Learning Why Volunteers Quit

As a pastor, I’ve had many volunteers quit over the years. It’s not fun; it’s frustrating and often confusing. As I’ve begun a doctoral program in Leadership studies this fall, I’m excited to have an opportunity to investigate answers to the question of why volunteers quit in a more formal way.

One of the most interesting details I’ve noticed recently is a common thread through every framework setting up volunteer research. Research studies will often mention a theory or framework they’ll use to build their research study on. The theory used will help direct questions or hypothesize potential responses for the study.

There’s a striking resemblance between the various theories used to frame volunteer research right now. I’ll summarize what I’ve found overall.

  1. Volunteers have resources (time, energy, emotional reserves, physical things)
  2. Volunteers want to preserve or add to their resources
  3. A volunteer role requires activity that demands a portion of a volunteer’s resources.
  4. The loss of resources can create stress.
  5. Various factors in a volunteer role can demand resources of a volunteer.
  6. Resources can act like a bank account. If the account gets down to zero- or even in the negative, a volunteer quits.
  7. An organization can add benefit to a volunteer, returning resources into their emotional bank account.
  8. The volunteer job demands must not outweigh the benefits of serving, or a volunteer will quit.  

This last point sums up the discussion on frameworks nicely. If the job demands of a volunteer role outweigh the benefits of serving, a volunteer will quit. As a volunteer leader, have you ever asked the question, “How am I pouring back into my volunteer?” Or have you asked, “What benefit is my volunteer receiving from serving?” We can also grow in our awareness of factors that cost our volunteers resources. These factors could come in the form of changes, ambiguity, lack of resources or support, etc.

Research right now is built on testing and investigating these statements. It’s determining what factors add to or take away resources.

As a volunteer leader, how would thinking about the resource level or resource bank account of your volunteers change how you lead them? 

Note: This is just one introductory piece. Thinking through the theories framing the discussion of why volunteers quit is just the beginning. I just want to mention that to acknowledge that this isn’t the whole picture on volunteers. 

I’m looking forward to learning more. I’ll be sure to pass on what I find. Feel free to comment, share, or subscribe

Leader, do you know your stress level and the specific source of your stress? You and your team should consider taking the Stress Source Profile. You can click HERE to learn more.