Why Online Petitions are Crucial to Your Volunteer Recruitment (and Retention)

By Aaron Viles, Care2

How online petitions help engage volunteers.These days, every nonprofit organization has a website, usually chock full of articles, reports and blog posts about the issues and programs they support. The role of the Internet as a platform for sharing information with volunteers is pretty obvious. But increasingly, real engagement, organization and action are happening online. This is giving nonprofits new ways to communicate with supporters, find new audiences and leverage their volunteer base to get involved, do good work and make change.

Every nonprofit faces the challenge of finding and keeping volunteers. One tool in particular can help groups do both: online petitions.

Finding New Volunteers

The Internet is vast and gives each individual user the ability to connect with people a world away and build a community uninhibited by geography. People today are increasingly mobile and have connections to many places and many causes.

While an issue may seem local or idiosyncratic, you never know which and how many people may be inspired to get involved. An expat may care deeply about the fate of a local park in her hometown. Someone in California may have friends and family in Kansas with whom they can share the good work of a local organization. Put simply: reaching people online gets your issues in front of their whole network and can exponentially raise your exposure and spread your message.

Online petitions are a fast and easy way to get this process started. First, they present a clear message and opportunity to make an impact. Good petitions have a clear ask directed to a real person with the power to act. This short and sweet format, with active, persuasive language, helps distill nonprofits’ missions into something concrete; educating people about what drives their group while actually moving the ball forward on their issues.

Keeping Volunteers Engaged

Many researchers have found that the key to keeping volunteers is to understand what motivates them to get involved in the first place. Once they’re onboard, the challenge is to keep them active with your organization and issue. Research suggests that the more committed a volunteer is to an organization, the more likely they are to remain involved.

Getting people to feel committed requires engagement and making their volunteer work seem meaningful. Asking supporters to sign a petition—either in an email or over social media—is a fast and easy way for you to get volunteers to take substantive action. Signing a petition has a real, significant effect that can make supporters feel better and more connected to your organization and mission.

Plus, engaging people online can actually be a gateway to encouraging offline involvement. In 2013, Pew found that nearly one in five users of social networking sites said information they learned there inspired them to get involved offline. Even more exciting, researchers in Norway found that local voluntary organizations that communicated with their supporters online were more likely to grow, and (this is the best part) they found that the online engagement didn’t just replace the traditional face-to-face activities. This meant that finding ways to connect to volunteers online actually increased total engagement, strengthening their relationships with volunteers.

People volunteer for lots of reasons, from having a personal connection to an issue, to the desire to meet like-minded people and make friends. But common among these motivations is the desire to be part of a community doing good. Giving people a chance to make a difference and a place to take collective action fosters this sense of both community and efficacy that makes your organization and your relationship with your supporters stronger.

Has your organization used online petitions to engage volunteers and supporters? Tell us about it in the comments!

Aaron Viles is a Senior Grassroots Organizer for Care2. He works with citizen authors on The Petition Site to create petitions that will win concrete victories for animals, the environment, and other progressive causes. When not in front of a screen or on a conference call, Aaron can be found doting on his daughters, pedaling furiously to keep up with the peloton, and serving as a volunteer leader for the Sierra Club, Dogwood Alliance and his church.

Tell Us: How Has Technology Changed Volunteering?

We want to hear from you: How has technology changed volunteering?For many of us, technology has become such an integrated part of our daily lives, we barely even notice it. Can you remember life before cell phones? Before DVDs? And both of those things are already on their way out!

It’s hard to deny the impact technology has had on us, but what about on volunteering? How has it changed the way we volunteer, and the way we engage volunteers? Is this a good thing, or a bad thing? How can we, as modern-day, with-it nonprofit professionals make sure we’re leveraging technology in the right way to see the maximum benefit for our cause and community?

What, we have to give you ALL the answers?

We want to hear from YOU! Let us know what you think – you can add your thoughts here in the blog comments, or on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter. Then we’ll aggregate everything so we can all share the knowledge.

Below are some initial ideas to get the juices flowing:

  • The Internet – and especially social media – have made us all easily able to see what each of us are doing and share with others. What people like and share online becomes a part of their identities, and how they want others to view them. How does volunteering fit into this?
  • Are we busier now because of technology? How does this impact volunteering and volunteer engagement?
  • Technology has enabled the growth of virtual volunteering as a way to engage, and the rise of microvolunteering. Has this been a good thing overall, or a bad thing?
  • In today’s super-connected, globalized world, geographic boundaries don’t mean so much anymore. How does this apply to volunteering?
  • With new technology comes to new skills to use that technology, and new skills that can then be volunteered. What are the most valuable new technology-based skills that have arisen for your organization?
  • More of our technology is becoming small and…mobile. What does this mean for volunteer engagement?
  • How has technology impacted – for better or for worse – your ability to measure and track the impact of volunteering on your organization?
  • Finally, what does the future hold for volunteering, given all of this crazy technology that keeps popping up? What can we do now to make sure we’re prepared?

Answer one question or them all, but we want your two cents! Post them now in the comments below, or on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter. Can’t wait to see what you have to say!

Social Media Strategy: The Tool That Has Helped Us Move Onwards and Upwards

Just like many other nonprofits these days, VolunteerMatch relies on social media to expand our reach, increase engagement, and most importantly, to provide value for our community.

Also like many other nonprofits these days, we face challenges when it comes to things like staff time and capacity, measurement and tracking, and pricing. This made finding the right social media management tool critical – and once we did, it was like the clouds suddenly blew away and our social media days have been sunny ever since (well, as sunny as San Francisco gets).

Check out this case study about VolunteerMatch's use of Sprout Social to manage social media.

Sprout Social fulfills our needs in several different ways: It helps us be more efficient with monitoring, publishing and tracking, it enables multiple departments and staff members to easily get involved with social media engagement, and it’s got a very nonprofit-friendly cost structure.

Check out this case study we just did with Sprout Social that details how we’ve used the tool to improve our social media practices – and learn from it. Think about what your organization’s big challenges are when it comes to social media, and find a tool that helps you overcome them. As we learned, the right fit is out there.

Take a look at the VolunteerMatch/Sprout Social case study, and feel free to ask us any questions!

5 Useful Presentations about Volunteer Engagement from SlideShare

5 useful presentations about volunteer engagement from SlideshareSlideShare could be one of the most overlooked resources for nonprofits. I mean, when I search “volunteer” on the site, I got over 100,000 results.

What’s great about these presentations is you can explore them at your own pace in your own time, and still get the main takeaways of the original presentation. Here are a few of the truly useful ones I found during my own browsing session:

Building a Spirit of Volunteer Engagement: The New Volunteerism

by Peggy Hoffman of Mariner Management

Volunteerism has changed and its rocking the association world. Explore the questions, the trends, and the how-to’s for engaging members in volunteering for your association.

[slideshare id=28760778&doc=understandingthenewvolunteer-131130084144-phpapp02&w=400]

Involving Volunteers in Your Fundraising

from 4Good.org

Most nonprofits involve volunteers in program areas and administrative areas. You might not be aware, however, of the many ways you can involve volunteers in your fundraising activities. This webinar will outline ways you can involve volunteers in fundraising, where to find volunteers, how to recruit them, and how to keep them enthused about your organization.

[slideshare id=28210907&doc=111313involvingvolunteersinyourfundraising-131113131759-phpapp02&w=400]

The arbordaynow.org Volunteer Center: A tool for online volunteer recruitment and management

by the Arbor Day Foundation

The arbordaynow.org Volunteer Center (powered by VolunteerMatch.org) matches volunteers with local service opportunities in their community with a click of a button. Discover more about this new tool for volunteer management which allows for tracking volunteer hours, expanded exposure, sending automatic email reminders and includes educational resources. Learn best practices for online volunteer recruitment and engagement and hear success stories from non-profits and communities who have used the Volunteer Center to promote their volunteer events.

[slideshare id=28380713&doc=thurs-131118133846-phpapp01&w=400]

Sourcing Skilled Volunteers through LinkedIn Job Postings

by LinkedIn for Good

This presentation from Taproot Foundation covers how to scope skilled volunteer projects and use LinkedIn to source professionals to complete those projects.

[slideshare id=29089728&doc=1312sourcingskilledvolunteersthroughlinkedinjobpostings4-131210180755-phpapp02&w=400]

Build Staff Buy-In for Your Volunteer Engagement Program

by VolunteerMatch

Is your organization open to engaging volunteers in new ways? Often, one of the biggest challenges to a new model of volunteer engagement is the resistance of paid staff. Attitudes and fears of our co-workers can prevent us from expanding the work that volunteers do. This presentation includes strategies for working with paid staff to engage volunteers. It covers what you can do to alleviate some of those fears, strategies for working within a Union environment, and how you can train and support your coworkers as they become responsible for managing volunteers.

[slideshare id=26354989&doc=buildstaffbuyin-130919121512-phpapp02&w=400]