What Volunteers Want You to Know (but Are Afraid to Say)

You’ve got a room full of volunteers staring back at you after a training meeting. Your event is three weeks away, and this is the second group of volunteers you’ve held a big training for. After the first meeting, no one had any questions, but mysteriously a few volunteers bowed out the week after the training. You finish off the meeting by asking, “Any questions or concerns?”


A few shrugs and blinks later you dismiss them saying, “Can’t wait to see you again soon!”


When the event comes around, a few more don’t show. You feel like you gave them so much info and opportunity for questions, so what is it that they aren’t telling you?


Every volunteer is different and has their own reasons for volunteering or not volunteering, but here are some of the common things that might be going on with your volunteers:


  • They are giving up time with friends or family to be here. They are making a sacrifice with their time, and they need you to acknowledge it. Sometimes a last-minute emergency comes up and they need your understanding or they need time to focus on the people closest to them, but don’t feel like that excuse is good enough. Find out if there is a way they can volunteer during off-hours or in a different way to meet their needs and make that option known.


  • They came to make friends or network. Try to get to know your volunteers to find out all of their motivators. Sure, they might love the cause but maybe part of their goal was to add some social interaction in their lives. If they aren’t getting those personal goals fulfilled, they may bail in favor of another volunteer opportunity that does give them that chance.


  • They are unclear on their assigned tasks or feel mismanaged. There are some tasks that you’ve done a hundred times and think anyone can jump in on. Maybe that’s the case, but if a volunteer feels like they were dropped into a role without much communication or training, they may decide to not come back in the future. If you aren’t going to be around to help train and answer their questions, make sure to pair them with an experienced volunteer.


  • They don’t see how they can make a difference. Perhaps their role seems insignificant, but you know that it supports the overall goals of the event. Make sure you explain how their participation has an impact. Even if it’s as simple as handing out t-shirts, let them know that they are the face of the organization in that way, and without them you wouldn’t have the ability to do it all.


  • They feel overwhelmed by the workload. Always keep an eye on your volunteers for possible burnout! Some of these volunteers are straight up rock stars, and you trust them with everything…but they don’t have the capacity to take on everything. Remember that they are volunteers and probably also have work responsibilities or homework or simply need to take a break. They are passionate about the organization and have kept coming back to volunteer, but every volunteer has a breaking point so make sure you don’t let it get there.


  • The volunteer sign-up process was too tedious. It seems simple (and with VolunteerLocal it’s a simple fix!) but when people have a hard time getting involved to begin with, they may give up before they even start. Remember to make getting involved easily accessible and keep the lines for communication open.


  • They don’t feel like they know enough about the organization or cause. Maybe you gave them a bunch of info about the event or their duties, but you didn’t give them enough reason to be personally invested in the mission. Make sure that when you explain their role you don’t overlook sharing the mission of the organization.



Keeping the above list in mind will help you keep an eye out for your volunteers’ needs, concerns, and goals. In the end, you’ll have people who volunteer for a season and then that season comes to an end. Regardless, be understanding of what’s happening in the lives of your volunteers and grateful for the time they do volunteer with you. By serving as a supportive and attentive volunteer coordinator, you’ll not only keep a strong volunteer base but also maintain a positive image of your organization in the community.




Samantha Gratton

Samantha is a staff writer at VolunteerLocal. She has experience coordinating events and loves chocolate.