The XYZs of Retaining Great Volunteers

Volunteer retention is the focus of this week's cover story article by Andy Levy-Ajzenkopf on the Charity Village network.

When it comes to volunteer retention, I think one of the biggest challenges is recognizing the generational differences of the volunteers within an organization.

Having worked for several years as Director of Communications at Northumberland Hills Hospital in Cobourg, Ontario, I've been directly involved with hundreds of volunteers, and I can honestly say that in order to retain great volunteers, you need to understand what makes their generation tick.

For the Millenials (born 1981-2000), also referred to as Generation Y, it's often about the chance to gain real-world experience as they sort out possible career options. A few are just out to fulfil the dreaded required quota of high school volunteer hours, but many are genuinely interested in making a difference in the communities in which they live.

At the other end of the age spectrum, the Traditionalists (born 1925-1942) frequently volunteer because it offers them a chance to socialize with like-minded individuals, and to give back to those organizations that have made a difference in their lives.

As more and more Baby Boomers (born 1943-1960) retire, they find themselves relocating to smaller communities where volunteering provides a great way to meet new people and make use of their post-retirement skill sets.

The least visible generation represented in the volunteer workforce today (at least from what I've seen) is my own: the Gen Xers (born 1961-1981). Perhaps we're too busy with family or careers (or blogging for that matter!), but there are truly endless opportunities to volunteer our time if we'll just look around.

One of the most meaningful ways to volunteer as a Gen Xer is through mentoring. Whether through an established community program like Big Brothers and Big Sisters or more informally, mentoring can provide a life-altering experience for both the Millenial and the Gen Xer.

As a teacher, my ears and eyes are always open to see what I can learn from my own students (and trust me, that's a lot!). But crossing the line from teacher to mentor is a unique experience and one that brings great rewards.

When it comes down to it, I suppose it's that great feeling we get when we volunteer that keeps us coming back for more.