The first thing we have to accept is that it is about ‘us’. No matter how hard or loud we protest that it’s ‘not about us’, it absolutely is.

Whether the return is about how you feel, how it makes you look, the people you will meet, or the fact that you will spend your spare time volunteering, doing something for someone else satisfies a need within us or we wouldn’t do it. And there is nothing wrong with that, more to the point it’s essential that we satisfy the needs that sit within our employees if we want them to stay.

What’s abundantly clear is that within business, community groups, and individuals who are involved in giving in some form or another is that they are now looking for a return on that investment.

When the giving is of their time, the stakes are higher. For a good proportion of employees, the weekly pay cheque might be enough to keep them returning, but if that is the case then they are probably not the ones you want to hold on to the most. There is actually a good chance that those who want more than just to be remunerated are the ones that we need to retain the most.

The case of charities

The charity or not for profit sector offers great examples here of the retention of volunteers who are not tied to an organisation through contract or payment. If they are not engaged they simply stop showing up. To build and retain a volunteer workforce, the charity sector needs to provide meaningful engagement to their teams of volunteers to retain them and reduce the churn and burn.

There would be few charities who haven’t had the experience of volunteers turning up to devote their time and hard earned dollars with a belief and intent that their commitment will be long and fruitful. They commit to be there and devote themselves to their chosen cause. But if a need in them is not met, their tenure will be short lived. If they are not engaged, then they are likely to end their involvement and take their sponsorship dollars with them. It’s not always the fault of the charity; sometimes there is a distinct mismatch of values or perception around roles.

Missed opportunity

If they leave unfulfilled, that desire to help hasn’t gone away, it is just a missed opportunity and often it’s because they weren’t engaged in a meaningful way. In business we have the hook of income to tie employees and we would probably all agree that if we rely solely on the income as the means for retention we are misplaced and at risk of losing our employees the minute they can secure a higher salary elsewhere.

The key to retention

Once again if we look at the experience in the charity sector with their volunteers, the key to retention is engineering shared experiences. Volunteers and donors are pleading to be asked to do more than the least they are currently asked to do, which is often about donating or raising money. People are yearning for the next meaningful experience that they are proud to talk about with their friends and colleagues.

Build engagement

5 tips to building engagement within our teams:

  1. Ask the question, “Is what I am asking our employees/volunteers to do, likely to add value to them, and if so what value is it adding?”
  2. Are we appropriately acknowledging their commitment and effort?
  3. Are they advised of, and do they understand, the difference they are making to the end process — whatever that might be?
  4. Is it something they are likely to want to return and repeat? And,
  5. Most importantly, does it feed their soul?

We need to look to leave our employees with an experience or story of how they contribute, and the difference they make, that they are likely to want to talk about. We want them to be able to tell the story of the difference that was made as a result of their combined efforts.

We all want to feel part of something and to belong, we all want to feel as though we are making a difference in our own way and engineering shared experiences is a key to building engagement within our teams, be they in the for profit or for purpose sector.