Chief Commissioner's blog| Retention of adult volunteers


Wayne shares what we know about the retention of adult volunteers and what action we can and should be doing to improve it.

It’s the small things that matter

We are developing an interesting understanding of why adults leave Scouting, some of which may be more surprising than you think:

New volunteers leave (within 12 months of appointment) because:

  • Scouting is not always very welcoming
  • They found that the role they had taken on was too large in either scope (the range or level of responsibility) or scale (took too much time)
  • They found they were unable to manage the behaviour of young people
  • They had difficulties with other adults

These who ‘came through the Movement’

  • Are ‘career’ volunteers (typically they stay for 21+ years)
  • They leave because of a change in personal circumstances (family commitments, moving house, new job etc) and a consequential lack of time
  • They leave because of difficulties with other adults


  • Are ‘episodic’ volunteers (they typically stay for 3-5 years)
  • They leave because of a change in circumstances (family commitments, moving house, new job etc) and subsequent lack of time
  • They leave because of difficulties with other adults

So what can we do about it?

The following is hardly rocket science but it strikes me that many of the reasons for leaving could be addressed relatively easily with a little more thought.  Obviously some others require work centrally and we have a number of action plans under way to try to support you better in doing this, particularly through training and leadership management.

In order to improve the retention of adult volunteers we need to:

  • Provide a genuine welcome for new volunteers, with an effective and timely appointment process, a comprehensive induction – but just as importantly with new volunteers being involved and made to feel part of the team
  • Offer genuine flexible volunteering where the volunteering role is matched to the individual’s interest, skills and (critically) their availability. Flexible volunteering is by its nature flexible; ways to achieve it include:
  1. Job share/rotas
  2. Flexible roles (Section Assistants – see here and here, Scout Active Support etc)
  3. Attending just part of a section meeting week (to do a specific job)
  4. Organising meetings around volunteer availability (running sections at the weekend, once a fortnight or once a month etc)

A number of short videos (under the banner ‘thinking differently about volunteering’) have been produced to illustrate some of these possibilities. They can be downloaded here

  • Create a culture where we allow people’s commitment to decrease as their circumstances change. We are good at encouraging people to increase their involvement, but it’s often easier for people to resign completely rather than reduce their commitment when their lives change
  • Manage complaints and adult disputes effectively (nipping them in the bud rather than allowing them to fester). There are a range of resources on reviews and managing complaints to help managers with these issues
  • Actively support the Young Leader’s Scheme (and Young Leader training), given its role as a key source of future volunteers
  • Support new leaders – particularly with the tools and techniques for managing the behaviour of young people. Modules 14 (Young People Today) and 15 (Challenging Behaviour) might be useful modules for new leaders to complete early. The website also provides some tips and techniques for behaviour management

I’d be interested to hear of your own experiences and suggestions on anything more we could do to improve the support in this area.


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