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What freezes the flow of volunteers?

What is a volunteer flow? It is the movement of volunteers in and out of an organization, much like a cash flow in business. Like any resource, volunteers are a people-resource that is rich in skills, passions, marketing reach, knowledge, experience, dedication, and in ability to procure donations and other desired resources. As such, our volunteers must be viewed as just as valuable a resource as a donation flow.

Can we, volunteer managers predict our volunteer flow, especially in uncertain times such as we face today? Before we say no way, (mainly because we have all experienced surprises when it comes to who actually will volunteer), let’s ask this question: Would it benefit us, Leaders of Volunteers, to create a volunteer flow statement?

As a fan of mathematical equations (even when I mangle them), our aim is: UPV (under promise volunteer resources) < OPV (over produce volunteer resources).

We know that there are thousands of factors that influence volunteer recruitment and sustainability and we know that challenges have increased exponentially due to the pandemic. So, how can we possibly predict how many volunteers we will gain, retain or lose in the next few months?

We can’t predict with certainty, but we can estimate with causation. And this is actually a good time to introduce the idea that volunteers ebb and flow not only with changing times, but with any negative or positive experiences within our organizational structure. Volunteers aren’t something we “order up” or people who magically appear when needed and never question their assignments. This is the time to introduce the factors that freeze or free up a volunteer flow.

What is our objective?

Our aim is to create a consistent flow of highly engaged and productive volunteers who positively impact our organization’s goals, objectives and mission. Our job is to recruit these volunteers, and to develop them into contributing members of our teams. For more on development, see:




Will volunteers return after being furloughed? Will more virtual volunteers sign-up and then we are caught without enough meaningful roles for them? Will corporate and other groups want to continue their philanthropy? How will virtual training affect volunteer sustainability? These are questions we don’t have all the answers for, but based on what we are experiencing, we can create a volunteer flow strategy statement.

Next time: What goes into this strategy?