Keeping Volunteers Engaged
In this training, you’ll find suggestions for keeping volunteers coming back for more, including how to keep attendance up at meetings, how to keep people informed and how to delegate and keep people constantly involved.
Focus on what you can control
The most important part for all group leaders in keeping members is attitude. Find your own way to remind your group members that you have embarked on a journey of great significance together. Be proud of your group's accomplishments, find ways to celebrate and keep the momentum moving forward. Regardless of your chapter's size finding a positive tone leads directly to more growth and action.
Getting volunteers to the monthly meeting
- Always call your group’s volunteers (new or old) to let them know about the meeting and connect with them individually. Personal contact and voicemails are better than emails.
- Ask for an RSVP.
- Don’t waste people’s time at the meeting. Come to the meeting with an agenda and handle as much as possible without meetings.
- Pay at least as much attention to the new people as the experienced ones. The long-term volunteers are going to grab your attention because they know you, so you need to keep an eye on and seek out the newer volunteers. People who feel ignored don’t stick around.
- Have some fun and build community. Don’t make it always about the work. Make it about the group.
- For more tips on running a productive meeting, check out Planning and Facilitating a Group Meeting.
Keeping your group in the loop
- Keep volunteers informed about what is happening in the organization.
- Use your group on Community or a Google or Yahoo group to post regular updates.
- Send the Group Leader Call Notes to everyone.
- Email copies of published letters to the Editor (LTEs) and op-eds to volunteers.
- Celebrate successes and show appreciation.
- Ask volunteers to follow and like CCL and/or your local chapter’s social media pages.
- Ask your volunteers to subscribe to the training reminders list.
Research reveals that most people are highly motivated when they have a role.
If someone has a great idea:
- Encourage them to take the lead!
- Craft a role for them with a title, objective and tasks.
- Once in the role, help them see the connection between their work and its impact.
- Find out what each person wants to do and help them do it. Everyone who is interested should have a project they can help own and move forward.
- Invite people to do things together with you that will help them learn more. Research shows volunteers are often more motivated when they work together rather than alone!
- For additional ideas to engage new volunteers, see the Bringing New Volunteers Onboard training.
CCL provides the framework - our volunteers bring the creativity! A simple approach to developing roles is to have periodic conversations with your group members and ask questions to check-in about (1) what's motivating them of late, (2) what would they like to contribute within those interest areas, and (3) defining what their next steps might be to achieve those goals. Here’s a simple format for defining a role:
As ___________________ (insert title) I will __________________ (outcome) By ____________________ (activities)
For example, “As chapter meeting host I will make everyone comfortable by making sure we provide coffee and treats and by providing social opportunities for our members. I’ll circulate a sign-up sheet for the refreshments each month, recruit a few extroverts in the group to seek out people on the edge at our meetings and talk to them, and plan a social event once or twice a year for our group.”
Roles vs. Task Examples
For some group members, helping them identify and take on tasks is a rewarding first step in their engagement with your group. For example, one person might start by taking on a task like writing letters to the editor and eventually develop into your group's mentor for helping teach others how to write letters to the editor.
Note: Keep in mind that not everyone wants or needs a role. Coming to the monthly meeting and occasionally doing an action is all that some folks may be able to do. Do your best to celebrate them for what they are doing instead of what they aren't.
Advice for small groups
- Enjoy smallness. Smallness provides a sense of connectedness and personal point of view for your group. It truly doesn't matter how large your CCL group is as long as people are together. The best small groups help their members feel so good about being there they don't even think about being too small to get the job done.
- Get people involved in taking action and finding their place in the group early on. Go out for a coffee to get to know them.
- Remember that people keep coming back because you offer them a real, authentic relationship. Find ways to provide perspective and an outlet that they really want.
- Support each other in setting individual goals to take action. Pay attention to what others achieve and celebrate what you get done!
- Whenever you get frustrated by a low turn-out, remember Cesar Chavez's words: effective organizing takes place one person at a time.
Advice for large groupsAs a general rule of thumb, large CCL groups tend to feature more than 15 local members regularly attending meetings and engaged in action.
- Not all CCL large groups are necessarily in big cities, many of our biggest chapters also come from smaller, more rural towns (more information and training on rural CCL chapters). All of CCL's large chapters grew to reach their larger sizes, they didn't come fully pre-formed and often learned first from leading a small group.
- As your chapter grows, staying committed to being focused on action as well as being connected to the organization becomes even more important. People join and stick around organizations and volunteering because of relationships. Find ways to continue to remind your groups' members that their individual contributions matter.
- As your group grows, many large chapters have found their most success in organizing and subdividing into teams/committees that break-out to meet during their monthly meeting.
Investing in and inspiring your group makes a difference
As a group leader, find ways to model getting out of your comfort zone and to dare each other in your group to do new things. The most effective CCL groups of any size take people where they are and help change their world views and their sense of democracy - that their voice does matter and their direct participation connects to the larger cause that brings us all together. As research from academics like CCL's Advisory Board member Hahrie Han reminds us in our Transformational Organizing guide: when your group feels empowered it not only generates a strong sense of commitment to our larger cause, it transforms all of us in the process.
Mark Reynolds, CCL’s Executive Director, shares personal reflections and three recommendations for building and keeping your group which he learned from the early days of CCL:
- Approach recruitment through deciding ahead of time that each person matters deeply to you rather than evaluating everyone’s immediate potential.
- Celebrate your group’s accomplishments (big and small) with a zeal for connecting how important each action is to our larger goals.
- Create a culture of relatedness by authentically investing in your group members and being there for them when they need a listening ear.
What Mark Reynolds Learned From CCL's Early Days of Group Organizing
Madeleine Para's Suggestions (from beginning of Tiny CCL Chapters)
Ken Jobe in Beaufort NC (4:57)
Laurie Sproul, online organizing in rural Maine (9:12)
Q&A Discussion (24:50)
Introductions (from beginning of Leading Large Chapters)
Salt Lake City, UT - Dave Folland (0:58)
Portland, OR -Tamara Staton (7:36)
Madison, WI - Madeleine Para (14:43)
CCL Group Leaders
Find the episodes on CCL's iTunes channel.