Retention is an outcome, not a task”. This means that it is impossible to work on retention without taking other aspects of volunteer management into consideration. Also this means that while we focus on retention and keeping our valued volunteers, we should see retention as an end result of a volunteer managing job that is done well.

When you and your organization plan the volunteer management system, two key questions of retention are important to be answered:

  • what makes volunteers leave ?
  • what makes volunteers stay ?

When you have answered these, you can plan actions that promote retention. Answering the questions can be achieved by making exit interviews, feedback forms, conducting surveys, or by testing possible hypotheses in other ways.

Exit interviews typically take place briefly after the volunteer has resigned or retired. It is not very customary to have these kind of talks with our volunteers in many of the NSA’s but having them has proved to be a valuable resource in developing a volunteer management process. Some exemplary questions for an exit interview are…

  • “Why did you decide to leave ?”
  • “What would have made you stay ?”
  • “What was the best/worst thing in your volunteering experience ?”
  • “How could we improve as an organisation ?”

Feedback forms are a good way of getting an input directly from the volunteers about how the programme can be improved and documenting it. It can be done in the end of the volunteering time or just after.

Surveys can be a good solution when a larger pool of former volunteers need to be contacted for the purposes of retention research. The Scout Association did such an survey in 2013 and there results of that survey were the following:

New volunteers leave (within 12 months of appointment) because

  • Scouting is not always very welcoming of new people
  • They found that the role they had taken on was too large in either scope (the range or level of responsibility) or scale (took too much time)
  • They found they were unable to manage the behaviour of young people
  • They had difficulties with other adults
  • The team was not prepared to include new people

These who ‘came through the Movement’

  • Are ‘career’ volunteers (typically they stay for 21+ years)
  • They leave because of a change in personal circumstances (family commitments, moving house, new job etc) and a consequential lack of time
  • They leave because of difficulties with other adults


  • Are ‘episodic’ volunteers (they typically stay for 3-5 years)
  • They leave because of a change in circumstances (family commitments, moving house, new job etc) and subsequent lack of time
  • They leave because of difficulties with other adults

What is the secret behind successful retention?

  • Sharing and actively displaying the values of Scouting
  • Proper support from the association to be able to have successfully tasks
  • Appropriate training  to develop the competencies needed in their role
  • Making it fun also for the volunteers by applying the Scout Method for training purposes and to create a Scouting experience
  • Successful job rotation and offering motivating volunteering roles
  • Enabling “work-life balance” between personal priorities and commitments to Scouting

Complementary reading:

The Scout Association – Retention of Adult Volunteers (

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