How to motivate and retain volunteers

Written by Chioma Ike, Circuit Pointe, Nigeria

What problem did your organisation face?

2015 was a critical year for Circuit Pointe because it was the year the organisation started; we had our highest number of volunteers that year (84) and lost 75% of them in the same year. It was a serious crisis in our hands because all 84 volunteers were cramped in our shared office with limited work stations, few experienced hands and no resources to pay all of them. We tried to prioritise our activities and engage everyone at the same time.

How did you overcome this problem?

We tried several approaches. One of them was a general meeting of staff, volunteers and the Board of Trustees, but volunteers were uncomfortable discussing their constraints. We tried one-on-one conversations with them using a structured interview checklist but key issues were not identified, as most of the volunteers declined to respond to some questions. One volunteer suggested an online survey for volunteers and staff to ensure a 360-degree view. Questions were sent to 86 volunteers and 8 staff who answered anonymously and helped design our strategy to manage volunteers.

What did you achieve and what changes were made?

Our analysis of 70 responses showed that volunteers were not gaining their desired work experience; they lacked access to the organisation’s updates and did not feel like part of the organisation. Some felt their issues were not addressed internally, their contributions were not valued and efforts were not made to transfer knowledge and skills. To implement our strategy to manage volunteers, (which entailed proper training, motivating and retaining them), we had to review our management style and revolutionise our organisation’s culture.

What did you learn from this experience?

By reviewing our management style, we discovered that our volunteers are critical and an overlooked asset who can make a tremendous difference to the organisation’s impact in communities, if they are properly motivated. Furthermore, by taking time to really know our volunteers, we understood what they found satisfying about volunteering, created win-win strategies to retain volunteers and revolutionised Circuit Pointe’s culture so staff and volunteers are valued equally, treated fairly and are given power in the organisation’s decision making processes.

What are your top tips for an organisation facing this issue?

  • Understand your volunteers
    People volunteer for different reasons so try to understand these motivations. This becomes a key win- win because in giving them the best experience that you can provide, you get the best from them.
  • Be flexible
    Understand that your volunteers have busy lives yet they choose to give their time, energy and expertise to your work. You can offer your volunteers options of working flexibly e.g. 3 days per week or remotely. This makes you flexible to their needs and at the same time ensures your whole week is covered.
  • Share everything you can
    Treat your volunteers as staff members and even when they are assigned to units and job functions, encourage knowledge-sharing sessions, understudying or job rotation. By sharing news and updates, you integrate them further into the organisation’s vision to motivate them to stay for the long term.
  • Give back
    Show interest in the lives of your volunteers and give back by sharing local and international opportunities that will improve their skills or knowledge, such as NGO meetings and conferences, fellowships, work-study programmes or online education.
  • Appreciate their work
    You can offer incentives to your volunteers, such as a transport allowance, letters of recommendation, references or even tea breaks.

Chioma Ike, Circuit Pointe, Nigeria

Chioma Ike is a change-maker and a women/girls’ advocate. Chioma is the Executive Director at Circuit Pointe, an NGO focused on women/girls’ empowerment and rights movement in Nigeria. She holds a certificate in Project Management, is a recipient of Anita Borg’s 2018 Pass-It-On Award and is currently enrolled for a distance International Action Learning MBA with a major in Sexuality and Reproductive Health and Rights.

Visit Circuit Pointe’s website for more information.