The Stay Interview: Reduce Volunteer Turnover and Maintain Motivation

Key Takeaways:

  • Volunteer turnover is costly (in time, training, and lost potential for impact).
  • A stay interview can help a non-profit leader build a culture of engagement, motivate volunteers, and reduce turnover.

From the hometown little league playing field to the National 4-H Youth Development Council, organizations that rely on volunteers can face significant challenges retaining people. In some ways, these mirror challenges businesses face retaining paid employees. But there are nuances. Volunteers are often driven more by intrinsic motivators. Many have a deep alignment with an organization’s mission and work. They want to be involved. That said, volunteers can become disengaged for various reasons, and the non-profit suffers the same fate as a business who must then replace those who departed.

Leaders who manage volunteers might benefit by taking a page from the business world and deploying a tool called the stay interview. (Please see the prior article on this topic). But the manager or non-profit leader must consider subtleties that apply specifically to volunteers, their motivation, and retention.

Volunteers want organizations to respect their time and use it well. They want to see the connections between their work and the overall mission. They also want meaningful work. But they understand that answering a phone or mopping a floor is meaningful because it furthers to the overall mission.

So how does a leader maintain or boost the motivation of volunteers? The stay interview can help. The formal stay interview is a structured discussion a leader conducts with individuals (volunteers in our case) to learn the specific actions that will strengthen engagement and retention with the organization. I’ve listed a set of questions at the end, but non-profit leaders could benefit by asking just one or two:

  1. We’ve seen increased turnover in our volunteers these past few years. What motivates you to stay? (Be sure to listen for understanding… without formulating a response in your head.)
  2. Is there something we might do to better utilize your knowledge and skills as a volunteer?

When finished, be sure to repeat back what you heard, paraphrasing and asking if you understood correctly. As always, don’t forget to thank them for their service, and reiterate how their work is helping achieve the overall mission and make a positive impact.

Stay Interview Sample Questions for Volunteers:

  • What is your main reason for volunteering with us?
  • What do you look forward to when you volunteer with us?
  • What do you like least about volunteering here?
  • What might cause you to leave?
  • If you could change something about how we utilize volunteers, what would that be?
  • Is there anything that discourages you about your volunteer work?
  • How do you like to be recognized?
  • What talents are not being used in your current role?
  • What can I do to best support you?
  • Is there a question I should have asked, but didn’t?

Here are questions for volunteers with fewer than 6 months:

  • Does this volunteer work match what we said  you would be doing?
  • Is there anything that might help a new volunteer feel more welcome here?

For additional reference / reading:

Volunteer Engagement (no date). United Way of Dane County, Wisconsin. Available at:

Finnegan, Richard (2015). The Stay Interview. Finnegan Institute. AMACOM Books; 1st edition (March 1, 2015). Additional information:

SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) (n.d.) Stay Interview Questions. Available at:


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