Managers and supervisors exert a great impact on volunteer retention, according to a report from the UPS Foundation. To strengthen positive work relationships, organizations should promote “mutual respect, shared or understood responsibility and accountability on both sides of the relationship,” according to Building Movement Project’s report, What Works: Developing Successful Multigenerational Leadership.

When it comes to supervising volunteers, some organizations use dedicated volunteer administrators, while others assign supervision to area managers. Whatever model you use, be sure it includes effective supervision and oversight. Staff and volunteer managers should be aware of volunteer needs for achievement, affiliation, and power (return to Attract for a refresher), and adapt management approaches accordingly.

Local Site Supervisors

Sometimes a volunteer is recruited by a volunteer manager but works at a different location from that manager. In those situations, the site manager should meet with the volunteer when the project starts to get acquainted – offering the chance to identify additional interests and expertise. During the project, the site manager should communicate regularly with the volunteer about what’s happening at that location, and get updates on progress, opportunities and challenges the volunteer brings.

Volunteer-Staff Relationships

Staff may have concerns about skills-based volunteers: bringing in volunteers will lead to staff reductions, or volunteers won’t bring professional-level expertise to the work. Address these concerns up front. To get staff on board:

  • Keep staff in the loop. Communicate why you’ve recruited the volunteer and the expected benefits to staff members.
  • Provide opportunities for staff to give feedback and voice concerns.
  • Train staff so they know how to work with skilled volunteers. Orient staff in the motivational drivers that inspire and engage skills-based volunteers. Clearly define roles and expectations, and provide ‘course corrections’. Provide ways to course-correct if volunteers aren’t working out. Communicate results to remind staff of mutual benefit.

Check out HR Council Canada’s HR toolkit for more on staff-volunteer relations.

Volunteer Recognition

Recognition is a powerful motivator that helps keep people engaged. Without it, the best-designed volunteer engagements fall flat. VolunteerMatch suggests these approaches:

  • Provide context. Offer volunteers a sense of how their work connects with the mission of the organization.
  • Touch base with volunteers. Stay connected and informed about how the volunteer engagement is going.
  • Shine a spotlight on volunteers. Write about them in blogs and web postings.
  • Recognize volunteers with awards. Publically recognize them by nominating them for awards.
  • Give them gifts of appreciation. Even a token gift has value as recognition of volunteer contribution.
  • Write a thank you note. We all appreciate a personal, hand-written thank you acknowledging contributions.

For the greatest impact, tailor recognition to align with volunteers’ achievement, affiliation, and power needs (see Attract for details).

Tap Volunteers



JFFixler Group helps organizations transition from volunteer management to volunteer engagement, a strategic approach to build capacity through high-impact, meaningful volunteering. Consider:


  • Your investment in encore talent will be more fruitful if you collect information on its impact and review the process. Only about half (55 percent) of nonprofits measure volunteer impact, according to a 2014 survey by VolunteerMatch.
  • Documenting impact helps justify investments and make improvements. Possible metrics include project outcomes, testimonials, progress reports and dollar value of volunteer time. Resource: Common Impact