Why Create an Engagement Strategy?
Developing a written volunteer engagement plan will benefit your organization by:
- Keeping Your Team on the Same Page: An established strategy for your recruitment and retention efforts makes the process clear for everyone involved. When someone has a question, they don’t have to guess. Instead, they can reference your plan.
- Affirming the Value of Your Volunteers: Many organizations couldn’t make their current impact without their volunteers. Yet many organizations don’t include volunteers in their strategic plans. Acknowledging your volunteers’ importance can completely change your approach to organizing.
- Saving You Time: Increased volunteer retention gives you time that you would normally spend on recruitment. You also don’t have to think about what to do next to bring people in — you already have it written down.
- Helping You Find the Best Fits for Your Organization: An engagement strategy geared towards your organization’s needs and values will attract more volunteers who care about what they do. As a bonus, a well-designed plan will keep these people around.
- Giving Volunteers a Consistent Experience: When your team uses the same methods to keep volunteers around, you look more professional and cohesive to the volunteers you work with. This reliability builds their trust and respect.
Of course, an engagement strategy also offers the perk of dedicated volunteers if you create one that resonates. However, doing so can be easier said than done. The following tips will help your plan succeed and help you keep volunteers coming back.
Understand Your Current and Future Volunteers
Before you think of ways to engage your volunteers, you have to know their skills and values. Volunteering has a selfless nature, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider creating a beneficial experience for your volunteers. While employees receive compensation in exchange for their work, volunteers don’t make a living off of their endeavors. This means that they can leave whenever they want if they don’t find helping you fulfilling.
You want your volunteers to feel a sense of worth and accomplishment from what they do, and everyone finds those benefits in different ways. Every company has a unique marketing audience that clicks with them. Volunteers work the same way. To keep people coming back to help you, you need to work with people who are interested in your organization in the first place. How do you determine who will stay for a week versus someone who will stay for years? Think of your most loyal volunteers and ask questions including:
1. How Do Your Volunteers’ Values Match the Organization’s Values?
The experience you offer your volunteers could tap into values that your organization doesn’t focus on. For example, some volunteers for Christian organizations don’t consider themselves Christian. Instead, they volunteer because they enjoy helping people.
2. Where Do Your Volunteers Excel?
They might gravitate towards certain positions over others. If you know where your volunteers thrive, you can look for people with similar passions.
3. Why Do People Volunteer Here?
Volunteering offers so many perks besides fulfillment. Some people help organizations to meet new people and socialize. Others want to build experience for their career or personal growth.
4. What Kind of Schedule Do Your Volunteers Typically Have?
Stay-at-home parents, salary workers, and retirees all have different windows of availability. You need to honor your existing volunteers’ time commitments while recruiting for time slots that need coverage.
Use this information to create a profile of your most dedicated volunteer. When you create the rest of your strategy, you will keep this person at the front of your mind. Many organizations have multiple kinds of volunteers to profile, so consider the differences between the subgroups in your volunteer base. Some types of volunteer management software let you create sets of volunteers with specific traits. Use this feature to pinpoint who stays involved and who leaves.
In some cases, you may want to recruit people who have an entirely different profile from your current volunteers. Make a profile of the volunteer you have in mind to guide your recruitment activities just as you would with an existing volunteer.
Set Clear Expectations — and Stick to Them
Whether you write a volunteer position description or give an existing volunteer their next task, you must establish and communicate clear expectations. Just as employees have job duties and a schedule to follow, your volunteers should have a good idea of what to do and for how long. When you establish your volunteer’s responsibilities, you must answer questions like:
- What kind of help do I need from this volunteer?
- Who will give the volunteer directions and guidance?
- Will the volunteer have multiple duties or do the same task?
- How many hours a week will I need this volunteer?
You should especially focus on making accurate time estimates. When you ask for a time commitment, expect no more from the volunteer unless you request it well in advance. Your volunteer has other commitments in their life. Plus, you don’t seem trustworthy when you promise two hours and ask someone to stay for three at the last minute. Volunteer scheduling tools let you set a schedule and communicate about it. You and your volunteer will know as soon as possible when either of your expectations changes.
Measure and Share Your Volunteers’ Impact
A report in the Stanford Social Innovation Review examined why volunteers quit. Two of the five most common reasons involve a lack of recognition. Some volunteers leave because they don’t receive the same acknowledgments as donors. Others quit because the organization doesn’t even think about their value. They put work into the organization’s cause, but that work doesn’t get noticed.
Volunteers must feel recognized and accomplished to keep helping your organization. After all, how else can they know the impact they make? Volunteers lend a hand because they want to make a difference. If you don’t acknowledge the effect they have on your work, they won’t feel like their assignments achieve anything. But how do you quantify a volunteer’s results, especially in roles that have nothing to do with numbers? Considering measuring their impact by keeping track of:
- People helped
- Animals adopted
- Hours worked
- Assignments completed
- Fundraising money earned
- Donations delivered
Now that you have a way to report the difference your volunteers make, let everyone involved in the organization know. Include their achievements in annual reports, social media posts, newsletter, and other regular communications. Sharing what they do with the entire organization sends the message that their contributions have as much importance as paid work.
Show Your Appreciation
In addition to noticing a volunteer’s results, appreciating them on a personal level will make them feel like part of the team. Recognition on an emotional level will significantly boost their morale. Depending on the size of your volunteer team and your organization’s budget, you can show gratitude in multiple ways, such as:
- Volunteer Appreciation Events
Host a get-together entirely focused on your volunteers. No fundraising, no training — just something they can enjoy. Whether you take them out to dinner or have a full-on gala, they’ll look forward to it every year.
- Thank You Cards and Notes
Send a card to their home showing your gratitude for helping at an event or simply doing what they do. If you have the budget and a small enough crew, you could even include a small gift card to a cafe or restaurant. However, don’t underestimate the impression a note can make on its own. You can also manage birthdays in a database and send cards out every month.
- Saying “Thank You” in Person
Even just stopping by during your volunteers’ shifts to personally thank them can make a difference. Visit during a normal day of volunteering, so they know you think about them.
These gestures shouldn’t depend on the volunteer’s results and hours worked. Every contribution, no matter how big or small, should receive gratitude. After all, they all take time out of their day to help your organization succeed.
Recognize and Reward Loyalty
Some milestones call for celebration. Motivate your volunteers to hang in there by rewarding their dedication. Incentives like awards for a certain number of service hours demonstrate that you appreciate their loyalty. Volunteer management software makes tracking award benchmarks easier than ever. For example, you can define awards based on hours of service, and the program will mark volunteers who qualify. Even if you don’t base your awards on service hours, you can note which ones a volunteer receives for easy reference.
Create a Community
Many people don’t just volunteer to feel good about doing good — they also want social interaction. Even volunteers who don’t have socialization on their list of priorities enjoy knowing that they have good company to join. Build a community of volunteers using strategies like:
- Assigning Teams: Putting volunteers into specialized groups gives them an opportunity to get familiar with each other.
- Getting on Social Media: Social media platforms offer plenty of opportunities to connect. Online groups and communities let you and your volunteers share updates and get to know each other. They also help members who don’t usually work together build relationships.
- Throwing Events: Host get-togethers that have the sole purpose of helping volunteers socialize. Even something as small as a pizza party can get the conversation flowing. The extra morale boost from an event’s fun activities doesn’t hurt either.
Embrace Your Volunteers’ Talents
Everyone has something they excel at. Discover your volunteers’ unique skills and interests and give them opportunities to nurture them. You won’t only get more effective volunteering, but also loyal and satisfied volunteers. Make the most out of your crew’s talents by:
- Noting Your Volunteers’ Areas of Interest: Take a minute to ask your volunteers what they want to get out of their experience and where they thrive. Even adding a field on your application or having each volunteer complete an interest form will give you vital information. Volunteer database labels will help you categorize each volunteer by their talents.
- Assigning Tasks Based on Individual Skills: Once you know where your volunteers succeed, give them work that uses their gifts. For example, if someone loves social media, have them create posts or manage your page. Many volunteer management software systems have features that match talents to positions.
- Creating Opportunities for Leadership: Give your volunteers as much autonomy as you can make room for. Let them take ownership of their projects and do something they feel proud of, not something you micromanage.
Teach Your Volunteer Team New Skills
Create more chances for growth by helping your team build the skills they want to learn. Some volunteers join your cause to gain the abilities to advocate effectively. For some people, volunteering serves as their primary resume builder. Students and unemployed people often volunteer to gain experience that they couldn’t get otherwise. You don’t have to run an entire professional development program for them. However, creating knowledge opportunities will make dedicated volunteers even more passionate. Your options for growth initiatives include:
- An Intensive Orientation Program: You don’t want to scare off recruits with a large time commitment for their initial training. Yet they need to get something out of it to feel prepared instead of overwhelmed. Find ways to make volunteer orientation enlightening without wasting your team’s time.
- Ongoing Training: Once your volunteers finish orientation, don’t leave them figuring out the rest. Provide regular trainings that teach them skills that matter.
- Bring in Guest Speakers: Invite industry professionals to talk about important topics in your field. Let them take over training for a day, or host an event where interested volunteers can learn something new.
- Host Informal Seminars and Classes: If you have the resources to hold voluntary skills-building workshops, why not try them out? Your volunteers will learn ideas that you know they feel passionate about.
- Invest in Learning Through Experience: Smaller organizations might not have the capacity to provide the previous amenities to their volunteers. If you can’t manage to set aside resources for dedicated learning events, putting extra effort into mentoring volunteers can work just as well. Check in frequently with them and ask them where they want to succeed.
Practice Effective Communication
Good communication serves as the foundation for an engaging volunteer experience. Every aspect of the email and text messages you send your team will influence their satisfaction. While technology has made it simple to get in touch with your crew, not using it effectively will make your efforts backfire. Pay attention to:
- Frequency: Remember to send your team regular updates, but don’t bombard them with messages.
- Relevancy: Who needs to know what you have to say? Your fundraising team doesn’t necessarily need to hear about updates from the marketing team. Volunteers who live a few hours away probably can’t cover a last-minute shortage. Only send messages to people who need to hear them.
- Consent: Does a volunteer want to receive messages in the first place? Get their permission before you send emails and texts. Even if your team must see these communications to do their duties, you have to let them know.
- Flexibility: Make it simple for a volunteer to opt in or out of any type of message. Their preferences could change in the future and letting them change their message settings themselves is easier for everyone.
A volunteer management software can send your messages only to the volunteers who need to see them. Organize by schedule, assignment and many other factors for effective communication.
Organize Your Operations
Make it as easy as possible for you and your volunteers to manage your shifts and schedules. With many volunteering positions not following a regular schedule, forgotten shifts and clunky schedules become more common. Both organizers and volunteers must have control over assigned volunteering times for both parties to get the most out of scheduling. Fortunately, technology makes setting an easy-to-understand schedule stress-free, thanks to features like:
- Collaborative Scheduling: You have an opening, and your volunteer wants a shift. Meet both of your needs by posting a schedule that lets volunteers fill in open shifts with the click of a mouse.
- Reminders: Send manual or automatic reminders to your volunteers when they have a shift coming up soon.
- Hours Tracking: Coordinate your schedule with your time tracking to accurately count how many hours your volunteers work. Create a sign-in kiosk that lets volunteers clock in and out during their shift.
- Recurring Shifts: If you have volunteers with regular schedules, why take the extra effort to manually set them up? Let your software take care of repeating shifts and fill in the rest. You can look into the future and see what coverage you need without mentally adding your regular shifts to the calendar.
- Substitute Tracking: Make sure every shift has coverage by highlighting when someone needs a substitute and who takes on the shift. Keeping an eye on shift coverage also helps you determine if you need to talk to someone about adjusting their shifts. Sometimes, a volunteer doesn’t feel comfortable saying that they need a lighter schedule, so you can use these tools to see if they need assistance.
Make Mundane Work Exciting
Volunteering isn’t always glamorous. Somebody needs to clean kennels, stuff envelopes , and sort papers. However, focusing on only these kinds of tasks will make volunteering tedious to get through. Foster an exciting volunteering experience by:
- Involving Meaningful Work in Every Position: Everyone wants to feel that they matter. Make sure your volunteers get to have exciting opportunities to break up the monotony.
- Scheduling and Announcing “Busy Work” Shifts: When you must assign less interesting tasks, let your volunteers know ahead of time. Giving them notice will also let them bring music or another way to make their work more engaging.
- Creating Incentives: Give volunteers a reason to come in for the day. If you have multiple people working on the task, promise a fun activity after you finish, like going out for food.
- Turn Monotonous Assignments Into Celebrations: Make repetitive tasks into an event. Set up snacks and music, and have fun while you work. If you regularly need volunteers to do this work, consider making it a monthly occurrence.
Keep Your Volunteers Engaged
Your volunteers want to feel appreciated for their work. Putting yourself in their shoes and listening to their needs will build trust and loyalty. For a volunteer, staying engaged means building an emotional connection to their work. How can they build that connection when you don’t invest the time and care they need? Tools like volunteer management technology will free up your time and energy to invest them in your team. When in doubt, practice gratitude and respect. They’ll go a longer way than you might expect.
Let Volgistics Help
Volgistics makes volunteer management simple. You can use it to keep track of your team while you create and modify your engagement strategy. The price scales to your needs, so you only have to pay for the number of volunteers you organize. Feel free to contact the Volgistics customer support team for help understanding any features or sign up for a free trial today.