How is your nonprofit’s volunteer program standing out amongst the crowd?
When it comes to creating a top-notch volunteer program, it all comes down to relationships. Volunteers are using their time to benefit your organization, and it is important to make sure you are also providing them an equally mutual benefit back for their time. But how can you make a volunteer program stand out above the rest?
Truth is, these programs don’t take a lot of money, but they do take time and human capital resources to get it running. Once your program has started and begins to gain momentum through its volunteers, it is crucial to provide volunteers with enough value to continue to give on a regular basis. Providing value can be accomplished in a variety of strategic ways. Here are a few ways to use value to stand out amongst the crowd.
Start your program as you would start any relationship – by engaging volunteers! Find out what makes your volunteers tick, and what keeps them coming back (and/or what doesn’t). Schedule casual meetings with volunteers – both consistent, new, and fleeting – to get feedback about what your program is doing that works and what doesn’t. Understanding volunteer motivations is one of the best ways to optimize your volunteer program for growth.
These meetings can be done before or after volunteer events, or in the interim at your office or an external location. Use a volunteer satisfaction survey as an easy way to take a poll on what you are doing right in your organization and how your messages are coming across to those who are filling/have filled opportunities. As with donors, board members, and constituents, taking the time to get to know your volunteers can help inform not only your operations, but help to identify who your ideal volunteer audience(s) is. Without knowing this, you are never sure exactly who you are talking to, should be talking to, or trying to talk to.
Volunteers also want to know they are being appreciated and noticed for their work. Although typically altruistic, volunteers are spending sometimes countless hours helping with the smallest and largest of tasks. Knowing that their work does something to benefit your organization is the greatest gift they could ask for – and the easiest one you can give.
Send volunteers email follow-ups (even if it’s a bulk email to everyone that helped in the past week or month) saying what they accomplished, how their work played an important piece in the overall mission, and promote future opportunities for involvement. Your organization can use follow-ups as an opportunity to strengthen the connection with supporters on a more personal level.
You’ve got a ton of projects, but you’re not quite sure how to divide volunteers up to complete them all. Some might need more technical skills, and some might just need general labor and administrative work. An easy way to be proactive about what volunteers to assign to which project can be done as volunteers initially sign up to help.
When a volunteer first reaches out to your organization to help, the organization should immediately capture as much data about them as possible. Anyone who has signed up for programs is commonly asked to fill out paperwork, and your volunteers will often expect the same.
While your application should include demographic information and any additional background checks or documents to fill out, it should also include a brief survey about the volunteer’s ideal roles and responsibilities, as well as any previous work history and/or skills. This can help determine what their expectations are for the volunteer position, and – most importantly – what their strengths are.
Can they type 200 words per minute? Have they created organizational systems? Are they able to lift 50+ pounds if needed? This information can help proactively do the work of determining what roles volunteers are interested in AND if they are able to do certain types of tasks.
In addition to a survey or form, it is also critical to figure out exactly how much time the volunteer is anticipating and able to commit to your organization, and what their schedule looks on an ongoing basis. Availability may change, or they may be consistently available – this is helpful to know when you are hoping to put them on a project that might take several weeks.
Be sure to input this data into the volunteer management system to keep track of each individual’s responses, and make it easier to search when needed.
Understanding your gaps will allow you to do more targeted volunteer outreach for specific skill sets that are needed by your organization.
Getting volunteers is one thing, but keeping volunteers coming back is a whole other! As previously mentioned, it is important to engage – which is a continuous process and not a one-time activity. Once volunteers have come through your door, it is just as important to follow-up and include them in different ways throughout your organization.
The more personalized you can make the involvement, the better. For example, you can send birthday cards for each volunteer, and holiday cards (handwritten is best if at all possible). Make sure they are receiving your newsletters and constantly getting your publications via mail, email, and social media. If you’re able, send them a special email or note, asking if they got your recent newsletters or mailed card, or if they’d like to attend a special event with your organization.