Volunteers move in and out of our organizations and unlike staff who have defined hours and pay, volunteers ebb and flow like water in an ecosystem. A simple volunteer flow statement is used to track this flow and then predict future flows based on factors that engage volunteers verses factors that block the volunteer flow. Let’s create a basic flow statement for volunteer recruitment efforts.

simple, but effective

Example: Month of May: We recruited 50 volunteers who signed up. Of those, 20 volunteers followed through and are now officially volunteering.  The other 30 volunteers did not follow through. The volunteer base has now increased by 20 volunteers. Sounds great if you simply say, “we gained 20 volunteers this month. 

But let’s go further. What about the 30 volunteers who left after recruitment? Here’s where you can explain the reasons volunteers leave and predict that more volunteers will leave due to these same reasons. Not so great, after all, is it?

Percentages are calculated from stats gathered – for example, exit surveys or interviews.

Percentages break down this way:

  • 16% of volunteers who left in May had other commitments
  • 33% of volunteers who left in May found on-boarding too cumbersome
  • 16% of volunteers who left in May did not find a role that suited them
  • 33% of volunteers who left in May needed more flexibility

When projecting volunteer recruitment in the future, we can now predict:

For every 10 volunteers we recruit, only 4 (or 40%) will stay. ( based on the above stats, 50 volunteers recruited – 30 volunteers that left = 60% of new volunteers will leave before they even start. Now, 20 new volunteers doesn’t sound so great when the number could have been 45, right? (not 50 because you can’t control the 5 who had other commitments)

Explain why volunteers leave by showing causation:

Of the volunteers who left:

  • only 16% left due to unavoidable reasons
  • over 80% left due to factors we can modify or change

We need to change…

We can now infer from the statistics that changes will likely increase the number of recruited volunteers who follow through. Changes include:

  • on-boarding needs to be less cumbersome
  • roles need to be more flexible
  • roles need to be expanded

A strategic Volunteer Flow sheet shows the reasons volunteers leave or stay. (causation). These “causes” are the reasons you have experienced all along and have been advocating for. Volunteer flow is a way to form your knowledge into a measurable report and more importantly, predict the future with statistical information.

Instead of the notion that a volunteer manager should “work harder” to “get volunteers,” we need to place the reasons volunteers leave or never get started squarely on the outdated systems that no longer work.

By predicting the same results in the future, you are illustrating that without the changes you are advocating for, volunteers will continue to leave before they even get started. You can use this method to show volunteer retention and causation as well.

show what you know

Volunteers flow in and out of our organizations for hundreds of reasons. The reasons we can control must work for the volunteer and by showing causation, we can more effectively advocate for the changes that will increase volunteer engagement.

Modern volunteers need modern programs that meet their needs. Our communities are ecosystems and volunteers flow in and around looking for the right opportunity to offer their skills and passions.

Let’s strategically advocate so that when volunteers flow our way, they find a place to stay.