project respectively on different platforms such as media coverage etc.

Collect And Act On Feedback From Volunteers

Volunteers are the backbone of nonprofit organizations, and their feedback is essential for improving retention rates. Collecting feedback from volunteers can help organizations understand what motivates them to volunteer and identify areas of improvement in the volunteer program.

This can be done through surveys, focus groups, or one-on-one interviews.

For example, if a significant number of volunteers express frustration with scheduling conflicts or inflexible opportunities, nonprofits should consider offering more options for virtual volunteering or creating a flexible schedule system.

Additionally, regularly checking in with volunteers to ensure they feel supported and valued can increase overall satisfaction and retention rates.

Invest In Volunteer Recruitment And Retention Tools

Investing in volunteer recruitment and retention tools can significantly improve an organization's ability to keep volunteers engaged. There are various software options available, such as Neon CRM and NonprofitEasy, that streamline communication and coordination with volunteers.

These tools automate data collection and analysis, facilitate volunteer appreciation and recognition, and track volunteer information such as skills, interests, and availability.

According to the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund survey, 79% of volunteers say they are more likely to continue volunteering if they feel like their skills are being used effectively.

Investing in training programs also demonstrates an organization's commitment to its volunteers' development while enhancing overall operational efficiency. Regular follow-up check-ins with short-term or long-term volunteers demonstrate gratitude for their time contributed while identifying new areas where support may be needed.

Additional Tips For Enhancing Volunteer Engagement

Create a volunteer lifecycle plan to ensure volunteers are engaged and supported throughout their time with the organization, monitor and track volunteer data to identify areas where improvements can be made, and encourage volunteers to become donors through targeted communication.

Create A Volunteer Lifecycle Plan

To keep your volunteers engaged and committed, it's essential to have a plan that guides them throughout their volunteering journey. A volunteer lifecycle plan is a comprehensive guide that outlines the steps you will take to attract, onboard, retain and recognize your volunteers.

For instance, if someone wants to volunteer in order to develop leadership skills, then your lifecycle plan can include opportunities for them to lead teams or manage projects.

Alternatively, someone who wants hands-on experience may be paired with experienced volunteers during training sessions or while working on specific tasks.

Monitor And Track Volunteer Data

To increase volunteer retention, it's important to monitor and track volunteer data. Collecting information about your volunteers' skills, interests, availability, and preferences can help you tailor opportunities to their needs and keep them engaged with your organization.

For example, if a volunteer expresses an interest in event planning but is frequently scheduled for admin tasks, they may become disinterested in volunteering over time. Regularly checking in with volunteers through surveys or interviews is also a useful way to gather feedback on the effectiveness of your retention strategies.

Encourage Volunteers To Become Donors

Encouraging volunteers to become donors can greatly benefit the organization. Not only does it increase financial support, but it also strengthens the relationship between the volunteer and organization.

One way to encourage this is by showcasing how their volunteering efforts directly impact the cause they are supporting.

Personalization is key when encouraging volunteers to become donors. Nonprofits should take into account each volunteer's unique motivation and interests in order to tailor donation requests accordingly.

Donors are not just monetary contributors but also advocates for the organization's cause, so building strong relationships with them can lead to increased donations and stronger partnerships over time.

Measuring Volunteer Retention And Program Success

To measure volunteer retention and program success, set benchmarks and goals, collect and analyze data, and adjust strategies based on insights gained from the analysis.

Setting Benchmarks And Goals

Setting benchmarks and goals is crucial for measuring volunteer retention and program success. It involves determining specific outcomes that the organization wants to achieve with its volunteers, such as increasing the number of hours volunteered or improving volunteer satisfaction rates.

For example, a nonprofit may set a goal of retaining 80% of their active volunteers each year, which they can measure through data collection and analysis. If they fall short of this goal, the organization can examine their current retention strategies, collect feedback from volunteers, and implement changes accordingly.

Collecting And Analyzing Data

Collecting and analyzing data is crucial for measuring volunteer retention and program success in NGOs. By collecting basic information such as volunteer preferences, motivations, and feedback, nonprofits can tailor volunteer opportunities to meet each individual's interests.

One example of using data to improve volunteer engagement comes from Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund's survey on volunteering. The survey found that volunteers who received follow-up communication after their service were more likely to continue volunteering than those who did not receive any communication.

Adjusting Strategies Based On Insights

It's essential to track and measure volunteer retention rates to understand what works and what doesn't. By setting benchmarks and goals for retention, nonprofits can collect data on volunteers' satisfaction levels, engagement patterns, and reasons for leaving.

For instance, if data shows that volunteers who receive regular communication from the organization have higher retention rates than those who don't, nonprofits may choose to prioritize targeted communication as part of their strategy.

Another example is collecting feedback from volunteers through surveys or check-ins regularly. This information can help identify areas needing improvement in the volunteer experience or highlight exceptional practices by the nonprofit that could be replicated across different projects.

The Role Of Technology In Volunteer Retention

Technology plays a critical role in volunteer retention by streamlining communication and coordination, automating data collection and analysis, and facilitating volunteer appreciation and recognition.

Streamlining Communication And Coordination

Effective communication and coordination are crucial to volunteer retention in NGOs. Technology can play a significant role in streamlining these processes, including email marketing software, social media platforms, and volunteer management systems.

By utilizing these tools, nonprofits can provide regular updates on upcoming events, training opportunities and match volunteers with relevant roles based on their skills and interests.

For example, Neon CRM is a comprehensive suite of tools designed specifically for nonprofit organizations seeking to engage supporters better. This platform provides an all-in-one donor database solution that enables nonprofits to track funding sources more effectively while also managing campaigns efficiently through targeted communications that maximize engagement potential.

Automating Data Collection And Analysis

Automating data collection and analysis is a crucial step in volunteer retention for NGOs. By implementing volunteer management software, nonprofits can streamline the process of collecting and analyzing important data on their volunteers.

This helps identify areas where improvements can be made, such as identifying trends in volunteer turnover or pinpointing areas where additional training may be needed.

For example, by using software like Neon CRM or NonProfitEasy, organizations can easily track volunteer hours and donations, communicate regularly with volunteers through targeted email campaigns or newsletters that showcase achievements and recognize outstanding contributions, offer personalized opportunities based on individual skill sets and interests and collect feedback from surveys.

Facilitating Volunteer Appreciation And Recognition

Volunteers invest their time and energy without expecting monetary rewards. Therefore, NGOs must find ways to appreciate and recognize their volunteers for their contributions.

Recognizing the value of volunteers is a powerful way to retain them for the long term.

However, it's essential not only to recognize but also celebrate volunteers' achievements and contributions regularly. Celebrating successes can help encourage more involvement and reinforce beliefs that individual actions make a big difference in the community.

According to research by Nonprofit Quarterly magazine, 67% of nonprofits provide some form of recognition event annually; this could include formal awards ceremonies or casual gatherings like potlucks or picnics where volunteers can socialize with each other while being recognized for their efforts.


In conclusion, volunteer retention is crucial for NGOs to achieve their goals effectively. By implementing the top 9 strategies outlined above - getting to know your volunteers, providing adequate training and resources, matching them with relevant roles, offering flexibility in scheduling and commitment, communicating effectively and regularly, fostering a sense of community and belonging, recognizing and appreciating volunteer contributions, collecting feedback from volunteers and investing in recruitment tools - organizations can ensure higher volunteer retention rates.

Additionally, by utilizing technology such as Volunteer management software or Nonprofit CRM systems to streamline coordination and communication efforts; an organization can further enhance its ability to engage supporters actively.

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