Exceeding volunteer expectations is the best way to retain them. What are your volunteers hoping to gain? What does a good experience look like to them? Here are 5 ways to manage volunteer expectations.

Establishing your expectations for volunteers and understanding their expectations for your program early is key. Exceeding expectations and providing volunteers with a great experience can positively impact retention. A few of the most common expectations that volunteers have include a welcoming work environment, resources and tools needed to complete their job, training and support, accommodations and scheduling flexibility, and ongoing communication. You should consider these expectations and others that are unique to your volunteer workforce when creating a plan to exceed them. Keep in mind that meeting volunteer expectations should be a focus when developing each component of your program from start to finish.

It is also important to note that volunteer expectations change. Because of this, ongoing evaluation is crucial. In fact, according to a research report, published by Volunteer Canada, there are gaps between the opportunities many organizations offer and a meaningful experience for their volunteers.

Here are a few examples described by Volunteer Canada in their Bridging the Gap Report:

  • Many people are looking for group activities but few organizations offer them.
  • Many people have professional skills but many professionals are looking for volunteer tasks that differ from their everyday work.
  • Many organizations focus on what they need but do not consider the goals that volunteers want to achieve through volunteerism.
  • Many organizations want long-term commitments but many volunteers want short-term opportunities.

So, how can your organization manage expectations and create a meaningful experience for volunteers? The best practice is to optimize each stage of their journey.

Job Description

One of the best ways to manage volunteer expectations is by providing details from the start. A good job description will provide volunteers with important information such as the job title, location, description, qualifications needed, time commitment, and training required. You can use your job description to also reinforce your mission and the impact associated with each role. Your job description should provide adequate information, communicate requirements, set expectations, benchmark success, and answer common questions.

Here is additional information on crafting the perfect job description for volunteers.


Training is yet another opportunity to manage volunteer expectations. Volunteers should leave training with a clear understanding of your organization, its impact, and their assignment. Volunteer training should:

  • Outline expectations, responsibilities, and tasks.
  • Establish objectives.
  • Assess the knowledge and skills of volunteers, look for gaps.
  • Introduce volunteers to tools and procedures specific to their job.
  • Establish communication channels.
  • Provide details on on-going evaluation of performance.

According to a recruiting and training resource found on the University of Kansas website, effective volunteer training will try and impact four things for new volunteers:

  1. What to do.
  2. How to do it.
  3. What not to do.
  4. What to do in an emergency.

Check out these additional tips from the University of Kansas on developing training programs for volunteers.


Time is of the essence. Some volunteers have more time to give than others. In fact, according to a study commissioned by H&R Block, the average person has just 4 hours and 26 minutes of free time per week. Because of this, it is important that you communicate the expected time-commitment associated with each opportunity. Flexible scheduling will lead to more engaged volunteers. Being transparent is an easy way to manage volunteer expectations.

Here are some tips on motivating busy people to volunteer.


What are your volunteers hoping to achieve through volunteerism? Volunteers give their time for a variety of reasons, including a personal connection with a cause, the ability to meet new people, and/or a desire to learn new skills. Some people may be required to volunteer a certain amount of hours, while others may be doing it on their own freewill. Having a clear understanding of why your volunteers give will help you create a more personalized experience and manage expectations.

Check out this report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on common volunteer motivations.

Communication Channels

Your volunteers need to know how to contact someone from your organization regarding questions or concerns that they have during their volunteer experience. For most volunteers, having a direct contact is an expectation. You can manage this expectation by identifying how your volunteers want to contact you and by providing communication channels there. Consider providing volunteers with phone, email, and social media communication channels. Some organizations are also experimenting with text communications and chat channels.


To be successful, your organization needs to manage volunteer expectations at every stage in their journey. To exceed expectations, provide volunteers with a detailed job description, effective training, opportunities that align with their schedule, and motivate them to keep giving.

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