Working with College Volunteers Part 3: Keep Them Coming Back!

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Once you’ve planned a great project, found the perfect volunteers, and gotten them hooked on your organization, you want to keep them! It takes a lot of work to engage new people in your work. It always takes more work to recruit new “business” than to keep the business that you have. Be careful though! If you take your existing volunteers for granted, you will have to start all over again.

1. Build Community
If you’ve designed a project where volunteers work in groups, you are halfway there! We talked about the value of group projects in part 1 (social needs, peer pressure, and someone to pick up the slack). However, if you can turn your group into a community, you will really have a solid corps of volunteers.

2. Reflect
At the end of the project, don’t just say “thanks”, give a little wave, and send your valuable volunteers off into the world. I know you’re tired and ready to kick your feet up, but a “thank you” really isn’t enough. Take a moment to reflect and debrief. You will get valuable information about how the project went, and what could go differently, and the volunteers will get to process their experience.

Saying “Thanks” will build an external motivation for volunteers to come back, but reflection will help volunteers leave with the internal motivation to do it again and again. Connect the project back to the bigger cause (yet again) so they walk away feeling good about the impact they made. Asking for their feedback will show them that you take them seriously. Reflection will solidify in their brains that they made a difference, and that you respect their opinions, time, and contribution.

3. Re-Engage!!
Do not let them walk away! Yeah, they’ve finished, and we’re all so happy for them, but DO NOT let them leave without another opportunity to volunteer. Without another project on the horizon, they will likely toddle off into the arms of the next exciting opportunity. You will never re-engage 100% of your volunteers, but if your volunteers had a good experience they are likely to re-engage and bring their friends, creating the sustainable corps of talented, creative young people you’ve always dreamed of.

Begin with the end in mind: Before the project even begins, have that next project lined up and ready to go. Ask yourself: What’s the next step for these volunteers as they deepen their relationship with your organization? Will you ask the standouts to join your board? Is there a weekly opportunity (since they’ve rocked the once a month thing)? Do you need folks for your gala planning committee? If you have to hand them off to another volunteer manager, make sure the handoff is prepped and seamless for the volunteer.

One caveat: It’s an invitation, not a demand. They didn’t sign up to volunteer for you until retirement. Be sure you explain it as “You were so wonderful, and you had such a HUGE IMPACT, we wanted to let you know about other ways to put your amazing skills to work to make the world a better place.” Make it sound like a reward, not an obligation.

That’s the last of my tips for working with college volunteers. Thank you so much for reading! But don’t go away, because next week (National Volunteer Week) brings us the best piece of all! Breezie O’Neil, Community Development Manager at Girl Scouts of Western Washington, will cut through the theory and bring us a report from the field. I got a sneak peek, and it is a great read!


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