Every interaction your volunteer has with your organization matters. From the moment they land on your website to sign up for an opportunity to when they check out of their shift, your volunteers’ experience can directly impact your organization's ability to meet its goals.
Here at InitLive, we specialize in volunteer management tools that help organizations develop impactful volunteer programs. We understand what it takes to empower teams of supporters, and using our firsthand knowledge, we’ve pulled together several volunteer engagement ideas and strategies for maximizing your team’s impact.
This article will explore how your organization can ensure every volunteer has a meaningful and positive experience through a well-thought-out volunteer management strategy.
Here is a list of topics covered in article:
- Volunteer Engagement: What is it, and why does it matter?
- Establishing a Volunteer Engagement Playbook
- Spectacular Volunteer Engagement Strategies
- Additional Volunteer Engagement Resources
Volunteer Engagement: What is it, and why does it matter?
Volunteers are the face of your organization; they are the people delivering the qualified service to your clients and community, making them an absolutely essential part of your organization's team. Keeping your volunteers happy, motivated, and engaged in your organization's mission is a key part of longer-term volunteer retention and program success.
What is volunteer engagement?
Volunteer engagement is simply an organizational strategy that encourages collaboration between staff and volunteers to develop meaningful volunteer opportunities that positively impact the organization and the community. A volunteer engagement strategy should work towards matching volunteers with opportunities they are qualified for and interested in, giving them the best volunteering experience possible.
Why is volunteer engagement so important for your program?
Sometimes, the real challenge isn’t recruiting volunteers, but rather, it’s encouraging them to stick around by providing a meaningful experience. Every successful volunteer program prioritizes volunteer engagement in order to meet its goals.
By investing in getting to know who your volunteers are and what motivates them to donate their time and effort to your organization, you can ensure that they are placed in a role where they will thrive. When all your volunteers are thriving in their work, the whole program and organization will thrive as well.
Establishing a Volunteer Engagement Playbook
Creating a volunteer engagement playbook will allow you to build out your organizational strategy and establish more meaningful and productive relationships with your volunteers. Much like a volunteer recruitment strategy, this volunteer engagement playbook is essential to all your volunteer programs and activities.
Laying the groundwork for your volunteer engagement strategy upfront gives you a path to follow for capturing and sustaining supporters’ interest. Otherwise, you may convey that you don’t truly value their experience and risk losing their support altogether. Overall, keep in mind that engagement begins the moment a volunteer first steps through your door and continues through consistent communication and recognition.
Before you can even begin strategizing, you need to get to know your volunteers in a meaningful way. Your best bet is to collect them in a centralized volunteer database to manage all that information.
What are the most important questions to keep in mind?
WHO are your volunteers?
When considering who your volunteers are, you need to collect necessary information from them like demographic information, skills, and qualifications. This will allow you to develop a better understanding of what types of supporters your organization is currently attracting, so you can build out your volunteer engagement strategies accordingly.
WHAT do they need or want from your program?
Most volunteers choose to donate their time for a purpose, whether it's to meet new people or gain new skills, it is important to understand what each volunteer is looking to get of their time with your organization. This way, you can develop personalized opportunities that fulfill their needs.
WHY are they involved in your organization?
This is all about understanding why your volunteer chose to donate their time to your organization, why they are passionate about giving their time to your cause, and how you can ensure that you provide them with a meaningful experience.
WHERE are they coming from and going?
Consider where your volunteers are coming from. When scheduling your volunteers, it is important to establish how far a volunteer can travel. Account for this by collecting information about what part of the city or town they live in and how far they can travel. This will allow you to respect their travel limitations when assigning them work.
If your volunteers are working remotely then you may need to collect information like their timezone to make sure you are scheduling at a reasonable time. The more data you collect on your volunteers’ locations, the more you can accommodate their needs to make volunteering convenient.
WHEN can they work?
Collecting information on when your volunteers are available to work is essential to the scheduling process. Keeping up with volunteer availability is important to ensure that they are never scheduled to work in time slots they aren't available for. You can collect all this information during the sign up process using a volunteer management software like InitLive. This keeps the volunteer work schedule accurate and reduces last minute no-shows.
How are you measuring volunteer engagement?
Metrics matter! Collecting important volunteer program data points will allow you to track your volunteer engagement and the progress you are making with your new engagement strategy. Without these important metrics, you will be unable to measure your success accurately. Here are the most important metrics to keep track of:
- Retention rate- What percentage of volunteers did you retain year over year?
- Frequency of volunteering- On average, how many shift opportunities does a volunteer work?
- Total number of volunteers- What is the total number of volunteers that you recruited and retained in one year?
- Digital engagement rates on social media, texts, emails, etc.- How many social media followers do you have, how many engagements did you have?
InitLive’s volunteer management softwares collects important volunteer metrics to help organizations track and improve their volunteer engagement and retention year over year.
Spectacular Volunteer Engagement Strategies
Implement smarter volunteer software
Volunteer engagement requires good volunteer data collection and tracking, making a volunteer management software the best tool for your organization. A volunteer management software should provide an end-to-end solution from recruitment to reporting and everything in between.
Volunteer management software like InitLive offers organizations unlimited flexibility to collect custom data points during the recruitment process. In turn, this empowers each organization to match the right volunteers with the right role every time.
Segment your communications
There is nothing more frustrating to volunteers than wasting their time by making them read irrelevant emails and communications concerning things they aren't a part of. It is so essential to keep your volunteers informed, but they don't need to know every scheduling issue or read every inquiry from another team.
A volunteer management solution like InitLive keeps your volunteers up to date with automated notifications and communicates when something specific to their shift has changed. This ensures that they show up at the right place at the right time with no confusion.
Using our platform, consider opening up a chat thread with your volunteers through a volunteer mobile app to check in on them as they work and offer any help along the way. An essential component of any volunteer engagement strategy is making sure your volunteers feel equipped with the tools and information they need to succeed in their role.
Listen to your volunteers' opinions
Collecting insight from your volunteers is vital to defining issues and finding ways to resolve them. Most people won't give feedback unless asked, so make sure you ask every volunteer about their experience and how it can be improved after they have worked.
Consider creating and distributing an online volunteer experience survey. This allows you to collect rich feedback and data points that you can measure. Online surveys are convenient for everyone! All you need to do is send a link to the survey message through your volunteer management app once a volunteer has checked out.
Collecting feedback should be easy and convenient for all parties involved. Plus, taking action on suggestions will convey that you value the supporter experience, making it a great volunteer engagement idea.
Tie everything back to the mission
Stating how every volunteer program and event helps support the organization's mission is so important to motivating volunteers to keep doing their best. People want to know how their work is important to making a difference, so whenever you can explain that, take it.
Your volunteer handbook and training sessions are the perfect places to state the impact all the volunteer work will have toward reaching the overall mission. After all, your volunteers must have initially felt a connection to your work, and a simple reminder of that can go a long way.
Make sure your volunteers know they're appreciated
Volunteers donate their time and unique skills to your organization, and just like donors, they deserve to feel appreciated and thanked for their work and dedication to the cause. According to the Bureau Of Labour Statistics, 72% of volunteers serve only one organization or cause, meaning that you need to provide the best volunteer experience possible in order to stand out from the rest.
Volunteers show how much they care about your organization’s mission through action, and you should show them appreciation in the same way. There are many ways to accomplish this, from a simple thank you message at the end of every shift to awards of recognition for those outstanding volunteers who go above and beyond.
No matter how your organization wants to implement a volunteer appreciation effort, what is important is that you have one in place.
Implement check-ins with regular volunteers
Nonprofit organizations often rely on volunteers to complete important tasks that are often paid work in businesses. A volunteer should be treated similarly to an employee if they work a steady shift, so it is important to routinely check in with those core volunteers to make sure they are set up for success and finding meaning in the role they serve.
Much like HR or management best practices, a frequent one-on-one session with their manager can go a long way when ensuring those volunteers are properly supported. During these sessions, managers can collect feedback and implement changes to make an improvement to prevent volunteer burnout.
Overall, remember that volunteers are giving, but it is important not to take advantage of them as an organization. Make sure to set volunteer hour limits to ensure you don't overwork your generous volunteers. This way, they can stay energized and continue supporting your work.
Additional Volunteer Engagement Resources
Now that you understand how important volunteer engagement is to your organization's long-term success, it's time to start implementing some of the above best practices. If your organization is looking to streamline your volunteer management processes and operations, make sure to check out InitLive's all-in-one volunteer management solution. Click here to check it out.
If you’re looking to continue your research into the best volunteer engagement strategies, we have created several free volunteer management resources to help set your organization up for success.
Check out the downloadable resources listed below:
- A Technical Guide To Retaining Volunteers
- Volunteer Handbook Template
- The Complete Volunteer Management Guide For Nonprofits