To improve the experience for volunteers, nonprofits should focus on providing a supportive environment, clear communication, flexible opportunities for involvement, and a chance for personal growth. This cultivates a community of dedicated supporters.
Volunteering is an essential component of many nonprofit organizations, and it plays a crucial role in achieving their missions. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, a research center of the Urban Institute, approximately two-thirds of nonprofit organizations in the United States utilize volunteers. Even though the value of volunteerism is known, creating a positive and fulfilling volunteer experience can be challenging for nonprofits. A well-designed volunteer program not only benefits the nonprofit, but also the volunteers themselves. In this post, we will explore five actionable tips that organizations can take to improve their volunteer programs, from communication to recognition. By focusing effort on improving and optimizing processes, nonprofits can build a better volunteer experience that attracts and retains volunteers, leading to greater impact and success in achieving their missions.
One of the most important aspects of any volunteer program is clear communication. Volunteers need to understand what is expected of them, what their role will entail, how to perform duties effectively, and what impact their contributions will have in the community. Nonprofits should take the time to clearly communicate with volunteers before, during, and after their shift. Nonprofits should provide all volunteers with information about their mission, vision, and impact, along with access to training resources, documented expectations, available channels for on-site and off-site communication, and ways to provide feedback about their overall experience.
Best Practices for Communicating with Volunteers
Effective communication not only helps to clarify expectations but also fosters trust, strengthens relationships, and promotes accountability. Effective communication improves experience. Here are some best practices for nonprofits communicating with volunteers:
- Leverage multiple communication channels. A study by Blackbaud found that nonprofit organizations that effectively engage volunteers through multiple communication channels, including email, social media, and text messages, are more likely to retain those volunteers in the long term.
- Responsiveness. At any point in their journey, volunteers may have questions or concerns, so it’s essential for nonprofits to be responsive and address the needs of volunteers, promptly. Volunteers should have clear instructions on how to reach someone from the organization quickly and efficiently.
- Transparency. To be successful, volunteers need to know goals, expectations, and responsibilities associated with a volunteer opportunity. Nonprofits should provide a detailed description of each role and the level of commitment required by a volunteer. Transparency can help to minimize confusion and frustration and provide a sense of direction.
- Gathering feedback. Volunteers want to know how they are doing and whether they are meeting expectations. Organizations should provide regular feedback on volunteer performance and recognize contributions. Providing feedback can be done through emails, phone calls, or face-to-face meetings. On the flip side, nonprofits should gather feedback from volunteers about their experience to pinpoint any opportunities for improvement.
Training and Support
Creating and implementing a good training and support process can ensure that volunteers have the necessary skills, knowledge, and resources to perform their roles effectively and with confidence. Volunteers who receive in-depth training are more likely to report satisfaction with their volunteer experience. In fact, according to a study by the Corporation for National and Community Service, volunteers who receive training are 73% more likely to continue to volunteer versus those who did not receive training. Nonprofits can create a great experience for volunteers from the beginning of their volunteer journey by investing and prioritizing training.
Best Practices for Training Volunteers
Develop a clear training plan. Before training, organizations should develop a plan that outlines the topics that will be covered, processes for execution, the activities that will reinforce learning, and the overall goal of the plan. Depending on the roles that an organization is recruiting volunteers for, this training plan may vary by volunteer opportunity.
Use a variety of training methods. People learn in different ways, so it’s important for organizations to leverage a variety of training methods to accommodate different learning styles. Providing a variety of training methods and resources can improve learning outcomes. A few examples of training methods include hands-on training, written materials, online resources, and group discussions. For organizations that want to take their volunteer training program online, Learning Management Software (LMS) is a great option.
Leverage multimedia. Incorporating multimedia such as videos, images, and animations can help volunteers understand complex concepts better and keep them engaged.
Ongoing support. It is key that organizations provide ongoing support to volunteers after training, such as access to online resources, mentoring, and regular check-ins. This will make volunteers feel valued and supported, which can lead to greater engagement and retention.
Rewards and Recognition
Reward and recognition can play a significant role in improving the experience for volunteers. Volunteers who feel valued and appreciated are more likely to continue to contribute their time and efforts to an organization. Organizations who deploy a reward and recognition program also are more likely to convert volunteers to donors. A report by Blackbaud found that volunteers who are recognized for their contributions are more likely to donate money to the organization they are volunteering with.
Best Practices for Recognizing Volunteers
Personalize recognition. Volunteer programs should personalize recognition to each volunteer’s unique contribution and personality. This shows that the organization values and understands the individual’s efforts.
Be specific and timely. When recognizing volunteers, organizations should be specific about what they did and how it contributed to the organization. Also, recognize their efforts as soon as possible to ensure that the volunteer’s contribution is still fresh in their minds.
Provide different forms of recognition. Provide different forms of recognition to accommodate the preferences of volunteers. This could include verbal recognition, certificates, badges, awards, or public acknowledgment.
Make recognition public. Public recognition in front of other volunteers, staff members, or the community can demonstrate to the volunteer that their efforts are valued and appreciated. This can also serve as a motivator for other volunteers within the organization.
Foster a culture of recognition. Nonprofits should encourage staff and other volunteers to recognize and thank each other for their contributions. A culture of recognition can create a positive environment and increase volunteer retention rates.
Many volunteers have other commitments outside of providing their time towards the greater good. Nonprofits need to understand that. The number of hours that volunteers have available can vary greatly depending on their individual circumstances. Some volunteers may have a lot of free time and be able to commit to volunteering several hours each week, while others may have limited availability due to work, school, or other commitments. Organizations can reach more volunteers by being flexible with scheduling and offering varying level of time commitments. This can include part-time, evening, weekend, and virtual opportunities. The more flexible a nonprofit makes its volunteer opportunities the easier it will be to recruit talent.
Opportunities for Growth
A large number of volunteers see volunteering as an opportunity to develop or enhance their skills, whether that be in leadership, communication, project management, or other areas. Some volunteers may be students or recent graduates looking to gain practical experience in their field of study, while others may be professionals looking to give back to their community while developing new skills. Organizations can retain volunteers and improve their experience by providing learning and personal growth opportunities.
In conclusion, a positive volunteer experience is critical for nonprofit organizations to achieve their missions successfully. Currently, a volunteer hour is valued at an estimated $31.80 and that figure continues to grow. By prioritizing the needs of the volunteer and implementing strategies such as clear communication, effective training and support, flexibility, rewards and recognition, and growth opportunities, nonprofits can create a robust and engaging volunteer program that attracts and retains volunteers.