When it comes to attracting volunteers, many nonprofits laser-focus on their volunteer recruitment and retention programs themselves, fine-tuning these operations until they run like clockwork.
Yet what if the secret to stronger volunteerism was something larger? Zoom out the camera, and your broader organizational culture could have that make-or-break effect on creating unparalleled volunteer experiences for each person who walks through your doors.
Why Is Organizational Culture So Important?
Organizational culture for nonprofits comes down to the defining beliefs, goals, attitudes, and activities practiced by your organization, every day of operations.
In other words, organizational culture is what makes your nonprofit tick. It sums up the essence of who you are and what you’re about and should be unique only to you, like a fingerprint.
Why is it so critical for organizations to “walk the walk,” authentically representing their core beliefs? It turns out, a well-defined organizational culture begets many benefits:
It sets you apart: Many organizations fall into the trap of letting their not-for-profit status define their entire culture. They assume that charitable status is enough to receive positive traction, attention, and acclaim in their communities. Yet with over 1.5 million registered nonprofits in the United States, that 501(c)(3) status only gets you so far.
It draws volunteers and employees to you: Nonprofits with a principled personality and sparkling reputation have a far easier time advertising, attracting, and managing volunteers. That’s because people already understand who you are and the quality work you do. Already, they show up at your doors with buy-in.
It improves fundraising: Similar to volunteer and employee engagement, a solid organizational culture strengthens donation appeals. With a sharpened understanding of why you do the work you do, your nonprofit also positions itself for bolstered grant applications and similar fundraising tactics.
It inspires campaigns and programming: A strong organizational culture is akin to your brand reputation. When you maintain a strong understanding of your brand, you can shape the most relevant and attractive programming, sponsorships, and community engagement activities year-round — all without straying from your core values.
What Are the Components of Organizational Culture?
Organizational culture will be unique to every nonprofit. However, those with the most successful culture felt and understood by its volunteers tend to display the following principles.
1. Shared Motivations, Beliefs, and End Goals
A shared purpose is at the heart of organizational culture. It guides your nonprofit’s annual volunteer programs, shapes fundraising efforts, influences community partnerships, and inspires your public relations.
Aim to build an environment where volunteers pick up what drives the work you do instantly. Shout your core values, talk about your objectives for the year, and share operations updates. Most of all, create unifying language and mirror the behaviors you want to be shared amongst volunteers and employees.
2. “We,” Not “I”
Thriving organizational culture — and volunteer culture — is team-oriented, always. Organizations with a team focus seek for daily operations to be fundamentally inclusive, cooperative, trusting, and open. What’s more, nonprofits pay attention to building organizational structures that are as horizontal as possible, ensuring organic support and collaboration.
3. An Upbeat Environment
We all know those workplaces that take themselves too seriously. While nonprofits do serve serious missions, the everyday mood in the office certainly doesn’t have to be.
Take time to let your hair down with employees and volunteers alike. Plan parties, gamify menial tasks, surprise colleagues, crack jokes, and more to cultivate a fun, upbeat environment people actually want to work in. You can also maintain an open-door policy to foster support for your volunteers, ensuring you’re available whenever they need it.
Tips to Improve Your Volunteer Culture
If you’re wondering how to improve your organizational culture, check out these actionable engagement tips — many of which you can put into practice today.
1. Treat Volunteers As Trusted Staff
The biggest tip to improving your volunteer culture at your nonprofit? Treat those volunteers as what they are — critical and valuable players in the very existence of your organization.
Volunteers can no longer be viewed as ancillary to your operations, or as people who fill ad-hoc gaps during events or programming. Treating volunteers as an afterthought will result in volunteers viewing your nonprofit as an afterthought.
Instead, set up key employee structures and interactions with your volunteers themselves, including creating:
Progression pipelines with increased responsibilities
Volunteer meetings mirroring staff ones
Annual reviews and goal-setting sessions
2. Ask Volunteers What’s Meaningful
Want to know how you can improve a volunteer’s experience? Ask them! This sensible step seems so obvious, it’s often missed by large swaths of volunteer managers and nonprofit administrators.
Asking volunteers what kind of work is meaningful to them brings a few major benefits. First, it nurtures a culture of inclusion. Volunteers feel instantly valued beyond a rote worker bee because their opinions are appreciated and sought after. Second, it helps you identify volunteer skills you may not be using. Last but not least, it can actually result in higher volunteer retention and volunteer hours — music to any manager’s ears.
3. Get Serious About Subcultures
Subcultures are a reality for all organizations, informing office politics, relationships, and workflows. While they can sometimes be difficult and even uncomfortable to reconcile, you must do so to create a positive culture for your volunteers and employees.
Identify the inner workings of your organization, seeing what aligns with your mission and values and what hinders them. Examples of subtle and explicit dynamics might include:
Current organizational structure: Who reports to whom?
Typical workflows: How do tasks get done?
Access to technology: Who can use what hardware and software?
Inter-office conflicts and camaraderie: Who adds or detracts from a positive work environment?
Overall mission and value buy-in: Are we walking the walk while we talk the talk?
4. Look at Your Language
Take a thorough look through any of the following volunteer-facing content:
Volunteer distributed brochures
Facebook, Twitter, and other social media posts geared toward volunteer relations
Note the language deployed across these materials. Specifically, look for words or phrases that express rigidity, pre-existing rules, and vertical hierarchies new volunteers must fit into — versus the other way around. Examples of this negative, prescriptive language abound, from phrases like “mandatory training” and “volunteer requirements” to “chain of command” and “prohibited conduct.” Stringent language is a solid indicator something may be amiss with your perceived volunteer culture and your practiced volunteer culture. Aim to tweak your language and your culture accordingly.
5. Be Patient
It can take years to cultivate the culture of volunteer engagement you’re aiming for. As with any strategic goal, consider ways you can micro-track progress through key performance indicators (KPIs) defined toward volunteer activities.
Remember, you’re introducing a new co-created model of volunteer experiences. Volunteers are being brought into the fold to engage in decision-making that shapes the daily work they do and the operations of the nonprofit. Those changes take time to finalize — and to see measurable results.
Reimagine Your Nonprofit’s Positive Volunteer Culture
Volgistics has helped over 5,000 organizations better manage more than 6 million volunteers — and counting. What could you do with your volunteer culture if unencumbered by routine administrative tasks and repetitive volunteer management assignments? Learn what with a free 30-day trial of Volgistics software today.
In Volgistics, volunteers’ Schedule and Service are tracked separately. The Schedule is a plan of when volunteers are expected to serve in the future, while Service is a record of when they actually served in the past. The Schedule does not become Service automatically, but the Post page does allow operators to post volunteers’ Schedule as Service manually. Posting service based on their schedule can be a quick and easy way to convert the Schedule into Service. This affords the opportunity to make adjustments for absences, tardiness, or other last-minute changes. Help topic 2202 explains more.
While application forms provide a way to collect new volunteer information online, you also have the option of printing blank versions of these forms for venues where it will be more practical to have paper copies for applicants to take home.
Having paper copies allows you to hand these out to prospective volunteers in the field, or to those who may not have computer access. This will necessitate manual entry once the paper applications are returned, but can be a way to reach additional prospects. Blank forms can be generated from the Setup menu in PDF format. Help topic 2554 explains more.
It’s a tale as old as time: Nonprofits fundraising from private, individual donors to conduct operations, host events, stabilize operations, and grow.
There are more registered nonprofits today than any other point in history. The vast majority of these organizations name funding as a top challenge, as they seek to grow donor pools and fundraised amounts without making people feel like piggybanks.
Sound familiar? Let’s explore today’s top fundraising tips for volunteer organizations, lending you a set of best practices to tuck in your back pocket for fresh fundraising event ideas, team strategies, and approaches.
Top 16 Fundraising Ideas for Volunteer Organizations
There is no “one-size-fits-all” fundraising strategy for every nonprofit organization today. However, there are proven, profitable fundraising ideas for nonprofits to sharpen your planning, engage more donors, launch creative fundraising ideas, and — ultimately — increase your financial stability. Here are creative ideas for different types of fundraising you can implement soon.
1. Know Your Why
An annual fundraising strategy states your nonprofit’s financial priorities for the upcoming year. Alongside those priorities, it will also outline the language behind your case for support, i.e., the set of reasons to donate to your nonprofit, where those donations go, and why that cause is essential.
Understanding your specific fundraising goals and causes for the year is square one to set up intentional, successful fundraising ideas. If you don’t know these reasons yourself, it will be much more of a challenge for you to draft compelling donation pitches or events to raise money.
2. Set up Tiers
Donation tiers are a simple fundraising idea in which your organization selects pre-chosen amounts for current and prospective donors to donate. Nonprofits employ these tiers in place of the traditional, blank donation field on webpages, forms, and more to create a simpler and faster donation portal. Research from Nonprofit Quarterly magazine reveals people tend to donate more money after seeing a donation suggestion, even when they don’t give that exact suggested amount.
3. Track and Publish Impact
Impact reports showcase exactly where big fundraising ideas moved the needle for your nonprofit’s sustainability, as well as wider community and constituent aid. Consider creating visual media that quickly and eye-catchingly relay this information, such as an infographic series, then share them directly with donors.
The reasons for this figure vary. Successful nonprofit donor management understands the importance of staying connected with those you’ve already “converted.” A set donor re-engagement strategy launches serialized communications, events, and activities targeting specifically those individuals swayed to give in the past. These marketing materials and communications bring former donors back into the fold, re-enticing connection and care about your mission and causes holistically, rather than making donors feel like an ATM.
Even small nonprofits with limited budgets have a buffet of cost-conscious marketing and advertising options to get their names in front of prospective donors. Best of all, these methods are scalable, ready for redeployment every month, quarter, or year to broadcast your new priorities.
Consider all the ways your nonprofit can creatively advertise its mission, upcoming projects, and community impact.
Social media ads — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.
Notices in local newspapers or regional publications, published via discounted or waived fees for nonprofits
Pay-per-click and similar digital ads
Local TV and radio ads
Sponsorships of community events, teams, etc.
6. Offer Donation Matching
Gift matching is a powerful way to optimize the not-for-profit fundraising donor pools you’ve already established. These programs work particularly well as a corporate fundraising strategy, where area businesses promise to match private donations dollar for dollar.
Get creative with your donation matching setup. Have volunteers approach their employees with the fundraiser and its incentive. Post a gift-matching portal on your website and social media. Ask area influencers to be brand ambassadors for your fundraiser. All these strategies, and more, wield a significant compounding effect on your funds raised.
7. Reach out to Value-Aligned Businesses
Area businesses provide an intuitive partner for collaborative fundraising. For example, reach out to local restaurants or coffee shops to set up days throughout the year where a portion of proceeds goes to your nonprofit. On your end, you create a set of multimedia advertisements and merchandise with that restaurant’s logo and information, offering ongoing advertising.
Ensure your partnership pitches are clear, value-additive, and persuasive. Include exactly where proceeds will go, either for your operations or back out into the community, then shout your thanks with a donor thank-you personalized for that organization.
8. Recognize All Donors
Donor recognition strategies include both formal and informal ways of broadcasting your thanks to those who’ve participated in your fundraising. From handwritten thank-you notes to social media shout-outs to catered meals or recognition dinners, these moments are crucial to donor retention — as well as treating these valuable individuals as real people.
Remember to temperature-check a donor’s comfort levels or thank-you preferences. Not everyone receives praise the same, or will even be comfortable with public recognition such as a thank-you post on Facebook. Consider adding a field to donor forms where you list any public thank-you methods, letting the individual authorize consent to having their name shared.
9. Find What’s Most Profitable
Private businesses take great care to track every marketing and engagement tactic they’ve employed. Nonprofits benefit significantly from the same mindset, creating and then tracking target goals for nonprofit fundraising event ideas undertaken across the year.
For example, in one year, your organization might conduct its annual holiday drive, sell T-shirts, offer a 50/50 raffle, partner with a restaurant for proceeds, launch one large themed crowdfunding campaign, and host a handful of ticketed micro-events with proceeds going toward your operations. There are a variety of crowdfunding sites for nonprofits you can choose from. Keep track of which of these events draws the most donations and the most public enthusiasm, then scale them for next year.
It’s crucial for nonprofits also to be sensible about fundraising activities for volunteer organizations. As the 80/20 rule reminds us, 80% of the fundraising events and tactics you try will likely turn out tepid, while 20% will generate genuine donation results. You can’t optimize that 20% if you aren’t keeping track.
10. Accept Tips
One of the most straightforward donation ideas for a fundraiser is to consider adding a digital “tip jar” to your nonprofit’s website. These buttons, housed on a handful of key pages, elicit small donations of anywhere from $1 to $25, with visitors able to give small, one-time gifts straightforwardly.
Social media offers one of the most dynamic charity fundraising ideas aimed directly at new and prospective supporters alike. In particular, nonprofits can — and should — expand social media usage beyond simple posting, using them as a networking strategy to grow donor numbers.
Leveraging social media to grow your network provides two key fundraising benefits. First, it improves your name brand as a philanthropic outfit in the community. Second, it gives you a more significant potential donor pool to connect with. Use the networking function of social media to:
Join relevant industry or philanthropic groups on Facebook, etc.
Launch peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns
Appoint brand ambassadors from current staff and volunteers
Partner with on-brand social media influencers
Foster creative user-generated content
12. Engage Multiple Donor Personas
Many nonprofits get stuck playing ping-pong between prioritizing high-value, big-ticket donations, and incremental, everyday contributions. Both tiers are essential to effective fundraising for nonprofits, and both types of donors require personalized engagement strategies with tailored marketing materials.
If you haven’t already, formally draft your nonprofit’s current key donor personas. These are a sketch of the types of people most likely to engage and support your causes, characterized by donor history as well as lifestyle, likes, interests, and activities. Donations from each persona serve a different purpose. For example, your highest-net-worth personas support internal sustainability, as well as project impact or facility expansion. Mid- and low-net-worth personas contribute to campaign-specific goals and everyday operations. Both are pivotal to your survival, and both require different engagement collateral.
13. Be a Community Fixture
Nonprofits are one of the few remaining majority-trusted institutions for the average American, ranking far ahead of others like big businesses, banks, and newspapers. While charitable sector trust has wavered in recent years due to growing concerns over donor transparency, the majority of Americans still look favorably on nonprofits — particularly local ones.
One of the best ways for organizations to nurture trust and improve fundraising strategies is to integrate fully into their surrounding communities. Nonprofits should seek every opportunity to interface organically with real people in their areas. Think stalls at farmers’ markets, festivals, and fairs, participation in holiday parades, or handing out free snacks or merchandise at concerts in the park. The more your nonprofit cultivates positive community PR, the wider your network and the more natural your donor engagement strategies.
14. Launch Text-to-Give Campaigns
Text-to-give campaigns have become one of the best ways to fundraise because they combine crowdsourced fundraising with the convenience of mobile phones. They’re a savvy, contemporary way to drum up attention for a specific cause, as well as attract large groups of new donors, particularly among younger generations and volunteers.
Better yet, this donation strategy isn’t location-contingent. Donors can contribute to your cause from anywhere, at any time, compared to traditional in-person fundraisers requiring advanced event awareness, access to transportation, and a cleared calendar.
15. Host Cook-Offs (and Other Upbeat, Budget-Conscious Events)
Looking for unique, yet approachable, team fundraising ideas for nonprofit organizations, those you can easily fold into a current philanthropic calendar? Consider cook-offs, a fun, taste-buds-approved way to bring together supporters for a good cause.
If you’re organizing one of these types of fundraising events for nonprofits, have participants sign up to prepare a dish ahead of time. During the event, guests vote on their favorite dishes, with winners earning a special prize. Cook-offs are an excellent venue to host simultaneous small fundraiser ideas as well, such as a silent auction or a 50/50 raffle. For bonus points, you can tack text-to-give campaigns on top of the event, too, further compounding donations.
16. Stay Top of Mind
A successful donor engagement strategy doesn’t begin and end with a donations appeal. It publishes content and sends communications such as emails and texts year-round, often without appealing for any direct contribution.
Nonprofits must seek ways to stay in donors’ minds and hearts without making them feel like piggybanks. Contacting supporters only when you need money is the surest way to sour their impressions of you — and dissuade them from donating ever again.
Nonprofit Fundraising Best Practices and Tips
Once you’ve considered the group fundraising ideas listed above, you may now be looking for ways to strengthen the overall management and execution of your fundraisers. You’re not alone. Managing ongoing, streamlined fundraising operations is one of the top pain points for nonprofit managers and directors. Tackle fundraising and donations management head-on with these industry best practices.
1. Clarify Your Case for Support
Cases for support are the fundraising “elevator pitches” for your nonprofit’s major projects and initiatives. In them, you outline what your organization will accomplish with a donation, as well as the broader impact of that project or initiative in the community.
Review your case for support first for clarity, then for vision. Often, the language found here will be one of the earliest donation pitches a target supporter receives. Plus, you will reiterate cases on your website and online donation forms. You want to ensure your ask is unmistakable, its impact worthy, and its purpose meaningful.
2. Review Your Donor Management Data System
Donor management data systems streamline many of the activities involved in front- and back-end donor relations. From managing contact information and event attendance to triggering serialized marketing campaigns, personalized communications, and logging engagement, these programs help your nonprofit perform donor engagement bigger and better.
At a minimum, your donor management system should organize touchpoints and donor history. At their most successful, programs can mirror customer relationship management and volunteer management software, maximizing your relationships with donor rolls.
3. Get Online
Today, online fundraising for nonprofits both amplifies as well as complements traditional, in-person fundraising events. Online donation pages provide an evergreen portal offering donation tiers and customized totals. Social media toolkits let followers donate and share directly with a few simple clicks. Text-to-give drives and online auctions expand contribution totals — and are often cheaper to host than their in-person equivalents. In short, if you’re not online, you’re not maximizing your fundraising goals.
4. Identify In-Kind Opportunities
Successful nonprofit fundraising seeks to maximize revenue through solicited and organic donations. Yet donated dollars go furthest when they land in the laps of streamlined, efficient operations — in other words, nonprofits with sustainable, lean operations performed under a manageable budget.
In-kind donations and volunteer work are a fantastic strategy to reduce specific administrative and operational costs. Skilled volunteers perform a monumental amount of cost-saving services, from bookkeeping and tax filing to website development, social media growth, event planning, grant writing, event entertainment, and legal assistance. Businesses can also donate equipment, software, rental or venue space, event catering, and more at free or discounted rates.
In this sense, being top of your game at fundraising also means finding ways to stretch current dollars as far as they can go.
5. Master Marketing Basics
Your organization may not be for-profit, but it must market itself as one. Employing modern marketing practices helps put you in the driver’s seat, owning your brand reputation and donor familiarity. Benefactors across all generations are more likely to give to charities they’ve heard of, ones with positive reputations and established causes. Mastering core marketing practices, particularly digital ones like the following, ensures you’re respected and on the radar, and therefore more likely to solicit donations. Consider:
Websites crafted for SEO
Mobile responsive pages
Multimedia content on social media, in newsletters, and within your website
Active social media accounts
Authoritative, industry-relevant blog posts
Quick responses to calls, emails, and social media messages
Why Nonprofit Fundraising Is So Valuable
The National Center for Charitable Statistics reports charitable donations from businesses, foundations, and individuals reached record highs of over $410 billion in its last national report. The vast majority of those private givings go toward supporting a nonprofit’s operational costs, following by individual impact initiatives.
You don’t need another reminder of how valuable those private donations are for your nonprofit. On par with these national figures, private donations make up over half of small- to medium-sized nonprofits’ annual budgets, which have expenses between $50,000 and 500,000. Without private fundraising, organizations couldn’t do what they do — or continue existing. With them, they become well-oiled philanthropic machines experiencing more than just a financial boost.
1. Sets You Apart
Fundraising initiatives offer one of the strongest ways to identify your nonprofits from others in the sector. From formal cases for support to tiered donation language, from the ads you launch on Facebook to the posts you publish daily, fundraising promotes who you are and what you’re about. In simpler terms, it’s your differentiator — one you want to shout from the rooftops.
2. Primed for Your Needs and Goals
Fundraising strategies are diverse and multifaceted. Tactics will differ between small and large nonprofits, as will the aims of their final contributions and the reasonable impact an organization can make.
At smaller nonprofits — categorized as those with annual expenses between $50,000 and $500,000 — private donations often funnel into one or two major initiatives drawn out over the year, as well as support the organization’s major operating costs. Charitable growth provides these smaller nonprofits a means to break from the donation-by-donation mode of operations, building a more sustainable business model gradually.
For large organizations, fundraising goals and methods often define its culture and help assess larger operational inconsistencies or blind spots. Its institutionalized fundraising resources have integrated donation procurement into the business model itself. As a result, larger nonprofits can take on more projects dedicated to a wider range of causes without overburdening current donor rolls or stretching themselves too thin.
3. Builds Relationships
The most innovative donor management strategies center the donor-nonprofit relationship, not the money. As mentioned earlier, treating donors like piggybanks and nothing else is the quickest way to burn bridges. Successfully managed donor retention and engagement programs instead look to bring value to its constituents, keeping them interested and involved in all aspects of your mission. You should only begin donation solicitation after establishing a true, meaningful, and organic relationship.
4. Defines Your Brand
At its best, your brand exudes a powerful, authentic purpose represented in all your nonprofit’s internal and external activities. The public innately trusts the work you do, plus how you do it, and views donating to your causes as their way to participate in a greater good.
No other institution strikes quite the same do-good, feel-good balance as charitable nonprofits. When your organization fine-tunes its donor management best practices, it, too, joins the ranks to be an elite cultural force contributing to objective social good.
5. It’s Not Going Anywhere
Let’s face it: Nonprofit fundraising is here to stay. It’s one of the most pivotal channels of revenue for philanthropic organizations today, without many indicators for wide-scale social or structural reform reshaping how nonprofits support themselves.
Learning to navigate the donor engagement waters successfully steers your organization toward sustainability. It ensures you’re doing everything in your power today to prepare — and then grow — tomorrow, living out your truest mission.
Effective fundraising strategies empower your volunteer organization to fulfill its mission, and so does volunteer management software from Volgistics. Start your free trial with Volgistics’ volunteer management platform, or get in touch to ask about specific product features, pricing, and more.
When you send email through Volgistics, the system automatically tracks if the recipient’s email address is valid and uses an email validity icon on the Core tab of the volunteer record to display its status. By default, a volunteer’s email address is considered invalid if the last three messages sent have failed, but you can change the failure threshold at any time.
Custom reports can be scheduled to print automatically on a weekly or monthly basis. When you choose to run reports automatically, those reports will be automatically queued and processed during Volgistics’ overnight maintenance cycle.
commands are typically completed very quickly, sometimes backlogs may create
delays. If you prefer to schedule most of your reports on the first and/or last
days of the month, you’re not alone; these days in particular will often have
very long queues and incur considerable waiting times for all reports and
overnight commands to finish.
To avoid these
delays, consider scheduling your reports to print on a day of the month other
than the first or last day. This will help ensure that your automatic reports
are ready and waiting for you to review first thing in the morning.
Just like how businesses need to engage their employees, how a volunteer organization treats, involves, and motivates its volunteer base is crucial. Knowing how to manage volunteers successfully will help your organization accomplish its goals and keep morale high among your volunteers. When volunteers are more engaged, informed and connected to your organization, they’ll participate in events more often, perform better and bring about better results for your organization and cause.
Start a new chapter in your volunteer organization — one designed to attract, keep, and nurture the best volunteers possible — with these 20 volunteer coordination best practices.
Volunteer Engagement Tips
Successful volunteer engagement goes far beyond funneling people with free time through your doors. With these engagement tips and tactics, volunteer managers can create more welcoming, motivational, and meaningful partnerships with volunteers that keep them returning for more.
1. Clearly Define Volunteer Roles and Titles
Remember when we mentioned that good volunteer management is similar to how a business treats its employees? Turns out one of the top reasons employees quit is because they don’t understand the value of their role or what they contribute.
Broad responsibilities or shapeless positions weigh on your volunteers. Imagine yourself in their shoes, entering a new organization with only vague ideas behind the meaning of their work, what it’s for, and why they have to do it. Treating volunteers like perfunctory task bunnies is the quickest way to demotivate them. Conversely, creating clear, written volunteer roles (with a title) that include stated priorities and responsibilities structures their volunteer hours and immediately grounds their work.
2. Build a Progression Pipeline
Progression pipelines show the tiered volunteer roles available at your organization. Each new tier comes with more responsibility as well as certain perks and amenities matching the impact of the role.
As a rule of thumb, start brand new or young volunteers off with small, manageable roles. (You don’t want to scare them off too quickly!) As they grow comfortable with your operations, practices, and technology, you can introduce new tasks and goals gradually.
For example, a new volunteer could be tasked with scheduling pre-written posts across social media for next month. A more seasoned volunteer can work with you to ideate those posts. A true veteran — someone who deeply understands your mission, values, and organization “personality” — can be tasked with answering direct messages and responding to comments online.
3. Develop an Orientation Program
Don’t allow new volunteers to show up to their first shift wide-eyed and empty-handed. Instead, create orientation programs geared toward specific volunteer roles and activities and undertaken before their initial day “on the job.”
Volunteer orientation can be both online and in-person. Online training can review how to use equipment and technology or review organization compliance and legal standards. In-house training can give building tours, introduce volunteers to staff, explain your mission and values, and perform role walkthroughs — anything to make the volunteer feel equipped and comfortable.
4. Hold Feedback Sessions
Regular feedback sessions ensure everyone at your volunteer organization has a seat at the table. Evaluative meetings can be both formal or informal and include time for volunteer praise and constructive feedback. These meetings also allow the volunteer herself to express what she enjoys about her work at the organization plus what could be improved on your end.
Conduct feedback sessions on an ongoing but sensible schedule. Doing so nurtures the trusting environment that’s so central to high-functioning volunteer management programs in which all members give and receive mutual respect. It’s also a good idea to conduct exit interviews with departing volunteers, providing the same learning moments as above.
5. Use Technology
Using volunteer management technology makes coordinating, communicating, and working with volunteers far easier. The best of these programs offer time-saving portals and features beneficial to both parties — volunteer managers and the volunteers themselves. Managers can review volunteer hours and project data while volunteers can set their own hours and create their own task trackers. Some volunteer management software also has communication portals.
The use of up-to-date technology at your organization also allows staff (and you) to respond to volunteer inquiries far quicker. With the right technology, you can answer questions, relay documents, send emails or texts, and create and correct schedules without leaving anyone hanging.
6. Host Volunteer Meetings
Gathering all your volunteers together for regular group meetings is a coordination best practice that reinforces volunteer importance. These meetings allow you to communicate essential information and strategies, from upcoming event calendars to fundraising goals, staff changes, new policies, and more.
Regular meetings help ensure that everyone is informed and on the same page. Plus, hosting volunteer-only meetings like these encourages individuals to provide insights and suggestions about process changes.
7. Build and Use Project Briefs
Similar to what its name suggests, project briefs outline the details of an upcoming project or endeavor undertaken by your organization. Often, briefs are circulated amongst an organization’s staff yet rarely shared with the volunteers essential to its execution.
Make it a habit to send important project briefs to your entire volunteer roster. Sharing briefs is especially essential if action items on that brief involve volunteer participation or if a project is something new that your organization has never done before.
Volunteer Retention Best Practices
Supporting a successful volunteer program naturally involves retention strategies. Volunteer retention is a top concern among today’s volunteer managers, who cite budget constraints, misguided volunteer incentives, and hiccups communicating with volunteers as just a few barriers to maintaining numbers.
Turn the tides of your retention strategies with these tips.
8. Learn From How You Treat Staff
Give volunteers the same on-site perks you afford paid staff. That means breaks every 3-4 hours, time off for lunch, free office coffee and/snacks, access to computers and role-relevant equipment, and more.
Treating volunteers like staff also means engaging in scheduled feedback sessions as well as sharing project goals, action items, and strategic changes. Together, these efforts help volunteers develop stronger cognitive, social, and emotional connections to their work as well as your organization. As these connections grow, so will their dedication to their work with your organization.
9. Create Personalized Impact Reports
Many organizations publish annual impact reports for board members to review the objectives achieved that year, as well as the health and sustainability of the organization overall. These publications also serve to bolster grant proposals as well as to temperature check your organization’s future strategic goals.
Consider generating personalized impact reports for key volunteers. Tailor these documents to the work a given person did over the last year, and illustrate the impact that work had. Include key performance indicators (KPIs) as well as how you measured those metrics, to showcase the importance of that individual’s presence.
10. Offer Exclusive Volunteer Perks
Use your organization’s values as well as your best judgment to set up meaningful volunteer perks thanking individuals for their time.
Just avoid going overboard or straying into legally dubious volunteer gifts. Volunteer amenities do not need to break the bank. Gifts and perks can be as simple as bringing in donuts once a week, setting up a free book exchange, or having a snack basket. Items of small market value, paid-for lunches, and celebratory or holiday gifts are also not taxable and are creative ways to create a fun, inviting volunteer environment.
11. Consider Gamification
Gamification can spice up your progression pipelines as well as individual volunteer roles and titles. By introducing small game-like elements into daily work, you incentivize retention and keep volunteers coming back for more.
Consider simple gamification techniques such as assigning points to certain volunteer projects or tasks. You can do the same for logged hours. Volunteers who hit a certain number of points can “trade” them in for rewards — or simply bask in the glory of seeing their name at the top of a volunteer leader board displayed on your website or volunteer management system.
12. Ask Volunteers What They Like Doing
Inviting volunteers to have a say in the work they do shows attention, courteousness, and care beyond a status-quo volunteer experience.
Take time to learn the specific tasks or activities each volunteer is drawn to. Are their skills being put to good use? Do you even know what those skills are? If not, consider drafting a small online or print survey each volunteer completes to gain a greater understanding of their unique talents, from computer or web skills to writing, social media, bookkeeping, event planning, and more.
13. Appoint Brand Ambassadors
Select a handful of “brand ambassadors” from your most dedicated volunteers and staff. These individuals will make it a priority to boost your organization’s image via select relevant channels. For example, brand ambassadors can commit to live-streaming from your organization once a month, during an event or fundraiser or just a regular day in the office. Similarly, brand ambassadors can be in charge of sharing your event calendar online to help boost attendance.
14. Shout Your Thanks
Formal and informal volunteer recognition remains a top volunteer management best practice. Regardless of your organization’s size, budget, or volunteer roll numbers, it should be a priority to thank individuals who use their free time to serve you. Consider everything from thank you notes and videos to shout-outs on social media, small treat baskets, catered lunches, and annual volunteer award receptions.
Volunteer Management and Leadership Best Practices
Volunteer managers have a lot on their plates, especially at small nonprofits and organizations. In a single day, you’re tasked with finding and recruiting skilled volunteers, vetting, screening, and training them, managing volunteer schedules, mitigating no-shows, balancing budgets, coordinating and executing events — plus keeping everyone’s spirits high and work meaningful.
The best tips for managing volunteers reduce these workloads and aim to make the juggling act of administration far easier.
15. Manage a Thorough Volunteer Database
Digital volunteer databases streamline a significant portion of day-to-day volunteer tracking. As a central information repository for all things related to your volunteers, these systems save volunteer managers time and effort across the gamut of their responsibilities. Volunteer databases make it simple to assess availability, identify volunteer assignments, organize schedules, structure work tasks, and log completion. These same systems store volunteers’ preferred contact method, so you can quickly call, text, or email with schedule and task updates to keep workloads moving.
16. Leverage Community Partnerships
Volunteer organizations play a pivotal part in the communities where they exist. As such, volunteer managers and staff should remain open to potential community partnerships with mutual value add.
These connections drive your brand awareness and widen your volunteer recruitment. From corporate sponsorships to setting up booths at local concerts in the park and farmers markets, keep community engagement top of mind, then watch as related volunteer activities and numbers improve.
17. Practice Omnichannel Recruitment
Launching a multi-channel volunteer recruitment campaign casts the widest net possible for finding diverse volunteers. For example, different generations prefer various social media channels. Targeting a specific medium is more likely to place your organization in front of target volunteers’ eyes of a certain age and with certain talents, helping assure skills gaps and key open hours get filled.
At the same time, you can track and test each channel to determine which sources the highest-quality applicants, then tweak recruitment campaigns accordingly.
18. Get On the Cloud
Cloud-based volunteer management systems require no in-house IT staff to install and maintain the database. They are managed by a third-party vendor who ensures quality security features, program flexibility, and task functionality for your organization’s needs. Best of all, these programs aren’t location contingent, meaning you can log into them from your mobile phone, on your laptop, at home, or working at your favorite coffee shop.
19. Optimize Your Website
Consider how your website may be helping or hindering your image and, therefore, your volunteer management program.
Does the language on every page convey trust, authority, enthusiasm, and energy? Is there a page dedicated to becoming a volunteer, including an easy-to-click online application and your contact information for questions? Optimized organization websites also contain simple but impactful ways to stay connected with prospective volunteers, such as a newsletter opt-in or direct links to social media pages. Offering these methods of staying connected is a key way to increase awareness and engagement, eventually courting higher volunteer conversion rates.
20. Set SMART Volunteer Goals
Effective leadership in volunteer organizations requires setting goals for your team, and setting SMART goals makes it more likely that you’ll achieve what you set out to do. SMART goals are short and long-term objectives broken down according to “specific,” “measurable,” “achievable,” “relevant,” and “time-bound,” benchmarks, thus the acronym. They’re primarily used in the private sector for individuals and departments to set actionable, bite-sized goals rather than lofty — and therefore unattainable — ones.
Organizations can also use SMART goes to clarify their volunteer management programs. Think deeply about two to three goals for your program. Then get to work establishing a SMART-inspired set of directives and action items for achieving them. These SMART goals scaffold the daily work it takes to bring your sometimes abstract volunteer program improvements to fruition. The more specific you can be, the better.
Get Your Free Volgistics Software Trial
Ready to fine-tune how you manage your volunteer program for greater engagement, retention, and success? The right volunteer management platform can help you get there.
As your Volgistics account grows, you may find that you have a lengthy list when you select Sets from the menu. The list of Sets is alphabetized by the name you give to the Set, but it may be difficult to find the one you need from a long list.
You can make
sets easier to find by starting your Set names with the function the Set
performs. For example, instead of naming Sets “January Birthdays,”
“February Birthdays,” etc, name them “Birthdays in
January,” “Birthdays in February,” etc. This will cause all the
birthday Sets to be grouped together under “B” on the list instead of
under “J” for January, “F” for February, and so forth. This
little bit of extra organization can help you locate the Sets you need more
If you have access to your account’s Setup page, you can review VicNet and VicTouch use by following these steps:
Select Setup from the Menu.
Choose Account management.
Click the Account status link.
The Vic Activity section shows usage and the last reset. If you want to start a fresh count at zero, click the Reset button beside the module you want to reset. Help topic 2278 offers additional information for tracking volunteers’ VicNet use.
Your volunteer organization wouldn’t be the same without its volunteers. These are the folks using their free time to show up at your door, support your causes, and bring your mission to life. Selecting the right volunteer management system for your organization ensures you create the best volunteer experience for them. Plus, these systems simplify your volunteer management work, making it easier to track hours, send volunteer communications, generate reports for boards and grants, and so much more.
Learn the benefits of volunteer management software customized for your organization or nonprofit, as well as how you can be confident you’re picking the best volunteer management tools.
What Is Volunteer Management Software, and Why Is It Important?
Volunteer management systems are administrative software that can assist you across the full spectrum of volunteer operations. Specifically, these tools can aid in volunteer:
Think of volunteer management software systems as your go-to repository for all things volunteerism. From setting up application forms to storing e-waivers to texting and emailing volunteers directly, these systems modernize volunteer operations. Because they become the organized epicenter of your volunteer operations, volunteer management software is one of the most valuable tools for high-functioning volunteer organizations. With it, your organization can grow more organized, more efficient, and more successful at attracting and retaining high-value volunteers.
Things to Consider When Buying a Volunteer Management System
Choosing the right volunteer management system might seem daunting. There are dozens of products on the market, each touting a list of features and affordances designed to save you time and money. How do you know which programs live up to the hype?
To make your volunteer management selection process easier, make sure your organization has outlined and established the following steps for selecting a volunteer management system.
Volunteer management systems will range in pricing. Some software providers build all-in-one systems you pay a flat subscription to, giving you access to dozens of applications and integrations you may or may not need. Others will present a-la-carte products, where organizations can customize the software to their exact needs.
Determine the maximum budget your organization can allocate to this management system. Note that often, the cheapest software doesn’t always offer the best deal. Hidden costs and add-on expenses can multiply down the road when building the system you need. Remember, sometimes you have to pay a little bit more for quality.
Your software implementation timeline should be generous, leaving plenty of time to research individual pieces of software. All relevant staff at your organization should also review and agree upon your schedule, ensuring everyone’s on board.
Pay particular attention to your event calendar, scoping out when you have major programs planned. The weeks leading up to these events will already be hectic. Introducing a new piece of software at these packed moments may backfire, increasing work and stress levels while you iron out integration. Similarly, be wary of software vendors who try to rush your purchasing decision or push the hard sell too often. They may not have your best interests at heart.
3. Business Processes
Create a list of business processes your ideal volunteer management software can simplify or streamline. Often, these are tasks eating far too much of your time, preventing everyone from moving onto higher-functioning and value-adding work. For example, you might look for a software that can:
Generate volunteer reports
Contain volunteer check-in or sign-in portals
Facilitate text and email communications with all volunteers
Manage and accept new volunteer applications
Consider which of your business processes would benefit most from going semi or fully automated via volunteer software, then begin vetting accordingly.
4. Software Benefits
Use your business process checklist as an inspiration for the exact features included in your new volunteer management software.
No two organizations are the same. Neither are their driving missions, the needs, and goals of their operations, nor the type of volunteers they seek to attract. Look for software catering to your top volunteer pain points or gaps. Applications that contain the most relevant features will trigger the kinds of business process improvements your team has already outlined, resulting in positive developments like:
Increased volunteer recruitment, especially among skilled volunteers
Simplified volunteer communication via text, email, etc.
Easier volunteer scheduling and hours tracking
Increased volunteer operations efficiency, represented in user-friendly volunteer reports
Scalable software, able to grow with your volunteer numbers as well as your entire organization
Essential Features of Volunteer Management Software
When it comes to industry software, many volunteer managers and program directors make the well-intentioned mistake of assuming bigger is better.
This approach is understandable, but it’s not practical — or cost-effective — for the vast majority of organizations and nonprofits. Instead, take the time to seriously consider your top needs and pain points in your current volunteer operations. From that needs list, you can effectively begin ranking essential features to look for in your volunteer management system, thus filtering only the best solutions.
Looking for direction when it comes to those essential features? Consider the rankings below to begin properly vetting the right volunteer management software for your organization’s needs, today and tomorrow.
Some of the most important volunteer management software features include the following.
Accessibility: Volunteer databases that are accessible regardless of location offer unparalleled convenience for you and your staff. For example, Volgistics uses a web-based system available on any desktop, laptop, or mobile phone — not just the ones in your building. Sign in from your computer in a coffee shop or work from home, never having to worry about accessing urgent volunteer reports or databases.
All-in-one/centralized solution: Can the software house all programs, reports, documents, and features related to your volunteer operations? Or do you still need to support multiple programs to accomplish simple tasks such as scheduling volunteers over the next month? Disparate systems defeat the core purpose of volunteer management software, so you should avoid them if possible.
Security:Volunteer databases may store sensitive information, such as copies of driver’s licenses. You need to be confident this data will remain safe and accessible only to approved users.
User-friendliness: Each organization has different needs, and you want software that allows you to adjust and stay organized. You also want customizable software that allows you to make changes without a programmer or developer.
Communications portal: You can use software to send text or email updates to volunteers based on their communication preferences. Send volunteer confirmations, schedule openings, thank-you messages, and more.
Volunteer reports with analytics: Volunteer management software can generate reports with rich, focused data. In a few clicks, your staff can review these volunteer metrics to make adjustments, tailor practices, or to strengthen grant proposals.
Offers support: Customer servicing and continued support even after you’ve launched the software at your organization — just in case you have questions or encounter usage issues.
Nice-to-have features boost the functionality of your software, both for your staff and for your volunteers themselves. These important features of volunteer management software likely save you time on the work you already do, but they may not be business-critical.
Examples of nice-to-have features include the following.
Volunteer portal: Some software suites include an interactive platform tailored for volunteers themselves. Each volunteer in the system receives a username and password. Using those credentials, volunteers can log in to the system and review the profile and schedules, see upcoming volunteer events and needs, and sign up for new shifts.
Volunteer check-in: Some software comes with a volunteer time clock that works on computers or mobile devices. When volunteers arrive on-site, they check in, and then dive into their valuable work. You won’t have to manage in-person check-ins during an already busy day or worry about cumbersome paper sign-in sheets, which are easy to lose. You can even see who’s on-site at a glance.
Background check integration: Volunteer management software can assist you in some of the most important aspects of recruitment, such as running background checks on volunteers and other compliance documentation. Screening volunteers is essential, yet often time-consuming, and may even involve initiating multiple types of background checks before clearing a recruit.
Manage contacts: Use your system as a central log for up-to-date volunteer information, including mailing addresses, emails, and preferred methods of contact. This system can double as a touchpoint log, helping you keep track of other volunteer communications and updates, such as sending newsletters or contacting a previously active volunteer who hasn’t signed up in a while.
“Could-have” features include extra software amenities that are generally attractive, but not business-critical.
In other words, these are the features that make your day-to-day role as an administrator smoother but won’t be deal-breakers if left unsupported. Even without these features, your organization can maintain steady, successful volunteer efforts.
Volunteer profiles: Software with internal communications, like those above, may also host personalized volunteer profiles. With these, your volunteers can complete their profiles, update their schedules, and tailor their communication preferences, all so you don’t have to.
Event management integration: Certain volunteer management programs can integrate with event management software, streamlining your organization’s event planning.
Document uploading: Scan and save existing paper files into your software, adding another layer of “file-cabinet” functionality to your system — sans the clunky furniture.
Optional volunteer management software features are those at the bottom of your needs list. Perhaps these software features aren’t necessary for the sector, size, or scale of your organization. Likewise, these amenities might not land under your organization’s current priorities.
Regardless of the circumstance, typical examples of optional volunteer management features include the following.
Social media integration: Making volunteer opportunities and registration shareable across your profiles in a few clicks
Service record auditing: Review service entries for accuracy
Mandatory service/service goals: Track volunteer progress toward goals you set for them
Ultimately, you and your fellow staff are the best judges of optional software amenities. You’re most capable of determining which features are optional, even irrelevant, and which are critical to see smoother volunteer operations.
Other Tips on Picking the Right Volunteer Management Software
Keep these additional considerations in mind when selecting your top volunteer management software.
1. Prioritize User Support
Few volunteer organizations have dedicated IT staff ready and waiting to solve software glitches or integrate new applications. And that’s OK! Look to your software vendor to provide fast, expert technical assistance for your new product, from initial installation and implementation through everyday usage.
Bonus points for software vendors who share supplementary support materials, such as product video demos, infographics, or resource libraries where they answer some of their most common user questions.
2. Take Advantage of Free Software Trials
Search for software companies that offer free demos of their product. These demos can include anything from sample accounts to full software access for a trial period, letting you experience the software firsthand.
The benefits of a “try-before-you-buy” offer are numerous. You can test the features and design of the software, seeing for yourself if it’s fast, secure, and easy to navigate. Free software trials also let you begin nurturing a relationship with any prospective vendors, which will serve you across your subscription.
3. Find Vendors With Flexible Pricing
Volunteer management software is not one-size-fits-all. Its pricing shouldn’t be, either.
Vendors maintaining rigid price structures across only a handful — or just one — software setup may be a red flag that a business is in it for the profit, not to provide a premium product. Instead, research vendors that are feature-rich, scalable, and that carry experience working with organizations in your sector. Their products, and their price tags, will be more aligned with your needs.
4. Seek Data Integration/Conversion Assistance
Select a software vendor that helps you convert historical data from your legacy documents and systems into the new one. Such data will vary, but includes information like volunteer profiles to past annual volunteer reports and grant applications.
Data integration can be daunting without dedicated IT staff to handle its procedures. Vendors that assist or take care of data conversion for you offer serious peace of mind.
5. Works With Your Organization’s Size
Trying to make software designed for different-scaled organizations work at yours is like trying to fit the proverbial square peg in a round hole.
First, these products will carry too few or too many features for your current business needs. Second, they may feel impersonal, since their developers had another kind of user in mind. Finally — and perhaps most importantly — the software itself will probably be at the wrong price point to work in your favor. Harness your inner Goldilocks and stick with vendors with a proven track record of working with organizations similar to you in size and operational scope.
What Is the Best Volunteer Management Software?
Need help choosing the right volunteer management system? Simplify your decision-making process and feel more confident in your choice by following these four tips.
1. Define Your Objectives
All the software you’re considering should make day-to-day volunteer operations quicker, easier, and more intuitive. How they go about simplifying tasks, plus what they charge to do so, is a different story.
Create clear, concrete objectives you want to see as a result of using new software. For example, use volunteer reports and analytics to create stronger grant proposals and reports for your board of directors and help increase funding. Likewise, perhaps you’re looking to grow your volunteer pool and therefore need software with greater cross-channel integrations and an interactive volunteer portal.
Understanding your short- and long-term objectives focuses your software choices, increasing the chance of picking the right one.
2. Research Different Options and Compare the Top Three
Researching too many pieces of volunteer management software can lead to buyer’s remorse. On the other hand, maintaining tunnel vision exclusively on one system risks missing a vendor that may provide a superior fit.
Check third-party websites for reviews of software filtered for your organization sector and size. These sites host expert advice, as well as testimonies from actual product users, giving you a well-rounded view of the software in real life.
3. Know Your Volunteers’ Needs
Familiarizing yourself with your volunteers’ likes and preferences will also help you select your best software. For example, volunteers who prefer text-based communications will be more likely to re-engage with organizations that communicate and stay in touch using text messages. That means volunteer management software with text-based communications will be a better choice for your organization, compared to products without this feature.
Knowing what volunteers look for in an appealing organization will, again, help you make the most informed decision.
4. Never Forget the User
You and your staff will be the ones using the software day in and day out. Consider what works best for your workflows. Selecting software that seems tailor-made for your daily operations is far more likely to increase staff buy-in, which leads to higher ROI on your investment in the first place.
Testing Your New Volunteer Management Software
Secure your staff’s buy-in for the new system by following these implementation best practices.
1. Create an Implementation Timeline
Your implementation timeline outlines the end-to-end schedule of selecting and installing your new software, naming target dates for each major phase. For organizations, these timelines cover stages such as software/vendor research, trial testing, product selection, contract signing, installation, historical data conversion, and then a multi-phased rollout into your daily operations.
Sound complicated? Don’t worry — it’s likely you already practice this serialized kind of implementation. Think of it as orientation for this new piece of software which, once fully integrated, will make your job fundamentally easier.
2. Train Relevant Employees
Create training modules yourself, or ask your software provider for formal training materials to help launch the new platform among your team. Take your time, ensuring each relevant staff member understands how to use and navigate the system. The more comfortable they are with it, the better its success will be.
3. Pilot With a Few Users
Consider selecting a handful of staff members to pilot the software across the implementation timeline. Fewer users early on helps to establish control and visibility over the new software. Plus, you can see what testers like and what they don’t about its current features, allowing you all to play around with the system at a more relaxed, exploratory pace before full rollout.
How to Choose the Right Volunteer Management Software for Your Organization
Congratulations! After following the steps in this guide to volunteer management solutions, you’re nearly ready to select your new system. There are just a few final considerations to review to ensure you’re getting the end product you need.
1. Research Subscriptions and Additional Fees
Your chosen vendor will provide, or host, most software. You gain access to the system by paying a fee through a license or subscription, as specified in your contract after you vet and contact the software vendor.
Most volunteer management software runs on a year-to-year subscription, but variations exist. Make sure you have a clear understanding of your subscription timeline and fees before signing your contract.
2. Consider Cost and Frequency of Software Upgrades/Integrations
Off-the-shelf software is a great place to begin when using volunteer management software for the first time. However, as your organization evolves, so will the digital tools it uses daily.
Don’t be afraid to ask your vendor about software upgrades and integrations available down the road, as well as the costs for these upgrades. These will be essential to forecast into future budgets and feasibility models. Vendors offering the most competitive ongoing services and add-ons may also become the most attractive software vendor.
3. Pick Your Software
In addition to reviewing the product itself, consider all of the following before selecting your software:
Timing and frequency of software upgrades
Cost of upgrades or additional applications
Any fees beyond the initial installation
Software training programs and orientation
Customer support, helplines and user forums
Software discounts or upgrade discounts for nonprofits
Make Volunteer Management Easier
Selecting the right volunteer software can be tricky, and you want to put in the time to find the best option for your volunteer organization or nonprofit. Schedule a free demo with Volgistics to see the capabilities of our volunteer management system firsthand. You can also watch our free video tutorials to see what types of features we offer. Our extensive help library can even assist you with any questions you have.