Written by Jeff Gordy, NeonCRM
The rate of volunteering in America is at a ten-year low, but nonprofits still need volunteers to help their efforts and programs prosper!
So, what can we do?
While the reason for this decline is undetermined, there are certainly a few general practices you can implement to acquire, retain, and engage more volunteers.
In this post, we’ll cover six New Year’s resolutions that your organization can make to achieve better volunteer management practices, including:
- Getting to know your volunteers better.
- Being more flexible.
- Offering more task diversity.
- Saying thank you more often.
- Always looking for improvement.
With these simple resolutions, your organization’s volunteer program will be even more successful by this time next year!
1. Getting to know your volunteers better.
Just as nonprofits know that taking a personalized approach to their donors can help them attain better fundraising results, they also realize that they need to take a similar tailored approach to their volunteers.
Volunteers are far more likely to get involved in a program that can cater to their interests, passions, skill sets, and preferences.
Volunteers often donate their time to find personal fulfillment in one way or another. They want to learn new skills, develop existing ones, make social connections, etc. Whatever the reason, each aspires to grow and find something personally meaningful within your program.
The point is this: Each of your volunteers is an individual with a unique mix of something they can offer your program and something they’re looking to gain from it.
By getting to know your volunteers, you can better appeal to them and ensure they find value in your work. At the same time, you can delegate volunteer opportunities in an optimal way based upon your supporters’ unique skill sets.
Note: you will never get to know your volunteers unless you’re paying attention! Here are a couple of ways you can gain insight into what makes your volunteers tick:
- Input volunteer data into your donor database. You might not think to store volunteer data in your donor database, but your software can help you gain a better understanding of all of your constituents. By housing volunteer data in your database, you’ll be better able to track each volunteer’s past involvement and preferences to help you devise appealing opportunities in the future.
- Encourage volunteers to fill out a survey. When you recruit a new volunteer, have them fill out a brief survey detailing their skills and strengths, what kinds of opportunities they would find interesting, and what they hope to gain from your program. Sometimes the best way to understand is just to ask! You can also email your current volunteers asking them to complete the survey, too.
Even knowing a little bit about your volunteers can help you target them with more relevant opportunities that will mobilize them to get involved.
For example, Vicky Volunteer prefers online opportunities and is a perfect candidate for your next peer-to-peer fundraiser, while Victor Volunteer is an active athlete who would enjoy helping plan your next walkathon.
Your volunteers will realize that your organization values building relationships with them, so they’ll be more likely to contribute consistently.
In a nutshell: Understanding your volunteers’ interests and desires will help you approach them with opportunities that are personally meaningful, increasing their chances of getting involved.
2. Being more flexible.
One easy way to increase volunteer engagement is by making volunteering easier!
When giving back is convenient, your volunteers are far more likely to do so. Volunteers have busy lives, so the more seamlessly your opportunities fit into their schedules, the better.
In fact, having your volunteer opportunities set in stone can bar volunteers from participating, because available opportunities are more likely to conflict with other important responsibilities.
Considering that many volunteer opportunities take place in person, it isn’t always easy to determine where your organization can offer volunteers more flexibility.
But there are always ways to do it. Chances are, you’ll have to get creative!
If your organization needs to host a meeting to discuss the logistics of your next fundraising event, for example, see if it would be possible to host it on the computer so volunteers can attend remotely. Have an hours-long volunteer opportunity that usually takes place at a set time every week? Consider letting volunteers set their own hours so that they can contribute on their terms.
With so many digital communication channels out there, it isn’t difficult to provide your volunteers with extra flexibility. Trust us; it will pay off!
In a nutshell: Being flexible opens up your volunteer opportunities to more volunteers since giving back becomes more convenient.
3. Offering more task diversity.
If your organization is finding it difficult to attract new volunteers to your cause or retain existing ones, there’s a chance that it might be because you aren’t offering enough task diversity.
As we discussed in a previous point, how well you’re able to provide interesting and relevant volunteer opportunities significantly influences whether or not your volunteer program will be successful.
Just as important as catering your opportunities to each volunteer is providing a range of diverse opportunities. You aren’t going to be able to tailor your program well to many volunteers if you don’t have different types of roles and tasks to choose from!
There are tons of exciting ways you can get your volunteers involved. Think outside of your regular programs and events to devise new opportunities that your volunteers might find interesting.
For example, if your organization serves students or youth, you could have your volunteers take on mentorship roles. Have a particular project you need to fund? Encourage your volunteers to try crowdfunding on your behalf.
The possibilities are practically endless. If you need a few creative fundraising ideas that could open up more volunteer opportunities, check out this comprehensive list from Double the Donation.
In a nutshell: Offering a greater variety of roles and opportunities to your volunteers will open up your program to volunteers with a broad range of interests and skill sets.
4. Saying thank you more often.
One of the easiest ways to build stronger relationships with your volunteers — and to keep them coming back — is to say thank you more often.
Volunteers are giving up their time and providing their skills to help your organization. And while they’re not volunteering for their work to be acknowledged, they’d like to know that they’re valued and appreciated.
In the coming year, aim to thank your volunteers more often.
Thank them whenever they donate their time, once they’ve completed a task, on any random day —you don’t really need a reason. Your volunteers are pivotal contributors to your organization who deserve to feel valued, and just knowing that they’re there to support you is cause enough for thanks!
When your volunteers feel like your team fully appreciates their contributions and that your mission couldn’t be furthered without them, they’ll keep coming back!
In a nutshell: Thanking your volunteers on a regular basis will help your organization retain more volunteers because they’ll be able to realize (and feel appreciated for) the full impact of their contributions.
5. Always looking for improvement.
No matter how many of these resolutions you stick to, your volunteer program will still have room for improvement.
There will always be something that you can change about your program to make it more compelling to new volunteers and to keep current volunteers engaged longer.
That’s why it’s crucial to evaluate the success of your volunteer program regularly. Assessing your performance is the only way to pinpoint areas that could be adjusted.
If you’re using a database to track volunteer data, you should be able to run a variety of reports that can help you gain more insight into how your program is performing.
You can evaluate:
- Volunteer acquisition.
- Volunteer retention.
- How often and through which channels you’ve contacted volunteers.
- Which communication channels volunteers respond most warmly to.
- Which volunteer opportunities generate the highest engagement levels.
Looking at hard, objective data is an important step in evaluating the success of your volunteer program (or any effort, for that matter).
But most of the time, there’s no better way to learn than by hearing it directly from the mouths of your volunteers.
Remember that survey we mentioned earlier? You can send out an annual, year-end survey that — along with asking volunteers to share their preferences — provides them with an opportunity to give constructive feedback.
Between the numbers and your volunteers’ observations, you should have plenty of insight into what you can change to make your program even stronger. And that means more volunteer involvement next year!
In a nutshell: Keeping an eye toward constant improvement is the only way your organization can make your volunteer program more compelling and successful.
Bonus: Read VolunteerMatch’s case for why performance evaluation is so crucial.
What volunteer management resolutions is your organization making in the new year? How do you hope to achieve them? Let us know in the comments!