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“Retaining Volunteer Mediators: Comparing Predictors of Burnout”

Thursday, August 16, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Frankie Barrett
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A Summary of Recent Article “Retaining Volunteer Mediators: Comparing Predictors of Burnout”

By Cherise Hairston, Dayton Mediation Center


Community mediation centers (CMCs) provide conflict intervention services through the partnership of CMC staff and volunteers. Volunteer community mediators are a force for positive good in local communities. Recent research by Harmon-Darrow & Xu (2018) on volunteer retention estimates that 30,000 people are volunteer community mediators in the U.S. and save communities, courts, and government up about $17 million annually. According to Harmon-Darrow & Xu (2018), volunteer community mediators receive extensive training and apprenticeship and are critical to providing high-quality mediation services in more than 300 community mediation centers throughout the country. The conflict intervention services that community mediation centers provide help build a sense of community and understanding, reduce hostility and hopelessness, improve co-parenting, resolve conflict, and reduce fear of crime. Growth and expansion of community mediation centers in the last 15 years has been exciting as especially with the growing areas of community-based services including police complaint mediation, serving returning military veterans, and prisoner re-entry. Most volunteer community mediators demographically are 60% female, racially diverse but less likely to be of Hispanic origin, are 50 years or older, hold a college degree, and are motivated by the satisfaction that comes from helping others, developing professional skills, and connecting with a mediation center’s mission (Harmon-Darrow & Xu, 2018,pp. 367-368).


On average, volunteer community mediators volunteer for 4 years. Therefore, reducing volunteer burnout by focusing on “relatedness-promoting strategies” that  build relationships and human connection is directly linked to retaining volunteer mediators. According to Harmon-Darrow & Xu (2018, p. 376), fulfilling “relatedness needs” is a protective against burnout: “Community mediation centers and other volunteer mediator roster managers should see true community building among their volunteer mediators as a central key function, rather than side effort, in order to retain mediators in the long term to support mediation service quality and cost savings. Beyond award dinners, fundraisers, and trainings, community mediation centers and other mediation programs might ask how they can forge deeper connections laterally between mediators” (Harmon-Darrow & Xu (2018, p. 377).


Community mediation center staff generally, and volunteer coordinators in particular, work to forge and nurture deeper connections with volunteers through a variety of practices. For most CMCs, the foundation for these practices is first respecting the mediator as a whole person and creating a welcoming space and home base for mediators to feel comfortable and chat with other volunteers is a critical starting place (Harmon-Darrow & Xu, 2018). Regular, frequent, and positive communication, especially through “old-fashioned phone calls, upbeat texts, and email newsletters,” especially after training, after case observations, and co-mediations. Offering continuing education workshops and holding trainings at a variety of times on topics selected by active mediators. Offering “skill drills” for mediators especially when participants are unable to make their mediation session provide impromptu training and debriefing opportunities. Planning purely social events and sending annual birthday cards, holding family friendly events where mediators can meet each other’s families, and hosting self-care workshops. And finally, developing traditions lead by long-time mediators in welcoming new mediators into the Center community, utilizing mediators for basic mediation training and on-going skills training. All these practices build and strengthen the Center community by meeting basic relationship building/sustaining needs that support the intrinsic motivation of volunteers to stay connected, engaged, and contributing to the overall success of a community mediation center (Harmon-Darrow & Xu (2018, p. 377-378).


The Dayton Mediation Center has put relationship-building at the center of its mission for volunteers and with its community partners creatively utilizing a variety of engagement and retention practices to nurture it’s relationships with volunteers. Volunteer mediators help the Center intervene in more than 1,000 conflict situations annually and donate more than 3,000 hours of mediation services. We are fortunate to have volunteers who have remained committed and passionate about serving the community for more than 20 years. Mediation Center volunteer truly exemplify the power of a small group of concerned citizens to make a difference to help others engage conflict constructively.




Harmon-Darrow, C, Xu Y. (2018). Retaining volunteer mediators: Comparing predictors of burnout.Conflict Resolution Quarterly, 35 (4), 367-381.

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