Along with donors, volunteers are extremely valuable partners for nonprofit organizations. They donate their time and expertise to help drive your mission forward and are an essential well of support. If engaged properly, volunteers can be excellent advocates for your organization over the long term.
Because volunteers are so essential, it’s vital that they have positive experiences with your organization. After all, their experience volunteering with your nonprofit influences not only the retention of that individual volunteer, but whether or not they market your fundraising campaigns on social media, recruit their friends to help out at your next virtual event, or become major-dollar donors in the future.
If you’re not communicating effectively with your volunteers throughout the volunteer life cycle—from recruitment to engagement to follow up—then you’re not doing all you can to maximize volunteer satisfaction and retention. We recommend that you follow these best practices in communicating with your volunteers throughout the life cycle:
- Ensure an easy online experience
- Reach out before, during, and after events
- Recognize volunteers for their support
- Make the most of your time apart
- Make sure they know how to get more involved
Effective volunteer management can be tricky, but if you follow these best practices, we’re confident you’ll be able to establish long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with an army of volunteers who are passionate about your cause. Let’s get started.
1. Ensure an easy online experience
The volunteer experience often begins on your nonprofit’s website, so that’s where your communication strategy has to begin. Prioritizing clarity on your site will result in the most effective platform for converting potential volunteers into actual volunteers.
For starters, your website should be generally well-designed and intuitive. This means logical navigation, a visually appealing layout, and a clear mission statement/purpose. Cornershop Creative’s list of best nonprofit websites expands on the importance of these essential elements and includes examples that your own site can emulate.
Further, consider the placement of calls to action (CTAs) for volunteers. If the “Get Involved” button is tucked away on a rarely-visited page on your site, you’re probably losing valuable potential supporters. Instead, your CTAs should be prominent, recurring, and smartly placed near emotional appeals and photos of events.
Once your volunteer has located and clicked on a CTA, they’ll likely be taken to a registration page. When you’re deciding on which volunteer management software to invest in, consider ease of use of the registration forms and whether or not the registration data will integrate with the other tools you use. This list of top volunteer management software providers further details what to look for in a good volunteer management tool.
The registration form itself should be as concise as possible; excessively detailed or complicated forms will discourage form completion and, consequently, engagement. Stick to essential information for the required fields, and make less-vital questions (like skills, interests, and experience) optional, or follow up with volunteers later to collect that information in a survey. Remember, you’ll always be able to learn more about your volunteers as they become involved with your organization.
2. Reach out before, during, and after events
Whether a volunteer signed up for a virtual fundraising event, a three-day restoration project, or a training session, the event is not the only thing on your volunteer’s mind. Your volunteers will need and appreciate supportive communications from you to help them make it to the event they signed up for. Volunteer management software should take care of a lot of these automated communications for you.
Some of the automated communications you’ll want to implement are:
- Signup confirmations. Immediately after registration, volunteers should receive an automated email or text confirming the date, time, and location of the event they signed up for. You’ll also want to include other essential information for the volunteer, like specific directions for accessing the event and parking information for in-person events.
- Reminders leading up to the event or training. Sending reminder texts or emails to your volunteers communicates that you care about their service, demonstrates understanding about their busy schedules, and lowers no-show rates by up to 30%.
- Post-event follow-up survey. After your volunteer has generously donated their time and effort to your organization, show them that you value their thoughts and opinions by sending a follow-up survey about the event and their experience. This will not only encourage engagement but will help you plan better events and optimize the volunteer experience.
Remember not to neglect the time the volunteer is actually participating in your event. Whether your event is online or virtual, engage with your volunteers and ask your staff to, also. Ask them questions about themselves and their interest in your nonprofit, and tell them what excites you about the work your organization does. Showing interest in your volunteers as people will go a long way to strengthen relationships with them and forge valuable personal connections between your supporters and your nonprofit.
3. Recognize your volunteers appropriately
Expressing your gratitude for your volunteers’ assistance is an essential first step to show respect for them, communicate your appreciation, and guarantee they’ll want to engage further with your organization. As selfless as your volunteers are for donating their time, it’s only natural that they’ll not want their good deed to go unnoticed. That’s why it’s smart to make sure they are sufficiently recognized for their efforts.
Beginning with a thank-you email, volunteer appreciation can be customized depending on your organization and its available resources. Consider the following volunteer appreciation tactics:
- Special events like dinners, shows, and movie nights
- Perks like raffles and awards (or even just coffee and doughnuts at a morning event!)
- Thank-you gifts like T-Shirts, keychains, and mugs
- Thank-you letters that feel genuine and personal
Of course, depending on the level of engagement of the volunteer, you’ll want to alter your volunteer recognition tactics. A one-time volunteer might warrant an email and a keychain, while your longest-serving and most loyal volunteers deserve more recognition, like exclusive experiences and appreciation events. This will also incentivize volunteers to continue participating in your organization’s programs.
Appropriate and proportionate volunteer recognition not only makes it more likely that each volunteer will return for further engagement, but also makes it more likely they’ll spread the word about your cause and even recruit friends to volunteer with them next time.
4. Make the most of your time apart
It can be easy to fall into the habit of only contacting your volunteers with hard asks for their support. Unfortunately, this can cause the relationship to feel shallow and transactional. Even without an urgent need to contact your volunteer base, it’s important to keep your organization on their minds and keep them in the loop about recent developments and future opportunities. This will go a long way to foster long-term, invested volunteer relationships based on mutual interest in your cause.
Consider creating a dedicated email stream for your volunteers, where you periodically report information that may be of interest to them, such as:
- Recent accomplishments, for example that you fed 150 children in need thanks to their help last month.
- The long-term impact of a given project, like a “where-are-they-now”-style follow-up with constituents of your nonprofit’s mission.
- Internal strategic updates, like new tools or strategies you’re rolling out to help you further your cause.
Alternatively, or in combination with this strategy, you could consider creating a dedicated volunteer newsletter that reports news from your organization, informs about volunteer opportunities, and offers other ways to engage. Ideally, the newsletter would serve as a piece of a broader marketing campaign that drives engagement on your website, blog, and social media.
5. Make sure they know how to get more involved
Because you have a specific mission, it makes sense that you would consistently need the same type of support from volunteers. But if you offer your volunteers the same types of opportunities over and over again, you risk making them feel unfulfilled—or even bored. For your most loyal supporters, make sure they know there are always different opportunities to get more involved.
Offering additional opportunities for engagement empowers your volunteers, builds supporter investment, and makes sure your volunteers are always engaged. You could ask your volunteers to:
- Take advanced trainings in marketing, fundraising, or recruitment.
- Apply a skill they have, such as designing your website.
- Research their eligibility for corporate volunteer grants. (Study up with Double the Donation’s guide to corporate volunteer grants if you’re new to corporate philanthropy programs.)
The more creatively you can use your volunteers, the more engaged they’ll be and fulfilled they will feel as a part of your organization. Maximum volunteer engagement and fulfillment means they’re more likely to stick with your nonprofit long-term and spread the word about your cause.
Volunteers provide countless vital services for nonprofits, from planting trees to running events to delivering meals. Don’t miss out on any volunteer support due to lack of communication. Instead, follow these best practices in our guide and reach, engage, and retain as many volunteers as possible. From signup confirmations to volunteer newsletters and additional engagement, it’s important to communicate well with your volunteers at every step in the life cycle.
Implement these strategies and watch your volunteer base grow! Best of luck.