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Volunteer Management Practices and Retention of Volunteers

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Abstract and Figures

This report is the second in a series of briefs reporting on findings from a 2003 survey of volunteer management capacity among charities and congregations. The findings in this report are based on conversations with a systematic sample of charities about their practices, challenges, and aspirations for their volunteer programs. We focus on charities’ adoption of nine recommended practices for volunteer management. Further, we explore the relationship between adoption of these practices, other organizational characteristics, and the retention of volunteers. The practices under study are supervision and communication with volunteers, liability coverage for volunteers, screening and matching volunteers to jobs, regular collection of information on volunteer involvement, written policies and job descriptions for volunteers, recognition activities, annual measurement of volunteer impact, training and professional development for volunteers, and training for paid staff in working with volunteers.
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The Urban Institute
Volunteer Management
Practices and Retention
of Volunteers
Mark A. Hager
Jeffrey L. Brudney
June 2004
Volunteer Management Capacity Study Series
1Volunteer Management Capacity in America’s Charities and Congregations
The Urban Institute
February 2004
2Volunteer Management Practices and Retention of Volunteers
The Urban Institute
June 2004
3Volunteer Management in America’s Religious Organizations
Corporation for National and Community Service
June 2004
Copyright © 2004. The Urban Institute. All rights
reserved. Conclusions or opinions expressed in Institute
publications are those of the authors and do not necessar-
ily reflect the views of staff members, officers or trustees
of the Institute, advisory groups, or any organizations
that provide financial support.
Volunteer Management Practices and Retention of Volunteers 1
This report is the second in a series of briefs reporting on
findings from a 2003 survey of volunteer management
capacity among charities and congregations. The find-
ings in this report are based on conversations with a
systematic sample of charities about their practices,
challenges, and aspirations for their volunteer programs.
We focus on charities’ adoption of nine recommended
practices for volunteer management. Further, we explore
the relationship between adoption of these practices,
other organizational characteristics, and the retention of
volunteers. The practices under study are supervision and
communication with volunteers, liability coverage for vol-
unteers, screening and matching volunteers to jobs, regular
collection of information on volunteer involvement, writ-
ten policies and job descriptions for volunteers, recogni-
tion activities, annual measurement of volunteer impact,
training and professional development for volunteers, and
training for paid staff in working with volunteers.
The findings provide new insight into volunteer
management capacity and retention:
Adoption of Volunteer Management Practices Not
Widespread. Of the nine practices, only regular
supervision and communication with volunteers has been
adopted to a large degree by a majority of charities. We
were surprised to learn, for example, that only one-third
of charities have adopted to a large degree the practice of
publicly recognizing the work of their volunteers. Over
60 percent have adopted each of the practices to at least
some degree, however. This finding suggests that the
practices for volunteer management are known, if not
always fully implemented, in America’s charities.
Likelihood of Adoption Depends on Characteristics
of the Charity. The likelihood that a charity adopts a
particular management practice depends on its specific
needs and characteristics, such as its size, level of volun-
teer involvement, predominant role for volunteers, and
industry. For example, charities that emphasize episodic
volunteer use adopt different management practices than
Volunteer Management Practices and the
Retention of Volunteers
charities that emphasize more sustained use of
volunteers. Charities operating in the health field have
generally adopted more of the practices as well. Larger
charities are more likely to have adopted most, but not
all, of the management practices under study.
Some Practices Tied to Greater Retention of
Volunteers, Some Not. Charities interested in increasing
retention of volunteers should invest in recognizing
volunteers, providing training and professional develop-
ment for them, and screening volunteers and matching
them to organizational tasks. These practices all center
on enriching the volunteer experience. Management
practices that focus more on the needs of the organiza-
tion, such as documentation of volunteer numbers and
hours, are unrelated to retention of volunteers, even
though they help the program to realize other benefits.
Charities Can Do Others Things as Well to Maximize
Volunteer Retention. Volunteer management practices
are only part of the picture. In addition to adopting certain
management practices, charities can provide a culture that
is welcoming to volunteers, allocate sufficient resources
to support them, and enlist volunteers in recruiting other
volunteers. All of these practices help charities to achieve
higher rates of retention.
The research shows that adoption of volunteer
management practices is important to the operations
of most charities. By investing in these practices and by
supporting volunteer involvement in other ways, charities
enhance their volunteer management capacity and their
ability to retain volunteers.
Executive Summary
“Charities interested in increasing
retention of volunteers should invest in
recognizing volunteers, providing training
and professional development for them,
and screening volunteers and matching
them to organizational tasks.
2Volunteer Management Practices and Retention of Volunteers
In 2003, with the backing of the UPS Foundation, the
Corporation for National and Community Service, and
the USA Freedom Corps, the Urban Institute undertook
the first national study of volunteer management capac-
ity. One purpose of the study was to document the extent
to which charities use various practices in managing
volunteers. The field of volunteer administration has
long promoted a range of best practices, including super-
vision, data collection, recognition, and training.1How-
ever, until we undertook systematic research, we did not
know the extent to which these practices have taken root
in the nonprofit sector or their influence on retaining
volunteers.
We drew a sample of nearly 3,000 charities that had filed
Form 990 with the IRS in 2000, which excludes charities
with less than $25,000 in annual gross receipts. We con-
ducted telephone interviews with volunteer administra-
tors or executive managers in most of these charities,
asking them about their volunteer activities and manage-
ment practices, and the challenges and benefits that vol-
unteers bring to their operations. We learned that four out
of five charities use volunteers in their activities, either in
service to others or in helping to run the organization.
The results we present are based on those charities that
engage volunteers; we exclude charities that do not use
volunteers.
Adoption of Volunteer Management Practices by Charities
Introduction: What Management Practices Have Charities Adopted?
What Practices or Characteristics Explain Volunteer Retention?
Why focus on volunteer management? The prevailing
wisdom is that unless organizations pay attention to
issues of volunteer management, they will not do a good
job of recruiting, satisfying, and retaining volunteers.
The importance is underscored by the findings of a study
commissioned by the UPS Foundation in 1998.2That
study revealed that two-fifths of volunteers have stopped
volunteering for an organization at some time because
of one or more poor volunteer management practices.
Reasons included the organization not making good use
of a volunteer’s time or good use of their talents, or
that volunteer tasks were not clearly defined. The study
warned, “Poor volunteer management practices result
in more lost volunteers than people losing interest
because of changing personal or family needs.
Administrators of volunteer programs are not without
tools to recruit and retain volunteers. As volunteer
administration has become more professionalized,
public and nonprofit leaders, agency managers, and
field experts have turned their attention to improving
the capacity of host organizations to accommodate
volunteers. In a report prepared in cooperation with the
Points of Light Foundation and the Association for
Volunteer Administration, the UPS Foundation advocated
adoption of 23 volunteer management practices.3In
general, the practices center on providing funding to
support volunteer involvement, especially for a desig-
nated leader or manager to oversee volunteers, and
“One purpose of the study was to document
the extent to which charities use various
practices in managing volunteers. Until we
undertook systematic research, we did not
know the extent to which these practices
have taken root in the nonprofit sector.
“We learned that four out of five charities
use volunteers in their activities, either in
service to others or in helping to run the
organization.
Volunteer Management Practices and Retention of Volunteers 3
having a set of appropriate practices and procedures
to administer the volunteer program.
Other studies echo these views on effective means for
supporting and retaining volunteers. Grossman and
Furano identify three elements as crucial to the success
of any volunteer program: screening potential volunteers
to ensure appropriate entry and placement in the organi-
zation; orientation and training to provide volunteers
with the skills and outlook needed; and management and
ongoing support of volunteers by paid staff to ensure that
volunteer time is not wasted.4They conclude, “No matter
how well intentioned volunteers are, unless there is an
infrastructure in place to support and direct their efforts,
they will remain ineffective at best or, worse, become
disenchanted and withdraw, potentially damaging recipi-
ents of services in the process.”
A research report on volunteer service and community
engagement in selected state agencies and organizations
in Texas focuses on many of these same practices and
procedures, including screening of volunteers and match-
ing them to positions, training and orientation, manage-
ment and communication, and recognition and
evaluation.5In another study, paid staff time allocated
to the volunteer program, as well as an array of recom-
mended practices for volunteer management, were
related statistically to the benefits these programs real-
ized from volunteer involvement.6The accumulating
evidence suggests that volunteer management capacity
is a function of both staff support of volunteering and
adoption of administrative practices necessary for the
management of volunteers.
The current trend in the charitable sector is for organiza-
tions to adopt the efficiencies of management that have
been developed in the business sector. Although many
charities resist the culture of becoming more busi-
nesslike, funders and board members often demand
that charities adopt modern management methods. As
evidenced by the number of charities that are adopting
volunteer management practices at least to some degree,
the professionalization of volunteer management is
clearly underway. The costs, benefits, and consequences
of adoption of volunteer management practices should be
a subject for managers and policymakers alike.
The next five pages document the degree of adoption of
volunteer management practices by charities with differ-
ent characteristics. Following that, we confront the issue
of retention of volunteers. Although observers have been
quick to advocate the adoption of volunteer management
practices, little research to date has examined the rela-
tionship between these practices and the retention of
volunteers. In this report, we present an analysis of the
relationship between volunteer management capacity
and retention.
1See, for example, Susan Ellis (1996) From the Top Down: The Executive
Role in Volunteer Program Success, and Steve McCurley and Rick Lynch
(1996) Volunteer Management: Mobilizing all the Resources in the Com-
munity.
2UPS Foundation (1998) Managing Volunteers: A Report from United
Parcel Service. Available at http://www.community.ups.com.
3UPS Foundation (2002) A Guide To Investing In Volunteer Resources
Management: Improve Your Philanthropic Portfolio. Available at
http://www.community.ups.com.
4Jean Baldwin Grossman and Kathryn Furano (2002) Making the Most of
Volunteers. Public/Private Ventures. Available at http://www.ppv.org.
5Sarah Jane Rehnborg, Catherine K. Fallon, and Benjamin J. Hinerfeld
(2002) Investing in Volunteerism: The Impact of Service Initiatives in
Selected Texas State Agencies. Austin, TX: LBJ School of Public Affairs.
6Jeffrey L. Brudney (1999) “The Effective Use of Volunteers: Best
Practices for the Public Sector.Law and Contemporary Problems.
“Volunteer management capacity is a
function of two things. One is staff support.
The other is the adoption of relevant
administrative practices necessary for
the effective management of volunteers.
4Volunteer Management Practices and Retention of Volunteers
The nine management practices listed in Figure 1 are the
ones that we presented to survey respondents who told
us they involve volunteers in their operations. We asked
them if they have adopted each practice to a large degree,
to some degree, or not at all. The bars indicate the per-
centage of charities that say they have adopted to a large
or some degree. The most striking finding is that only
one practice, regular supervision and communication
with volunteers, has been adopted to a large degree by
more than half of charities. Large degree adoption of
training for either volunteers or for paid staff in working
with volunteers is particularly rare; these practices are
more likely to have been adopted only to some degree,
if at all.
The likelihood that a charity adopts a particular manage-
ment practice depends on its specific needs and charac-
teristics. Not all practices can or should be adopted by all
charities. While the practice of screening volunteers and
matching them with appropriate tasks is important
when volunteers are mentoring or tutoring children,
such screening and matching may be unnecessary when
a neighborhood association mobilizes residents to clean
up a local park. Training paid staff in how to work effec-
tively with volunteers may be a fruitful practice for many
organizations, but it is not relevant to those charities that
have no paid staff. The critical question is whether chari-
ties that should be adopting a particular practice have the
resources and other institutional support necessary to put
the practice in place.
The following four pages document how adoption of
these nine practices vary by important organizational
characteristics, such as the size of the organization or the
way they use volunteers. These differences provide some
clues into which conditions make certain practices partic-
ularly relevant, and suggest other kinds of circumstances
that inhibit charities from adopting these practices.
0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100%
Tra ining for paid staff in
working with volunteers
Training and professional development
opportunities for volunteers
Annual measurement of
the impacts of volunteers
Recognition activities, such as award
ceremonies, for volunteers
Written policies and job descriptions
for volunteer involvement
Screening procedures to
identify suitable volunteers
Regular collection of information on
volunteer numbers and hours
Liability coverage or insurance
protection for volunteers
Regular supervision and
communication with volunteers 67%
46%
30%
26%
45%
45%
32%
42%
44%
35%
37%
47%
30% 32%
25%
19%
49%
46%
Figure 1: Management Practices that Charities Say They Practice to a Large Degree or to Some Degree
Adopted to large degree Adopted to some degree
Volunteer Management Practices
Key Finding: Charities Are Receptive to Best Practices in Volunteer
Management, but Commonly Adopt Them Only to Some Degree
Volunteer Management Practices and Retention of Volunteers 5
Management Practices and Size of the Charity
Key Finding: Adoption Most Likely among Largest Charities
Figure 2 illustrates the average level of adoption of manage-
ment practices by charities of different sizes. For each prac-
tice, we assign a value of 0 if a particular charity has not
adopted the practice, a value of 1 if the charity has adopted
the practice to some degree, and a value of 2 if the charity
has adopted the practice to a large degree. We then calculate
the average for all of the charities in a particular group.
As we might expect, the size of a charity matters in
whether most practices have been adopted or not. The
largest charities (those with over $5 million in annual
expenditures, denoted ) consistently fall furthest to the
right on the scale, indicating highest average levels of
adoption. In contrast, the smallest charities (those with less
than $100,000 in annual expenditures, denoted ) tend to
fall furthest to the left, indicating lowest levels of adoption.
The bunching of symbols indicate little or no difference
between charities of different size classes, while greater
spreads indicate greater differences. For example, liabil-
ity coverage or insurance protection for volunteers is
about equally likely for organizations in the top two size
classes, but both are substantially more likely than the
smallest charities to have adopted this practice.
On the other hand, the rare practice of training paid staff
in working with volunteers is not influenced by organiza-
tion size. That is, despite our expectation that this prac-
tice would be practiced more often by larger charities
than by smaller ones, we observe no differences across
size classes.7All other management practices display
differences in adoption level across categories of organi-
zation size. Even the apparent bunching of symbols on
“regular supervision and communication with volun-
teers” represents a difference between the smallest and
largest charities. This practice is by far the most com-
monly adopted practice among small charities, but the
largest charities are still more likely to have adopted it.
Figure 2. Average Level of Adoption of Volunteer Management Practices, by Size of Charity
no adoption small degree adoption large degree adoption
less than 100,000 $100,000–$500,000 $500,000–$1 million
$1 million–$5 million more than $5 million
Tra ining for paid staff in
working with volunteers
Training and professional development
opportunities for volunteers
Annual measurement of
the impacts of volunteers
Recognition activities, such as award
ceremonies, for volunteers
Written policies and job descriptions
for volunteer involvement
Screening procedures to
identify suitable volunteers
Regular collection of information on
volunteer numbers and hours
Liability coverage or insurance
protection for volunteers
Regular supervision and
communication with volunteers
7Claims about the differences or similarities between organizations with
different characteristics are based on an analysis of variance, a statistical
test that indicates whether the observed differences are large enough to be
considered greater than chance (p < 0.05).
We divided charities into size groups depending on how much total money they say they spent in a year. This figure is taken from Forms
990 reported to the IRS in 2000 by charities in the study.
6Volunteer Management Practices and Retention of Volunteers
We divided charities into four groups based on their
scope of volunteer use. Our groups are based on both the
numbers of volunteers that charities engaged in the past
year, as well as the number of hours that volunteers
collectively worked in a typical week. If a charity
engaged at least 50 volunteers over the course of the
year, we defined them as having “many volunteers”;
otherwise, we defined them as having “few volunteers.
If volunteers collectively worked at least 50 hours in
a typical week, we defined a charity as representing
“many hours”; otherwise we considered them to
represent “few hours.
The cross-classification results in four categories of char-
ities. The group with “few volunteers, few hours” is the
largest group, and we expect that they are least likely to
have adopted most volunteer management practices.
“Many volunteers, few hours” includes those charities
that engage many volunteers for predominantly short-
term or episodic assignments; in contrast, “few volun-
teers, many hours” includes those charities that use
volunteers in more sustained ways. “Many volunteers,
many hours” is the smallest group, but represents those
charities with the largest scope of volunteer involvement.
Figure 3 shows how adoption of management practices
varies across scope of volunteer use. As expected,
charities with large scope of volunteer involvement
are significantly more likely to have adopted the various
practices when compared to charities that engage
comparatively fewer volunteers for fewer hours.
Comparisons of the two middle categories show that
charities that use episodic volunteers (“many volunteers,
few hours”) have the edge in recognition activities,
collection of information on volunteer numbers and
hours, and measuring the impacts of volunteer activities.
In contrast, charities with more sustained use of fewer
volunteers (“few volunteers, many hours”) are more
likely to have liability coverage or insurance protection,
training and professional development for volunteers,
screening and matching procedures, and regular super-
vision and communication. These practices indicate a
greater investment in volunteers.
Figure 3. Average Level of Adoption of Volunteer Management Practices, by Scope of Volunteer Use
no adoption small degree adoption large degree adoption
few volunteers, few hours few volunteers, many hours
many volunteers, few hours many volunteers, many hours
Tra ining for paid staff in
working with volunteers
Training and professional development
opportunities for volunteers
Annual measurement of
the impacts of volunteers
Recognition activities, such as award
ceremonies, for volunteers
Written policies and job descriptions
for volunteer involvement
Screening procedures to
identify suitable volunteers
Regular collection of information on
volunteer numbers and hours
Liability coverage or insurance
protection for volunteers
Regular supervision and
communication with volunteers
Management Practices and Scope of Volunteer Use
Key Finding: Adoption of Different Management Practices Depends
on How Volunteers Are Used
Volunteer Management Practices and Retention of Volunteers 7
Management Practices and Primary Use of Volunteers
Key Finding: Charities that Primarily Use Volunteers in Direct Service
Roles Are More Likely to Have Adopted Most Practices
The work that volunteers do also influences adoption of
management practices. We asked survey respondents to
describe the main role that volunteers perform, the one
to which the organization devotes the most time, money,
and other resources. Based on these descriptions, we
organized charities into four categories based on their
primary use of volunteers.
Most charities use volunteers primarily in direct service
activities, such as mentoring or tutoring. Some use
volunteers in carrying out services, but not in ways that
usually bring them into contact with others; we describe
these activities as “indirect service.” The other two cate-
gories include volunteers who are primarily working to
make the charity run rather than providing services.
One is an internal administrative role, including such
activities as filing, copying, or answering phones. The
other is an external administrative role, including such
activities as fundraising, lobbying, or public relations.
Charities that primarily use volunteers in direct service
roles are furthest to the right on all nine management
practice scales, indicating that they are far more likely
to have adopted each practice. The result makes sense
because charities that use volunteers for direct client
contact must be more careful about how these services
are handled. Failure to follow accepted practices for
volunteer management may jeopardize service quality,
the reputation of the organization, or the quality of the
volunteer experience.
In contrast, the average adoption scores for charities
that use volunteers primarily in indirect service, internal
administration, or external administration tend to group
together, indicating that these uses of volunteers do not
distinguish adopters from non-adopters. To the extent
that there are differences, charities that involve volun-
teers primarily in internal administration tend to be
second-most likely to adopt most practices. However,
these charities are least likely to evaluate the impacts
of their volunteers, not surprising given that their
volunteer tasks are primarily administrative rather
than service-oriented.
Figure 4. Average Level of Adoption of Volunteer Management Practices, by Primary Use of Volunteers
no adoption small degree adoption large degree adoption
direct service indirect service internal administration external administration
Tra ining for paid staff in
working with volunteers
Training and professional development
opportunities for volunteers
Annual measurement of
the impacts of volunteers
Recognition activities, such as award
ceremonies, for volunteers
Written policies and job descriptions
for volunteer involvement
Screening procedures to
identify suitable volunteers
Regular collection of information on
volunteer numbers and hours
Liability coverage or insurance
protection for volunteers
Regular supervision and
communication with volunteers
8Volunteer Management Practices and Retention of Volunteers
Management Practices and Subsector
Key Finding: Health Charities Are Most Active in Adoption
of Volunteer Management Practices
The charities in this study represent the broad array of
nonprofit organizations in the United States. Charities are
involved in our daily lives in a rich variety of ways, and
their missions touch on almost all issues of public inter-
est. The industry, or subsector, in which a charity works
might be related to how it engages volunteers, or which
practices it has adopted in managing its volunteers.
We placed our study organizations into categories based
on their primary purpose. Three-fourths of them could be
placed in one of four major categories: human services;
education; health; or arts, culture, and humanities (Figure
5). The remaining one-fourth consists of either charities
that support the work of other charities, or charities that
operate in smaller subsectors (such as environmental or
animal related). The figure below is based only on the
three-fourths that we classified into the major groups
indicated.
Charities operating in the health subsector are more
likely to have adopted most practices. On average, health
charities are more likely to have liability coverage or
insurance protection for volunteers, hold recognition
activities for volunteers, and to screen and match volun-
teers to appropriate assignments. This likely reflects the
greater number of resources, the higher level of profes-
sionalization, and (in some cases) the greater urgency of
volunteer performance in the health field.
Human service charities rival health charities on
adoption of most items, but charities operating in the
education and arts fields tend to lag on most practices.
Charities operating in the education and arts fields are
substantially less likely to have liability coverage, to
regularly collect information on volunteer numbers and
hours, to measure the impacts of volunteers, or to screen
and match volunteers to assignments. Arts organizations
are notably less likely to hold award or other recognition
activities for their volunteers.
The only practice that does not vary by subsector is
the popular practice of supervision and communication
with volunteers, practiced equally by human service,
education, health, and arts organizations.
Figure 5. Average Level of Adoption of Volunteer Management Practices, by Subsector
no adoption small degree adoption large degree adoption
human services education health arts, culture, and humanities
Tra ining for paid staff in
working with volunteers
Training and professional development
opportunities for volunteers
Annual measurement of
the impacts of volunteers
Recognition activities, such as award
ceremonies, for volunteers
Written policies and job descriptions
for volunteer involvement
Screening procedures to
identify suitable volunteers
Regular collection of information on
volunteer numbers and hours
Liability coverage or insurance
protection for volunteers
Regular supervision and
communication with volunteers
Volunteer Management Practices and Retention of Volunteers 9
In this section, we explore the relationship between the
adoption of volunteer management practices, various
organizational characteristics, and the reported rate of
volunteer retention among the charities in our study.
Retention is a goal for most charities, as well as an indi-
cation of the success of its volunteer program. For chari-
ties that engage volunteers mainly in episodic or short
term assignments, retention may not be quite so high a
priority. Even in these cases, however, most charities
would likely prefer to have their volunteers take on new
tasks as assignments are completed. Recruiting volun-
teers is an expensive and time-consuming job, so chari-
ties generally like to maximize retention. Retention is
also important because volunteers often become loyal
financial donors to the organization as well.
To measure retention, we asked respondents “Of the
volunteers that worked with your organization one year
ago, approximately what percentage would you say are
still involved as volunteers?” Nearly 3 percent said zero,
and 17 percent said all were retained, but most fell
somewhere in between. The median charity reported
an 80 percent retention rate.
Our analysis considers how a variety of organizational
practices and characteristics are related to the reported
retention rate. A key feature of our approach is that all
of the factors are considered at the same time, so the
influence of one practice or characteristic takes into
account all of the other factors in the analysis. The
factors are divided into four categories: management
practices, investments in volunteer resources, the value
that volunteers bring to charities, and various other
organizational characteristics.
Management Practices8
As Figure 6 shows, four of the eight management prac-
tices have an effect on volunteer retention. Charities that
say they have adopted to a large degree the practice of
hosting recognition activities for volunteers have a higher
rate of retention, as do those that offer training and
professional development opportunities for volunteers,
and those that use screening procedures to identify suit-
able volunteers and to match them with appropriate jobs
or tasks. These volunteer management practices all
center on making the experience worthwhile for the
volunteer. Other practices, such as liability coverage
or insurance protection, regular collection of information
on the number of volunteers and hours, training for paid
staff in working with volunteers, and written policies and
job descriptions, may generate other benefits, but they
center on what is important to the charity rather than
what is important to volunteers. Not surprisingly, adop-
tion of these practices is unrelated to retention. Retention
appears to be very much a product of what charities do
directly for their volunteers.
Sometimes a practice that is good for the charity may not
be popular with individual volunteers. A curious finding
is that regular supervision and communication with
volunteers is associated with lower levels of retention.
This management practice is the most widely adopted
among charities, with two-thirds of the charities adopting
it to a large degree, and virtually all of them adopting
it to at least some degree. We do not suggest that
charities stop supervising and communicating with their
volunteers! However, some charities may supervise and
communicate in a way that volunteer experiences feel
too much like the grind of their daily jobs rather than an
enjoyable avocation, thereby diminishing the experience
for volunteers and reducing their desire to continue
volunteering. Of course, increased support and
communication may be a response to poor retention.
Thus, organizations that encounter retention problems
may take steps to alleviate their problems by engaging
volunteers more directly.
Retention of Volunteers
What Factors Explain Whether Charities Can Keep Their Volunteers
Coming Back?
8The variables in this section are eight of the nine management practices
discussed on the preceding pages; “annual measurement of impacts” is
excluded because it overlaps substantially with “regular collection of
information.” This set of variables separates charities that say they have
adopted practices to a large degree from those that do not make this
claim.
10 Volunteer Management Practices and Retention of Volunteers
Investment in Volunteer Resources9
Charities that feel challenged by the lack of funds allo-
cated to support volunteers have lower retention rates
than charities that report fewer such challenges. Surpris-
ingly, however, retention rates do not vary according to
the percentage of time a paid staff member devotes to
managing the volunteer program. Although having a paid
staff volunteer coordinator is related to adoption of man-
agement practices (as well as other benefits), this support
does not necessarily translate into greater retention of
volunteers.
The final issue in the category of investment in volunteer
resources concerns organizational culture. That is, has
the leadership of the charity invested in creating the kind
of climate that welcomes and encourages volunteers? No
surprise, the results indicate that charities that experience
resistance or indifference toward volunteer involvement
are less able to retain volunteers.
Value that Volunteers Bring to Charities10
The value of volunteer participation to the charity affects
retention. Charities that use volunteers to recruit other
multiple regression, model adjusted R2= 0.247; magnitudes of bars are standardized betas for variables statistically significant at p <0.10;
indicates that variable has no effect on retention (p > 0.10).
Figure 6. The Influence of Management, Investments, Volunteer Value, and Other Organizational Characteristics on
Retention of Volunteers
Management practices adopted to large degree
Investment in volunteer resources
Value that volunteers bring to charities
Organizational characteristics
Negative influences Positive influences
recruitment problems index
ratio: number of staff/number of volunteers
percentage of volunteers under age 24
size of charity
volunteers absent, unreliable, poor work quality
volunteer benefits index
volunteers recruit others one-on-one
staff or board members indifferent toward volunteers
time that paid staffer spends on volunteer management
lack of funds for supporting volunteers
regular collection of volunteer numbers and hours
liability coverage and insurance protection
training for paid staff in working with volunteers
written policies and job descriptions
supervision, communication with volunteers
screening volunteers, matching to assignments
training, professional development for volunteers
recognition activities .09
.06
.06
–.13
–.06
–.05
–.08
.11
.11
–.36
–.06
–.05
Volunteer Management Practices and Retention of Volunteers 11
volunteers one-on-one are better able to retain volunteers.
Enlisting volunteers as “spokespersons” for the charity in
this manner implies a level of trust in these participants,
evidence of both a supportive organizational culture and
confidence that the charity provides a worthwhile experi-
ence to volunteers. The value that charities place on
volunteers pays dividends in retention. Figure 6 shows
that the greater the number of benefits charities feel they
realize from volunteer involvement, the higher their rate
of volunteer retention. Conversely, to the extent that
charities perceive that volunteer service is costly to
them in the form of absenteeism, unreliability, or poor
work habits, they have lower reported rates of volunteer
retention. Charities that do not have this perception do
a better job of keeping their volunteers.
Organizational Characteristics11
We anticipated that larger charities would be better able
to retain volunteers due to their greater adoption of
various volunteer management strategies, but the results
in Figure 6 suggest the opposite: smaller charities have
higher rates of volunteer retention. The survey results
cannot tell us why this is the case, but it is easy to
imagine several possible reasons for this finding. Since
smaller charities tend to have fewer volunteers, they can
devote more attention to them as individuals. Or, with
less budget to pursue organizational missions, volunteer
assistance (and retention) is more critical for them. On
9The first variable in this section reflects the percentage of time that a
paid staff member spends on volunteer management; for charities with no
staff or no paid staff member in the role of volunteer administrator, the
value is 0. The two other measures come from a series of questions about
challenges that charities might face. We asked respondents if lack of ade-
quate funds for supporting volunteer involvement was a big problem, a
small problem, or not a problem at all. We similarly asked whether indif-
ference or resistance on the part of paid staff or board members was a
problem.
10Our first variable indicates whether the charity uses volunteers to recruit
volunteers one-on-one to a great extent, to some extent, or to no extent.
The second is a Benefits Index, a sum of the reported values that volun-
teers bring to charities in the form of increased service quality, cost sav-
ings, public support, or specialized skills; higher values reflect greater
reported benefits. The third item is another of the challenges that we
asked respondents about; in this case, we asked if absenteeism, unreliabil-
ity, or poor work habits or work quality on the part of volunteers was a
big problem, a small problem, or not a problem.
11Size of charity is indicated by the five size groupings used on page 7.
Percentage of volunteers under age 24 is the reported percentage of total
volunteers in this age category. The ratio of staff to volunteers is calcu-
lated by dividing the reported number of staff members by the number of
volunteers in the past year. A high value on this ratio reflects an organiza-
tion where most work is done by paid staff; a low value indicates an
organization where most work is done by volunteers. The final measure,
the Recruitment Problems Index, is a sum of three recruitment challenges
that we asked about. High values indicate problems with recruiting suffi-
cient numbers of volunteers, recruiting volunteers with the right skills or
expertise, or recruiting volunteers during the workday; low values indicate
few reported recruiting problems.
the other hand, another measure of the importance of
volunteers to the charity, the ratio of paid staff to
volunteers, is not related to retention.
The strongest effect in the analysis pertains to the
predominant age of the volunteers in a given charity.
Figure 6 indicates that charities with a larger percentage
of volunteers under age 24 have lower rates of retention.
Again, we can imagine the circumstances that might
explain this finding. Young people are newer to work
life, their life circumstances often change seasonally and
rapidly, and their roots in the community are less deep
than older volunteers. Consequently, they are less likely
to maintain relationships with the charities in which they
volunteer.
Finally, the analysis shows that charities that have
problems recruiting volunteers also encounter difficulties
in retaining them. Steps toward alleviating one of these
shortcomings should also help to address the other.
“Charities that use volunteers to recruit
other volunteers have higher retention
rates. Having volunteers represent the
charity implies trust, evidence of a positive
organizational culture, and confidence
that the charity provides a worthwhile
experience for volunteers.
12 Volunteer Management Practices and Retention of Volunteers
Charities adopt volunteer management practices for
reasons that go beyond the question of whether they
can afford them or not. While the resources available to
a given charity no doubt play a part in adoption of the
management practices under study, the roles that
volunteers play in the organization and tradeoffs between
satisfying organizational and volunteer needs are also
important in understanding which charities adopt which
practices.
Scope and Nature of Volunteer Use Influences
Management Choices. Different volunteer management
practices have different underlying purposes. While all
volunteers like to be recognized for their contributions to
the organization or community, this kind of external
motivation may not be necessary for charities that have
made long-term commitments to their volunteers, a prac-
tice that appeals to the intrinsic motivations of individu-
als. Long-term commitments are exemplified by training
and professional development opportunities, regular
communication and supervision, and liability coverage.
These are precisely the kinds of practices more likely
to be adopted by those charities that use volunteers in
sustained ways, characterized by having relatively few
volunteers who spend a lot of hours working for the
charity. Charities that cater to episodic volunteers adopt
different strategies, such as providing external validation
through public recognition of volunteers.
Charities Must Balance Individual and Organiza-
tional Needs. To sustain the participation of volunteers,
charities must create a good experience for them. Chari-
ties must be equally concerned with implementing prac-
tices designed to make sure that they involve volunteers
wisely and well, and commit sufficient support resources
to this endeavor. Our study shows that charities that
adopt the practices most directly concerned with satisfy-
ing volunteers reap the highest rates of retention. Prac-
tices that cater more to the needs of the charity than the
needs of volunteers are unlikely to motivate volunteers
and, in fact, are not related to retention of volunteers over
time. Nonetheless, these practices may be critical for the
charity to oversee volunteer involvement in an account-
able manner, and to generate resources necessary to keep
the charity running.
Retention of Volunteers Involves More Than
Management Techniques. Adoption of volunteer
management practices can help organizations to retain
volunteers, but charities interested in retaining volunteers
should not stop there. They should also allocate suffi-
cient funds to support volunteer involvement, cultivate
an organizational climate that is welcoming to volun-
teers, give their volunteers an experience worth sharing,
and enlist volunteers in recruiting other volunteers one-
on-one. However, neither volunteer management tech-
niques nor these other steps alone will maximize
retention. Charities that want to retain these essential
human resources should adopt relevant volunteer
management practices and invest in the infrastructure,
culture, and volunteer experience that will keep
volunteers coming back.
Volunteers are valuable human resources. Four out of
five charities use volunteers to help them meet organiza-
tional needs for service and administration. Most chari-
ties could not get by without their volunteers, and they
certainly would be less productive and responsive with-
out them. Turnover of volunteers can disrupt the opera-
tion of the charity, threaten the ability to serve clients,
and signal that the volunteer experience is not as reward-
ing as it might be. Charities cannot be expected to keep
every volunteer, but building volunteer management
capacity to involve and retain them makes sense for both
charities and the volunteers upon whom they rely.
“Some volunteer management practices
are important to the operations of charities
and some are important for providing good
experiences for volunteers. The ones that
focus on volunteers are the ones that keep
volunteers interested and involved.
Concluding Observations
Implications for Practice
Volunteer Management Practices and Retention of Volunteers 13
About the Authors
Mark A. Hager, Ph.D., is a senior research associate in
the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban
Institute. He is the principal investigator for the Volunteer
Management Capacity Study. His other work focuses on
administrative and fundraising costs among nonprofit
organizations, data collection in the field of the perform-
ing arts, and the financial stability of nonprofits.
Jeffrey L. Brudney, Ph.D., is professor of public admin-
istration and policy at the School of Public and Interna-
tional Affairs, University of Georgia. He is the foremost
research expert on volunteer management programs and
community volunteer centers in the United States.
Among numerous other publications, he is author of the
“Volunteer Administration” entry in the International
Encyclopedia of Public Policy and Administration.
About the Project Sponsors
The volunteer management capacity study was launched
by the USA Freedom Corps. The project is supported
by the Corporation for National and Community Service
and The UPS Foundation. The research was conducted
by the Urban Institute. For additional information
on these sponsors, consult Volunteer Management
Capacity in America’s Charities and Congregations:
A Briefing Document.
.
Methodology
The volunteer management capacity study is based on
surveys of separate populations of U.S. charities and
congregations. The current report focuses only on the
charities sample. A sample of 2,993 charities was drawn
within expenditure and subsector strata from 214,995
charities that filed Form 990 with the IRS in 2000.
From August to November 2003, the Urban Institute and
Princeton Survey Research Associates called organiza-
tions to verify their existence, check mailing addresses,
and obtain the name of an appropriate contact; they
completed precalls with 80 percent of charities. After
contact, they mailed a letter that explained the motiva-
tions of the study and invited participation, and then
called each organization up to 30 times to collect study
information. Interviews averaging 20 minutes were
conducted with organizational representatives familiar
with volunteer management. In the final weeks of the
study, interviewers offered $50 donations to organiza-
tions that were reluctant to participate; 11 percent of
interviews were completed with an incentive.
Adjusting for sampled organizations that were defunct
or could not be verified as “working organizations,
our response rate was 69 percent. Our unweighted data
includes 1,753 cases, including 1,354 that use volunteers
in their operations and do not primarily recruit and refer
volunteers to other organizations (volunteer centers).
Responding charities were weighted to represent the
expenditure and subsector strata from which they were
sampled. Weights were further adjusted to account for
organizations unreachable in the precall. Because these
weights help ensure that our respondents reflect the
characteristics of the working population from which
they were drawn, the results of the study reported in
this report are based on the weighted responses. For
more details on methodology, consult the FAQ at
http://www.volunteerinput.org.
14 Volunteer Management Practices and Retention of Volunteers
The Urban Institute
2100 M Street, NW
Washington, DC 20037
202-261-5709
paffairs@ui.urban.org
www.urban.org
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... If this is the case, it points to the important steps managers should consider taking to help cultivate good staff-volunteer relationships. Managers can make tangible efforts to support volunteer programs in public organizations (Ellis 2010), for instance, by employing volunteer management practices such as proper screening, training and feedback to volunteers (e.g., Hager and Brudney 2004;Rogelberg et al. 2010). Such efforts may help spur the skill-building that is needed for volunteers to successfully assist with service tasks. ...
... Another beneficial step is to implement adequate volunteer management practices that ensure volunteers are properly trained to solve service tasks. Such practices could include screening, training and supervision of new volunteers (Hager and Brudney 2004;Rogelberg et al. 2010). We hope that future studies will engage the findings presented in this study by replicating them in other contexts (e.g., in other professional contexts, other types of services, and in other countries), but also by beginning to shed light on whether and how volunteer management practices and their interplay with organizational characteristics may help reduce the use of stereotypes towards volunteers among service professionals. ...
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... For example, the Roman Catholic Church is the largest non-profit healthcare provider in the US (CHA, 2021). Charities operating in healthcare are more likely than those in other industries to professionally manage volunteers, reflecting imperatives to expand professionalism and be financially sustainable in the sector (Hager and Brudney, 2004). ...
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Research indicates healthy family relationships can reduce recidivism. More effort has been placed towards providing family life programming in prisons to promote healthy individual and relational functioning, yet only a handful of studies have evaluated and provided insight on relationship education (RE) for incarcerated adults. This study contributes to this emerging effort and examines changes following participation in a RE program, using a sample of 461 incarcerated men and women. Findings indicate significant improvements in anxiety and depressive symptoms and conflict resolution skills. Additional tests of moderation of change by gender, relationship status, and child age revealed a greater change in individual functioning for those in a relationship compared to those who were not. Indications are that RE programs hold promise for contributing to better individual well-being and healthy relationships during incarceration and the potential for reducing recidivism incidence after re-entry.
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... The efficacy of a volunteer program can be assessed by how productive the program is (Gamm and Kassab 1983), and managing the volunteers in a way that recognizes their views are important (Hager and Brudney 2004). In a sector worth nearly $3 billion to the Australian economy (Commonwealth of Australia 2018), effectively supporting students at higher education institutions is imperative. ...
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