Realizing Volunteers Have a Shelf Life

Friday, February 08, 2019 09:55 | Kim Davis

Serving on the NCHVP board we have all agreed to take a month for our Blog and this is my month.  I had a few ideas, but it all changed with an email today.   I wish I could take credit for the wonderful article from Energize but I will give credit to Energize for writing and  Katherine Barrier at Northeast  for finding. 

This spoke so loud to me this morning.  I just recently had  a long time volunteer "retire" from volunteering and will miss her greatly.  I know we all lose volunteers for many reasons, so I hope this article will also speak to you!

Kim Mullis

Realizing Volunteers Have a Shelf Life

As volunteer managers, we have the added challenge of keeping really good volunteers coming back year after year simply by us being good volunteer managers. We don’t have raises to dole out; we just have the satisfaction of a job well done, camaraderie, socialization, learning, and other very worthwhile perks of volunteering to offer. We can’t, however, stop the inevitable conclusion of a volunteer and his/her journey...It behooves us to realize that we are not miracle workers, clamping onto volunteers because not to do so would result in some sort of self-imposed failure on our part.

It is time we realize that volunteers journey with us for many diverse reasons and that there will be an eventual completion of their journey, one which is supposed to end at some point, one which we can embrace and be thankful for while they are with us. Volunteers are as varied as any other group. To think that every one of them comes to us for noble, selfless reasons and will stay as long as the work is worthwhile is ignoring the complexities of the individuals we encounter. The work is worthwhile, always. It is the nuance of each and every volunteer’s perception and motivation that alters the outcome, not the work itself.

Granted, some experiences are doomed from the beginning, and sometimes our organizations or we are at fault for that. When that happens, yes, we need to mourn and learn so really good volunteers are not failed in the future. That is what we can beat ourselves up for, not for every single volunteer whose time has come and gone. Do we make mistakes, fail to do right by some volunteers? Absolutely. But do we need to blame ourselves for each and every volunteer that leaves due to circumstances beyond our control?

Learn more about volunteer retention and the reasons why volunteers leave in  The Volunteer Shelf Life, written and published by Meridian Swift, 2011. Permission is granted to reprint this excerpt. Reprints must include all citations and the statement: "Found in the Energize online library at"





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