Many camps could not do what they do if it wasn’t for their volunteers. There are many different types of volunteers, but each play an important role in your summer camp’s operation, help you reach your goals and fulfill your organization’s mission. From the young teens who are eager to help out anywhere and everywhere at summer camp to your volunteer board and committee members, creating a rewarding experience will help retain those great volunteers.
According to a survey conducted by Volunteer Canada, 62 percent of volunteers surveyed had a negative experience. This report was not specifically aimed at summer camp, but if that many people were having a bad volunteer experience throughout Canada, it raises a red flag for all non-profits who depend on volunteers. Why would anyone keep volunteering if they had a bad experience?
Here are some ideas to help you improve that experience, engage your volunteers and improve volunteer retention:
Be organized and professional:
The Volunteer Canada report stated that volunteers who had a negative experience most often said it was because of an issue with the organization. If you want to organize volunteers effectively you have to be organized yourself. For example, if a volunteer board member asks for documents or statements they need to do their job, and you never get back to them or give them unorganized materials- that is creating a negative experience for that person. People do not like to feel like you don’t appreciate their time and effort if you don't put in the time and effort to help them to the job they've agreed to do for you, for free.
The same goes for having volunteers help out at events or a camp work bee. When they arrive, there should be a detailed list of all the volunteers and task assignments and instructions ready to go. Don’t let your volunteers stand around for an hour while you frantically try to plan the day. At that point it’s too late, they are not having a good time and they don’t feel appreciated. Plus, you’re not fully taking advantage of the time and skills they have come to offer.
If your volunteers see that you have your act together right off the bat, they will feel like their volunteering is a good use of their time and will start the experience off on the right foot.
Make it meaningful for your volunteers:
If they’ve already signed up to be a volunteer, that means they already agree with what your camp is doing and want to be a part of that. Great! Make sure your volunteers know how important they are to your organization, show gratitude and share with them success stories of how they have helped to make a difference.
Volunteer work is not always “the best job ever”. Most of the time you need help washing dishes, chopping firewood or stuffing envelopes in the office. Connect these tasks with your mission and explain to volunteers why these tasks are important. You don’t want them to feel like they are wasting time. You want them to feel like they are a making a meaningful contribution to a mission they’re passionate about.
Make the experience fun!
Camp is fun and so volunteering at camp should be fun too! Don’t let it be a drag. Create an encouraging and social atmosphere with your volunteer staff and board members. Engage them in social activities and allow them to build friendships with each other and your other staff. Volunteers who feel a social connection to the people they are working with are more likely to return. Young volunteers will look forward to seeing their friends and engaging in that warm camp community summer after summer. Creating a fun and social atmosphere at your camp is very important to retaining good volunteers.
Build relationships with your volunteers:
People want to stay in good relationships. Your volunteer retention program should be thought out before a new set of volunteers even arrive. What will they do for your camp? How will you engage them after that task or that summer is over? Before your volunteers leave an event or a summer season, make sure they know when they can come back and make that process easy for them.
If you won’t be seeing your volunteers throughout the off-season, make sure you connect with them a few times. Send a monthly newsletter, call them on the phone to let them know about upcoming events or when it’s time to sign up for volunteering the next summer. You can even bridge that gap by having an appreciation banquet in the winter for your volunteers and supporters.
You should be thanking your volunteers whenever you get the chance. People do not like to feel taken for granted, whether they’re a young student or a senior volunteer. Send thank you cards to all your volunteers after a fundraising event or work day they helped out at. Write out a thank you card for each of your young volunteer staff. You should even be thanking your Board of Directors regularly for their time and dedication to your camp.
In a Volunteer Recognition study, 80 percent of volunteers surveyed said that they would like to be recognized or thanked by the organization they volunteer for by hearing how their work has made a difference. Close to 70 percent stated they would like to be recognized by being thanked in person on an on-going, informal basis. This is an easy thing to do!
The more you do to make your volunteers feel needed, useful and appreciated the better chance you have of keeping them with you long-term.