The Volunteer Cycle

The unpaid members of a workforce will encounter any number of reasons which will cause someone to leave an organization. However, losing volunteers because they are inactive, unsuccessful or unsafe are avoidable through proper recruitment and engagement.

High turnover of volunteers is usually evidence of an unhealthy volunteer cycle. The organization remains in the recruitment phase in an effort to create a surplus of volunteers. This focus on recruitment leaves little time for appropriate engagement, resulting in the organization’s inability to retain its volunteers.

A healthy volunteer cycle appropriately moves participants from recruitment to engagement, resulting in the retention of a reasonable number of volunteers. The recruitment phase is then repeated solely as a means of replacing those limited volunteers who have to leave for external reasons.


Organizations must move away from the typical recruitment plan of gathering as many emails, subscribers or sign-ups as possible and toward a more focused process. Recruitment of volunteers should include a screening process which would ensure that an organization is a good fit for the volunteer, and vice versa.

A focused recruitment process will allow entrance into the volunteer community based on the needs of the organization, and the ability of the volunteer to meet those specific needs.


Retention will naturally occur in organizations that are recruiting the right people, and ensuring those volunteers are properly engaged in purposeful actions and projects.

The additional benefit of this retention, beyond a stabilized volunteer community, is the increased productivity of the workforce. Volunteers who are trained, capable and working within the boundaries of their own abilities will, simply put, get more done.


Volunteer engagement is the most crucial aspect of the volunteer cycle. It is also most easily misunderstood by those in charge of volunteer placement.

Engaged volunteers are properly trained and actively working on the projects necessary to achieve the organization’s mission. They are doing more than commenting in the organization’s communication platform and sharing posts on social media. Finally, their engagement is guided by the volunteer’s strengths, experience and availability.


Organizations with healthy volunteer cycles will still lose volunteers for external reasons, as stated above. However, high retention means there is not a constant need to replenish the volunteer community. As a result, recruitment does not overwhelm the organization.

The repeat phase of a healthy volunteer cycle restarts the focused recruitment only in an effort to specifically replace those volunteers who have left the organization.