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  • Writer's pictureNonprofit Learning Lab

Recognize to Retain: 6 Strategies for Nonprofit Volunteer Retention

This is a guest blog by Kindsight.

Volunteers are essential contributors in many nonprofits, providing essential support and assisting organizations in fulfilling their missions. Their contributions go beyond just tasks; volunteers bring passion, dedication, personal commitment, and love to the causes they support.

Without volunteers, nonprofits may struggle to operate, as the financial burden of hiring paid staff to perform all duties could be unsustainable. Recognizing and retaining volunteers is beneficial and can be crucial for the success and sustainability of nonprofits.

By valuing and recognizing volunteers, nonprofits can ensure a motivated, loyal, and skilled volunteer pool that continues to help drive their missions forward.

Unlocking volunteer longevity.

Retaining volunteers is an ongoing challenge. The average volunteer retention rate is around 65%, meaning nonprofits lose more than a third of their volunteers annually.


There are several factors behind volunteers' departures, but the challenge is ensuring that volunteers aren't leaving as a result of action taken (or not taken) by your organization. Some volunteers report that time constraints, organizational changes, especially changes to how volunteers are managed, and lack of appreciation motivate them to move on. Understanding these motivations can help organizations support their volunteers better and create an environment that encourages long-term engagement.


That's where volunteer recognition comes into play. Everyone wants to feel appreciated for their efforts, volunteers especially! When people feel valued, they frequently become life-long volunteers. The great news is that recognition is one thing you can control and do well.

Indirectly attracting new volunteers.

Recognizing current volunteers can be a great way to attract new ones. Recognition can help make your current volunteers champions for your organization, helping your organization attract new volunteers organically.

People usually ask pointed questions before signing up as volunteers; they want to know what the experience is like. Public volunteer recognition tells potential new volunteers that the organization will appreciate them.

So how can you recognize your volunteers?

The key is to recognize volunteers in a way that is meaningful to them, but as with most nonprofits, budget is a consideration.

Recognition doesn't have to be costly to be meaningful and well-received. Consider who your volunteers are and think of ways to recognize them that best suit them as individuals. For example, people often appreciate gifts, but only some people like or need another water bottle. Oftentimes, a more personalized approach is better.

We've compiled some practical suggestions:

1. Create a welcoming environment.

Creating a welcoming environment for volunteers isn’t just a nice thing to do – it’s crucial for the success of your volunteers.

Here are a few ways you can ensure volunteers feel welcome:


Set clear expectations: Provide your volunteers with orientation packages that outline their roles, responsibilities, and the impact their work will have.


Open communication: Create an environment where volunteers are comfortable expressing their thoughts, ideas, and concerns. Feedback sessions, regular check-ins, and suggestion boxes can encourage open communication.


Flexibility: Recognize that volunteers have different commitments outside of your organization.  Meet them where they're at and offer flexible opportunities for involvement.


Thank them: You thank your donors, colleagues, and board members; include volunteers in your rounds.

2. Volunteer appreciation events.

If your budget allows, events are a great way to recognize and grow camaraderie among your volunteers. They don't need to be expensive—you can do anything from an upscale dinner to a beach BBQ. Consider including a volunteer awards ceremony for that extra touch!

3. Volunteer gifts.

As mentioned earlier, gifts can be a great way to show appreciation.  Just be mindful of choosing options that best suit the individuals. For example:

  • Community recipe book

  • Photo collage, scrapbook, or “yearbook”

  • Plants or seeds

  • Bookmarks and books

  • Gift cards or tickets

  • Baked goods

  • Certificates of appreciation

4. Offer references.

While you can't necessarily pay your volunteers, you can offer references. Offer to write letters of recommendation for your volunteers.  Consider also providing LinkedIn endorsements. This enables you to emphasize specific skills demonstrated by the volunteer while working with your organization.

5. Show your appreciation on social media.

Ask your marketing team if they have pictures and videos of volunteers going about their work. Create a spotlight on your volunteer that outlines who they are, their motivations to volunteer, and their specific contributions. You can also include a quote about or from the volunteer, and express gratitude for their time and commitment to your cause. As a bonus, these spotlights can help attract new volunteers!

6. Invest in your volunteers.

If you have the means to, investing in volunteers’ personal and professional development can go a long way towards making your volunteers feel appreciated. This can take several forms:

●      Offer more advanced training and mentorship programs.

●      Provide leadership opportunities.

●      Send them to conferences.

●      Skill-building workshops.

Fostering long-term engagement through recognition

Volunteers bring dedication and passion to their causes. By valuing and recognizing their contributions, nonprofits not only retain motivated volunteers but also can attract new ones. Understanding and addressing volunteers' needs through meaningful recognition and support are essential steps toward building a sustainable and engaged volunteer community. This approach not only strengthens the organization but also amplifies its impact on the community it serves.


This blog was written by Bre Alexander. Bre Alexander is a content marketing manager at Kindsight. She has a diploma in Marketing and Advertising Management and has found her passion for empowering nonprofit organizations through her work. A self-proclaimed geek, Bre has used her unique skill set and experience to create engaging content and help implement new processes. Bre is outgoing, creative, and determined to continuously learn and grow.

Bre Alexander headshot


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