UK Study Points to Two Volunteer Retention Issues You Have the Power to Fix

Results of the Pathways to Participation study, a two-year project of the National Council for Voluntary Organizations (NCVO) and the Institute for Volunteering Research (IVR), both located in the UK, has just been released.  In addition to analyzing what stimulates civic engagement, the study also points to organizational issues that can affect supporter retention.  Fortunately, they are issues you can address directly.  To download the summary or a complete report click here.

The project’s goal was to improve the understanding of people’s experience of participation over the course of their lives, either through volunteering or involvement in a cause.  Although participation is widespread, those interviewed also pointed to reasons why they quit specific activities and moved on to the next thing.  Not surprisingly, unforeseen life events impacted the ability to participate.  

There were also areas that had more to do with their perceived ability to make a difference within their current situation.

“Some people demonstrated seemingly endless energy and commitment to the cause,” notes the study, “but they also frequently showed their dissatisfaction and frustration when barriers were encountered or change was not possible.”

Two Key Findings That Impact Participation and Retention

Changes in personal circumstances aside, the following were the two most frequently cited reasons for discontinuing involvement in a cause.

1) Poor Team Culture — Participants are adversely affected by negative relationships within groups, including those that are unwelcoming, insular or cliquey and feeling unappreciated, disempowered, disillusioned, frustrated or cynical about their involvement.

2) Poor Program Operations — Participants were turned off by poor group structures and processes, including poorly-run meetings that are tedious and do not result in any action, and the absence of support (including training, access to opportunities, emotional or psychological support).

You Have the Power to Change 

The good news is that both of these areas can be addressed directly by you and your organization.  If you survey your volunteers and get their candid feedback, you can discover what, exactly, is at the heart of any discontent.  You can then take direct steps to address it, such as staff training, program re-design, implementing process improvements, etc. 

You don’t have much control over which specific causes potential supporters might choose to support.  You may have influence over whether or not a person who supports your cause will also join your organization’s efforts.  But, improving with the environment that your supporters encounter once they cross your threshold is well within your sphere of influence.  How well you welcome and support them will directly affect whether or not they feel as though they can make a bona fide difference.

“Participation needs to fulfill the meaning an individual ascribes to it,” the report states,  “they want to see that it is having the impact they desire, for themselves, their networks and communities, or further afield.”

The study also discusses reasons why people volunteer and what their participation looks like over their lifetime.  Also, if you’re interested in further study, check out the previously-released Pathways to Participation literature review.  Click here to get it.  Their website also has a host of other resources at your fingertips.