Best Practices for Volunteer Engagement and Retention
Even if you’re a pro at recruiting new volunteers, it’s a huge benefit to your organization to have strategies in place for volunteer engagement and retention. Keeping people coming back can provide stability, efficiency, and foster the growth of volunteer leaders.
In this article, we’re going to walk you through all of the biggest questions we hear from nonprofits about volunteer engagement and retention.
If you want to dive deeper, we have a ton of blog posts focused on these topics that are linked throughout. Or, you can explore our Volunteer Engagement Workshop to get access to 5 modules full of lessons and activities that help you craft an engagement strategy that works for your specific nonprofit.
Hold up! How can we attract and recruit volunteers effectively?
Attracting and recruiting volunteers is a crucial step in building a dynamic and diverse volunteer force. Effective strategies exist to ensure your organization reaches and engages a broad spectrum of potential volunteers. We cover the basics here, but for more information check out our additional resources:
🎯 Crafting compelling volunteer opportunities
When a volunteer is looking at opportunities to get involved with your organization, you want to set them up for success right off the bat. Be sure to communicate what they will do, the impact it has, anything they need to bring/wear, and who their point of contact is.
Additionally, you can address and remove potential barriers to volunteering. Let potential volunteers know if there is public transit nearby, or if there can be accommodations made for differently-abled folks.
🌐 Utilizing online platforms and social media for wider reach.
You’re missing out if your organization isn’t yet using social media to build up a base of people who are aware of your nonprofit and interested in getting involved. You don’t have to do everything, you can be strategic. Get to know your ideal volunteer, and pinpoint which social media and messaging tactics will be most likely to engage them.
You can use socials to communicate your impact, talk about the issues you work on, highlight your volunteer program, and direct people to a volunteer hub like your POINT page to learn more.
🤝 Implementing strategies to to attract diverse volunteers
If you’re looking to up your volunteer diversity (think: race, gender identity, age, ability, language expertise, socioeconomic status, etc.) then there are some key strategies to consider.
- Use messaging that resonates. Research what motivates different generations to take action.
- Provide flexibility in volunteer times and locations. Some volunteers may be unable to come during their 9-5, and others may work nights and weekends. Providing a couple different time options can help attract diverse volunteers.
- Create multi-lingual volunteer postings. If you want volunteers who are fluent in the language your client base speaks, consider posting your volunteer opportunity in that language.
- Many immigrant communities or people with ties to other countries use WhatsApp daily. Consider creating a WhatsApp thread for your volunteers or clients to meet them where they are!
What are the key factors in keeping volunteers engaged over the long term?
Retaining volunteers involves more than just recruitment; it’s about creating an environment where volunteers thrive. In order for volunteers to stay engaged with your organization over the long term, they need to feel that their involvement benefits them in some way. Showcasing the impact they have, fostering social connections, and providing avenues for skill development can be great ways to retain volunteers.
🏡 Building a sense of community and belonging for sustained volunteer engagement
At POINT we always say that volunteering is a great way to meet new people. Cultivating a volunteer community helps people get excited to volunteer with you because they might run into new friends.
You can do this in many ways. It could look like encouraging conversation during volunteer opportunities, or providing volunteer appreciation nights where people get to mingle and participate in fun activities.
Plugging people into the broader community is also important. Help your volunteers connect with your network—share about community partnerships, events, initiatives, etc. that they could be interested in.
🌟 Recognizing and appreciating volunteer contributions through meaningful gestures
Everyone loves feeling appreciated. Ensuring that your volunteers’ contributions are called out, appreciated, and honored is key to volunteers feeling that their time is valued.
One easy way to do this is remind volunteers of their impact. But you can also show gratitude in tangible ways, like writing thank yous, giving out branded swag, and so much more.
📚 Providing ongoing training and skill development opportunities for continuous growth
If your organization has a need that a savvy volunteer could fill, offer it as a skills-based volunteering opportunity. For example, if you have a need for occasional graphic design support, a volunteer could help and build up their own portfolio at the same time.
You can also offer opportunities for volunteers to build entirely new skillsets, like training volunteers to become advocates, or do community outreach. For people who want to make a career transition, skills-based opportunities to volunteer can be incredibly beneficial for them and you!
How can technology enhance volunteer engagement and streamline processes?
Embrace the power of technology to elevate your volunteer engagement. It may seem intimidating to adopt new technology, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some ways you can streamline processes and enhance communication through innovative tools and platforms.
💻 Implementing volunteer management software (VMS) for efficient coordination.
A lot of nonprofits out there are hacking together multiple tools (or still relying on pen & paper and Excel) to meet their needs. There is a lot of helpful tech out there, built for corporations or startups. But nonprofits have unique needs, and were overlooked in the tech boom.
But we’re here to fix that. POINT is a volunteer management system (VMS) built specifically for nonprofits. And we’re not the only one! Now there are a few great options out there to support nonprofits with all the tools you need to achieve your missions.
📱 Using communication tools to enhance engagement and accessibility.
One of the most important things is to communicate with volunteers on a platform where they will see it. Make sure you ask for feedback on communication preferences for your unique volunteer pool, and while you can’t accommodate everyone, you can ensure you reach the most people possible in convenient ways.
Whether your volunteers prefer texts, emails, Slack, WhatsApp, social media, etc. it’s important to reach them where they are.
Plus, automation can help with this too! You can use a VMS that has mass communication options, or an email automation system like Mailchimp, or even build automated funnels on social media.
🌐 Incorporating virtual volunteering options for flexibility and reach.
Virtual volunteering is a great way to engage a wider range of supporters. It can be truly virtual, such as people coming together online at the same time, OR just done on volunteers’ own time.
You can offer a ton of ways to continue involvement conveniently, such as advocacy campaigns, peer to peer fundraising, social media content creation, translation, research, and more.
What are the best practices for volunteer onboarding and training?
Volunteer onboarding and training is often their first experience with your staff and processes, and gives them a feel of what involvement at your organization looks like. You want this to be a great experience that gives them what they need, without overloading them with hoops to jump through.
We go over volunteer onboarding in depth in our Volunteer Engagement Workshop, so head that way if you want more details on the following points!
🚀 Creating a seamless onboarding process to welcome new volunteers
Onboarding has dual priorities: give your volunteers exactly what they need to successfully contribute to your impact, and get them from interested to volunteering as soon as possible.
It may make sense for your organization to have a couple of onboarding processes. If there are volunteer opportunities that are simple task-based and don’t interact with clients, you can offer instant signups with 15 minutes at the beginning of the opportunity for training. For ongoing or more involved volunteer roles, you can offer a more in-depth onboarding training that ensures they’re prepared to represent your org or interact with your clients.
🎓 Offering role-specific training for skill development
If your organization has volunteer roles that are geared towards specific skillsets (like community outreach, or food distribution and handling, or working with youth), you may need to provide additional training.
Consider how you might automate this – such as recording a training webinar for people to watch on their own time. That way you can onboard as many people as you need, without expending a ton of energy training every person.
📚 Providing resources and opportunities for ongoing learning
Offering volunteers pathways to leadership or ways to dive deeper with your organization or issue area will keep people engaged. Share resources with interested volunteers around the history of the issue you work on, coalitions within your community, or books/articles/films that your staff find integral to your work. People can explore on their own time, and may come back with ideas that benefit your org.
You can also offer additional skills or advocacy training where volunteers can become equipped to take on more of a leadership role within your organization.
How can we effectively show appreciation to our volunteers?
Volunteers thrive when appreciated because feeling valued is a crucial part of any relationship based in reciprocity. There are many effective strategies to express gratitude and show your volunteers the value they bring to your organization.
🏆 Implementing a robust volunteer recognition program
Robust doesn’t have to mean expensive, just that it’s well-thought out and shows appreciation to volunteers regularly. You could think of implementing a combination of the following ideas:
- Automatic thank you emails after every event
- Hand-written thank you’s every year with a small gift
- Volunteer spotlights in newsletter or on social media
- Volunteer recognition events, such as lunches, picnics, cookouts, themed parties, etc.
- Impact statements that showcase not just hours but also tangible community impacts that their volunteer tasks supported
- Thank you e-cards
- Gift cards or partner discounts
🎉 Hosting appreciation events and ceremonies to celebrate achievements
Having smaller events throughout the year as well as a bigger annual event can be a great way for volunteers to get to know each other, and feel valued. These can be in person, virtual, or a combination of both.
For example, you can have monthly or quarterly volunteer potlucks or virtual dinners and award a “Volunteer of the month” type of prize. And you can have a larger event annually to showcase volunteer impact and express your gratitude towards them.
✉️ Personalizing thank-you messages and gestures to express gratitude
While having automatic thank yous go out is a great way to ensure all volunteers feel valued, adding a personal touch for your regulars goes a long way. For people who volunteer with you multiple times per year, pick a day to send out personalized thank yous. Share something you appreciate about them as a unique individual.
If you are intimidated by keeping track of that, we totally suggest using the Notes function on your volunteer’s profile in POINT. They can’t see it, but it will allow you to keep track of personal connections, notes, and anything to follow up about. Then writing personalized messages is a breeze!
What are the best practices for engaging virtual volunteers?
In the digital age, virtual volunteering offers unique opportunities. There are best practices to engage and support volunteers in a virtual environment that make sure you get what you need from them, and they are set up for success.
📝 Providing clear instructions and expectations
Writing a clear volunteer job description is step 1. Then set up processes and trainings that support those expectations. Think of it like assigning homework. Give volunteers guidelines, an example of what meets expectations, and a deadline if applicable.
Volunteers should also know who to submit work and hours to, or how to self-submit their own.
🎉 Utilizing virtual team-building activities to foster a sense of connection
Who says icebreakers are only for in-person events? If you have a virtual event, be sure to allow time for people to interact at some point. And if you have volunteers that do work independently, you can create a shared Google doc or Slack channel where people can add a picture (if they want), bio, and the answer to an icebreaker Q!
🌐 Leveraging technology for virtual volunteer training
Tech can help speed up and automate the process for virtual volunteer training. For example, you can record yourself giving a presentation on Zoom, and upload the video for all virtual volunteers to watch on their own time.
You can use a VMS with document storage to keep training documents in one place for all your volunteers. Or you can even use email automation to take a phased approach to sending training materials, or send emails automatically when someone registers as a virtual volunteer.
How can we measure and demonstrate the impact of volunteer efforts?
Showcasing volunteer impact is important not only to your organization, Board, and funders, but also to the volunteers and community overall. Knowing how best to track data for your organization, and even automate it, can help you create compelling impact messages.
Communicating messages that resonate with your volunteers will mobilize them to act, or encourage them to stay involved creates engaged volunteers. You can share this in annual reports, on social media, in newsletters, or any other form of communication you use.
👉 Read more about impact reporting
📊 Tracking and reporting volunteer hours for impact measurement
One easy way to encourage people to do is to track their hours, the economic value of their impact, and share stories of how the tasks they help with create impact. POINT creates a personal impact report for volunteers, without you having to lift a finger!
Showcasing how many total hours of time were volunteered with your organization and the impact it had on your mission also helps people feel that they are a part of something bigger than themselves.
🗣 Collecting feedback and testimonials to showcase volunteer experiences
Ask your volunteers to share about the personal impact that volunteering has had on them. Studies show that volunteering improves physical and mental health, and promotes social connection. You can use feedback to improve your volunteer experience, and use testimonials on social media to attract new supporters and encourage past volunteers to come back.
🌍 Highlighting tangible outcomes and community impact
Be sure to communicate to all of your volunteers that what they do matters. Show them how their activities do more good in the community—track your impact over time, celebrate your wins, partner with community organizations to amplify your impact. When people see that they are affecting real change, they’re more likely to keep at it.
Investing in processes and tools to support volunteer engagement and retention is beneficial to your long term organizational health. POINT is here to support your organization in all things volunteering!
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