Developing a Volunteer Engagement Strategy

Developing a volunteer engagement strategy

A volunteer engagement strategy is essential for coordinating your team and streamlining operations. Whether you’re looking to reduce waste or motivate your volunteers, an engagement strategy can help. Use these 10 tips to build a successful volunteer engagement strategy and create a productive, effective volunteer team.

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.
  • Recognizing volunteer value: 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 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: 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.
  • Creating 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.

How to Create an Effective Volunteer Engagement Strategy

Volunteer engagement is all about planning. Recognizing your strengths, weaknesses and needs will give you the information needed to engage your volunteers. Use these tips to fit your engagement strategy to your needs.

Increased volunteer retention gives you time that you would normally spend on recruitment.

1. 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 you should still try to create a beneficial experience for your volunteers. While employees receive compensation in exchange for their work, volunteers work without pay.

Since they’re unpaid, you want your volunteers to feel a sense of worth and accomplishment from what they do. Every company has a unique marketing audience that clicks with them — volunteers work the same way. Keep volunteers coming back to help you by recruiting people who are interested in your organization.

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 like:

  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 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’ll 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 with 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.

2. 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 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. Volunteer scheduling tools let you set a schedule and communicate it easily. You and your volunteer will know as soon as possible when either of your expectations changes.

It’s also essential to have a clear written policy all your volunteers can access. These policies lay out what you expect from volunteers so they can work effectively. Place it around your organization, give everyone a copy, and make the information accessible online through your digital volunteer materials. Your written resources could cover:

  • Roles and responsibilities: Outline the tasks and expectations associated with each role. 
  • Code of conduct: Establish guidelines for appropriate behavior, interactions with others at the organization, and professionalism.
  • Health and safety: Provide volunteers with information on emergency procedures, safety protocols, and required health or safety training.
  • Confidentiality: Emphasize the importance of confidentiality and respecting the privacy of all volunteers, staff, clients, and information.
  • Reporting procedures: Let volunteers know where and how they can report and document their concerns or incidents.

3. Measure and Share Your Volunteers’ Impact

Volunteers stay at an organization when they feel engaged with their work, satisfied with the job, and committed to the organization. Volunteers lend a hand because they want to make a difference. Acknowledging their contributions makes them feel valued and successful. Measure your volunteers’ impacts and let them know you value their work. You can use software to track award benchmarks, making impact measurement easier than ever.

Volunteers stay at an organization when they feel engaged with their work, satisfied with the job, and committed to the organization.

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, you can let everyone involved in the organization know. Include their achievements in annual reports, social media posts, newsletters, 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.

4. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Handing out awards: Giving awards is a great way to recognize your team. Incentives like awards for a certain number of service hours demonstrate that you appreciate their loyalty. 
  4. 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.

5. 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 prioritize socialization 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. Teams give people a smaller set of familiar faces to bond with. Try team-building activities and missions to create connections. Remember to let teams mingle so everyone gets to know 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.
  • Scheduling gatherings: Set regular virtual in-person meetups so volunteers can come together and connect. Open these up for strategizing, asking questions, and providing task information. Encourage your volunteers to share recent success stories and tips for other volunteers. Letting them connect and share tips regularly will create a tight-knit group.
  • Throwing events: Host get-togethers solely to help 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.
  • Establishing a mentorship program: Volunteering is more effective when your team can trust each other and learn together. Establish mentorship programs between new recruits and veteran volunteers. These give new volunteers support, guidance, and connection for better growth.

6. 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’ll get more effective volunteering and more loyal and satisfied volunteers. Make the most of your crew’s talents by:

  • Noting interest areas: Ask your volunteers what they want from their experience and where they thrive. 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 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 leadership opportunities: 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.

7. 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 learn to advocate effectively. Others use volunteering as their primary resume builder. Students and unemployed people often volunteer to gain experience that they couldn’t get otherwise. 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 training to teach them essential skills.
  • Bringing 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.
  • Hosting 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.
  • Investing in learning through experience: Smaller organizations might lack 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 where they want to succeed.

8. Practice Effective Communication

Good communication is the foundation for an engaging volunteer experience. Every aspect of the emails 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 — 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 other factors for effective communication.

9. Organize Your Operations

Make it as easy as possible for you and your volunteers to manage your shifts and schedules. Many volunteering positions have irregular work hours, leading to forgotten shifts and clunky schedules. Both organizers and volunteers need control over assigned volunteering times 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 an upcoming shift. 
  • 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 shifts.
  • 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.

10. Make Work Exciting

Volunteering isn’t always glamorous. Somebody needs to clean kennels, stuff envelopes, and sort papers. However, focusing on these kinds of tasks will make volunteering feel slow. Foster an exciting volunteering experience by:

  • Making work meaningful: Everyone wants to feel that they matter. Make sure your volunteers get to have exciting opportunities to break up the monotony.
  • 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.
  • Making things fun: 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.

Use Volgistics for More Effective Engagement

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.

Use Volgistics for more effective engagement. Volgistics makes volunteer management simple. Sign up for a free trial.

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