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Creating a Volunteer Career Ladder: Evolving Volunteers

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When volunteer management consultant Sheri Wilensky Burke hears about an organization’s poor volunteer retention, she often discovers that the organization has not defined retention goals. “It’s common to set goals for recruiting volunteers and other metrics, but often organizations don’t consider what successful retention really means,” she notes. “Surely it is not realistic (or even desirable!) to expect that every volunteer will stay forever. But without setting goals for the desired length of volunteer commitment, it is difficult to assess if the organization has an actual problem keeping volunteers engaged or instead has a perception problem in its assessment of their retention.”

In this e-Volunteerism feature, Burke argues that volunteer evolvement is critical to volunteer retention—and makes the case that volunteer evolvement goes a long way toward meeting volunteer retention goals. Here, she defines volunteer evolvement as enabling volunteers to take on greater responsibilities within an organization, much like a volunteer “career ladder” that offers them the opportunity for growth and new experiences. “Even the most engaged volunteers can get bored from doing the same thing repeatedly,” she argues. “Just like paid staff who want professional development and promotion, many volunteers similarly desire new challenges in their volunteer careers. What better way to recognize your most committed volunteers than by asking them to take on new tasks and/or assume a leadership role?”