Why are my volunteers leaving?

This is a question that is rarely asked out loud.  We fear this question will be followed by even less desirable questions like:

  • Why aren’t you working harder to keep them?
  • Why don’t they think your campsite is worth it?
  • What are you doing wrong?
  • Why don’t they feel valued?
  • Who’s to be blame?

So the question of why volunteers leave remains unanswered.

And they continue to go.

But the solution is really quite simple (notice I didn’t say easy).

Volunteer management in general is quite simple.

We need to understand why volunteers choose to be volunteers.  And then we make sure we give them what they want.


So what is it that volunteers want?  There are 6 main types of volunteers, and you can get a worksheet on those types here.  But the desires volunteers have can be broken down even further than those 6 unique types of people into only 3 very basic needs.  Those are the need for safety, value, and enjoyment.

Safety:  Volunteers will only return to your organization if they feel both physically and emotionally safe.  This means that your role is to try to understand the personalities of your volunteers and push them only slightly out of their comfort zones.  Asking a shy volunteer to run an activity, for example, is not likely to make that volunteer feel emotionally secure.  Think carefully about how you can keep your volunteers feeling as safe as possible.

Value:  Volunteers want to feel like the work they do matters.  This means they need to understand the vision for the organization as well as see where they fit in to that vision.  In addition, volunteers need to feel as if the staff appreciate their work.  Consider what you and other staff members can do to make your volunteers feel more valued.  Do you write thank you notes on occasion?  Have a yearly volunteer banquet?  Include snacks for volunteers in your staff lounge?  Invite volunteers to some staff outings?  Anything you can do to remind volunteers of their value to you and your organization will keep them coming back.

Enjoyment:  It’s quite simple, volunteers need to like what they are doing.  It doesn’t necessarily need to fit into the category of  ‘fun’, but volunteers do need to enjoy themselves.  If you have volunteers helping out with mundane tasks like washing dishes and raking leaves, try to find ways to add enjoyable moments to their experiences.  Have music playing, or take frequent breaks for hot cocoa and other goodies.  Maybe punctuate volunteer work with a swim or game.  Anything to make their time with your organization as enjoyable as possible.

Volunteer needs are too often overlooked as other problems arise and vie for attention.  We rush to take care of the NOW things, and everything we do for our volunteers quickly becomes secondary.

And that is why our volunteers are leaving.


Related Articles:

Varying Volunteer Motives

This is a great one from Moose Jackson that lays out 10 specific reasons that your staff (or volunteers) might be leaving.


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