New Report Reveals Why the Internet is a Volunteer Manager’s Best Friend

Online EngagementLast month the Pew Internet & American Life Project released a report exploring the connection between Internet use and engagement in social causes.

The results of the study are exciting – because of the impact the Internet and social media have had on our field – and daunting – because it’s clear there’s a lot of work ahead of us to make the most of these tools.

Below are some of the significant findings in the report:

  • 75% of internet users said the internet has majorly impacted groups’ ability to communicate with its members.
  • 55% said the internet has impacted groups’ ability to raise money and recruit new members
  • Over half of internet users said it’s now easier for them to volunteer their time to groups they care about.
  • In the realm of social media, social networkers are more active in certain aspects of group activity, such as inviting others and spending more time on group activities.

So what can you, as nonprofit volunteer managers, take away from this report? Many of the findings illustrate how the internet has affected the ability of groups to engage with their members. It provides statistical proof of what we have all suspected: the internet, and especially social media, are essential tools for nonprofit volunteer engagement.

Clearly, the internet has become an extremely valuable tool for nonprofits to engage potential volunteers and supporters. On The Case Foundation blog you can read about a great Twitter conversation with Brian Reich and David Crowley of Social Capital, Inc. The two experts debate whether online engagement is really worth the trouble – is it too shallow to matter?

The issue raised above is a key question about online engagement in the nonprofit sector, however for volunteer managers just jumping in to the internet and social media arena, they may not be the most immediate issue.

The internet, and especially social media, introduce a large group of people to your cause and your organization – whether it’s a shallow level of engagement or not. This gives you an unparalleled opportunity to take advantage of this increased access to the public and to deepen their engagement. You can cultivate your Facebook fans and your Twitter followers into volunteers.

You may ask: but how? A social media strategy should look different for every organization. After all, each nonprofit has unique audiences, unique goals, and a unique set of assets and challenges. However, there are some strategies for online engagement that are always a good idea. Below are a few to get you started:

Maximize Availability
Internet users want everything to come to them. So make sure your volunteer opportunities are easily available to them.  You can link to your opportunities on your website, or even use the Syndication Tool to stream them automatically from VolunteerMatch.

Tell Your Stories Online
Nothing is more important for online engagement than to demonstrate the impact people will have when they become involved with your organization. Online tools like YouTube and Flickr provide easy ways for you to showcase the human impact your volunteers have, and both are easy to integrate with your blog or website. You can also tell your story on VolunteerMatch.

Let Them Talk
Your online audiences don’t just want to hear your message – they also want to contribute to the discussion. Facebook and Twitter are great tools to get your community talking, and to deepen their investment by giving them a feeling of ownership over the issues you address.

How does your nonprofit use online tools to engage volunteers?