This article was written by Amy Seiter, Volunteer Program Assistant at Found Animals.
Volunteers are key to the day-to-day operations of many shelters and rescues. Without volunteers, shelters and rescues wouldn’t be able to run their life-saving programs, especially during kitten season, the 4th of July and other holidays. Summertime is often when volunteers are plentiful. However, every year it happens – the Summer Slump, the great drop-off of volunteers and hours between August and October. It can make even the best organizations feel stagnant, leaving huge gaps in coverage across the board. Fortunately, there are strategies for mitigating the mass exodus that can also foster a deeper sense of community and team building, encouraging longer tenures and a more adaptable pool of volunteers.
The Cause of the Summer Slump
It’s important to recognize what causes the fall in volunteerism in order to develop a viable counter-solution. Some common contributors to the drop-off are:
- Changes or conflicts in schedules
- Boredom in current role(s)
- Not feeling the impact of their contributions
- Feeling underappreciated
- Wanting more responsibility
- Feeling a lack of social connection
3 Tips to Retain Volunteers From Summer into Fall
Tip #1 Offer Variety in Volunteering Roles
It’s easy to rely on volunteers for specific roles and set times from week to week, especially if they are reliable and good at what they do. But, people need variety in their experiences to feel that their time is well spent, and boredom eventually leeches away the enthusiasm of even the most decorated volunteers.
- Offer more responsibilities
- Expanded training
- Swapping roles around with other volunteers
All of these help to break up monotony and provide opportunities for different kinds of interaction. Having a number of cross-trained volunteers is also largely beneficial during gaps in shifts or departments.
Tip #2 Show Appreciation to Your Volunteers
Impact and appreciation often go hand in hand. If volunteers don’t see the difference their contributions make, it’s easy for them to feel under-appreciated for the time and effort they are giving to the cause. Making the most of opportunities to expand their perspective, illustrating how each role integrates into a thriving interdependent organism reinforces their individual importance. Regular appreciation is essential.
- Thank you cards
- Small gifts
- Periodic gatherings over pizza or bagels
These types of gestures make everyone feel seen and that their work has contributed to important goals. This should not be a drudge! Making displays of gratitude whimsical and fun brings people in to volunteer, and keeps them coming back, often with friends!
Tip #3 Create a Team Environment Between Employees and Volunteers
Volunteering is a social activity; it’s a way to meet others interested in the same passions, and to do something meaningful with friends or family. If that social aspect dwindles, even passionate volunteers may feel like they have suddenly acquired a second or third job – an UNPAID job, at that.
- If and when appropriate, invite key volunteers to team meetings
- Proposing team outings to raise the dynamic of the whole group into mutual support and inclusion
Accepting and embracing volunteers as part of the team creates an environment of belonging and interaction that makes people want to spend time and make contributions to the group.
More Ideas for Combating the Volunteer Summer Slump
At Michelson Found Animals, we’ve incorporated activities and programs designed to counterbalance the Summer Slump, and to bring in new volunteers throughout the year.
- During the 13 weeks between August and November, we conduct a 100-Hour Challenge, where volunteers are encouraged to contribute 100 hours of service. Weekly prizes and mini-challenges inspire participation and friendly competition across all departments. Last year, nearly 30 volunteers completed the challenge, and another 75 came close.
- A couple of times during the year, we also offer the opportunity for volunteers to Bring a Friend to Volunteer, offering a small token of appreciation and opening the doors for yet more social connection.
- Each spring, the MFA staff gets creative with Volunteer Appreciation Week, hosting in-store games and events, culminating in a party for volunteers and their families and friends, where the staff gets to brag about them and honor exemplary service.
Each organization has its periods of downslide in volunteerism and it can feel crippling. But a little creativity and trust in the willingness of good volunteers go the extra mile because they see you doing so can keep that Summer Slump at bay, and open the door for all kinds of growth for the future.