Having volunteers is super — especially when they’re really aligned with your goals and bring plenty to the table. But it doesn’t take much for that initial spark to dim a little. It’s natural for people to feel less engaged sometimes, but there are steps you can take to light a new fire within your volunteers.
8 Ways to Improve Your Volunteer Engagement Strategy
Ready to take your volunteers from a loyal but passive group to a hyped up community of ambassadors? Here are eight ways to ramp up your volunteer engagement.
1. Create an Amazing Onboarding Program
When your volunteer signs up and pledges their support to you, they’re making a big commitment. The least we can do is make it as easy, carefree, and fun as possible. Banish dull, confusing, and repetitive onboarding comms. Replace it with a swift, simple, and welcoming process instead.
It might take some time to figure out what works best for you and your volunteers. Maybe you kick off the commitment with a quick meeting with your volunteer coordinator, or you send a series of delightfully crafted emails to familiarize them with how you work.
Whichever way you approach onboarding, it’s all about making them feel welcome, sharing key details about how you work, and confirming what’s expected of them. It’s also a great opportunity to get to know each other and build those all-important lasting relationships.
So what should you include in the onboarding process for your volunteer program? Here are a few ideas:
- Key details about your organization — like what you do, where you operate, and when you were founded
- An introduction to your leadership team or the people your volunteer will be working with
- Information about your volunteer’s role within the organization
- Common rules, regulations, or other disclaimers your volunteer needs to know
- Information about any meetings, training sessions, or events you have booked
- Who their main contact is and how to reach them
- What you expect from your volunteer and what they can expect from you
- How to access support — whether that’s technical, practical, or emotional
You also want to share all the great things about your organization and how you like to work. Let your volunteers know they can reach you via WhatsApp or that you’d love their input on your shared playlist. It may seem small, but the little details can make a difference to their experience.
Like most things, when it comes to volunteer management, it pays to be flexible here. Someone that’s helping you in a small way for a one-off event doesn’t need the same depth of information as a weekly volunteer. Make sure they get the same feel-good welcome, but tailor it so they get the details they need and nothing they don’t.
2. Be Flexible With Your Volunteers
Wouldn’t life be boring if we were all the same? Your volunteers are super individuals and their lives are all unique in different ways. Honoring the fact that we all have different needs is a great way to make your volunteers feel welcome and supported.
Some of your applicants might be looking for a volunteer position with a regular commitment — set days of the week that fit around study or other time commitments. Others might have parenting responsibilities that mean they’d love to help you, but can only pick up odd shifts here and there.
Being open and flexible with your volunteer opportunities means that you get to work with a more diverse group of people, and they’re more likely to engage with your cause. There’s a fine line here, of course. Being too flexible can cause a scheduling nightmare and lead to ineffective volunteer management.
Make this easy for your volunteer manager and your volunteers by introducing an online calendar system where they can book in time to support you. That way you know who’s available or what coverage you still need at-a-glance. This self-service approach also shifts some responsibility to your volunteers, which helps them feel more involved and inclined to take ownership over the work they do with you.
3. Offer Lots of Training and Mentoring Opportunities
Volunteering is one of the best ways to gain experience. There’s so much you learn from stepping in to help someone run an event, staff a store, field donor inquiries, or be a supportive face at the front of something meaningful. Make your volunteering experience even more valuable by stacking up training and mentoring opportunities.
Lots of volunteers learn useful skills during their time with you. They might learn how to use a software program or improve their communication skills. This is great, but you might be able to open them up to even more chances to develop. Think about whether you could send your volunteers on a training course, or fund a practical certification.
If funds are an issue, pro bono peer learning could be a fun way to bring people together. Stage an event where volunteers can teach and learn from others in a variety of areas, like event management, confidence, design, marketing, networking, and more. These skills don’t even have to fit the job description — personal growth is just as valuable.
You’re also missing out if you don’t have a mentor program set up. Assign your new volunteer a current volunteer as a mentor when they join. Not only will they feel more confident in asking questions, but they’ll have a built-in friend at your organization.
It always feels good to have someone show you the ropes — especially for first-time volunteers in the nonprofit sector. Look for mentors that have tons of patience, live and breathe your mission, and are super approachable.
4. Personalize the Volunteer Experience
What’s better than volunteering with an organization you really care about? Knowing that the organization cares about you right back. Form a community of highly engaged volunteers and loyal supporters by offering a personalized volunteer experience.
At some places, being a volunteer can feel like you’re being slotted in to fill a gap. Onboarding is generic, there’s no spark, and you’re left to do all the jobs that nobody else wants. This creates understandably bored, unengaged volunteers. Avoid this completely by taking an interest in your volunteers and their interests.
We’re all great at different things, which is why assigning the same jobs to everyone doesn’t work. Someone may be great at community engagement, while another excels at running your social media.
Assign someone a volunteer role they’re not good at — or don’t enjoy — and you’ll get mediocre results. Instead, listen to your skilled volunteers, understand their interests, and get to know what lights them up. Here are a few great ways to do this:
- Send out a short survey about interests and talents as part of your onboarding process
- Use weekly check-ins to find out what they love and what they don’t enjoy as much
- Encourage an atmosphere where volunteers can be open about their preferences
- Give your volunteers an opportunity to step outside their comfort zone — they might really shine
Hand out tasks based on what they’re great at, and look for ways you can support them to use their talents in a way that benefits you both. It’s an easy way to ramp up volunteer engagement and encourage your valued volunteers to pursue their interests. Plus, you might find someone that loves the idea of effective volunteer engagement — that’ll help with capacity building for the future!
5. Be Generous With Feedback
Build your volunteers up and they’re more likely to engage with your organization. Offer plenty of feedback and be generous with the support and encouragement you give. It can make all the difference.
Make a commitment to have regular meetings with your volunteers. Take the time out to get to know them and discuss things one-on-one. Sure, this is a great opportunity to tackle any issues or problems that need fixing. It’s also the perfect time to provide help, teach them a few things, and steer them on the path to being the stellar volunteer you know they will be.
Make sure you keep offering feedback and support throughout your volunteers’ time with you. It’s crucial when they’re new, but just as uplifting when they’ve been with you several years. Your constructive help and feedback helps them grow, find the confidence to suggest ideas, and make the most of their time with you.
6. Welcome New Ideas Like a Pro
Just as your volunteer catch-ups can help you iron out any problem areas, they’re also ideal for discovering new ideas. Create a community where ideas are welcomed and you’re likely to see results from engaging volunteers who love to share.
Think about the kind of atmosphere you want to create at your organization. Are you steering the ship, or do you welcome creative thinking from everyone around you? While not every idea you hear will be a winning one, it’s always worth hearing them out.
Not only is it fun to be able to contribute ideas to an organization, but you’re winning here too. You never know when one of your volunteers is going to propose an unthinkably good suggestion, so start early by encouraging this kind of innovation from the start. It’s also a great way to foster positive volunteer retention and keep the people that really help you develop as an organization.
7. Share Gratitude With Your Volunteers
Being a volunteer at a nonprofit organization can sometimes feel lonely. They don’t always get the recognition they deserve for their community service — especially in front of key players like funders and board members. We know you care a lot about your volunteers, so make sure they know it too by sharing your gratitude with them.
It doesn’t take much to help your volunteers feel valued. Dish out plenty of “thank yous” — especially personalized ones that reference their individual contributions. Praise their volunteer services in front of a crowd, whether that’s your board members or an audience at one of your sold-out events. Set up awesome rewards like days out or vouchers for local restaurants and let your team make suggestions about the perks they’d love to see.
For another fun way to express how grateful you are, use our personalized video platform to send thank you videos to your volunteers. You can get staff members to film, personalize, and send short and sweet messages of thanks to the people that make a difference to your organization.
8. Keep Communication Open and Easy
Great communication is everything. It’s so easy these days to assume one thing or overcomplicate an issue. Keep your volunteers engaged and informed with clear, open communications.
Be as clear and transparent with your volunteers as possible. It’s easy for them to feel like they’re at the bottom of the food chain, but you can keep volunteer engagement up by sharing as much information as possible. Let your volunteers know about organizational success, opportunities, news, and potential issues that they might need to be aware of.
If you’re looking for ways to improve your volunteer communications, try starting a regular email newsletter. Send out a weekly or monthly blast that includes company updates, training opportunities, and plenty of gratitude. You could also create spaces for volunteers to talk and share ideas — like a group chat or forum.
Offer different ways for volunteers to get in touch with you too, as some of us love a phone call and others prefer a quick text. It’s all about being inclusive, open, and welcoming.
Strategic Volunteer Engagement Isn’t a Secret
There’s no magic wand you can wave that’ll spark an interest within your volunteers. Sometimes it’s there or it isn’t. But for most of your skilled volunteers, you can encourage them to get more involved by shifting your focus slightly.
Set some strategic goals and work out what makes sense for your team and your volunteer base. Offer more thanks, create opportunities for them to excel, and watch as your volunteers start to grow and blossom before your eyes. You’ll also find it way easier to convert potential volunteers into future loyal fans.
It might seem like a challenge, but you can start small and see a big impact. If you’re ready to start letting your volunteers know how valued they are, start with a personalized video. Create one video and watch as our automated platform cleverly transforms it into multiple personalized videos in no time. Book a demo with us to find out more.