Volunteers are the driving force behind many nonprofits. Think about it: these amazing individuals dedicate their time and talents to your cause in a myriad of ways, from helping you pull off your fundraising event to serving others in their community on your behalf.
So, how do you show volunteers that they made the right choice by becoming a part of your organization? By providing a positive volunteer experience, for starters!
Managing volunteers is no small task, but with a little effort on your part, you can develop a volunteer program that’s effective, engaging, and exceptionally fulfilling for everyone involved.
In this article, we’ll walk you through all the basics of volunteer management and help you improve your own volunteer program.
We’ll look at 5 essential components to any volunteer management plan:
- Comprehensive volunteer management tools.
- Purposeful volunteer recruitment.
- Long-term volunteer engagement.
- Consistent communication.
- Varied volunteer acknowledgement.
Throughout this post, we’ll delve into the many facets that make up volunteer management. Before you can attempt to tackle all of these aspects on their own, it’s important you have a plan in place for organizing your volunteer program overall.
If you plan to handle each volunteer-related task separately, you’ll soon be left with disparate data, disconnected tools, and — let’s face it — a lot of disorganization on the whole.
Efficiency is key to every element of nonprofit volunteer management, and one of the best ways to maximize efficiency is to invest in volunteer management software.
While it is possible to manage a volunteer program without software, using a volunteer management tool can prove to be invaluable as you juggle all the different tasks that go along with managing volunteers.
Specific features will vary from provider to provider, but generally speaking, software should enable you to:
- Create online registration forms.
- Automate email communications.
- Track volunteer hours.
- Build detailed volunteer profiles.
- Generate custom reports.
Because comprehensive technology takes away many of the logistical burdens you’d normally face, you’ll have more time to focus on engaging your volunteers (and getting in much needed face time with them).
And trust us—your volunteers will be able to tell the difference between volunteer coordinators who are on top of all the moving parts in their volunteer program and the ones who aren’t. Leave a good impression by running a streamlined, well-managed operation.
If your organization also manages other types of constituent data (such as donor or member data), you should look for software that can enable you to view all information in one place, such as NeonCRM.
The final say: You’ll need a way to manage volunteers in a comprehensive way. Volunteer management software can help you take care of logistics, leaving you time to focus on what really matters—the volunteers themselves!
Now that you have a plan in place for how you’ll manage volunteer data and track involvement, you’ll need some volunteers to manage.
Volunteer recruitment can be tricky. While you want to promote your volunteer program (and your organization in general) as much as you can, you also want to make sure you’re acquiring the right volunteers, ones who fit well with the opportunities at hand.
Let’s talk about a few tactics you can take to make the most of volunteer recruitment, rather than getting caught in this catch-22.
Start with your existing supporters.
As a nonprofit organization, you already have access to a number of potential volunteers who care about your cause and might even be familiar with your team.
Look to your donors (and members, if your organization has a membership program) as the most likely candidates for any volunteer opportunities you have. Since you know they’re invested in your mission, explain the impact that volunteering can have.
Search for skills you need.
You can use your volunteer management software (and nonprofit CRM) to keep track of volunteers’ skills, work experience, interests and affinities, and even hobbies.
Ask volunteers to share relevant information early on, starting with their volunteer application or registration form. File that information (and any subsequent data) into your constituent database so that you can use it as you’re filling volunteer slots later on.
Not only will you be able to find volunteers who are more qualified to take on your volunteer tasks, but you’ll also be able to target potential volunteers with opportunities that align with their interests and skills.
Say no (if you need to).
While you definitely don’t want to turn eager volunteers away, you should be careful in how you screen and select volunteers for each position.
If a volunteer isn’t right for the job, it’s okay to find another task for them (or wait until you have a more appropriate opportunity available).
You should seek to find volunteers who can positively impact your nonprofit for many years—not just ones who can fill an open spot.
It’s not enough to recruit volunteers for a one-time role; for a truly successful volunteer program, you’ll need to find a way to retain your recruits over time and develop relationships with them.
Developing a volunteer engagement plan is a vital step in managing and keeping volunteers.
So, how do you engage your volunteers? We’ll discuss just a few of the many ways you can go about it.
Highlight volunteer involvement.
Who doesn’t love a little recognition now and then? While we’ll discuss the importance of volunteer acknowledgement in greater detail later in this post, it’s important to discuss how far thanking your volunteers can go in terms of engagement, too.
When you highlight volunteers’ involvement (either personally or publicly on your website or social media pages), you can show them that your nonprofit doesn’t take their help for granted.
Make sure you illustrate exactly what their volunteer hours helped accomplish, too. When volunteers see how much their work helped your organization or community, they’ll feel good about signing up to volunteer again.
Ask for volunteer feedback.
Volunteer programs exist because of their volunteers, so you should make sure the program is living up to your supporters’ expectations.
Send out a survey to get feedback about the opportunities you’ve planned, communications you’ve sent, and anything else you’re curious about. Or, for more direct, personal evaluations, talk to regular volunteers one-on-one.
When you know what volunteers want, you’ll be able to develop a program that they love being involved in.
Take a vested interest in your volunteers.
If you want to retain volunteers, you’ll need to get to know them—not as pieces of your program there to participate in community service, but as people and fellow supporters of your cause.
Volunteer management should be relational. Don’t be afraid to go beyond time sheets and data; actually talk to your volunteers and take time to understand who they are and why they’re interested in your cause.
When you go above and beyond to extend a hand to volunteers, they will take notice. And they’ll be even more excited to continue volunteering for years to come!
Picture it: a volunteer is excited about your cause and ready to help for the first time (or even after a history of volunteering with you)… but they have no idea how to get started!
Or even worse—a volunteer signs up for an opportunity and shows up at the volunteer site only to have no details for their responsibilities!
There’s nothing worse than being left in the lurch. How do you solve problems like this (and many other unfortunately common mishaps)? By making a commitment to clear, consistent communication.
Volunteer communication can take a lot of forms, including (but definitely not limited to):
- Promoting relevant upcoming volunteer opportunities online and through direct mail.
- Explaining volunteer details in a straightforward, timely manner—well before the day of the event or activity.
- Updating volunteers through regular newsletters.
- Engaging with volunteers on social media.
- Following up with volunteers directly following their service.
- Thanking volunteers.
A multichannel communication approach will allow you to engage volunteers in a variety of ways. For example, you can post a “Volunteer of the Week” on your organization’s Facebook page, share photos of the latest community service event on your website, send an email newsletter, and shoot volunteers a volunteer day reminder via text.
Find out which methods of communication your volunteers prefer (either on your sign-up form or through a survey) and store that information so you’ll be able to reach your volunteers in a way that’s convenient and most engaging for them.
If you don’t communicate regularly with volunteers, you run the risk of confusing or aggravating them with a lack of clear information about volunteer opportunities and details.
But even more likely, if you don’t make an effort to have a consistent presence in your volunteers’ lives, you’ll stand a higher chance of them forgetting that your organization exists!
To prevent that, be as deliberate as possible in planning out your communication strategy.
The final say: Regular communication is key to effective volunteer management. Communicate with volunteers in ways that make sense for your organization and most importantly, always be consistent and clear.
The final step to managing volunteers and ensuring that they’re left with a positive experience is developing a plan to thank volunteers for their continued help.
Volunteer acknowledgement can take a number of forms, from a straightforward thank-you note to a larger-than-life volunteer appreciation party, but it doesn’t have to be extravagant to be genuine.
Your thank-you can be demonstrated in any way you like, but let’s look at some of the best ways to show your gratitude:
- Keep it personal by using their first name and mentioning their specific volunteer service.
- Be concise and straightforward; don’t waste their time!
- Offer other ways to stay involved, such as highlighting an upcoming fundraising event.
- Take it public by highlighting specific volunteers on social media, your website, or at an event.
- Tell the story of what their volunteer service did for your cause or community.
- Reward them with small tokens of gratitude, like a gift certificate or branded product.
- Host an appreciation event to display your appreciation to all your volunteers.
No matter how you choose to acknowledge your volunteers, what’s important is that you do.
Much like communication, consistent acknowledgement reminds volunteers that you value their support and want to go the extra mile to make sure their volunteer experience is a positive one.
Plus, just think about it: your volunteers devote a lot of time and energy to your organization, so why wouldn’t you go above and beyond to show your appreciation?
The final say: Show your volunteers how much their service means to your organization by thanking them every time they volunteer.
Volunteer management is a major undertaking with a number of important elements to consider. However, when you have a clear plan in place for each piece of the puzzle, you’ll find that your volunteer program will come together perfectly!