When Volunteers Break Up With You

Today’s guest blog post is written by Jill Michaelree, Client Administrator, Patron Technology. 

I’m writing a blog about volunteer engagement one day after telling the theatre I’ve been involved with for almost a decade that I can no longer swing serving on their volunteer development committee. As an ex-arts fundraiser and volunteer manager, the guilt is real in this, “It’s not you, it’s me” situation.

This particular theater has treated me with flexibility, patience, and respect as I’ve moved through the engagement cycle from patron to volunteer/staff/committee member. I am still motivated by the organization’s mission and work; life is just getting in the way at the present moment.

This had me thinking about when I was on the flip side as an arts administrator. How much energy did I put into lapsed or leaving volunteers? How do organizations maintain relationships with volunteers who move on?

Not never, just not now.

If you sense a volunteer’s change in motivation is temporary or if they are leaving on excellent terms, think about what “jobs” you can give them in the interim.

Try lessening their load to keep them in the circle. If they cannot usher once a week, can they still help with your annual gala? Is setting up a virtual volunteer project like sending out prospecting emails for in-kind donations worth the ROI to keep them involved in the long-term? Virtual Volunteering comes with its own engagement and communication problems, but if you can take the time to work on it (just like any relationship), it could be beneficial.

If you suspect the mission-buy-in is still there, but they cannot show up at all, could you ask them to share your volunteer opportunities with their network? Arts lovers attract arts lovers. If you can swing some comp tickets, think about treating your sunsetting volunteers to a “thank you” performance and ask them to bring a friend who is interested in volunteering or has never been to your theater. You’ll impress someone!

Do you treat your volunteers the way you treat donors? This is the time to make sure you are. Donors often volunteer with an organization before giving, and volunteers are often your most loyal donors, giving amounts that are significant to them. Invite ex-volunteers to a donor cultivation event. You never know if their next role with your organization is being a connector to future volunteers or donors. Have them inspire others with stories of their time with you!

Or, just stay in touch. Everyone peeks at their ex on social media. Unless they request otherwise, keep former volunteers on your email lists. You never know when their time may free up again.

Embrace the exit interview.

Volunteers are more than just an extra set of hands at your fundraiser or a once-a-month data entry helper. These folks exist in the in-between realm of patron and staff, which is a pretty sweet spot to give objective feedback. They are voices with experiences outside of your business focus, and the best volunteer managers will be eager to hear what they have to say.

So if they are going to leave, why not meet them for coffee to get feedback, or keep it casual with an online survey if the relationship wasn’t overly robust. Here are some ideas of some survey questions that could be helpful. (Bonus points if you ask similar questions when they apply to be volunteers as well for a 360-degree view of the whole experience):

  • What brought you to our organization? Did you find your motivations for volunteering were satisfied with the work you performed? Why or why not?
  • What skills did you bring to volunteering? What skills were you hoping to develop?  How were they utilized? How could we have utilized them more effectively?
  • Did you feel adequately trained for your work with us? Do you have any suggestions for how we could improve our volunteer registration and training processes?
  • How would you describe us to friends looking for volunteer opportunities?

Use your CRM to remember who they are.

Don’t let your co-workers or future volunteer coordinators go without knowing who’s been a volunteer. A simple indication about your contacts’ involvement could help your box office staff thank a current volunteer as they pick up their tickets. Noting lapsed volunteers and their satisfaction levels can help with future volunteer recruitment and even donor prospecting.

What ideas have you used to keep lapsed volunteers in the loop?

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