Top tips for keeping your valuable volunteers

Retaining volunteers can be a real challenge for charities. Martin Baker, CEO of the Charity Learning Consortium, shares six tips that can help you hang onto them. The tips are taken from a new series of animations, created by the Consortium, that focus on volunteers.

1. Offer opportunities to develop skills

Many people see volunteering as a valuable way to learn new skills and work on their self-development. What opportunities for training and learning are available for volunteers within your charity? There are plenty of free resources that can help you create a volunteer training programme – the key is to curate trusted, relevant resources and make access as easy as possible. For example, by making resources and courses available on your learning management system (LMS). 

Tips: Members of the Charity Learning Consortium often share eLearning with their volunteers as well as their staff. If you have the resources, you could create volunteer training workshops in house, to focus on particular skills such as customer service, online sales or fundraising. Some colleges may offer free NVQ packages to charities and their volunteers, enabling them to learn transferrable skills and gain a recognised qualification. Supporting schemes like The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award can also provide amazing learning opportunities for young people.

2. Keep saying thank you

Does your organisation have a way of recognising the contribution that volunteers make? It’s so important for volunteer managers to say thank you every time someone arrives and leaves a session. Imagine turning up for work, day in and day out, and never being thanked or shown appreciation. Your motivation, enthusiasm and commitment would most likely take a dive. Those two simple words thank you are so important for recognising the precious time that volunteers give.

Tip: It’s good to present annual thank yous and contribution certificates to individual volunteers and teams, so they feel appreciated and valued. Volunteers’ Week, held annually in the first week of June, is a wonderful time to arrange celebratory events.

3. Ensure they have good volunteering experience

Consider what kind of experience you want your volunteers to have during their time with you. For example, clear direction and clear lines of communication are usually desirable but no one wants to be dictated to or bossed around. 

Tip: Ensure volunteer managers have the skills and support they need, so they know how to empower and trust their volunteers, so they’re not afraid to loosen the reins. The Charity Learning Consortium’s free animated series on volunteering is a good starting point – find out more at  

4. Be inclusive

Does your organisation have an inclusive attitude, are you warm, friendly and welcoming? Are you providing a safe and inclusive environment from and to all sectors of the community?  

Tip: If your answer is not a resounding yes, then there is work to be done. The Charity Learning Consortium has lots of free resources that can help, including a report How to create a learning programme for equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) as well as videos to support an EDI programme. 


5. Quickly resolve any issues

No matter how harmonious your volunteer teams are, there will always be disagreements and disputes from time to time. These need to be handled and resolved in a timely and appropriate manner.

A policy for resolving these issues should be easily available to all volunteers, with clear and transparent steps for reporting and resolving any incidents.

Tip: Keep important documents for volunteers together in one place, for example on your LMS, but make sure they know where to find them. Telling volunteers once where everything is – perhaps in an induction – doesn’t work. Keep reminding them where to find what they might need.

6. Be as flexible as possible

Do you focus on long-term volunteers or are you open to the value short term volunteers can bring too? Some people may only be able to volunteer for short periods of time, but they can still make a valuable contribution – particularly if they have specific skills that you need.

To be open to short-term volunteering may mean that you have to adapt your induction process – so volunteers can get started more quickly and make the greatest impact in the shortest time You never know, they may enjoy it so much they will choose to come back to you year after year. 

Tip: Remote volunteering is a great way to include people who may otherwise not be able to make a contribution. There are plenty of tasks that can be done from people’s homes, whether that’s making phone calls, fixing and listing items to sell online, making crafts or carrying out admin.

About Martin Baker

Martin Baker is the founder and CEO of the Charity Learning Consortium, a group of more than 250 charities collaborating to make online learning both affordable and effective. The Charity Learning Consortium has created a free video learning platform, called Clear Lessons, which contains charity specific content focused on topics like volunteering, fundraising, trustees and governance. Find out more at    

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