5 Ways to Motivate Your Nonprofit’s Volunteers

Guest post by Kelly Smith

Hands in the center, helping out volunteering.Volunteering has become a popular solution for people who not only have got some time on their hands, but also want to build a better community or help those who need assistance.

As a nonprofit leader, you’re probably aware that volunteers are the heart and soul of your organization – it’s their smiles and hard work that enable you to push your cause forward. That’s why it’s essential that you constantly motivate them and make them feel a part of a close community. Here are five smart ways to start motivating your nonprofit’s volunteers right now:

1. Know their reasons for volunteering.

In order to keep your volunteers engaged and motivated, you need to first understand the reasons behind their decision to volunteer. Whether they do it to feel good about themselves, acquire new skills or just to make a difference, you’re the one that needs to gather this information and apply it, creating a volunteer program that fosters long-term commitment.

2. Communicate!

This is probably the easiest and most effective way of keeping up your volunteers’ motivations. Good communication is key to managing the expectations and responsibilities of your workers, but in order for it to really work you need to be able to listen, as well.

Welcome suggestions and feedback. Show volunteers that their opinions matter – what you’ll get in return will be people willing to do their best to improve your organization.

3. Show your appreciation.

Even though their volunteering comes from a real passion and good heart, your volunteers still want to be appreciated for what they do. If their efforts are not being recognized, they’re more likely to ditch the cause and become less and less available.

How to appreciate them? Simply by saying ‘thank you!’ You could also consider giving out rewards, incentives, or organizing events that show how the success of your organization is based on the great work done by your volunteers.

4. Show them how they made a difference.

There’s no better method of keeping up the motivation of your volunteers than by letting them see the results of their hard work. Seeing a child who after months of tutoring is finally able to read a whole book out loud is a sight no volunteer will ever forget.

5. Provide social recognition.

Volunteers can have their work recognized not only internally, but externally as well. You can use social media to your advantage – for example, post a photo depicting volunteers in action on your organization’s Facebook wall. Seeing all the likes and comments will warm their hearts with joy and provide a great source of motivation.

So don’t hesitate! Start working on your motivation strategies right now – every investment in your volunteers pays back with an immeasurable passion and willingness to work for an important cause.

Kelly Smith works at CourseFinder, an Australian online education resource. She also provides career advice for students and job seekers. She is interested in volunteering opportunities in Australia.

4 Minutes to Help Everyone Learn about Volunteer Appreciation

Thank You cake for Calabazas Library volunteers.

Thank You cake for Calabazas Library volunteers.

Boy, do we appreciate our volunteers. The time, passion and talent given by these generous people makes the difference when it comes to creating impact for our communities and the world. They are the best.

But how do we appreciate them? And how does the way we appreciate our volunteers compare to how other organizations show volunteer appreciation?

VolunteerMatch has partnered with txtMovies.com, a company that enables you to send customers, prospects, volunteers, employees and survey respondents movie rental codes, to learn about volunteer appreciation practices across the nonprofit sector.

To do so, we’ve created a super quick, 4-minute survey. The results will help us all better understand volunteer appreciation at nonprofits, and will enable organizations like VolunteerMatch to provide more support and resources to help your organization! (You’ll also be entered to win 25 free movie codes for your nonprofit.)

Please contribute to this important research by taking the quick survey right now! Then stay tuned for updates from Engaging Volunteers to see the results when we publish them.

Take this 4-minute survey from VolunteerMatch and txtMovies.com about volunteer appreciation!

Unsung Listeners: The Story of Hotline Volunteers

Guest Post by Marc Wong

Unsung Listeners - the story of hotline volunteersMeghan watches her mother finish a telephone call.

“Mommy, why are you crying?” she asks gently.

“I’m ok,” mommy sighs, “I’m ok.”

Meghan leaves the room and comes back moments later. “When I’m sad, I hold on to Mr. Brown,” she says, handing over a teddy bear to her mother.

On another occasion, Daddy is talking to Meghan about a tough decision he has to make.

“When I have to make a big choice, I ask Mr. Brown,” Meghan says.

“And what does Mr. Brown say?” asks Daddy.

“Nothing,” she says matter-of-factly. “He listens.”

Meghan’s actions give us a glimpse of what selfless, dedicated hotline volunteers do on a daily basis. Just like Meghan, volunteers do not judge. They do not advise. They do not solve problems. They do not interrogate. They do not point out your flawed thinking and actions so you can correct it. They do not tell you to look at the bright side or to be optimistic. And yes, sometimes they will just be quiet and let you speak. Volunteers honor and respect the callers’ thoughts and feelings and they offer their best with no strings attached.

When we look a little closer at Meghan’s words, we notice some other things: Despite her age, Meghan clearly knows something about sadness and making difficult choices. She even shares her life experience with her parents. Volunteers also bring their life experiences and considerable knowledge to each call. I don’t mean volunteers interrupt with their own stories the moment a caller pauses to take a breath. Volunteers are able to share by reaching into their own, sometimes painful, personal experience to understand what the caller is talking about, no more, no less.

Volunteers’ actions, like Meghan’s, are also gently supported by an unspoken sense of hope and decency. Implicit in Meghan’s words are the message that things will get better, that there is good in this world. This is not to say that volunteers pressure, or in any way impose their values or beliefs on the callers. Volunteers are not going to rush you to get “better”. They’re not even going to tell you what “better” means. Instead, they’ll be more than happy to hear what better means for YOU.

Volunteers earn their sense of hope from the knowledge and experience that their selfless work can bring relief. They don’t need to prove that there is goodness or fairness, in private or public spheres. They are satisfied knowing that the work they do can make a difference.

This, then, is the story of hotline volunteers. It is the wonderful combination of skill, knowledge and humanity offered so as to make it a little easier for others to tell their stories. A volunteer offers what is unique and precious to her as a human being so that others may talk about what is unique and precious to them.

For taking the time, having the patience, and putting their hearts into this noble work, please join me in celebrating and thanking all the volunteers!

Marc Wong is a listening expert and author of “Thank You for Listening: Gain Influence & Improve Relationships, Better Listening in 8 Steps”. Connect with him on Twitter at @8StepListen and on www.8StepListen.com.

Blurred Lines: Turning Donors into Volunteers…into Donors

Don't label your supporters! Turning donors into volunteers...into donors.Does your organization label your supporters and potential supporters as either “donors” or “volunteers?” Mistake!

Are your donor and volunteer databases separate? Mistake!

Research shows an empirical link between volunteering and donating. For example, volunteers donate on average 10X more than non-volunteers. In addition, nearly 70% of folks surveyed in the linked study said they donate to the organization for which they volunteer.

Fundraising and volunteer engagement are both all about building relationships. In today’s connected world, the lines are blurring between donors and volunteers, so why would you put up an artificial wall that limits your relationships? Instead, use the ideas and strategies below to empower and inspire potential community members to provide the help you need most, turning donors into volunteers…into donors.

Make Them Feel Comfy

Your time and communications with new supporters should be focused on showing them why your organization is so special, why you’re a great fit for their individual passions, and how much of an impact they can have with you. Make them feel comfortable and welcome, no matter how they want to get involved at first.

Focus on Corporate Volunteers

Volunteers who get involved with you via their workplaces, or who just happen to work at a large company, might be the “low hanging fruit” when it comes to encouraging donations. Find out if their company runs a matching gifts, granting or dollars for doers program. If so, let the volunteer know and help them easily get these benefits for your organization. Chances are, they’ll want to add in some money of their own, too.

Give Them Ownership

Ask your donor or volunteer to take the lead in a particular project. From a position of relative leadership, they are more likely to get even more engaged and increase their commitment both monetarily and time-wise. Fundraising campaigns (both online and offline,) and event-planning are both great projects for this kind of encouragement.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

Whether they’ve given time or money, your supporters are with you because they care and they want to help. Make sure they know what you really need. I guarantee they’ll jump at the chance to make an even bigger impact, and they’ll appreciate that you reached out to them as a trusted and valued champion.

If you’re interested in more detailed, tactical tips for using social media and other communications strategies to blur the lines between donors and volunteers, check out Social Media for Nonprofits in Silicon Valley – I’ll be speaking on this very topic!

How does your organization encourage volunteers to donate, and vice versa?

Winning People Over to Your Cause – Part Four: Measure Success Based on Your Volunteers and Community

Content Marketing for Nonprofits, by Kivi Leroux MillerEditor’s Note: This series explores ways to apply content marketing strategies to help lead a successful nonprofit volunteer program. Using the wealth of information in Kivi Leroux Miller’s book “Content Marketing for Nonprofits” as a jumping-off point, this four-part installment discusses how a solid content marketing strategy will pay dividends in drawing volunteers and supporters, bridging the gap between volunteers and donors, and engaging your community.

heartmeterHow can you learn more about your volunteers and supporters? This question should serve as the driving force behind how you keep track of your work and success. In this blog post, the final one of the series, we will discuss how you can quantitatively and qualitatively measure the impact of your work and adapt to the needs of your volunteers and community.

Invite Volunteer Feedback

One way your data might manifest itself is through surveys and polls. After a volunteer participates in one of your opportunities, ask that person to fill out a short form talking about how it went. Did the opportunity match his/her skills and interests? Did the volunteer learn something or take something away from the experience? Did the volunteer feel guided by his/her supervisor? How you tweak your program based on responses to questions like these can be the determining factor in whether or not that volunteer will lend his/her time with you again.

One organization that encourages volunteer feedback is my local Sierra Club chapter. In the process of creating and publishing their newsletter, “The Yodeler,” released online and in print, the Club invites volunteers to edit their articles, not only grammatically but stylistically and formally as well. As a result, existing volunteers directly affect how the Club’s message is delivered, and can provide input based on their own needs.

Use Online and Social media Analytics to Follow Trends

Website analytics like Google Analytics and Sprout Social will provide you with quantitative data that you can use to track a number of different statistics and trends. You might be interested in:

  • How long people stay on the volunteering page of your website
  • How many people are visiting your site for the first time (unique visitors)
  • Which age group has the most people following you

You can collect a wide variety of data and follow a bunch of different trends. But efficiently using social media is more than just collecting a mass amount of data: it is using those metrics that are most relevant to you that will then help you improve your content.

Analytics can also be used to determine how good of a job you are doing in responding to social media activity. Your online analytics can track how quickly you are responding to comments on the different social media outlets. You can then take that data and compare it to the graphs that tell you how many followers, fans, and likes you are receiving on a weekly basis. Small steps in improving your social media presence can be very beneficial in drawing new volunteers.

Balance Exposure and Engagement

Much as you want to have your name heard by lots of people, it will only be meaningful if people are actually having conversations about you. To clarify this idea, think about this awesome analogy that Kivi presents in her book:

To summarize, think of building social media followers like filling a football stadium. Many people like you enough that they will attend, but only a small fraction will wear apparel and team colors, and even less will put on face paint and go all-out with costumes. Social media provides extremely useful tools for connecting with a massive number of people, but it is up to you to use those tools effectively to create quality relationships and die-hard fans.

You might have thousands of followers on Twitter or likes on Facebook, but these only mean something if people are actually getting involved. In terms of online analytics, you might compare your impressions (the potential number of people who saw your name and post) to the number of interactions (the number of times you were mentioned by other people), and compare these to the number of people who actually sign up to volunteer.

At the same time, you can only create new interactions if you are meeting new people. Thus, exposure and engagement work together, and you need to balance both in order to successfully build strong relationships with your volunteers and community.

By following some of the strategies in this blog series, we hope that your organization leads a more successful volunteer engagement program. Maybe you used these strategies as inspiration for a new approach, or your existing strategies diverge from those listed here. We would love for you to share your experiences, and hope you will jump in the conversation about how to engage volunteers using content marketing!

What methods does your organization use to measure successful communication with and engagement of volunteers?