By Jen Fletcher, 2017 Get It Back Campaign Intern
Recruiting and retaining volunteers for your free tax preparation program can be a laborious and emotional process. The elation of watching new volunteers certify to file taxes can be quickly dashed by the volunteer that then neglects to sign up for a weekly shift. There’s no guarantee that any volunteer will stay with your tax site beyond one tax season.
The Human Response Network in Weaverville, California, uses a winning formula for volunteer retention. Although their three-preparer VITA program is small, they bring 18 years of combined volunteer experience. Jeanetta Trounday, the VITA site coordinator, credits personal investment into the community and its residents as their guiding force in volunteer retention.
Jeanetta applies Daniel Pink’s theory of motivation to keep her volunteers engaged and excited about their work:
1. Autonomy: Jeanetta allows volunteers to self-direct whenever possible. A democratic decision-making process give volunteers a larger stake in the site’s outcomes. At Human Response Network, volunteers pick their own schedules and contribute to determining the tax site’s dates and hours of operation.
2. Mastery: As volunteers work with clients, they build confidence in their skills which can motivate them to take on more shifts. Jeanetta creates an environment where every volunteer can thrive by scheduling regular check-ins with each volunteer. Another option is to partner new volunteers with more experienced tax preparers. This buddy system supports new volunteers during their learning curve and gives site staff more time to focus on operations rather than training.
3. Purpose: Jeanetta keeps volunteer tax preparers connected to the initial interests and intentions that brought them to the program. Most of the volunteers are driven to serve their community and make a difference on a personal level. They are motivated by serving in their community, and by the relationships they build with returning taxpayers.
Incorporating client stories into volunteer training and recruitment is one way to connect volunteers to VITA’s mission. You can remind volunteers of the value of their service by linking a face to the community impact of volunteer tax preparation.
How can you apply these principles to your tax program? For more support, contact the Get It Back Campaign to discuss your site goals during an outreach strategy session.