New Approach to Volunteerism Needed to Counter Turnover

Volunteers are of great value to society, both individually and economically. Although the number of volunteers has increased slightly this year in The Netherlands, it is still not back to pre-COVID levels. A decline in the number of volunteers is also visible worldwide. New research provides insight into volunteer turnover and offers tools for organizations to counter this turnover. Based on new research, a team of academics across the globe conclude: "Organizations and fellow volunteers play an important role in the retention and sustainable deployment of volunteers."

In paid work, factors such as contract conditions or salary can influence the decision to quit. In the case of volunteer work, it is insufficiently known why people stop. "By understanding the factors that influence considerations to stop volunteering, you can influence turnover," says the global research team.

Lack of support, autonomy, and appreciation are the main reasons for quitting

A worldwide meta-study of 117 studies involving more than 55,000 volunteers shows that a high degree of satisfaction and emotional involvement in the work and the organization are important indicators of sustainable volunteer work. On the other hand, personal circumstances, dissatisfaction with management, unclear communication, or too much work pressure are often reasons to quit. Lack of support, autonomy, and appreciation are decisive in this. "Interestingly, we found that these predictors do not change depending on age, gender, or type of volunteer work," the researchers state.

Important role for organizations and fellow volunteers

The results show that the quality of the relationships of volunteers with their supervisors and fellow volunteers has a significant influence on volunteer retention. The research also yields several recommendations for organizations. "For a volunteer organization, it is important to forge strong social bonds, to design activities to suit the individual, and to ensure that volunteers feel productive and supported. Furthermore, strengthening the sense of community, where volunteers feel part of something bigger, can help increase their involvement and satisfaction. Emphasizing the value of volunteer work also contributes to this," according to the researchers.

More insight into turnover essential for volunteer retention

The researchers noted that very little data is available on the actual turnover at volunteer organizations. "To develop data-based strategies for volunteer retention, it is important that organizations gain better insight into the turnover of their volunteers. The future of our society depends on our ability to understand volunteer turnover now and to appreciate the crucial role they play, in order to ensure a resilient society where new generations continue to volunteer."