PSN Reportback: Strategies to Maintain the Momentum in Volunteer-Run Oral History Projects

In our November PSN, a group of practitioners came together to develop strategies to maintain the momentum in volunteer-powered, and volunteer-led, oral history projects.

You can read the full minutes here, and here are a few of our favorite tools, organized by each phase of a project (with thanks to Alice Kovacik for the great notes!):


  • Hold events that showcase work you’re doing and solicit feedback as a way to attract new volunteers; Follow-up with those who express interest;

  • Be honest about needs of the project and how it’s going;

  • Pull together community to come up with ideas for project topics and who might be a good interviewee;

  • Lead with the content of the project rather than specific details or work responsibilities;



  • Encourage new volunteers to try out many different roles and tasks initially;

  • Provide ongoing training to allow for personal growth and ability to take on new challenges when ready;

  • Find a common interest between a volunteer and project needs;

  • Empower your volunteers so they can engage in work in meaningful ways;

  • Make sure your volunteers understand the big picture or long-term goals and how their everyday tasks fit into this framework;

Support & Retention


  • Maintain an ongoing dialogue with your volunteers;

  • Make sure there are rewards and goals to be met along the way so volunteers feel satisfied and gratification/sense of accomplishment isn’t delayed;

  • Introduce opportunities to take on leadership roles;

  • Emphasize variety and flexibility in volunteer tasks and roles;

  • Create a team-focused environment; Maintain a connection with your volunteers; Meet face-to-face as much as possible;

  • Recognition and appreciation is critical; Send thank you notes; Showcase effort;

  • Support core project leaders so they can keep other volunteers motivated and engaged;

Managing Turnover


  • Create opportunities to review and discuss commitment to project; Maybe a volunteer wants to exit project, but can’t figure out how to do so;

  • Before volunteers leave, encourage them to create a short manual for their role/tasks and encourage new volunteers to add to this document as needed;

  • Use your project and strategic goals/plan in order to determine the number of volunteers you really need so as to avoid having too many cooks in the kitchen or too few volunteers which can create an overwhelming amount of work.