Volunteer Retention Is Worth Your Time And Effort

If you are reading this on Monday, April 15, I am volunteering at the Boston Marathon for the sixth consecutive year. This is something I look forward to each spring. When the time comes to register as a volunteer I don’t think twice about it (even if it means using a vacation day). I’ve served at three different stations over the years: finish line Gatorade, mile 17 gel stop with my local running club (go Wicked!), and now at the race start in famed Hopkinton, Mass.

With so many volunteer opportunities available, why do I keep coming back to this one? There are a few reasons: the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) makes it known that this race would not be possible without its some 8,000 volunteers (that almost makes me feel like an elite runner); there’s a sense of honor and tradition with this event and countless nonprofits have been served by its charity runner program (read: good storytelling); the BAA volunteer program is well-organized using good communication, user-friendly registration systems that work, volunteer captains, and even volunteer buses leaving from Boston to get folks to their assignments. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.



But, I think the biggest reason is that I feel appreciated. Earlier this year, I was surprised to receive an email from the BAA thanking me for my five years of volunteer service and asking me how I would like to be listed in the tribute book (Really? Wow. Thanks!). Each volunteer also receives a commemorative Adidas jacket. These are nice jackets. Even if we didn’t get them, I’m sure we’d receive some other token of thanks, which is really the point. The BAA appreciates its army of volunteers and it shows. Check out these Boston Marathon volunteer profiles to learn why others donate their time.

You should give your volunteers VIP treatment, too. You might only have 100 volunteers or 15, but their impact on your organization is just as vital. Make sure they know this. Make sure you stop and thank them. Understand that a little recognition goes a long way.

When volunteers come back time and time again, you win in so many ways:

  • Repeat volunteers become brand ambassadors and recruiters. I love volunteering for the Boston Marathon and encourage others to do so;

  • These dedicated people add to the efficiency of your organization or event and can help you train new volunteers, or take on larger responsibilities as their commitment grows;

  • Many times you can tap repeat volunteers to help with other events or areas in your organization;

  • Volunteers provide valuable feedback that can be used to streamline your event or organization; they are often public facing and get direct comments from key stakeholders as a result.

Volunteer recognition and retention should always be top of mind. You may not be able to afford a jacket for all of your volunteers, but you can find creative and inexpensive ways to thank them repeatedly. People need to feel helpful and appreciated. That’s just human nature. So be sure that you reward your volunteers and make it known that you can’t do your job without them (because you actually can’t).

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