A Quick Guide to Engaging Short-Term Volunteers

A Quick Guide to Engaging Short-Term Volunteers

Written in collaboration with Sara Wessling, Project Manager, MAVA.

In our increasingly modern world, time is becoming ever more precious. Almost half of Americans feel they don’t have enough time each week to spend on personal activities, according to a Workplace Trends report.

That statistic has trickled down to affect how much time people spend volunteering in America.

It’s one reason that the Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration (MAVA) surveys their network members and stakeholders — to learn more about the trends they’re experiencing in their work as leaders of volunteers.

One theme that emerged is the trend in volunteers making shorter time commitments. To learn more about the challenges and opportunities organizations face in responding to this, MAVA surveyed over 250 leaders of volunteers and nonprofit managers.

They found that while the definition of a “short-term volunteer” varies from organization to organization, they are best identified by the length of commitment, with 79% of survey respondents defining a short-term volunteer as someone who volunteers once at their organization.

What factors limit an organization’s ability to engage volunteers in short-term roles?

If you guessed time, you’re absolutely right!

The majority of survey respondents say time is their most limiting factor. Meanwhile, 80% of respondents agree that short-term volunteerism is here to stay, and they’re already making changes to their programs to address this trend.

Why engage short-term volunteers?

To connect with more members of your community. Most nonprofits do so in the hopes that volunteers will return for longer commitments, or because they need volunteers with a specific set of skills that only short-term volunteering can supply.

Also, half of volunteers say volunteering leads them to give more financial support, suggesting that leaders who provide robust volunteer opportunities have an edge in creating a steady donor base.

Which begs the question: if you could bring in more volunteers through shorter-term commitments, would they be more likely to support your cause financially?

How can volunteer program managers cater to this increasing trend?

That’s the basis of why we — the authors of this post — are here. To maximize your program’s effectiveness through easy-to-implement tips that garner positive results.

Start by asking yourself, “Which existing opportunities can I tailor to attract short-term volunteers?” or “Are there any new opportunities I can create?” Check out these tips for recruiting, screening, onboarding, and engaging your short-term volunteers.

Recruit

Websites like VolunteerMatch connect thousands of volunteers to nonprofits every day. If you haven’t done so already, register or claim your organization’s profile page on VolunteerMatch, then click “Add New Opportunity” on the upper-right hand side of the page. When drafting a short-term opportunity. Be sure to:

  • Include “Short-Term” in the opportunity title. If a volunteer searches “short-term” or “short term”, this will filter your opportunity to the top of the list.Get Started: Give Your Opportunity a Title
  • If possible, make it a “Virtual” opportunity. Virtual opportunities are great for short-term assignments and tasks with minimal oversight and low commitment.Tag Your Volunteer Opportunity as "Virtual"
  • Under “Date & Time,” select “Ongoing” to imply flexibility.Set Your Date-Range to "Ongoing"
  • In the “Time Commitment” field, include how long you think the task will take (e.g. 1,2,3, or 4 hours).Be Specific about the Time Commitment
  • Finally, include “Keywords” toward the bottom, like “short-term”, “short term”, and “micro-volunteering” to ensure your listing(s) get noticed!Include Keywords such as "Short-Term"

A great example of an organization that implements short-term volunteering successfully is ISD Innovations, Inc. After launching their Suicide Prevention App (SPA) this September, they recruited 400+ short-term volunteers through VolunteerMatch to help Beta test their app.

The reason for their success?

ISD Innovations, Inc. asked volunteers to create a SPA account from their phones, login, and test a few different in-app scenarios. By creating a low-commitment, virtual assignment, they were able to recruit hundreds of volunteer beta testers to provide valuable insight into the app’s functionality, leaving them feeling helpful in the process — all in under an hour.

Screen

Screenings should be commensurate with the responsibilities of your short-term volunteer role(s).

For example, if you’re seeking volunteers to help clean up a park, you may screen them using simple questions like “Are you available on the requested date and time?,” and “Do you have any concerns with the tasks at hand?,”  etc.

Volunteers handling more advanced assignments can be screened quickly in person or through online video conferencing platforms like Google Hangouts or Skype.

Please note: Not every role is suitable for short-term volunteers. If you need a volunteer to help execute an event, manage cash, or converse with clients, it’s likely that you’ll require someone who’s more dedicated to your organization (and has the experience to boot).

Onboard

Onboarding is your opportunity to introduce volunteers to your organization as a whole and outline its mission and broader goals. If part of the reason for involving volunteers in brief roles is for them to get the word out about the organization in the community, include key messages you want them to share in a brief orientation.

When it comes to short-term volunteering, efficiency is key.

Consider hosting your volunteer orientation virtually to allow for more time-constrained prospects to attend and make any related presentations available in places like SlideShare afterward.

You can also produce a video that helps complement your orientation messaging as concisely and effectively as possible. A well-produced video has the potential to save time for busy volunteer managers, especially those who run large or understaffed programs.

For example, Jessica Towers — a volunteer coordinator for the DC Central Kitchen — makes the video training experience more meaningful by sharing her story as a volunteer in the process.

Engage

Once you’ve recruited, screened, and onboarded your short-term volunteers, the next step is to train and help engage them in their work. Supply short-term volunteers with a checklist of things that need to get done during their shift, and be available to help answer any questions they may have along the way.

Share outcomes and next steps with your volunteers, send them a thank you email, and create easy ways for them to stay in touch and volunteer with your organization again. Ask short-term volunteers to volunteer again after their initial commitment and, if appropriate, ask them to take greater responsibility.

If you are looking at time-limited positions as a way to get volunteers in the door, develop strategies to move them into longer-term positions, and evaluate if that’s working for your program.

Seek to develop and culture relationships with your short-term volunteers. Reward them by appreciating them on social media, your website, and/or through dedicated volunteer appreciation events. Share stories of impact and specific concrete examples of how their work has made an impact on clients and/or the community.

Look at the experience from their perspective to create the likelihood they’ll share positive comments, and ask them for help in bringing in more volunteers to your organization.

Lastly, in order for your program’s short-term volunteerism strategy to work, you’ll need to evaluate it 3, 6, and 12-months after to ensure the return on investment is there. If it costs you more in time to have short term volunteers than not to have them, or if the same amount of time spent in a different way would yield more results, then you may need to make adjustments to maximize the impact of shorter-term positions.

Have an additional short-term volunteering tip, strategy, or thought to share? Post it in the comments section below!

Author Bio: Sara Wessling is the Service Enterprise Initiative Program Manager at the Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration (MAVA). She helps coordinate delivery of a comprehensive assessment, training, consulting, and certification program designed to enhance volunteer engagement and help organizations better achieve their social mission.

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