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Equity in Volunteering -How to Diversify Your Volunteer Pool

It is human nature, we naturally recruit volunteers who look like us. But what happens when all of your volunteers start to look the same, and none reflect the community you serve?

It may seem that your nonprofit is disconnected from the community, your intentions may not align with the outcomes of your work, or you may come off as having a savior complex (oof). Equity and diversity is more than just race and gender, it can include a whole host of traits including education, location, interests, skills, religious beliefs, socioeconomic status, and employment. 

Matching the right person to the right volunteer opportunity is critical to your continued success. But if the opportunities you offer don’t align with how the community wants to be involved, you won’t see improvement. Don’t despair though, there are some intentional and strategic things you can do now to help in the future.

TLDR :

There’s a ton of detail in the post below, but here’s the gist of it. If you want to diversify your volunteer pool and create equity you have to understand your current volunteers and opportunities, your community and what they want to engage with. If you want to get more people from the communities you serve to volunteer with you, do you know how to engage with them? We’ve broken down how to do that by following these steps. 

  1. Get clear on who your volunteers are, and who you want them to be. Build out personas that can make your segments of volunteers come to life. 
  2. Take a look at your volunteer opportunities and whether or not they are actually meeting the needs of your community, and if they are built around the needs and barriers of the volunteer personas you built out above. 
  3. Think about how you create engagement with volunteers. Are you putting out content they want to see on the platforms or channels where your volunteers already spend time? Or are you essentially screaming into the void putting out content that doesn’t find its way to your desired audience? 
  4. Does your organization create a welcoming environment for volunteers of all races, ages, gender identities, worldviews, and more? If not, how are you working on this within your org? 

Identify Volunteer Personas

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Consider identifying the ideal persona of volunteers who make your mission come alive. Personas are fictional characters that you create based on your data and experience that represent the different types of volunteers who contribute to your nonprofit. When creating these there is a lot of data to consider, most of which you may already have access to.

Types of data to consider:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Cultural affiliation
  • Education
  • Employment
  • Interests
  • Location
  • Barriers (e.g., transportation, work hours vs. volunteer hours, etc.) 
  • This is not an exhaustive list, what data do you need to consider that aligns more closely with your connection to your mission?

Look at your current pool of volunteers (or the ideal ones you would hope for) and choose some broad categories where you see a large group of people with similar attributes. For example, one persona might be retirees who are highly educated and are interested in mentoring the next generation, and another could be high schoolers without transportation who need volunteer hours for school but are also interested in making change towards your nonprofit’s mission. But we want to be very clear—this isn’t about stereotyping or labeling. This is about understanding equity issues and the groups of people who feel most compelled to do your work, or who fit in best with your work or mission.

Segment Your Current and Future Volunteer Opportunities:

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Consider segmenting your opportunities into categories. Start by listing all your volunteer needs. Check that you’ve included everything by asking your staff, board, committees, current volunteers, and the folks you serve. 

The goal should be to have a range of experiences available to engage all types of volunteers – millennials, experienced, new to the industry, new to the area, retirees, etc. Talking to all of these different groups may also help you realize ways you could build equity and better meet the needs of the communities and shape volunteer opportunities around those.

Creating various opportunities to match your volunteers’ preferences and abilities will help with equity and engagement while delivering great community value.

Consider breaking your opportunities into the following categories:

  • Ongoing: These are for people who can be available regularly for recurring needs such as leading a class or answering a helpline.
  • Event-Based: These are short-term opportunities with a specific purpose, and start and end point.
  • Micro: These are part of larger tasks you’ve broken down so people can participate as they are available, such as contributing arts and crafts supplies or writing thank you’s.

Once you understand what you offer, think about your community and equity even more deeply.

  • What times will these opportunities be made available? Can volunteers meet that? Or is set at that time because it is convenient for you?
  • Where will these be located? Is there a bus route? Does the bus run before the start time and after the event ends? If your community does not have access to vehicles, how can they help?
  • Do you ask volunteers to pay for things out-of-pocket? For example, do they have to purchase a shirt? Pay for their background check? Does your community have this ability?

Creating and Continuing Engagement with Volunteers 

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You have your ideal volunteer in mind and have identified the opportunities to have people help your nonprofit achieve its mission. But how well these tactics work will depend on how you communicate. What channels are you using? What content is sticking (or not)? Are you using the right tools? There is a saying that you can’t do the same thing over and over and expect different results. How can you get strategic and creative about your recruitment outreach and volunteer engagement with equity in mind? Take the time to learn where the community gets their information, what messages mean the most to them, and what tools and platforms can help.

Channels:

When you think of the places you go to find information, where do you go? What about your mom? Now that we have thought about equity and diversifying your volunteer pool, where do people in your community go for information and to be kept in the know? Is your community on What’s App? (Most foreign communities use it daily!) If your org only uses email, you’re going to miss them every time because your communication channels are different. Channels could include:

  • Email
  • Texting/SMS (there are services for mass texts like EZ Texting)
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • TikTok
  • LinkedIn
  • What’s App 
  • Slack
  • This list is also not exhaustive, what are some others that you can think of?

Marketing:

Who wouldn’t love to go viral (for something good!)? Think of the things that make you click when you are scrolling. What do they have in common? Now think of the places you keep going back to for their content. What do they have in common? Has anyone had this conversation at your nonprofit? “Yea we post on Facebook, but we only get one or two likes. Why isn’t social media getting us more engagement?” It may come down to just a few things 😉 

  • Images: If you create all uniform content that might not catch people’s eyes, it might be time to have a community member give advice on the marketing assets.
  • Content: Are you only posting about events or things to register for? Or maybe you only send out the year-end annual appeal via email? It might be time to take a step back and share more of your “Why.” Why does your mission matter? Why do you (and your volunteers) love serving your community? Why should someone take time out of their day to help? Or maybe even sit down with your volunteers, staff, and stakeholders to hear about what they would like to see from you.
  • Language: Do you serve a mostly non-English speaking community? Do you post content in a language that is understood by your desired audience? Do you have someone on staff who is fluent in that language? All of that is necessary to engage the right folks in ways that will generate a good response.

Platforms:

Once you have them engaged through channels they appreciate with content and images that draw them in, how do you keep them? It is about the tools you use. Let’s be real here. All of us are either on our phones or on the computer at some point in our day. Choosing tools that provide ease of use is paramount in today’s world (no one likes unyielding or antiquated processes) and will directly impact the perceived equity of your program.

Things to consider when choosing tools:

  • Will it help you recruit new volunteers? 
  • Will it give easy ways to engage current volunteers?
  • Is it accessible and meet people where they are at, on their phones and/or computer? 
  • Does the tool engage across channels (for example email AND social media)?

Not to toot our own horn too loudly here, but we are just going to say it POINT does all of these things (and more!)

Building Collaborative Training for Equity and Diversity

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Building equity and a diverse volunteer team means taking time to get to know them and their uniqueness and understanding their motivations and inspiration for getting involved. But also just as important is to take the time to provide training and support to staff as you diversify. It isn’t just the volunteer coordinators’ or HR’s job to foster equity, inclusion, and a welcoming environment—it takes the entire team to create and sustain this work. 

Let’s identify the three components you can start working on right now.

  • The Basics: In these sessions, you are offering the opportunity for individuals to gain broader knowledge regarding diversity and inclusion. These could include unconscious bias training, anti-racism training, anti-sexism training, cultural sensitivity training, or education about sexual orientation and gender identity.
    • Potential local resources: There are plenty of DEI training facilitators who can deliver this content from anywhere, but if you have a local organization, this would be an excellent opportunity to support them. Make sure that once you’ve done training, you create space for your team to discuss how these concepts apply to your organization specifically and how you can go deeper. 
  • Awareness: Education around the traits and skills that will make your volunteer team unique. Awareness is a great place to start (but do not end there) as you build a belonging mindset promoting respect, inclusivity, and value.
    • Potential local resources: Do not ask your current staff or volunteers who may fall into a diversity category to provide these educational opportunities (unless they express interest). Instead, work with local community organizations and leaders to find experts to deliver this material. 
  • Skills-Based: Education and practice sessions build on the skills needed to foster inclusivity. For example, you could offer a workshop session on different communication styles and ways to bridge gaps. Skills-based opportunities are great ways to be intentional with time while addressing specific needs on the team.
    • Potential local resources: Look for communication consultants in your local area. These experts are not necessarily DEI trainers/consultants but may incorporate that in their teaching. Unless there is a unique aspect to the community, you are working with that only that community would know, then work with local leaders to train and educate.

Did we miss something? Let us know!

Your Checklist:

  • Build an understanding of internal volunteer personas and data 
  • Consider equitable factors and barriers in volunteer opportunities 
  • Maximize volunteer recruitment utilizing an equitable lens on marketing channels, content, and platform selections
  • Identify training opportunities for staff, community, and volunteers to adopt local community practices
Photo Brandy Strand
Brandy Strand
Nonprofit Partnerships Account Executive

No guilt trips, no sad stories. Just a chance to do something good.