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What Causes Episodic Volunteers to Keep Coming Back?

Understanding the motivations and satisfaction of episodic volunteers – those who volunteer on a periodic or recurring basis rather than in an ongoing capacity – is something we in the nonprofit community need to take the time to do really well. That’s the key takeaway from recent research that examines what leads episodic volunteers to return on a regular basis.

Episodic Volunteering and Retention: An Integrated Theoretical Approach” was published online in December 2014 in Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly and prepared by researchers at Griffith University in Gold Coast, Australia.

  • The researchers studied what causes episodic volunteers to keep coming back and found that they may follow a somewhat predictable pattern in their volunteer experience over time.
  • The pattern starts with volunteers feeling a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment from their volunteer experience(s), which may lead to a sense of connection to the organization, the volunteer event, or their community overall.
  • If this connection to the organization deepens, their motivations to be involved may be more connected to the organization and less about the experience of volunteering.

Getting volunteers connected to the organization itself is a priority for most nonprofits, including United Way.

The study also suggests that that clearly defined roles and sufficient information about the volunteer event may affect newer volunteers’ satisfaction.

Gathering feedback is critical too.

  • Episodic volunteers have less contact with the nonprofit and are less likely to communicate dissatisfaction with their volunteer experience.
  • Asking episodic volunteers what their experience was like, and having someone observe first-hand what worked and what didn’t is important to deepening relationships with episodic volunteers, according to the study.

I couldn’t agree more. We need to nurture all volunteers – but especially episodic volunteers – who increasingly will be Millennials.

According to a series of Millennial Impact Reports:

How do you attract and retain episodic volunteers? If you are an episodic volunteer, do these findings and recommendations ring true?