Consider this question: Would you want to participate in your organization’s volunteer opportunities? Take a moment to think about it, and be honest with yourself. If the answer is yes, you’re probably doing a great job of making your volunteer opportunities enticing and engaging. But if the answer is no, you likely have some work to do to make your volunteer program more appealing.
That might sound like a challenging task, but making your volunteer program more attractive to prospective supporters is simpler than you might think. It starts with creating an open line of communication with volunteers, listening to their feedback, and planning opportunities that align with their preferences and interests.
Specifically, we’ll take a closer look at four effective ways to make your volunteer program more appealing for current and prospective volunteers:
- Match volunteers with their preferred roles.
- Design an engaging orientation process.
- Plan virtual volunteer opportunities.
- Offer exciting appreciation initiatives.
InitLive’s volunteer engagement guide says it best: “Keeping your volunteers happy, motivated, and engaged in your organization’s mission is a key part of longer-term volunteer retention and program success.” These strategies are intended to keep volunteers engaged in your mission by offering unique, convenient, interesting volunteer opportunities that volunteers won’t experience at any other organization. Let’s dive in!
1. Match volunteers with their preferred roles.
Picture this: A new volunteer registers for an upcoming volunteer opportunity, eager to put their skills to work to help further their favorite nonprofit’s mission. The reason they signed up is that they noticed one of the volunteer roles matches their skills and interests.
However, on the day of the volunteer opportunity, the volunteer is assigned a different role. They’re still willing to help out, but disappointed that they didn’t get the opportunity to leverage their unique skill set.
What happened here? The organization didn’t have a plan in place for matching volunteers with their preferred roles. If your organization is in a similar situation, you might be bypassing an opportunity to engage volunteers more deeply in your work. Plus, you could be missing out on the ability to capitalize on volunteers’ unique skills, which can allow them to contribute more productively to your goals.
So, how can you ensure you’re appealing to volunteers’ preferences and making the most of their engagement? Use this three-step process, with the help of your volunteer management system and communication tools:
- When volunteers register, ask them to fill out a quick survey with their skills, interests, and shift preferences.
- Store this information using your volunteer management software and leverage it to match volunteers with the right roles. Robust volunteer management software will handle role-matching automatically using the information stored in volunteers’ profiles.
- Send email communications highlighting upcoming opportunities that align with volunteers’ interests and availability.
Volunteers will appreciate your efforts to go above and beyond to offer them experiences that align with their preferences. This can help increase both volunteer engagement and volunteer retention, enabling you to continue to get to know volunteers, build long-term relationships with them, and cater to their needs.
And, when everyone’s participating in a role that suits them best, your volunteer program will function more smoothly and productively.
2. Design an engaging orientation process.
Put yourself in your new volunteers’ shoes and consider how they might feel after registering for a volunteer opportunity. They’re completely new to your program and mission, and may not be familiar with what the opportunity will entail or what’s expected of them. This can be pretty intimidating for first-time participants!
That’s why it’s important to put new volunteers at ease with a thorough, hands-on orientation and training process. Your training program should set volunteers up for success so that they feel completely comfortable engaging in your opportunities.
Whether your training program is a quick one-on-one orientation at the start of each opportunity or a full-fledged onboarding session, you should use the time to equip volunteers with everything they need to know to be successful. Incorporate these key elements into your training program:
- Host fun icebreaker activities to get to know volunteers and allow them to meet one another. This helps volunteers feel welcomed and can lead to greater camaraderie and teamwork among participants.
- Provide a thorough overview of your roles and associated tasks. Describe each volunteer position and what it entails, including any equipment volunteers will use or individuals they’ll be interacting with (such as fellow volunteers, your program coordinator, shift leader, etc.).
- Allow volunteers to participate in hands-on activities to get familiar with your equipment or processes. For instance, introduce them to your online environmental-tracking database and practice data-entry procedures, or allow them to practice proper painting techniques so they can help construct a new house for a community member.
- Review your volunteer policies and handbook. Ensure all volunteers are clear on various policies such as your screening policy, code of conduct, and dismissal policy.
- Provide contact information for the person volunteers can go to with questions. Equip your volunteers with your contact information or the information for the individual they should get in touch with if they have questions before or during the volunteer opportunity.
When volunteers know exactly what they should be doing and how to carry out their assigned tasks, they’ll feel more comfortable in your program, encouraging them to continue engaging in your opportunities. Plus, they may even talk with their family members and friends about their positive training experiences, contributing to more volunteer recruitment for your program.
3. Plan virtual volunteer opportunities.
One of the most common reasons why volunteers lapse is because they simply don’t have enough room in their schedules to add additional responsibilities to the list. By making your volunteer opportunities more convenient, you can subsequently make them more appealing to prospective and current participants.
One of the most effective ways to increase the convenience of your volunteer program is to offer a variety of virtual volunteer opportunities. Virtual volunteering allows your volunteers to cut out the commute, saving them time. They can participate in these opportunities on their own time and make their own schedules.
Plus, virtual volunteer opportunities make your program more accessible for volunteers who might have transportation or mobility restrictions.
Here are a few examples of virtual volunteer opportunities you might offer supporters:
- Peer-to-peer (P2P) fundraising opportunities. Encourage volunteers to create their own peer-to-peer fundraising pages and gather donations from family members and friends to support your volunteer program. You might launch your P2P initiative alongside a social media challenge to engage participants and encourage them to get their loved ones involved. This can help increase awareness of your volunteer program while giving supporters a chance to deepen their involvement.
- Virtual helpline. If your organization operates a virtual helpline for community members, get your volunteers involved to help out. After properly training volunteers on communication best practices and what to do in different situations, create ongoing shifts for them to manage the helpline.
- Web design. If you’re thinking about updating your volunteer program’s website, your volunteers themselves can help the process along. After all, they’re your website’s main audience, so their opinions and feedback can play a major role in shaping your web design. Ask volunteers to fill out a survey providing feedback on everything from the site’s branding to its functionality. You can even engage digitally-savvy volunteers to help complete the updates if you don’t have a dedicated web designer on staff.
- Virtual events. Perhaps your organization hosts annual virtual events such as an online auction or live-streamed concert. Your volunteers can lend a hand by helping to keep track of bids, run the event livestream, or design and spread your event marketing materials.
Volunteers will appreciate having the ability to help out from the comfort of home. What’s more appealing than being able to participate in volunteer activities while wearing your pajamas?
However, volunteers might be less familiar with the concept of virtual volunteering, so it’s important to clearly communicate what each opportunity will entail. Double the Donation’s volunteer management guide recommends highlighting the baseline tasks for each role as well as the ideal outcomes that volunteers will achieve.
For instance, if your volunteers are participating in a virtual phone bank to help raise funding for your program, you should explain exactly how they’ll connect with prospective donors (such as via phone or text), provide them with a script, and let them know what the specific fundraising goal is (i.e. $10,000).
This ensures that volunteers feel completely comfortable in their roles, even when they aren’t participating or receiving training in person. Plus, they’ll be able to understand the bigger picture of how their actions help progress your organization’s mission.
4. Offer exciting appreciation initiatives.
People volunteer because they believe in an organization’s mission and want to demonstrate their support. Most don’t expect anything in return, but that doesn’t mean they won’t appreciate the occasional gesture of gratitude.
When you offer volunteers heartfelt messages and tokens of appreciation, they feel acknowledged and appreciated for the hard work they contributed. This makes your program more appealing and encourages volunteers to continue engaging and putting their best foot forward during volunteer events.
Just as you thank your donors, corporate sponsors, and other stakeholders, you should create a dedicated strategy for expressing appreciation to volunteers. Offer these tokens of gratitude to your volunteers:
- Handwritten letters from community members.
- Tangible appreciation gifts, such as branded T-shirts, water bottles, or tote bags.
- Gift cards or free event tickets.
- Regular impact reports that show the positive impact of volunteer work on your mission.
- Endorsements for professional opportunities.
- Access to networking opportunities or professional introductions.
A strong appreciation strategy allows you to continue engaging volunteers over time, ensuring you’re investing in long-term relationships with volunteers. Volunteers will feel the warm and fuzzy feeling of knowing that their efforts are appreciated by your organization and that they make a real difference.
If you’re not interested in participating in your volunteer opportunities, how can you expect your supporters to be? By making your volunteer opportunities more relevant, convenient, and rewarding for participants, you can increase their interest in your program and ensure their long-term engagement. Good luck!