Top 5 Factors that Increase Volunteer Retention

Considerations for empowering your organization's volunteers and reducing volunteer turnover.
In a Post-COVID world, nonprofit organizations are being asked to do much more with less. A recent study from the University of Pennsylvania discovered that in the aftermath of the pandemic:
  • 64.4% of nonprofits reported an increase in demand for their organizational services.
  • 51.1% of nonprofits have expanded their delivery of services.
  • 48.5% of nonprofits boosted staff workloads to help meet demand.
  • 28.7% of nonprofits are operating with less funding and paid staff than they had before the pandemic.

Striving to keep pace with increased demand, despite fewer resources, nonprofits today are relying more heavily upon volunteers to supplement their operational capacity. While volunteers have always played a meaningful role in the nonprofit sector, the need for their efforts have only increased in the years following the pandemic.

Accordingly, volunteer recruitment and volunteer retention have become critical KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) for many nonprofits across the US. While recruitment and retention are both important factors today, for the remainder of this article, we’ll focus on how nonprofits can improve volunteer retention. 

In 2023, the Journal of Organizational Behavior published a ‘first of its kind’ systematic review of volunteer turnover research. Researchers from Australia, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands synthesized 117 studies and the behaviors of 55,335 volunteers. Their meta-analysis assessed the impact of 44 unique factors and determined the strongest predictors of volunteer turnover. Below are the top 5 variables that most significantly impact volunteer retention.

Top 5 Factors that have the greatest impact on volunteer retention:

  1. Communication
  2. Organizational Support
  3. Job Satisfaction
  4. Affective Commitment 
  5. Leader-member Exchange

References:

  1. R. Caan, F. Handy, T. Marrese, D. Choi, A. Ferris. (2022). National findings and initial impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on volunteering, donation, and other prosocial behavior trends from 2020 through 2021. Social Policy & Practice, University of Pennsylvania. 
  2. Forner, V. W., Holtrop, D., Boezeman, E. J., Slemp, G. R., Kotek, M., Kragt, D., Askovic, M., & Johnson, A. (2024). Predictors of turnover amongst volunteers: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 45(3), 434–458. https://doi.org/10. 1002/job.2729