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Volunteer Recruitment and Retention in the CBSS Sector consultation

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Volunteers are essential to organizations that provide programs and services for seniors in our communities. Many volunteers are seniors themselves, whose contribution of time, knowledge, and experience are not only beneficial to their community, but also to their own well-being. Although various aspects of volunteerism have seen significant change over the past twenty years, in the past two years, the COVID pandemic has dramatically affected the need for volunteers, their availability, their roles, and their management. It also highlighted the importance of reaching out beyond the seniors’ community and developing more of an intergenerational and multi-pronged approach to volunteering in the CBSS sector. 


Provincial Consultations provide important opportunities for sharing innovative initiatives, strategies, and practices among the CBSS network, while also gathering valuable information and perspectives to help inform priorities and planning for programs, training, resource development, and other support for the sector. 


This Consultation brought together staff and volunteers from the community-based seniors serving (CBSS) sector and partner organizations from throughout B.C. to:  

  • share current effective volunteer recruitment and retention strategies, tools, and resources  
  • consider challenges and gaps that need to be addressed  
  • explore ideas and opportunities for initiatives and activities aimed at supporting and advancing volunteerism and volunteer management in CBSS organizations   

Here is what we found:

  1. What are the challenges and barriers related to volunteer recruitment? To retention? To management? 

COVID-19 & Post Pandemic   

Many people vocalized the strain that inflation and post pandemic has had on the volunteer system. People are returning to work again, and some seniors are needing to work longer than hoped due to rising costs. Before the pandemic, volunteering was one of the only sources for community and connection. With COVID restrictions easing, people are wanting to put their energies elsewhere making it more difficult to recruit and rely on volunteers. Reduced numbers of volunteers may also be due health concerns over new variants of COVID.

Lack of Coordination and Funding   

Many agencies noted the increased need for funding for volunteer management through a coordinator position as the need for volunteers has increased. Having long term funding for a volunteer coordinator position would also be key for maintaining sustainable recruitment and retention strategies. This position would also allow for more support of volunteers who have mental health challenges or require additional debriefing or counselling services to help avoid burnout.  


Onboarding & Training 

Training and onboarding can be lengthy, expensive for organizations, and frustrating for volunteers when there are many documents, questions, and references needed. Sometimes volunteers can be lost along the way between intake and being scheduled for a shift or task. Criminal record checks require a lot of work and money and can take up to six weeks. Smaller and transient communities have difficulty recruiting and retaining volunteers when accessing community members is difficult or when people are constantly coming and going. Technology can also be a deterrent for people wanting to volunteer as online registration systems make it difficult for some seniors to navigate. 

  1. What are the best practices related to volunteer recruitment, retention, and management?  

Strategies for Recruitment 

Engage in your community!  

Share positive stories, experiences, and opportunities through social media, ads in the newspaper, radio, “Get Involved Cards” in your community using inclusive language and imagery. You can also coordinate outreach through presentations at other programs and groups, throwing events that offer opportunities for connection (e.g. Seniors Fair), and other social gatherings that inspire people to consider serving. It’s also important to meet volunteers where they're at by offering flexibility with hours, location, and service delivery. Consider connecting with local universities with gerontology and nursing programs where students need practicum hours to graduate. 


Strategies for Retention 

Perks & Reimbursement  

Offering food or a meal, giving gift cards or discounts, throwing parties and events to nurture connection are all extra motivators for volunteering. When driving is a part of the volunteers' role, gas money should be budgeted for reimbursement. Support volunteers by mitigating their costs to help serve your agency.  

Recognition & Appreciation 

Find unique ways of encouraging and validating alumni and current volunteers’ work. Ideas can include a writeup in the agency newsletter, throwing a party, creating a collaborative memory book as a gift, organizing funders to come volunteer alongside a volunteer, giving gifts, and communicating gratitude from the leadership and directors towards volunteer work. 


Relationship Building & Development 

Get to know your volunteers – their unique skill set, limitations, comfort levels, and so on. Understanding their strengths and weaknesses and encouraging their development through opportunities for leadership and training will increase satisfaction and ownership over their work. Scheduling opportunities for dialogue, feedback forms, and meetings where agency leadership can hear from volunteers and vis versa. Ensuring volunteers are trained for emergency situations but do not carry all the responsibility is also important. 

Volunteer Coordinator & Training 

Adjust fixed screening processes by having different streams of training to match long term or short-term volunteer interests with the appropriate onboarding requirements. Volunteers with higher levels of training would have more responsibility and this approach would help decrease the time between people signing up and getting to serve. Hiring a volunteer coordinator to focus their energies on recruitment, support, and recognition will significantly improve volunteer retention within an organization. Developing a localized volunteer resource center could improve sustainability of the overall volunteer network. Such a resource could include an online database where volunteers could do their onboarding and training through one streamlined platform and receive eligibility to volunteer for different organizations. The database would help connect organizations with volunteers who are available.  


  • By

    United Way BC

  • Published

    Dec 06, 2022

  • Subject Area
    • Education, Recreation, & Arts
    • Information, Referral, & Advocacy
    • Leadership, Training, Coaching, Mentoring
    • Organizational Development
    • Safety, Security, Finances, & Personal Planning
    • Social Connectedness / Social Isolation
    • COVID-19
  • Audience
    • Funders
    • Caregivers, Seniors & Volunteers
    • Service Providers (Non-profits, Community Organizations, Local government)
    • Caregivers, Seniors & Volunteers
    • Service Providers (Non-profits, Community Organizations, Local government)
  • Category
    • Best Practices
    • Research & Evidence
    • Volunteers
    • Training & Capacity Building
    • Rural & Remote Communities
    • Policy, Planning, & Procedures
    • CBSS Supports & Services


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