Leadership for Volunteer Retention

Effective leadership is essential for a positive volunteer experience and ongoing volunteer commitment. Drawing on the latest developments in organisational psychology and motivation, University of Wollongong (UOW) researchers offer agencies an evidence-based leadership development program to address volunteer retention and engagement in Emergency Service Agencies.


Many leaders agree on the importance of volunteers being happy and wanting to continue volunteering, but they are unsure what they should do to engage volunteers constructively or how they might interact with volunteers to promote positive volunteer experiences.

The Inspire Retain Engage (IRE) program explores the interpersonal skills necessary to create optimally supportive climates for volunteers. Drawing on Self-Determination Theory, leaders are given tools and strategies for meeting the needs of volunteers and are supported in applying these approaches back in their units and brigades.

Duration: 9 weeks (learn, apply and share)

Structure: Two days face-to face training. Nine weeks of on-the job application with the support of a mentor and three ‘application activities’.



The project aimed to provide Emergency Service Agencies with an effective training intervention to better equip those who occupy leadership positions with interpersonal skills and knowledge for better supporting volunteers they supervise.

The research evaluated the impact of the Inspire Retain Engage program on the emergency service leaders and the members they supervise. Data was collected via confidential online surveys both before and after the program was rolled out in the agency.  Between 2014 and 2016 three hundred and twenty seven emergency service members across Victoria State Emergency Service, Queensland Fire and Emergency services, New South Wales State Emergency Service and  New South Wales Rural Fire Services contributed to the research. The sample includes 167 Emergency Service Leaders (e.g team leaders, controllers, regional managers and paid staff) and 160 members supervised by those attending the program.

This research was supported by the Commonwealth of Australia through the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre (BNHCRC).


Research results showed:

  1. The leadership approaches taught in the program are directly linked to higher volunteer satisfaction and lower turnover intention in the Emergency Service agencies that participated.
  2. The Inspire Retain Engage program improved the leadership style of Emergency Service Leaders.
  3. Feedback from leaders attending the program was overwhelmingly positive. 84% of leaders “would recommend the program be rolled out to other leaders at their organisation”.
  4. Immediate flow on effect to followers –47% noticed positive changes in their leaders’ interactions with them during the 9 weeks.

The study was undertaken by PhD candidate Vivien Forner.

Positive Organisations- The future of work,  Vivien Forner on Vimeo.


The Inspire Retain Engage Program was designed by:

  • Associate Professor Michael Jones (Faculty of Business and BNHCRC Project Leader)
  • Vivien Forner (PhD candidate in the Faculty of Business)
  • Associate Professor Dominique Parrish (Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health)
  • Dr Joakim Eidenfalk (Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts)
  • Dr Senevi Kiridena (Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences)
  • Nicholai Popov (Doctoral candidate in the Faculty of Business)
  • Dr Yoke Berry, Project Manager (Faculty of Business)

All materials for the IRE program are freely available to all Australian Emergency Service Agencies. Please contact us for the password.