Inside Out: Engaging Volunteers in a Social Media World

Greg Baldwin at Social Media for NonprofitsWe were very proud when our President, Greg Baldwin, spoke at the Social Media for Nonprofits Conference earlier this month. Nonprofit managers already know how important volunteers are to an organization. This conference was an intriguing look at the way social media—if you’re not using it already—can help you do just about everything – including (or especially) volunteer engagement.

The Buzzword: Volunteers

This was the second time the Conference stopped in San Francisco. While volunteering wasn’t a focus in June, this time it was on everyone’s radar. Chelsa Bocci from Kiva told us they have 10 volunteers or pro-bono professionals for every one paid-employee. Meg Garlinghouse offered tips for using Linkedin’s new service for nonprofits, Linkedin for Good, which makes it easier for nonprofits to tap into the leading professional social network to find the perfect volunteer for the job.

Greg’s presentation, “Inside Out: Engaging Volunteers in a Social Media World” showed us that the volunteer community has grown to include a new set of people. Volunteers don’t just stuff envelopes anymore. They can be board members, graphic designers, and social media strategists. The best way to reach this socially-active, plugged-in group is by meeting them on the networks they’re already using.

However, in order to capture attention in a medium that is constantly pushing old, two-dimensional content to the bottom of the feed, volunteer managers should keep in mind exactly who they’re trying to reach. Social media will allow you to create content that caters specifically to your targets, making them more likely to engage and give feedback, and from here you can form a close-knit community of supporters.

People Are Willing to Give

As Greg pointed out, we underestimate by as much as 50 percent how much others are willing to help. As a VolunteerMatch volunteer intern, I can personally back up this claim. I get the chance to read many volunteer testimonials, and am always amazed by the passion people have for their cause.

I started volunteering to get a feel for what it’s like working at a web-based nonprofit, and to build up some real-world experience. The more time I spent here, the more I understood what the people around me are working towards.

Whether it’s learning about tools for social media outreach, sitting in on meetings with the Communications Department, or getting the rare opportunity to attend the SM4NP Conference, my volunteer experience has been truly fulfilling. The most rewarding part, though, is knowing that I’m helping the people I’ve come to meet along the way with their daily goal — helping connect good people and good causes.

Volunteer Engagement is Donor Engagement

Greg showed us that volunteers are influential not only in terms of human resources, but fundraising as well. Two-thirds of volunteers donate to the organizations they serve, and they’re likely to give 10 times more than regular donors.

Social media allows you to drastically increase the number of people you deliver your message to. Imagine if this message were compelling enough to inspire people to get involved offline and experience first-hand the work you do. This is what makes volunteers want to donate money as well as time.

Greg introduced the audience to the &you widget from Johnson & Johnson, a tool for streamlining the way that people interact with nonprofits. It’s an all-in-one interface for listing volunteer and job opportunities, news and events, and a simple way to donate. The widget can then go directly on your website, blog or Facebook page.

The point is, don’t make the mistake of thinking that people don’t have the time or energy to help. Your support base is right at your fingertips thanks to social media tools like these.

The Three R’s

Social networks should be a fundamental part of the entire volunteer-cycle. Remember the three R’s of volunteer engagement: Recruitment, Retention and Recognition. Enticing photos can captivate potential volunteers. YouTube training videos can speed up the introduction process, and mentions on a Facebook post can give thanks.

Remember that these social media networks are all ways to supplement genuine relationships. It’s a new medium for your message, but the content of your message is still what matters most.

Once you start to get the hang of it, you will begin to witness the way social media enhances your organization’s ability to engage volunteers, which at the end of day positively impacts pretty much everyone.

Photo from the Social Media for Nonprofits Facebook page.

Jesse Fineman is an intern at VolunteerMatch. You can reach him at