Volunteers are key to helping nonprofits stay up and running. From donating their time to help out with vital programs and initiatives to lending their professional expertise and skills, volunteers help keep nonprofits on track to complete their goals.
As a nonprofit professional, you understand the challenges of managing a robust volunteer program. Hurdles like volunteer recruitment, volunteer burnout, and disorganized training can make your program less effective. A strong management strategy can combat these issues and make your volunteer program a more positive and productive experience.
In this guide to improving your nonprofit’s volunteer program, we’ll discuss five strategies for managing your volunteers and improving their experiences with your organization:
- Invest in volunteer management software.
- Make the experience engaging.
- Explore volunteer grants.
- Schedule social events.
- Show your appreciation.
Improving your volunteer program should be an ongoing process for your organization that involves accepting feedback and adjusting accordingly. Let’s get started by discussing how volunteer management software can streamline your management process.
1. Invest in volunteer management software.
One of the best ways to level up your volunteer program without adding several new responsibilities to your to-do list is to use management software. For example, your organization might already use membership management software. This software can streamline tedious administrative tasks and make it easier to send communications to all members.
Investing in management software for your volunteer program holds similar benefits, and it can even help build loyalty and long-term relationships between you and your volunteers and increase engagement.
Many nonprofit professionals have packed schedules, entire lists of important responsibilities, and little time to devote to volunteer management. This can make it challenging to juggle the various tasks of managing a volunteer team, and outdated or hard-to-use management methods can just exacerbate these problems.
The right software can help nonprofits better manage their volunteer program to make for a more engaging, positive experience that will keep volunteers coming back to work with your organization. For example, volunteer management software can close communication gaps around activities like scheduling and training, resulting in a smoother experience.
In addition to improving communication efforts, volunteer management software can also standardize training and provide a central hub for data like your volunteers’ contact information, skills, and availability. The right software can also blend seamlessly into the systems you already use.
Software like Salesforce allows nonprofits to integrate multiple applications into one system so your organization can easily connect volunteer management tools to your communication system. For nonprofits using Salesforce, research native apps to find a volunteer management solution that will integrate with your current software.
2. Make the experience engaging.
Just as engaging fundraising ideas drive donations, engaging volunteer experiences drive long-term support.
Building an engaging experience for volunteers doesn’t mean you have to turn each step of the process into an exciting event. For example, giving volunteers the skills they need to participate in the activities they signed up for can be enough to cultivate high volunteer engagement.
To make the volunteer experience more engaging, employ the following strategies:
- Train your volunteers. Set your volunteers up for success by training them in the skills they need to complete their assigned tasks. Not only does this cut down on miscommunications and mistakes, but it also makes volunteers feel like they’ve gained something valuable by working with your nonprofit.
- Clearly designate their responsibilities. Outline the tasks you want your volunteers to do so there is no confusion about what they should be helping out with. Remember to delegate—help your leaders and staff focus on the most important tasks while volunteers handle the day-to-day ones.
- Ask for (and listen to) their feedback. Check-in with your volunteers regularly to gauge how they feel about the program. You can implement an anonymous survey system to ensure you receive honest answers or have volunteer managers ask volunteers for feedback directly to give them the space to expand on their answers and respond to follow-up questions. Be sure to acknowledge any feedback you receive and identify recurring trends in feedback to make positive changes to your volunteer program.
An engaging experience will make volunteers feel more motivated to continue working with your nonprofit, particularly if they feel like communication between them and your organization is a two-way street.
3. Explore volunteer grants.
Volunteer grants can benefit any organization with a reliable volunteer program. Double the Donation defines volunteer grants as “corporate giving programs that encourage volunteerism in communities where employees live and work.” In other words, volunteer grant programs encourage eligible community members to support local nonprofits, knowing that their work will be accompanied by a monetary contribution from their employer.
Volunteer grant programs benefit your nonprofit by:
- Increasing funding. Employers with a volunteer grant program will donate to the nonprofits their employees volunteer at. This means nonprofits are able to earn funding from the work that their volunteers may have planned to do anyway.
- Encouraging volunteerism. A volunteer grant gives local employees an incentive to volunteer with local nonprofits. Because these grants give the nonprofit additional funding based on the time the employee spends volunteering, they may feel more compelled to volunteer to boost their contribution to the cause.
Many of these grants go unclaimed because volunteers aren’t aware that their employers offer them. A strong volunteer management system can help your organization identify these opportunities by centralizing donor data (such as employer information) and opening channels for communication. That way, you can more easily ask donors to check their volunteer grant eligibility.
4. Schedule social events.
One popular reason for volunteering is meeting new people with similar interests. Setting up social events that allow volunteers to get to know each other can help facilitate these relationships.
While nonprofits can host social events like holiday parties or dinners at local restaurants, your organization can encourage new friendships during the volunteering process as well. For example, you could schedule a group of volunteers to work on a campaign at the same time so they have the opportunity to chat with one another.
Encouraging your volunteers to socialize can:
- Strengthen community ties.
- Help them meet new people with common interests.
- Get them excited about volunteering because they will look forward to meeting up with new friends.
If your organization has a strong understanding of its volunteers’ interests and personalities, you may be able to form groups or pairs of volunteers who are likely to hit it off. Another strategy for facilitating relationships between volunteers is to group them based on demographic factors like age. For example, younger supporters tend to enjoy working with others, and they may have more in common with volunteers in their age group.
If your nonprofit has a large volunteer program but struggles to build a strong community, volunteer management software can help. Software that can host volunteer profiles, help manage events, and record volunteer engagement can provide your nonprofit with accurate volunteer data that will inform how you facilitate volunteer socialization opportunities. To build a strong network of volunteers, your organization may need to consider switching to a CRM with the functionality you need.
5. Show your appreciation.
Stewarding relationships with volunteers by staying connected with them is just as important as stewarding your donors. Just as your donors help you stay up and running with financial contributions, your volunteers give their time and energy to furthering your mission. Plus, these areas overlap quite a bit with volunteers donating ten times as much money to nonprofit organizations than those who don’t volunteer.
Taking the time to show that you value your volunteers can go a long way toward building deep, personal relationships that encourage years of dedicated support. A few ways to show your appreciation for their hard work include:
- Saying thank you. Send your volunteers messages expressing gratitude such as thank-you letters or emails. To make these messages more personal, consider calling volunteers on the phone and thanking them in person each day after they finish their shifts.
- Recognizing volunteers publicly. Identify your top volunteers by honoring them at your next fundraising event or highlighting them on your organization’s social media account. The best way to track their hard work is through volunteer management software that can record their hours worked, note their responsibilities, and track other preferences that may be useful for determining how you’ll recognize them.
- Participating in volunteer holidays. Holidays such as National Volunteer Week and International Volunteer Day are dedicated to recognizing the work volunteers do. Plan a fun weekend event with games and snacks for your volunteers and their families to honor their contributions.
Showing your volunteers that you appreciate them is key to cultivating a personalized connection with your organization. As Fionta’s guide to engaging volunteers highlights, stewardship is an essential part of retaining any of your supporters, not just donors. Use your CRM to connect your messaging tools and volunteer profiles, allowing you to easily reference specific details that will make each thank you message unique.
While it can be difficult to juggle tasks related to your volunteer program with other responsibilities, maintaining a robust volunteer program is crucial. Without a crew of dedicated volunteers, your intense year-end fundraiser or elaborate capital campaign wouldn’t be possible. Choosing volunteer management software that helps you organize data and streamline the volunteer process can help you create a strong program your supporters will want to return to.
About the Author
Karin Tracy, VP of Marketing at Fíonta, is a seasoned designer and marketer with a passion for serving nonprofit organizations and being a small part of bettering the world. She is a certified Pardot Consultant and Marketing Cloud Email Specialist, a fan of automation and reporting, a lover of animals, and devourer of popcorn.
At Fíonta, Karin drives marketing efforts for all internal and external projects. Her direct service work is focused primarily on marketing strategy and automation for Fíonta’s MCAE (Pardot) clients.