Your organization likely counts on the power of volunteers to accomplish your mission. Though volunteers don’t get paid for their efforts, their time and dedication are invaluable. Finding good volunteers can be difficult and keeping them engaged in your work is even harder. Focus on growing relationships with your volunteers so they have a fulfilling experience and become long-term supporters.
Developing a clear, consistent volunteer engagement strategy is an important investment for your program. Keeping your volunteers happy, informed, and committed to your cause can help you grow your support and accomplish your goals.
Follow these 7 tips to build your best strategy to increase volunteer engagement.
Understand Volunteer Motivation
There are many different reasons a person is motivated to give their time to an organization and no two volunteers are the same. It’s important to know what motivates your volunteers so you can provide the best opportunities to meet your needs as well as theirs. Are they looking to network within a professional community? Do they want to gain leadership skills that they can apply at their job? Or, are their motivations more personal—such as wanting to be a part of meaningful service opportunities?
With this knowledge, you can better match volunteers to appropriate opportunities. Inspire them by informing them of the impact they’ll be making, as well as a meaningful mission their service will help advance.
Provide Orientation, Training, and Feedback
People might feel nervous coming to volunteer for the first time. It’s a good idea to provide some sort of orientation where you outline your organization’s mission and all the different opportunities it provides. Orientation will enable your volunteers to begin confidently. Be specific. Show volunteers how to check-in when they arrive. Show them where bathrooms and break rooms are. It can be helpful to go over emergency procedures like fire routes, inclement weather, etc. depending on your volunteer opportunities. You might include quick demonstrations of how to use different machines like a laminator or copier that they might be using. When people feel prepared and confident that they know where to go and what to do, they will be more willing to volunteer for you.
Pair new volunteers with experienced volunteers for training. Veterans will remember the questions and problems they may have faced when beginning to serve with the organization. Provide an ample amount of time to train in the role-specific details of their work. Allow them to observe staff or other volunteers and then work in the role with support until they feel comfortable.
Feedback is an integral part of the onboarding process. Volunteers want to know if they are getting it right. It’s also a great time to address any confusion or barriers your volunteers encountered during the orientation and training. The best way to get feedback from your volunteers is through a quick survey. Keep it short but ask for ideas or areas in the training to improve.
Volunteers are extremely busy with their jobs, families, and activities. Use online sign ups platforms like SignUpGenius or MembershipToolkit to offer a variety of time slots and days in which to volunteer. Sign ups make it easy for people to see all your opportunities and find ones that suit their schedules and interests. These services will also send automatic reminders to your volunteers which takes a time-consuming task off your plate.
Try to meet the volunteer where they are. If they only have an hour a week, find a way to leverage this time. Sometimes childcare may be a factor, so offering family-friendly opportunities can broaden your support. Some volunteers may prefer to perform a task at home in service to your organization (think assembling programs or cutting lamination). Flexibility is key in engaging these volunteers.
Volunteers who feel a positive connection with the staff and fellow volunteers tend to feel good about the experience and will share their positivity with others. Find time to connect volunteers through training or purely social, fun events. It’s easy for a volunteer to have a set schedule and never meet the others serving with an organization. Use social media to highlight your volunteers to introduce them to your community and fellow volunteers. Consider planning a volunteer appreciation event during the holiday season. Bring in speakers that you think your volunteers will enjoy and do some team-building activities as well. When possible, provide a chance for fun and a place for friendships to develop.
Always keep the lines and channels of communication open. Encourage volunteers to reach out with any problems or suggestions. Even better, establish regular check-ins with your volunteers where you can offer support, encourage their good work, and help them grow in the organization.
Communicate your volunteer needs as well. Email or text your group when new opportunities come available. It’s also a good idea to set up automatic reminder emails or texts before an event.
Don’t forget to frequently share your organization’s successes with your volunteers. Give statistics about who and how many people you’ve helped and let them know their hard work has been essential in making an impact on your community.
Let your volunteers know how grateful you are for them every time they volunteer. A verbal “thank you” goes a long way but don’t forget to formally recognize volunteers as well. Depending on your size and budget, a small gathering is a fun way to celebrate—a breakfast, a week of grab-and-go goodies, a fun t-shirt…there’s no wrong way to show your thanks.
OUR STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE FOR PLANNING VOLUNTEER APPRECIATION EVENTS— WITH IDEAS, GRAPHICS AND MORE!
Create a Perk Program
Most volunteers are in it to make a difference but others might need an incentive. A great way to maximize engagement with your volunteers is to grant them professional and personal perks. Professional perks include allowing volunteers to promote their company (when appropriate) at certain events, or having qualified volunteers speak at conferences or in webinars.
Easy personal perks to offer include food and drinks during volunteer hours, reimbursing travel costs when possible, and providing t-shirts or other branded items to help make volunteers feel like part of the team.
You can also recognize volunteers by celebrating important volunteer milestones like 50 or 100 hours or an anniversary card when they hit a year. Consider adding a section in your newsletter or other communications to highlight volunteer milestones.
Volunteers can be your biggest advocates and spread the word about your organization’s cause to their own networks. Taking the time to incorporate these tips into a solid volunteer engagement strategy will keep your retention up and help you build lasting relationships with your volunteers.
Need better tools for managing volunteers? Get started with Membership Toolkit!