Retain Volunteers? Yes, ‘Thank You’!
We all know that recruiting volunteers can be a challenge.
I can tell you now – there is only one thing worse than failing to recruit a volunteer, and that is failing to retain them – to have a fantastic volunteer leave, disengaged and disillusioned.
Reasons to leave
In school volunteer communities, departure is inevitable. Children grow and leave. It is brutal to say it, but everyone (including you!) has a ‘shelf life’.
There are other, more avoidable, reasons to retire. When volunteers feel overburdened and undervalued, they will quickly burn out. You won’t see them for dust.
I was at the hairdressers not long ago and spoke with a lady who had organised a cocktail evening for her school. It raised $4,500. At the next P&C meeting she attended, there was no mention or acknowledgement of her efforts – it was simply forgotten. As she was leaving the meeting, the president approached her and asked her to organise the fete the following year. She just shook her head in disbelief. Can you guess what her answer was?
Reasons to start
Let’s go back to the reason that volunteers will want to get involved in the first place. They want to:
- Improve the schooling experience for their children
- Make a contribution
- Meet people and have fun
- Feel like a part of something important
Nowhere on this list does it say that they want to be appreciated. Is this why we’re so bad at it? Appreciation, however, (even when we don’t realise it) is at the heart of the reasons we stay.
Reasons to stay
It’s one thing to achieve big things from our fundraising efforts. It’s quite another to feel amazing about it.
A volunteer, having succeeded in their goals, will rightfully feel proud of themselves. It takes only a very simple token gesture to turn that feeling ‘up to 11’ when they know that the whole community is proud of them. It’s like Arnie on steroids.
As a busy member of the organising committee, you may now be shrieking, “WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT FROM ME!?!”. The good news is – it doesn’t have to add to your workload.
I actually recommend appointing a ‘Thank You Sergeant’ as a standalone role – one person who may not necessarily have a lot of time to commit but is very organised and thoughtful.
Here are a handful of simple ways that you can build gratitude into everything you do:
- Throw a party – it can be as simple as a morning tea, but it must include a speech with personal votes of thanks. Try to have fun.
- Conduct a giving ceremony. This can be included with the party above. Make them fun and personal – they don’t have to cost more than a token amount of money.
- Get personal. Write hand-written notes. If you are creative, write a little poem:
- Roses are red, violets are blue, we couldn’t be as amazing, without you (OK that’s terrible, but you get the gist!)
- If your school has a spare carpark space, negotiate to have it donated to your volunteers. Every time someone volunteers during the month, they get a ticket. At the end of the month, conduct a prize draw for who wins the coveted car space!
- Organise with a local coffee shop to have a $20 voucher donated every month or term. Use the same system above to conduct a prize draw where every volunteer has a chance of winning.
- Give out certificates. Volunteers can use certificates for personal memories, but also for job applications. Volunteering is a much sought-after quality in a candidate. A great idea is to have the volunteer’s child present the certificate on assembly – what parent wouldn’t enjoy that lovely pride in the eyes of their child!
The importance of expressing gratitude
As a P&C President or Fundraising Co-Ordinator, life is busy. The act of communicating a heartfelt thanks can easily be overlooked in our rush to attend to more ‘important’ details.
But remember: no matter how busy you get, or how tired you feel, there are few jobs as vital as saying ‘thank-you’ to your volunteers. It’s the right thing to do (what a privilege to be able to make someone feel amazing!) and when the time comes to ask for help again, you will find that people remember with a warm heart what a fantastic experience it was.
PS: In case anyone forgets to say it, THANK YOU for the amazing work you do!!!!
Mandy Weidmann is Australia’s Fundraising Whisperer. She is the author of the Practical Fundraising Handbook for School and Club Volunteers, and the publisher of the Fundraising Directory – now in its 10th year. You can sign up to her free weekly tips at fundraisingdirectory.com.au
Originally published 15 September, 2015
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