Understanding volunteer retention in a complex, community‐centred intervention: A mixed methods study in Ontario, Canada
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Volunteers are critical to supporting health care systems worldwide. For organisations that rely on volunteers, service to clients can be disrupted when volunteers leave their roles. Volunteer retention is a multi-layered phenomenon. In this mixed methods case-control study, we compared two naturally-occurring volunteer groups supporting a complex primary care-based programme for older adults in the community: volunteers retained by the programme, and volunteers that left. Our objectives were to describe differences between the groups and also understand how compassion changed over time for those that stayed. We collected quantitative data on demographics, the UCLA Geriatric Attitudes Scale, the Professional Quality of Life Index, the Basic Empathy Scale, the Reasons for Volunteering subscale of the Volunteerism Questionnaire and the 5-level EQ-5D. Qualitative data were collected through focus groups/interviews. Overall, 78 volunteers completed surveys and 23 participated in focus groups/interviews. Volunteers that stayed were more likely to be a little older and were a slightly higher proportion male than those who left. They also had significantly less positive attitudes towards older adults, descriptively lower Cognitive Empathy and descriptively higher Secondary Traumatic Stress. Compared to volunteers who left, volunteers retained were more likely to have said they were volunteering for Enhancement or Social purposes; however, these differences were non-significant. Over time, Compassion Satisfaction decreased with a medium effect size for those that stayed, and Burnout decreased with a small effect size. Volunteers that stayed described more logistical and client-related aspects of the programme were working well. We recommend that volunteer programmes communicate positive programme impacts that could enhance volunteers' development, communicate any client impacts to volunteers to reinforce volunteers' purposes for volunteering (thus reinforcing that their work is meaningful), and ensure logistical aspects of volunteer role work well.
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