Looking for a Magic Number

Magic NumberLast December, I wrote about volunteer orientations, and about how facilitating orientations is a critical and often overlooked part of the event’s success.

Then as I debated moving on to another topic, I realized there was still more to say about orientations and why they are such a valuable practice within volunteer management.

That’s because your volunteer orientation is the gateway into your organization. It is there to inspire the ones you want to volunteer– and screen out the prospects who are not a great fit.

Don’t you wonder?

And if you run an effective orientation, it also begs the question: what is a reasonable return on an orientation? Should we expect everyone who attends to hand over a volunteer application?

I know the answer for the organization where I have recruited and trained volunteers – it’s 43%. For any given orientation, I can expect about 43% of the guests to submit an application. The reason I know 43% will apply is because I have tracked that figure month by month for seven years. It’s an amazingly reliable figure that has allowed me to forecast how many guests I need at an orientation to reach my target number of volunteers.

What’s interesting about that 43% is that other programs have reported a similar return. When I taught a course on recruitment planning a few months ago, I asked my students to track the percentage of guests at orientations who apply. Surprisingly, they also landed somewhere between 40% and 45%.

Getting Quantifiable

So is 43% a magic number? I doubt it. My course was small and probably too tiny a sampling to be statistically accurate.

And that makes me curious. What do other volunteer managers experience in their programs? Do you have a higher or lower rate of return on orientations?

If you have an answer…

If you already track this data, please email me and share your results. Perhaps we all hover around that 43 % mark, or perhaps we can pinpoint the factors that shift that number up or down.

Or want to track the answer…

And if you don’t track this data and want to start, let me know and I will send you my free Volunteer Onboarding Tracker this percentage calculation (and many more) already embedded in there!


  • I’ve tracked volunteer retention, but only for 2014, since I’m rather new to my job. For every volunteer trained, 58% were still active by the end of the year. In our organization, almost everyone who come to the orientations turns in an application. Whether they follow through is another story. It’s good to know how this looks in other nonprofits. Many of the people who don’t last are clocking volunteer hours for community service, so they do their time, then move on. 31% of our community service volunteers did stay on to become regular volunteer. Our organization is fairly small, which might account for the higher rates- the sample size is smaller- 515 volunteers.

  • Thanks for sharing, Lauren! Your findings are very interesting. It is possible – as you speculate – that the higher percentage is connected with the required community service. You might wish to explore that further.

    As for the follow-through question, take a look at my ‘Beyond Intuition’ post, which has some helpful tips on behavior-based interviewing, http://twentyhats.com/?p=1231

    – Elisa

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