Volunteers are a lifeline for many nonprofits. More than 10.4 million volunteers are currently needed to support nonprofits (VolunteerMatch). And the current estimated national value of each volunteer hour is $29.95 (Independent Sector). Let’s do the math and make a conservative estimate. If every needed volunteer contributed just one hour each week, that time could be valued at about $16 billion annually!
Now let’s take a moment to consider this value in terms of fundraising, marketing, and program execution. Volunteers can have an enormous impact on reaching your goals. Therefore, volunteer engagement must be a top organizational priority.
The challenge that many nonprofits experience is that volunteers start out excited, but the excitement soon fades, and so does their participation. Often, the cause for diminished involvement is that the volunteer experience isn’t quite what they expected. Once a volunteer disengages, they rarely come back.
So, how can your nonprofit increase and maintain volunteer engagement for the long term? The keyword is Volunteer Management.
Volunteer management may be one of the most important aspects of running a successful nonprofit. The team at Giveffect, comprised of former nonprofit professionals and technologists with experience working closely with nonprofits to build the best all-in-one nonprofit software solution, compiled the top three tips to increase volunteer engagement.
- Create and Implement a Volunteer Management Plan
- Select the Right Tools
- Create and Implement Your Engagement Plan based on Your Volunteers
Let’s get to it!
Nonprofit Volunteer Management Tip #1: Implement a Volunteer Management Plan
Volunteer management plans can range from simple to very complex. Sometimes the most challenging part about creating a plan is getting started. To get you started, we’ll break down the six components that make up the most successful volunteer management plans:
- Recruit Volunteers
- Process Volunteers
- Onboard and Train Volunteers
- Communicate with Volunteers
- Supervise Volunteers
- Recognize Volunteers
Recruit Volunteers: The first step in any volunteer program is to find volunteers. Most nonprofits use marketing tactics to recruit, like emails, social media posts, blog posts, and web pages. They appeal to those who may be interested in volunteering because they enjoy helping others or have a personal connection to the cause that the organization supports.
Once you have a core group of volunteers, word-of-mouth can be one of your best channels for finding new volunteers. Simply ask current volunteers to invite others with similar interests in their network or community. Building upon an existing peer network can be one of the best ways to increase the number of volunteers and volunteers who plan to engage long-term with your organization.
Process Volunteers: Now that you have individuals or groups interested in volunteering with your organization, it’s time to get to know them. The best way to do this is to require volunteers to fill out an application.
Volunteer applications may vary depending on the nonprofit. Some nonprofits may only require basic contact and background information, while others may require extensive background checks due to sensitive work. For example, if a volunteer may to drive to serve the cause, that individual must have a good driving record. And a more extensive background check may be required if a volunteer works with children.
Volunteer applications can also uncover valuable skills, interests, and certifications. For an organization like Habitat for Humanity, an application may reveal that one volunteer is a licensed electrician and another volunteer enjoys carpentry as a hobby. Or, perhaps one of your volunteers works for a marketing agency and would like to help your nonprofit with its marketing. Learning this type of information about your volunteers can help your organization best utilize each volunteer to further your mission and even extend your internal team’s work.
Keep all of this important personal information organized and in a secure database. Giveffect, for example, offers online applications with options to customize fields and questions. Each completed application automatically creates a volunteer profile stored in the CRM or constituent relationship management within Givefffect. The information is stored securely and is easily accessible. Before heading out to an event, quickly pull a report of your volunteer t-shirt sizes to prevent your volunteers from wearing a t-shirt two sizes too big!
Onboard and Train Volunteers: The next step is onboarding volunteers, which usually includes training and meeting other volunteers and nonprofit staff. For some volunteer positions, training may be short as a few minutes, while training for others can take weeks. Create onboarding and training programs to meet your needs and to ensure that volunteers are comfortable and confident completing the tasks that are asked of them. No one wants to feel unprepared to lost in a project or task. Be sure to share your training process and volunteer expectations to help your volunteers understand their role.
And don’t forget that your volunteers are representing your nonprofit. Agnostic of the projects or tasks each volunteer will work on in, it’s important that each individual has an understanding of your organization’s mission to best represent the nonprofit no matter where they go, who they speak to, or what they work on.
Once your volunteer completes their onboarding and training, be sure to reflect that in their volunteer profile.
Communicate with Volunteers: Like every other aspect of work and life, communication with volunteers is vital. Use clear communication to ensure volunteers know their schedules, events, and expectations during their scheduled times.
When determining how to communicate, use a variety of communication channels to build strong relationships with your volunteers. You may also want to ask your volunteer their preferred method of communication – phone, text, or email – in their volunteer application.
Create opportunities to ask open-ended questions to continue learning about their skills and interests and ask for feedback within your communications to improve your programs. Open communication will help build long-lasting relationships with volunteers.
Supervise Volunteers: Every volunteer management plan must also include designating a point person in charge of volunteer events and communicating information to volunteers. Not every nonprofit has a person whose sole role is coordinating or managing volunteers. This responsibility may be divided between a few different people.
For each event or volunteer opportunity, a manager who clearly understands each volunteer’s role should be present or reachable, so they can answer any questions or address any problems or concerns. The more your team is involved, the closer you will connect with your volunteers.
Recognize Volunteers: As with any work, recognizing someone’s effort is much appreciated. Especially with a volunteer position, where perks can be sparse, it matters even more.
There are many ways to recognize your volunteers. Recognition may be a party for a group after a great work day or a heartfelt thank you for a particular task done well. As mentioned above, using communications channels, such as emails, is a great way to touch base, especially if you’re not personally at the volunteer event.
Take a step back and consider why your volunteers are contributing their time. More often than not, their intent is to make a difference. Share with your volunteers updates on how their efforts impact the greater cause.
Nonprofit Volunteer Management Tip #2: Select the Right Tools
Managing volunteers is a lot of work. Keeping track of multiple schedules on multiple projects and events can be overwhelming, especially if managed manually or with software that doesn’t “speak to” or integrate with your other software. Shockingly, according to a Software Advice research report, 52 percent of nonprofits are still using Excel and Google Docs to run their development operations.
Whether your team is big or small, the right software can make you more efficient and effective. It can increase productivity and speed. And even make your job feel easier. Adopting the right software can completely transform your volunteer program.
So how do you pick the right volunteer management software for you? There are six key considerations:
- Your nonprofit’s goals
- The role your volunteers play within your organization to achieve your goals
- Your current volunteer management strengths, pain points and challenges
- How your team collects and shares information internally
- Tasks your team completes manually that can and should be automated
- Budget (nonprofit software is more affordable than you might think!)
Once you’ve applied the six considerations to your nonprofit, you’re ready to demo software options. A few key features to look for when deciding on the best volunteer management technology to meet your team’s needs:
Online Form Builder: An online form builder is a must to create forms and digitally collect information for volunteer sign-up, questionnaires, waivers, and more. Say it with us, “No more paper!” With Giveffect, for example, the data collected is automatically added to a volunteer’s profile so that it is easily accessible by your team members.
Shift Tracking: Track shifts and offer volunteers visibility and access to their shifts on a variety of devices with shift tracking technology. The best tools offer access through a mobile app so volunteers can self-check-in and out. Giveffect, for example, captures and aggregates check-in and check-outs at multiple levels: shift level, event level, and volunteer level. Nonprofits can easily track total hours and days worked by program or volunteer.
Automated Communication: Use software with automated communications to save time and create consistency. Instead of manually sending hundreds of reminders and check-in emails, use an automated process to save hours. Have a shift change? Set up an automatic email that alerts everyone that needs to know.
There are many volunteer management software options on the market. When evaluating which option might work best for your organization, consider an all-in-one nonprofit software platform such as Giveffect. Giveffect makes volunteer management easy and automatically shares data across the robust platform to create one source of truth for your entire organization.
Nonprofit Volunteer Management Tip #3: Create and Implement a Personalized Engagement Plan
Successful nonprofit volunteer programs focus on engagement from the beginning of the volunteer experience. As shared earlier in this article, create an online application that collects more than just basic identifying and contact information. Use your application to learn more about who your volunteer is, their interests, skills, experience, and their reason for volunteering.
Now that you’ve collected specific and personalized information and it’s organized within a database, put it to work. Create your engagement plan informed by the data you collected. Here are three components to include:
- The right channel for the right message: Communicate with your volunteers where they are. For example, do they prefer emails or phone calls? Maybe text messaging is the best option. By using their preferred communication channel, you build rapport and receive responses quicker and easier. Nonprofit software, such as Giveffect, offer tools to communicate with your volunteers via multiple channels right within the platform. No more downloading lists of volunteers from one tool only to log into another tool to upload the list.
- Lean into their skills: Leveraging their skills and interests is a great way to engage volunteers. Using your nonprofit software, segment volunteers into groups for targeted communication about volunteer opportunities. If your nonprofit is a Habitat for Humanity and a volunteer is experienced at electrical wiring, add them to a group of volunteers with similar experience or skills. Then when you need electrical work, you can contact that group to discuss your needs—no need to sift through many volunteer applications.
- Ask for volunteer feedback and make changes: At several points in this article, we’ve covered communication with volunteers. An essential type of communication between your nonprofit and volunteers is asking for feedback. And even more important is taking that feedback to heart and making changes where possible to improve your volunteer experience. Not being open to feedback or not being open to changes when necessary can prompt volunteers to disengage.
Final Takeaway: It’s not always easy to build a pool of engaged volunteers or keep your volunteers engaged. But it is possible with planning, the right technology, and a team focused on good communication and willingness to evolve with your volunteers.