Volunteer retention is about putting into place a series of processes and procedures that foster a sense of organisational commitment among volunteers. Volunteers who feel valued, supported, recognised and rewarded for their efforts are more likely to be retained by their organisation.

Identifying and implementing training and development programs develops the skills and confidence levels of volunteers. Volunteer retention is not about maintaining the services of all volunteers. Performance appraisal is necessary to ensure that sport and recreation organisations have reliable and effective volunteers. Record keeping was identified as a necessary task and provides a basis for recognising and rewarding volunteers.

Volunteers leave organisations. Rather than looking at this as a negative your club should view this turnover as an opportunity to change and develop. As long as your club plans for the replacement of volunteers, disruptions to operations are usually minimal and are far outweighed by the benefits of bringing new volunteers into an organisation.

Below are 6 key factors that will assist your club with volunteer retention.

1. Volunteer rights and responsibilities

Making sure the volunteers have a clear and concise understanding of what there role will be with your club and if they are meeting those responsibilities is extremely important. A clear and defined roll and responsibility needs to be outlined to eery volunteer you have regardless of the task they have been appointed. Volunteers need to be supported, particularly when they first enter an organisation or move into a larger or more complex position, or when their performance is being appraised. Providing support to volunteers is more easily achieved when volunteers are given a clear understanding of their rights and responsibilities. Importantly, any list of volunteer rights and responsibilities needs to be backed up with appropriate policies. Fulfilling a particular role (eg Coach, Secretary) may confer additional rights and responsibilities on individual volunteers.

2. Volunteer training and development

The level of competency of volunteers can have a significant impact on the success your club. Orientation within your club occurs soon after a volunteer is first recruited. It is a socialisation process in which volunteers are familiarised with your club and its key people. Training and development are more specific processes that move beyond a general introduction to an organisation. Training is about teaching specific job skills whereas development prepares volunteers for future roles or responsibilities and satisfies individual needs for personal growth. Training and development is not only offered to new recruits. Individuals who have been with an organisation for some time, but who are taking on a new position, or planning to do so, will also need access to appropriate training and development opportunities.Training and development processes vary widely from one organisation to another and need to be adapted to suit the needs and educational background of individual volunteers as well as an organisation’s needs and level of resources. Some things to remember about training and development are listed below.

Training and development may:

  • be formal or informal
  • take place on or off the job
  • be scheduled prior to or after taking up a new position
  • take a theoretical or practical approach
  • take place on site, off site or via distance learning (eg the Internet)
  • be instructor lead or self-directed
  • be specific to a sport or recreation organisation, or more generalised

3. Volunteer record keeping

Keeping records of such things as volunteer hours, years of service, service awards and performance appraisals enables organisations to document the work it and its volunteers have done and to better manage their human resources. Some of the benefits of keeping up-to-date volunteer records include:

  • Taking a more business-like approach to managing volunteers.
  • Providing a basis for developing a volunteer recognition program.
  • Acquiring knowledge about the amount of volunteer effort required to organise, run and evaluate programs and services (eg volunteer hours to run a carnival or open day).
  • Documenting the nature and amount of volunteer work undertaken by an organisation when applying for grants and other forms of assistance.
  • Providing a sound basis for terminating the services of non-performing volunteers.

Recognition stems from genuinely valuing volunteers and their efforts within your club. Everyone who volunteers for a sport and recreation organisation deserves some form of recognition, even if it is a simple thank you for helping out. Rewarding volunteers takes recognition a step further, by providing something tangible and extrinsic to the act of volunteering itself as a way of commending higher levels of performance among volunteers. Recognition and reward programs tend to work best when they are individualised, varied and open to new and interesting ideas. Recognition and rewards can vary from:

  • formal to informal
  • high cost to zero cost
  • group to individual
  • widely publicised to personal.

4. Volunteer performance appraisal

Maintaining volunteer numbers is not the only goal of volunteer retention. Successful clubs also seek ways of maximising the performance and satisfaction levels of their human resources (volunteers). Performance appraisal is a process of evaluating the effectiveness of volunteers and providing them with feedback. Performance appraisals should be used in a formative way to recognise and reward volunteers who have done a good job and to identify where improvements in a volunteer’s job performance can be made. Performance appraisal can be a formal process, particularly for operational level volunteers (eg accredited coaches), or an informal process, particularly where the Volunteer Coordinator (the person responsible for performance appraisals) has worked closely with a volunteer.

8 major steps in the performance appraisal process are:

  1. Determine the purpose of performance appraisal, e.g. individual development, identifying training needs, providing rewards and recognition to volunteers.
  2. Establish performance expectations, i.e. what aspects of performance are being appraised?
  3. Select appraisal methods; it is best to use more than one method, e.g. an interview as a well as ratings on a checklist.
  4. Determine who is responsible for the appraisal; this is usually the Volunteer Coordinator, supported by the board or committee.
  5. Conduct the performance appraisal.
  6. Schedule a performance appraisal interview with each volunteer; it is important that volunteers who have been appraised are given feedback and have the opportunity to respond to the feedback that they have been given.
  7. Agree to organisational and individual level adjustments.
  8. Review and revise the performance appraisal process; even processes that work well will need to be adjusted.

5. Recognising and rewarding volunteers

Recognising and rewarding volunteers is a key component in the effective management of human resources and is vital in the retention of sport and recreation volunteers. Below are some of the key considerations and approaches to recognising and rewarding volunteers with the aim of retaining their services.

Guidelines for volunteer recognition

  • Be immediate—recognise volunteer effort soon after it is given.
  • Be specific—give personal recognition.
  • Be consistent—recognise everyone’s achievements; avoid showing favouritism.
  • Be sincere—mean what you say.
  • Be enthusiastic—being positive and up-beat will build enthusiasm in others.

For some great ideas for rewards that you can give to your volunteers follow the link to our clubs page to check out things like our range of custom balls.

6. Retaining or replacing volunteers

Retaining or replacing volunteers is the final step in the human resource approach to managing volunteers. Volunteer retention provides an important sense of continuity and stability within sport and recreation organisations. This module has focused on strategies and processes for retaining volunteers. Replacing volunteers is a natural and inevitable occurrence in sport and recreation organisations and merely moves the HRM process beyond the maintenance functions and back to the process of acquiring human resources. As long as the volunteer replacement process takes place in an orderly and predictable manner the stability and continuity of sport and recreation organisations is rarely threatened. An important aspect of volunteer replacement is succession planning.

Why Volunteers Leave

Finally we will take a look at some reasons why volunteers leave clubs and organisations. Almost two-thirds of volunteers do not express any concerns about aspects of their voluntary work. However, those who do express concerns feel that there was a lack of support in their volunteer work, are concerned about legal responsibilities, or have concerns about the amount of time that their volunteer work required.

An important aspect of volunteer recognition is to listen to the concerns of volunteers. Volunteers may be more likely to be retained by sport and recreation organisations which provide adequate support, openly address concerns about legal responsibilities and find ways to reduce or be more flexible about the time required from each volunteer.

Volunteers leave sport and recreation organisations for a variety of reasons. Their reasons for leaving can be voluntary or involuntary, personal or organisational. Although it is important to know just why a volunteer leaves, it is more important to ensure that the organisation, its management or its volunteer policies are not the cause of volunteer turnover. If a volunteer leaves due to increased family or work commitments there is little that an organisation can do but to recruit a new volunteer.


Did you catch last weeks blog? Would you like some more useful tips and tricks to help grow your club? Visit the article ‘5 tips for recruiting volunteers’ to help attract and recruit volunteers to your club.

Don’t forget, if you need any information about our latest range of Spartan products and prices or if you would like some more useful tips and tricks about clubs, visit our club sports home page or give us a call on 1300 785 605.

Reference and further reading