While there are a number of factors that contribute to a decline in volunteers, it is left to the nonprofit sector to encourage them back. One estimate puts the loss of volunteer hours at about $175 billion dollars of services wasted. Nonprofits need to adapt to the shifting volunteer landscape by making changes that will attract volunteers to their organization.
1. Show Appreciation
Volunteers need to feel appreciated. The tried-and-true methods of an in-person or a handwritten “Thank You” are still important. But so is sharing appreciation on social media. Social media channels are excellent ways to bring attention to volunteers. Additionally, when sharing photos of volunteer activities, it’s important to tag volunteers to really solidify their affiliation with the organization. In doing so they will reciprocate with their own photos and tags which brings even more attention to the cause.
2. Focus on Why Volunteers are Needed
Organizations need to focus on the reason that volunteers are needed. A volunteer orientation, either in-person or virtual, is a great way to accomplish a deeper understanding of the intent of the volunteer and the needs of the organization. During an orientation there is ample time to explain why volunteers are needed as well as how they are part of the solution.
If there isn’t time for a lengthy orientation, a Volunteer Coordinator should take a few minutes while welcoming a volunteer to explain what the volunteer assignment is and focus on it is important. A few extra minutes of explanation will give the volunteer more insight into why they are needed and therefore create a better volunteer experience.
3. Keep it Flexible
Flexibility should be a cornerstone of every volunteer program. Volunteer schedules may vary, as will the organization’s tasks, so assign tasks accordingly. For example, if volunteers with physical limitations sign up for a job, it is important to factor in those limitations when assigning volunteer duties. Similarly, if a parent could accomplish a volunteer task with their children along, they should be allowed to do so. Flexibility will allow organizations to attract a wider variety of volunteers, which will help to build a strong volunteer pool from which to draw from.
4. Manage Expectations
Don’t expect too much of your volunteers, especially new ones. A volunteer assignment should be clearly explained and should not go over the stated amount of time. If a task takes longer, the volunteer should be encouraged to leave on time and not expected to stay late. Good volunteer management goes hand in hand with flexibility. If a volunteer is treated well and fairly that will help gain their trust and loyalty with the organization.
5. Up Your Tech Game
Technology is a necessary investment. Managing volunteers through technology is an important step for organizations to take. Many nonprofit organizations lack the resources for volunteer management software or other efficiency applications, however these help in the way of volunteer recruitment and volunteer retention.
Greg Baldwin, CEO of VolunteerMatch, contends that organizations need to invest in technology to in order for their volunteer program to truly thrive.He writes:
“Organizations that make volunteers central to their work and manage them well are able to generate as much as three to six times the community value from volunteers as the cost to management them. This is a smart way to maximize impact, but it requires up-front and ongoing financial investment in volunteer engagement in all sectors.”
It is worth the time and investment to make volunteering as easy and as efficient as possible, using the digital tools that are available; especially if there is an increase of three to six times in services offered or productivity.
Technological advances can come with a price tag, although it can be money well spent. Organizations may need to think creatively in order to fund the costs. However, there are a number of creative ways to support these changes either through a sponsorship, a grant or allocating funds from another program.
6. Utilize Volunteers Wisely
If volunteering is a priority for the organization then it is critical to engage volunteers effectively. Volunteers want to arrive for assignments that are well prepared; they should not be left underutilized with nothing to do. Each volunteer should be communicated with and given clear directions.
7. Accept Feedback
A strong volunteer program solicits feedback from volunteers. Feedback can be gathered through a formal questionnaire or more informally such as a face-to-face interaction. Honest opinions are the most helpful, even if they are not as positive as expected. A key factor to quality feedback is timeliness. During or directly following a volunteer event is the best time to solicit a quality response.
Organizations should celebrate their volunteers often. Volunteers essentially increase the capacity of an organization to achieve goals and fulfill their mission. And that type of commitment should be celebrated well and often. An annual volunteer event is a wonderful way to show gratitude and demonstrate how vital volunteers are to the organization.
Develop a volunteer reward system. When a volunteer reaches certain benchmarks, they should be rewarded with something small. Rewards could be a name tag, a discount on merchandise or the opportunity to volunteer in a more desirable position. There are other low or no cost ways to celebrate a volunteer like through an article in the organization’s newsletter or a special recommendation on LinkedIn.
9. Assign Titles
Some organizations assign titles to volunteers as a way to motivate them as part of the organization. Assigning a titled position to a truly dedicated volunteer not only helps the organization, it can help bolster their resumes and LinkedIn profiles, which is a great motivator. If you really appreciate their work, consider offering to write them a recommendation via written letter or LinkedIn.
10. Keep it Friendly
Focus on the social aspects of volunteering, as it is a great way to network and make new friends. For example, if a particular volunteer position can be seen as social, the organization should encourage volunteers to enjoy themselves. If a volunteer has a positive experience, they are very likely to return and may encourage others to volunteer as well.