Pitfalls That Lead to Volunteer Attrition


The risks associated with volunteer engagement go beyond injuries, vehicle accidents, and liability situations. They also include the risk that good volunteers will leave the organization because their expectations aren’t being met and their needs aren’t being addressed.

Tammy Zonker is the founder and president of Fundraising Transformed. In a recent Webinar hosted by Civic Champs, “Making the Case For Investment in Volunteerism,” she described a few pitfalls that lead unnecessarily to volunteer attrition. They include:

  • Not clarifying volunteer responsibilities – In recruiting volunteers, do you make it clear what the responsibilities are for each volunteer assignment, what skills are needed, what time commitment is required, etc.?
  • Not respecting volunteers’ availability – Ensure you know when volunteers have said they are available. If you schedule someone at a time when they are not available, it can undo the relationship you are trying to build. (Having said that, if there is an assignment that would help the volunteer develop a new skill or be attractive in some other way, approach them with “I know you normally aren’t available Wednesday afternoons, but I wanted to give you a first chance to…”)
  • Not respecting volunteers’ time – When they show up for their assignment, do they have everything needed? Too many times, the organization is not prepared, and the volunteer gets busy with work or tasks for which they have no interest or ability.
  • Not letting volunteers know the results of their work — For example, someone who has prepared a report, presentation, or grant application might only know that it was well-received if you make it a point to tell them.
  • Not providing opportunities to grow — One way to improve volunteer retention is to allow volunteers to develop new skills, grow their networks, have new experiences, etc.

Once you are aware of pitfalls that can cost you valued volunteers, Tammy suggests you occasionally survey volunteers, with questions designed to identify any pitfalls that might have found their way into your organization.

She also offered this advice: Treat your volunteers just as well as you treat your largest financial donors, and “meet your volunteers where they are, with their preferences, passion, and how they want to make a difference.”

You can view the one-hour Civic Champs Webinar here.