5 Ways to Build a Better Volunteer Program with Technology

Guest post by Parker Sanders

Many aspects of traditional nonprofits, such as collecting donations, raising awareness and planning campaigns, have moved online.

While you might not have thought of it this way, the relatively fast rise of online fundraising has indirectly boosted the importance of your volunteer program.

How? Accepting more donations online (and fewer in-person) means that your volunteer program is increasingly the part of your operation that involves actively and directly engaging with supporters.

You’ve probably already got a great volunteer program in place. Strong management tools, streamlined onboarding processes, and great rewards and recognition systems are all essential parts of the equation. However, even though your volunteer program is less dependent on technology than your online fundraising, you have to ensure that all of your engagement techniques can keep up an even pace.

TeamDNL has selected 5 of the most important tech practices that, when incorporated into your volunteer program, can result in major performance boosts:

  1. Use customized and integrated software.
  2. Focus on segmenting your supporter list.
  3. Personalize your engagement with volunteers.
  4. Streamline the volunteer application process.
  5. Use other tech tools to boost volunteer engagement.

Many nonprofits have neglected to develop their volunteer programs at the same rate as their fundraising. Remember, though, that your volunteers are among your most important supporters.

The Corporation for National and Community Service reported that “Volunteers are almost twice as likely to donate to charity than non-volunteers.” Clearly, these individuals are motivated by a strong desire to give whatever they can to help pursue a mission they believe in. They deserve the most efficient program you can give them, so continue reading to learn how.

1. Use customized and integrated software

This might go without saying, but your volunteer program can only run as efficiently as your underlying CRM, database or volunteer management platform.

This general rule applies to nonprofit organizations of all sizes and missions; even the smallest of volunteer programs require some sort of central management tool to record data, manage projects and serve as a useful resource for recording interactions and promoting campaigns.

For mid- to large-size nonprofits, this typically means a more heavy-duty solution. An effective CRM can exponentially increase both the internal efficiency of your operations and the value of all that data your volunteer program generates.

The most important point to remember, though, is that your CRM protocols and practices must be consciously geared towards benefitting your volunteer program. Focus on custom configurations, integrations with your other tools and strategies for actively making the most of them all. Consider these benefits of taking a more deliberate approach with your CRM:

  • A comprehensive view of your volunteers. Your volunteers need their own entries and profiles in your database. Track their engagement histories, contact information and other insights you learn along the way.
  • Unified engagement strategies. Use your data on both donors and volunteers to develop campaign strategies that connect all of your constituents. What proves to be the most exciting for each group?
  • Identify solicitation opportunities. If you choose to convert volunteers to donors, find those who’d be most likely to give based on their histories with you. Alternatively, use your wealth of data to identify potential major donors within your various programs.
  • Refine your communications techniques. More detailed and useful information about your volunteers can reveal a lot about their communication preferences. Use an integrated CRM system to find these insights and then automate your messaging.

If developing a more comprehensive tech-integrated strategy for your volunteer program sounds like a smart move for your organization, make sure to find the right guidance. We’ve outlined an overview of nonprofit tech strategy consulting on the DNL OmniMedia blog to help get you started.

2. Focus on segmenting your supporter list

Data segmentation is one of the most important best practices for any nonprofit. Simply put, it entails using your data to target your communications to specific audiences. For nonprofit volunteer programs, refining your communication in this way is the key to keeping your supporters engaged without wasting their time.

Data segmentation is also where the usefulness of your integrated database or CRM really kicks in.

If you’re unsure of your CRM’s segmentation and field customization capabilities, conduct a little research. For nonprofits in need of upgraded management systems, we often recommend organizations carefully compare the two industry leaders, Salesforce and Blackbaud, and see which offers the right mix of features to support your goals. Contact DNL OmniMedia for more research support, from demos to comparison studies tailored to your exact needs.

Whichever solution you choose, your CRM is particularly important for developing strategies for your volunteer program. Engaging with volunteers generates a lot of data, all of which can be recorded, sorted and used to continually refine your strategies. Consider these data points:

  • Location
  • Demographic and contact information, like age and preferred language for communications
  • History of engagement with your volunteer program
  • Employment and corporate philanthropy affiliations
  • Certifications
  • More specific data points collected with a volunteer pre-screening questionnaire tool, such as preferred times to volunteer and other personal interests

The payoff for establishing clear data reporting protocols, asking volunteers for more information and configuring your software to handle it all is practically immediate.

Think of all the ways you could better target your campaign planning and marketing strategies. Sending volunteer event invites to those within a 30-mile radius of the project site, for instance, saves your team effort and ensures your emails won’t flood the inboxes of those who most likely wouldn’t be able to attend anyway.

3. Personalize your engagement with volunteers

Segmenting your database of volunteer profiles is the first step toward more fully personalizing your interactions with each of them.

Personalization, even small gestures on your part, can go a long way to boost retention. That’s because it contributes to a culture of gratitude within your organization. Your volunteers feel most appreciated when they see your team taking the time to get to know them.

Use your organization’s integrated tools to provide a more personalized experience at all levels of your volunteer program:

  • Use customized greetings. Integrate your email automation tools and volunteer management database to populate emails with recipients’ names. Simple expressions of attention like this leave a great impression on new volunteers.
  • Personalize volunteer opportunities. Use volunteer preferences to populate the “upcoming volunteer opportunities” section of your email based on their preferences. It will increase the chances that your organization will fill the slot — and of the volunteer doing something that makes them happy.
  • Provide volunteer statistics. When volunteers see how long they have been volunteering for your organization, how many hours they have devoted or how many events they have volunteered at, they’ll feel reaffirmed that you are recognizing all of the time and energy that they are giving. A volunteer who is having a slow year might even pick up an extra shift after seeing their numbers.

Use more detailed insights from your segmented database to develop more comprehensive strategies to incorporate volunteer interests and desires into your next projects.

Of course, all kinds of thank you gift ideas work perfectly for volunteers. Your program probably has its own special gifts and recognition events that have become annual traditions for the organization. However, don’t forget to put your tech tools to work, too!

With the right management and communication tools pulling directly from a well-managed database, it’s easy to personalize your engagement with volunteers and express your gratitude with gestures both big and small.

4. Streamline the volunteer application process

Boosting your tech capabilities and making the most of your management and database tools can have some serious benefits for your volunteer program’s communication and marketing strategies. It all starts with the first moment of engagement with your new volunteers, their application to get involved.

Most nonprofits, particularly larger ones that require more comprehensive management and database tools, ask their prospective volunteers to complete an application or provide additional information in some way before getting started.

Having more detailed, individualized records from the outset can immediately boost your communication strategies and provide a more streamlined experience for volunteers.

Your website or volunteer management system should include an easy-to-find checklist of required materials that new volunteers will need to provide, like copies of identification. When developing your online application or questionnaire, customize the fields to provide you with the most useful information possible. You’ll likely want to include:

  • Contact information and location
  • Current employment or employment history
  • Any special skills, certifications or relevant interests
  • Scheduling information, like typical availability
  • History of engagement with your organization or others
  • Ability to pass a background check
  • T-shirt size

The ability to immediately segment your volunteers into appropriate lists is invaluable for getting their engagement off on the right foot. For example, your new volunteers who’ve told you that they’re only available to help out on weekends shouldn’t be flooded with invitations for weeknight projects.

Similarly, this data also allows you to more fully personalize your communications as your relationship deepens. Target your messages to volunteers based on their interests and skills as opportunities emerge for them to shine.

Volunteer engagement, both online and in-person, is a key nonprofit analytic that your team should pay close attention to. Learning more about your supporters from the beginning is the single best way to refine your communications and ensure meaningful engagement.

5. Use other tech tools to boost volunteer engagement

Finally, your volunteer program’s technology should support any new or additional opportunities you provide your supporters to get involved with your work.

This includes more organized management and registration tools on your site, but it’s more generally a smart move to make the most of whatever platforms you use when developing new volunteer opportunities. Consider these:

  • Invite key volunteers and members to share input and help plan events. Management platforms that feature online communities, message boards, and collaborative work tools are perfect for inviting your most dedicated supporters to get more deeply involved.
  • Promote corporate philanthropy and volunteer grant programs. Employers will often financially match the time that their employees spend volunteering. Automated tools integrated into your database can streamline the entire process and provide a sizable revenue boost. Explore 360MatchPro’s list of top volunteer grant companies to see if any of your core volunteers might be eligible.
  • Offer unique training and educational opportunities. Management platforms and online communities make it easy to share eLearning programming, webinars and video training courses with volunteers. Investing time and energy into volunteer development perks can generate a huge increase in your long-term retention rate.

Some nonprofits work to merge their two groups of supporters, volunteers and donors by encouraging volunteers to donate and inviting donors to volunteer. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this strategy for bolstering your base of support, it’s important to focus on offering a wider variety of opportunities to get involved in the first place.

The right technology tools can help identify the right volunteers for the job, build a strong culture of volunteer engagement within your program, and facilitate more ways for them to engage with your organization.

While not all nonprofits have access to the same sorts of tech resources, expert guidance and a little creativity can go a long way to ensure your volunteers stay engaged and feel appreciated. Plus, their generously donated time will have a bigger impact than ever thanks as you work to integrate and unify all your engagement and tech strategies.

About author: Parker Sanders is the head of communication at DNL Omnimedia – a strategy firm that provides marketing and consulting services to nonprofit organizations of all sizes.

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