Keeping volunteers engaged

A common issue your rescue or shelter may face is volunteers engagement. It takes a lot of time to recruit and train volunteers so it can be really disappointing when you feel like you don’t have the team you need to succeed. In this article we will cover common reasons volunteers can fade off and how to prevent losing volunteers by keeping them engaged.

5 Reasons volunteers fade

There are many reasons why volunteers may not have time to dedicate to your organization. This article does not apply to people who cut down their volunteer hours for commitments in their personal life, this addresses volunteers who just no longer have interest in their role. Let’s get started!

1. Burning out

Problem: Burning out doesn’t have to be a big event. It can simply be from taking on too much in the beginning and after the initial excitement wears off, volunteers may become disinterested.

Solution: Start with a small amount of responsibility and slowly add more if the volunteer is interested in doing more. Keep track of the hours volunteers are logging, especially when they first start. If you aren’t sure how to make a well rounded role, head over to our guide here.

2. Lack of satisfaction

Problem: Not all work in rescue is glamourous. There are a lot of things that need to get done that might feel like it isn’t making an impact but are essential to a successful organization.

Solution: Make sure you involve volunteers in your success and point out how their work made a difference. For example, if you have a volunteer that does data entry, share some reports with them and tell them about what decisions were made because of them.

3. Gap between registering and actually volunteering

Problem: When someone signs up to volunteer, they are in the mindset that they want to help. It’s important to engage them quickly so you can capitalize on that excitement. Long waits between applying – orientation or orientation – volunteering can cause a lot of volunteers to drop off.

Solution: If someone applies to volunteer, you should aim to have them up and running within a week.

4. Not sure who to contact / confusing policies

Problem: Even if you explain your whole organizational chart to a volunteer, they can be overwhelmed and not know who to ask when they have a question. If policies are confusing, a volunteer may be discouraged and not want to continue.

Solution: Make sure each volunteer has a single contact that they can reach out to with questions. This person should also initiate check ins, especially in the beginning. Write down all your policies and outline the flow any single volunteer will go through. For example, if you have a new volunteer adoptions coordinator, make sure they have all the steps they follow clearly outline the adoption process and what responsibilities they have. Make it easy for people to continue volunteering.

5. Barriers

Problem: Just like how we try to remove adoption barriers, it’s important to keep an eye on volunteer barriers. These barriers may include: minimum time requirements, proximity to the shelter, former experience, requiring a facebook page, or age of the volunteer. Things that prevent volunteers from even applying can harm your mission and leave you short staffed.

Solution: Remove all requirements from your volunteer application and instead discuss with the volunteer what you need for them to be successful. They may realize the role isn’t right for them but they will be encouraged to help in another way.

Keeping volunteers engaged

Whether a volunteer is donating their time or if they are there for community service hours, they chose your organization for a reason. Volunteering should be a positive experience that grows your mission and expands your network.

Volunteer Appreciation. Always make sure that volunteers are appreciated by little thank you’s and larger volunteer appreciation events.

Volunteer Outreach. Keep your organization on their mind. If you need extra help, personalize your request by reaching out to people individually.

Share good news. Send out newsletters with information about the organization but also include some happy endings that your volunteers helped you create. People want to feel good about the work they do.


We know these solutions require a lot of additional time and effort from your staff and that can be difficult especially in these times. However, creating strong volunteer engagement can be the difference between thriving and closing your doors. If this seems overwhelming at first, try implementing one piece at a time. As always, reach out if you need help creating a strategy or if you have any questions! Happy rescuing.

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