Understanding the factors affecting engagement and retention of 20-30 year old telephone crisis supporters at Lifeline in Sydney

Jennifer Walter, The University of Notre Dame Australia


“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give” (Winston Churchill).

Every year, millions of people volunteer their time to help others in various ways. This study focuses on 20 to 30 year old telephone crisis supporters (TCS) at Lifeline in Sydney. This cohort represents a large proportion of Lifeline TCS trainees, but has also been shown to be the group least likely to commit to extended periods of volunteering. The aim of this study was to provide 20 to 30 year old TCS volunteers a voice within Lifeline to gain an understanding into the factors that would improve engagement and retention. An embedded case study was used to explore volunteering as a passage through stages brought about by changes over time and experience. Data was gathered from document analysis and individual interviews. Data was analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) to provide an in-depth understanding of the motivations, meaning and value of TCS volunteering for 20 to 30 year old TCS and how these factors affect engagement and retention. Findings confirm that volunteering is a staged process where expectations and motivations change. Renewal is required at each stage of volunteering to realign expectations and motivations. Findings highlight the complexity of motivations to volunteer as a TCS and how the fulfilment of motivations and expectations impact retention. The primary motives to remain engaged are continued learning, growth, connection, and value. Recommendations are made to Lifeline on how to better engage and retain 20 to 30 year old TCS volunteers to ensure the future of the Lifeline and the 24 hour telephone crisis service.