Updated: 3/7/2022

Your volunteer program should create value for your organization and volunteers at the same time. Are you building long-term relationships, or, are you missing opportunities?

Creating the most impactful volunteer program is all about fitting to the needs of your organization. But how do you make sure that your volunteer program isn’t accidentally missing great opportunities to engage your volunteers? The best way to get started is by taking a full analysis of your organization’s current program and figuring out ways to improve upon what is already working and ultimately make it better. Because volunteer programs are all about relationships, they are constantly changing to fit the needs of your organization and your volunteers.

Identify Volunteer Needs

Your organization has hundreds or even thousand of volunteers, but do you really know what all of their needs are? It can be difficult to determine so much information about every single volunteer, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try! With long-term, new, and fleeting volunteers, it is important to really understand what brought them to your organization and what ended up keeping them there – or sent them away. Have a conversation with them – one-on-one if you’re able, or in a “feedback” group settings if that can help with the capacity that you have. Send out a survey at the end of the year (or at any time!) asking how you’re doing, and also gather those key pieces of data about what originally made them reach out and what keeps them coming back.

Knowing what attracted them to your mission in the first place can be key to building a strong volunteer program, and especially important to understand what components they really grabbed onto and which ones fell flat. Are there opportunities to change your messaging to attract a different kind of volunteer?

Some volunteers only want to give their time and talent, but other volunteers truly want to give financial resources as well (every nonprofit’s dream). If you never try to find that out about your volunteers, then you will never know where their potential opportunities are. Find out what their needs are, and also be creative about what your organization hopes to achieve and how they can fit into those goals.

Be Direct about Your Organization’s Own Needs

Your volunteers are the lifeline of your volunteer program, but your organization is what keeps them all together. These people are here to help your mission and your goals – so be clear about what your own organizational needs are. These are people that are taking time to help you because they believe in what your organization is doing. They don’t want to do work that isn’t really helpful! Be honest about what the organization truly needs from volunteers, and empower volunteers to find ways they can fill those needs.

Communicate with supporters often in emails, asking for specific volunteers for specific programs. If your organization needs a few last minute volunteers, don’t be afraid to send out another ask email or even do personalized phone calls asking if individuals are able to help. If you’ve gathered information about volunteers that are interested in helping with certain projects, be sure to reach out to them individually or in a smaller group when those opportunities arise. This can help the program feel personalized and volunteers will know that you value them and their specific skill set. More often than not, a last minute or a personal ask will suddenly find more volunteers who are available and can help fill your critical needs. You could be missing critical skills that your volunteers have by not giving them the flexibility to find their own solutions to problems you have been facing.

Build Ambassadors

Volunteers are the best foot soldiers for your organization. Continuing to build your volunteers to be more engaged, more committed, and able to communicate your mission and vision clearly is the biggest way you can support your organization and your volunteers at the same time. Volunteers want to feel part of a group and connected to something bigger than themselves. Invest in them and provide opportunities for them to learn more about the organization, learn about the strategic vision, and see how their work plays into it all is a clear way to build lasting impact.

Ask for Donations

This is the hardest ask of them all. Volunteers already give so much of their time and energy, and now you’re asking for money? But the volunteers are the ideal donor base for your organization – they understand your mission, they have already interacted or “touched” your organization in some way, and they are involved. These are the people you’d love to have as donors! Don’t miss out on the potential to have them more engaged because you’re worried about their level of commitment. They can be asked through a passive email or letter, or it can be through a conversation that has developed over time, allowing for an understanding of the volunteer’s strengths and financial capability.

Volunteer programs hang entirely on relationships – so build a strong relationship between your volunteers and organization by listening, addressing concerns, and always taking feedback. This will ensure that your program never gets complacent, and keeps volunteers coming back, while filling all your organization’s needs.

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