Volunteer retention at the Boy Scouts of America

Managing volunteers is a difficult undertaking. Not only are volunteers motivated differently than paid employees, but given the absence of a contract, volunteers “vote with their feet” and leave organizations when they are dissatisfied.

To survive and thrive, nonprofits have to adapt structurally and develop strategic responses for the retention of current long-term volunteers and capitalize upon the factors that draw them to volunteer work while creating organizational environments that enhance volunteer retention.

An online survey reached 4,943 Boy Scouts of America volunteers and had a 13.7 percent response rate. Researchers focused on two main questions: 1) to what extent do individual-level and context-related characteristics influence the retention of long-term volunteers? And 2) which human resources practices have the best effect on volunteer retention?

BSA volunteers by the numbers

13%BSA volunteer turnover rate for 2016–17

33%Percentage of volunteers who were trained by their unit

20%Percentage of male volunteers who had been Eagle Scouts

Key findings

  • Volunteers who receive an award are less likely to leave the BSA, with the odds of staying being 1.43 times higher for those who received an award vs. those who did not.
  • The odds for females who received training to leave are 1.41 times higher than for men who received training.
  • Those who are Eagle Scouts are more likely to renew their volunteer commitment.
  • The most prevalent reason for volunteering with BSA is scouting experience as a youth (61 percent).

I started with my son as a Tiger. I knew I would since before he was born because I am an Eagle.

BSA volunteer and survey respondent