In fact I belong to several volunteer community organisations, all of which struggle to attract and keep active members, just like the ODP does. So as I suddenly have lots of free time I decided to check what research had been done into volunteer retention.
The most-quoted study was undertaken in 1998 by the UPS Foundation. The report itself does not seem to be available online, but this site has a succinct summary:
In a national study on volunteerism done by the UPS Foundation, Manage My Time Better and I’ll Give You More, the second most frequently cited reason for ending volunteer involvement - following conflicting personal reasons - was the “Poor management of volunteers”.Following that study, UPS went on to publish a guide to the effective management of volunteer resources.
40% of these volunteers stopped volunteering for an agency at some time because of one or more poor volunteer management practices. Volunteers felt that the organization was poorly managed, their time was not well spent, the experience was not a good use of their talents, and tasks were not clearly defined. 9% said they were never thanked.
Extensive research was carried out by The Urban Institute in 2003, involving 3,000 charities in the USA. This report is available online, as a PDF download entitled "Volunteer Management Practices and Retention of Volunteers".
Although they studied only one type of organisation, the findings have a more general application, and I'm sure the following excerpts will ring true for any volunteer.
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 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 organization, 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.
Look after the volunteers and respect them, and they will stay.
Ignore them or discount them and they will leave.
Seems obvious, really. ;-)
[Added: An unfortunate reaction to the above research findings necessitated further explanation of them in my subsequent post.]