Communicating with Volunteers: 5 Best Practices
Volunteers are extremely valuable partners for nonprofit organizations. They donate their time and expertise to help drive your mission forward, making them essential to your mission. When fully engaged, volunteers can become excellent advocates for your organization, spreading word to their friends, family, colleagues, and the rest of their personal networks.
Because volunteers are so essential, it’s vital that their experiences with your organization are positive. After all, their experience volunteering with your nonprofit influences not only the retention of that individual, but whether or not they promote your fundraising campaigns on social media, recruit their friends to help out at your next virtual event, or become donors in the future.
If you don’t communicate effectively with your volunteers throughout their journeys—from recruitment to engagement to follow up—then you won’t be able to maximize volunteer satisfaction and retention. To improve your nonprofit’s volunteer program, we’ve put together the following these best practices for communicating with your volunteers:
- Create 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 a loyal group of volunteers who are passionate about your cause. Let’s get started.
1. Create an easy online experience
The volunteer experience often begins when someone encounters your nonprofit’s website, making it one of the first places your nonprofit should look when improving your communication strategy. To convert prospective volunteers, prioritize clarity and straightforward navigation so visitors can find your volunteer information quickly.
To create a well-designed, intuitive website, your website should contain the following elements:
- Logical navigation. Put yourself in a prospective volunteer’s shoes when they first click on your homepage. What steps do they need to take to find your volunteer information? Is any key information buried in a submenu or under an only semi-related heading? Walk through the process of signing up to volunteer and ask yourself these questions to help create a more logical navigation.
- Visually appealing layout. Modern websites have eye-catching, sleek designs that strategically draw the eye to key information. Even organizations that don’t have web design experience can create eye-catching designs with help from modern website builders and templates.
- Clear mission statement. Your prospective volunteers will want to gather as much information about your nonprofit as possible before signing up to work with you. Ensure that your mission statement is easy to find and clearly states what your nonprofit strives to accomplish.
- Clear calls to action. 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 might be losing valuable potential supporters. Instead, your CTAs should be prominent, recurring, and smartly placed near emotional appeals and attention-grabbing photos.
Once your volunteer has clicked on a CTA, they’ll be taken to your registration page. You’ll likely create your registration form using your volunteer management software solution, so when choosing which one to invest in, consider ease of use of the registration forms and whether or not the registration data will integrate with your other tools.
The registration form itself should be as concise as possible; excessively detailed or complicated forms will discourage supporters from completing the form, potentially leading to page abandonment. Stick to essential information for your required fields, and make less-vital questions (like interests and past volunteer experience) optional. Alternatively, follow up with volunteers later to collect that information after they’ve been approved. 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 to help with a virtual fundraising event, a three-day restoration project, or a training session, the event is not the only thing on their mind. Your volunteers will need and appreciate clear communication prior to coming in.
Volunteer management software with automated communication features can handle many routine messages for you. Some automated communications you should 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. Additionally, include other helpful information, 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.
- Post-event follow-up survey. After a 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 their experience. This will not only encourage engagement but will also help you better optimize your volunteer program.
Additionally, encourage volunteers to reach out to each other to help create a community around your volunteer program. Mobilize’s guide to volunteer engagement specifically references how open communication with both your organization and other volunteers can improve your program:
“Creating a successful volunteer engagement strategy requires giving your volunteers the space to connect with your organization and with each other… send text reminders about volunteer shifts, automate email reminders for your events to reduce no-shows, and embrace communication channels that create community.”
3. Recognize your volunteers for their support
Expressing your gratitude for your volunteers’ hard work is an essential step for building a future relationship with them. As generous as your volunteers are for donating their time, it’s only natural that they’ll appreciate some recognition, and your nonprofit should celebrate everything they helped you accomplish.
Beginning with a thank-you email, your volunteer appreciation efforts should be customized to fit your organization and the experience your volunteers had. Here are a few appreciation methods that allow for nonprofits to put their own special twist on them:
- 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
Engaging, meaningful volunteer recognition not only makes it more likely that each volunteer will return to help your nonprofit, but also that they may become advocates for your organization. Positive word-of-mouth recommendations can help your volunteer recruiting efforts for your next campaign, as many of your trusted volunteers may encourage their friends and family to work alongside them.
4. Make the most of your time apart
It can be easy to fall into the habit of only contacting your volunteers when you need them to come in and work on something. While you should certainly share news about your next initiative or campaign, be sure to vary your communication to make them feel like a real part of your organization.
Consider creating a dedicated email stream for your volunteers. In addition to requests for support, include messages that keep them in the loop about your nonprofit’s operations, such as:
- Recent accomplishments. Your volunteers support your nonprofit because they believe in your mission. Let them know what progress you’ve made to further your cause since they last volunteered.
- The long-term impact of a given project. If a volunteer helped out with a fundraiser or program initiative, let them know what became of it, especially if there was a major accomplishment.
- Internal strategic updates. If your nonprofit is rolling out new strategies or changing up any internal processes related to your volunteer program, let your volunteers know so they’ll be up-to-date the next time they help out.
You can also create a dedicated volunteer newsletter to share news from your organization, provide information about upcoming volunteer opportunities, and offer other ways for your volunteers to get engaged with your nonprofit. Ideally, the newsletter would serve part of a broader marketing campaign that drives engagement to your website, blog, and social media.
5. Make sure they know how to get more involved
Because you have a specific mission, you will likely need volunteers to come in and perform the same types of jobs repeatedly. However, if you provide your volunteers very little variation in their opportunities, they may feel unfulfilled and seek opportunities at other organizations. You can avoid this problem by providing your volunteers with a variety of ways to get involved.
Offering additional engagement opportunities empowers your volunteers, builds their investment, and helps them stay engaged long-term. For example, here are a few ways you can make your volunteer program more valuable to volunteers:
- Create skill-learning opportunities. There might be opportunities at your nonprofit to help your volunteers gain skills while helping out at your organization. These can be both hard and soft skills, such as teaching sustainable gardening techniques or better communication skills.
- Encourage volunteers to network with one another. Volunteering can be a social experience, and getting to know and work with others can become a major highlight of your program. Find opportunities where multiple volunteers can work together and get to know each other while helping your nonprofit.
- Ask volunteers for feedback. If you aren’t sure what your volunteers would like to see from your volunteer program, ask them. While you may not be able to implement every suggestion you get, simply asking them may help some of your volunteers feel heard.
- Ask to apply for a volunteer grant. For volunteers who enjoy your program and have worked with you for a significant amount of time, consider asking them to apply for a volunteer grant. Crowd101’s guide to volunteer grants explains that many volunteers have no idea if they’re eligible for one through their employer. Help them look up their company and fill out any necessary forms to complete their grant application, earning your nonprofit a bit of extra revenue and increasing their impact on your work.
Additionally, be sure to show your appreciation every step of the way. If a volunteer fills out a survey or applies for a volunteer grant, thank them! Whether a volunteer has responsibilities that are vital to your program’s success or is working on something with lower stakes, let them know that it matters and you appreciate their effort.
Volunteers provide vital services to nonprofits, from planting trees to running events and delivering meals. Don’t miss out on any volunteer support due to lack of communication. Instead, follow these best practices to 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 of their supporter journey.