Guest post by Colleen O’Connor Toberman, Our Saviour’s Housing
Helping your volunteers become advocates is one of the best ways to spread your message to those you may not otherwise be able to reach.
We often associate “advocacy” with the idea of political campaigning and this is indeed one way volunteers can take action. As long as you keep your messages positive and nonpartisan volunteers are often willing to speak up on your behalf.
Advocacy, however, can also include recruiting new supporters, spreading a positive message about your work, and raising awareness for your cause. Here’s what volunteers need to succeed as advocates:
Every volunteer needs to know what you do and why it matters. Teach them about how policy, public opinion, and funding sources affect your work.
In my community several organizations doing similar work saw a need for better volunteer education about the big-picture context of our work. We all collaborated to create a training that we offer on a regular basis. Doing this together has lightened the workload and drawn more attendees: volunteers, community members, and even colleagues.
Some volunteers are politically-oriented and might contact their legislators or attend a rally. Others are great writers who could craft a letter to the editor or an entry for your blog. Still others would love to connect their family and friends to your cause by hosting a house party or spreading the word on Facebook.
One organization with whom I volunteer ran a contest for their dinner servers. If they brought a friend along to their next volunteer shift they were entered into a drawing to win a dinner with clients, served by the leadership staff.
No matter how your volunteers speak on behalf of your nonprofit they need the tools to do so. Fill your website or Facebook page with videos, photos, and articles that are easy to share. Send out action alerts to those interested in the political process, letting them know when and how to speak up.
Make your requests simple and specific. For instance, I once asked my organization’s volunteers to call our governor about a particular urgent issue. To make this less intimidating I described exactly what to do: “Call this phone number, an aide will answer, you can say something along these lines, and you’ll be done in less than two minutes.” (One note of caution: your volunteers are not the official voice of your organization. Provide clarity about when and how it is appropriate to share their connection to your nonprofit.)
To avoid overloading volunteers tailor your requests based on interests, talents, legislative district, volunteer role, occupation, or whatever else might help you reach those most likely to act. You may also have the invitations come from a variety of people in your organization.
As always, make sure to thank your volunteers for the time they are giving above and beyond their usual role. Show them how their advocacy matters!
Colleen O’Connor Toberman is the Volunteer Coordinator at Our Saviour’s Housing (a program of Our Saviour’s Community Services) where she leads volunteer engagement, community education, and political advocacy initiatives. She lives and works in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Shari led Online Marketing and Communications at VolunteerMatch from 2010-2015. After working with nonprofits for 9 years, she moved over to the corporate sector and is now leading Inbound Marketing for a tech company in San Francisco.