Your volunteers donate their time and effort to your nonprofit. Improve their experience with these essential tips to create an effective volunteer program.
By Karin Tracy
Volunteers provide unmatched value for your nonprofit, whether they’re helping with your fundraisers, programs, or other essential community services. However, continually recruiting new volunteers to replace former ones can be a time and resource-intensive task. Ensure your program retains the volunteers you have and gives them the opportunity to make a real difference by forging a better volunteer program.
A strong volunteer program is built on consistent communication, engaging opportunities, and organized management. Of course, envisioning your perfect volunteer program is just the first step in creating it.
To help your nonprofit take the next step in bringing your volunteer program to life, this quick guide will explore five strategies to engage and retain your volunteers.
1. Make getting involved easy.
Your volunteers will devote a significant amount of their time and energy to helping your nonprofit. Ensure they don’t need to put in additional work finding opportunities to get involved.
Make signing up to volunteer easy by considering your volunteers’ user experience on your website. Many nonprofits add large “Get Involved” buttons to their websites so volunteers can find and explore different opportunities without having to do any digging.
Consider structuring your volunteer opportunities page like a series of job listings. Each opportunity should include the volunteers’ responsibilities, required skills, and expected time commitment.
Be sure to regularly change out and update these postings as your volunteer needs change. For example, you might have a set number of volunteers you need for each position. In this instance, a nonprofit might integrate with its website and Salesforce CRM to reflect how many volunteers have already signed up in real-time. This can be especially helpful for nonprofits that have seasonal or quickly changing needs.
2. Create an onboarding process.
An engaging volunteer program is an organized volunteer program. Ensure your new volunteers understand what their responsibilities are and what they can expect from your nonprofit by creating a standardized onboarding process. Doing so will reduce confusion and provide your program with a straightforward structure.
Provide supporters all the information they’ll need to volunteer with your nonprofit by:
- Creating a welcome packet. There will likely be a lot of information your volunteers will need to learn upfront about your nonprofit. You can avoid overwhelming them by providing a comprehensive welcome packet they can reference at any time. This welcome packet can include essential information, such as your nonprofit’s volunteer schedule for the coming months, as well as extra information that may be helpful but not necessary to review in an onboarding session, like background information on your nonprofit’s history.
- Holding an onboarding meeting. Along with offering documents and online videos, aim to hold an onboarding session with all volunteers before their first volunteer shift. This will give them an opportunity to ask questions, meet your staff, and otherwise get better acquainted with your nonprofit.
- Providing your contact information. Even after completing onboarding, volunteers may still have questions or need to reach out to your nonprofit later on. Designate a member of your staff to handle volunteer communications, and direct your volunteers to reach out to them for assistance.
Keep track of every volunteer’s status in the onboarding process with your CRM. CRMs like Salesforce for Nonprofits can help you create profiles for each of your volunteers to take note of what training they’ve completed, hours they are available to work, their skills, and any other information that would be useful to document.
3. Provide valuable opportunities.
Many volunteers will want to participate in engaging opportunities that provide both them and your nonprofit with value. Talk to your volunteers to gain a stronger understanding of what they’re looking for in a volunteer program and determine what your nonprofit can do to meet those needs.
Divide your volunteers based on their interests to assign them roles that will engage them. For example, you might encourage more social, outgoing volunteers to join your fundraising campaign and interact with donors. By contrast, your more introverted volunteers may prefer to work behind the scenes, creating marketing materials your other volunteers will share with potential donors.
Creating these opportunities will likely be easier for nonprofits with a membership-based program. Fionta’s guide to membership management for nonprofits explains that these organizations “exist to serve their members–whether by providing resources, convening gatherings, or offering continuing education, products, or services of interest to members.”
If this applies to your nonprofit, get creative with how you can have volunteers interact with these various opportunities. For instance, many individuals also volunteer to try and improve their skills and gain experience that can translate to a future career. Review your offerings for members, and consider how they might also provide value for your volunteers.
Outside of volunteering, nonprofits can even provide volunteers with access to some member benefits as thanks for their hard work. This might include giving them free access to paid blog content, gifting them free merchandise, or providing access to a members-only course.
4. Promote volunteer grants.
You can earn more from your volunteer program and give your volunteers an opportunity to make an even greater impact with volunteer grants. Volunteer grants are donations employers make when their employees volunteer for a certain number of hours at a charitable organization like yours.
Double the Donations’ guide to volunteer grants walks through the three steps of how these grants work:
- An individual volunteers at your nonprofit. Keep diligent records of your volunteers’ hours. Some employers will provide grants on a per-hour basis, while many others require employees to work a minimum number of hours before they will qualify for a grant.
- The individual checks their volunteer grant eligibility. Help your volunteers look up their employers’ volunteer grant program to see if they qualify. This can involve using a matching gifts database or simply exploring their employers’ website depending on the company.
- The individual submits a volunteer grant application. Volunteers that are eligible will fill out their employer’s grant application. These applications will vary by employer but usually require information such as how many hours were spent volunteering and their volunteer supervisor’s contact information.
Once a volunteer has completed their application, be sure to thank them for going the extra mile and furthering their impact. From there, if the application is approved, your nonprofit will receive a check from your volunteers’ employers.
5. Show appreciation.
Your donors aren’t the only ones who appreciate being thanked for their support. Showing appreciation for all your volunteers do for your nonprofit not only reinforces the positive difference they’re making, but it also helps you build relationships and boost retention rates.
There are a variety of ways you can thank your volunteers. A few proven strategies are:
- Thank you letters. A handwritten letter or card feels special and far more personal than an automatic thank you email. At the end of a campaign, event, initiative, or other program, send volunteers a thank you card in the mail signed by your volunteer manager, their supervisor, or another member of your nonprofit’s leadership who your volunteers interacted with.
- Appreciation events. After putting in their time and effort, celebrate a job well done with your volunteers by hosting an event. This can be a small celebration, such as taking your volunteers out to lunch after completing work for the day or an entirely separate event, like hosting a virtual trivia event for volunteers to have fun and get to know each other better.
- Public recognition. Having their work appreciated by a larger audience can be especially meaningful for some volunteers. Ask your volunteers for permission before doing so to make sure they’re okay with being spotlighted. Then, put together a social media post, a section in your newsletter, or a blurb on your website that shares and celebrates the work they’ve done for your cause.
As you get to know your volunteers, you’ll likely discover more personal ways to thank them. For example, one volunteer might appreciate being able to take home extra unsold merchandise after an event, while another may be happy just to receive an occasional card in the mail honoring their hard work.
Volunteers are the backbone of your nonprofit’s programs, fundraisers, and even day-to-day operations. Retain more volunteers and make working with your nonprofit a memorable, positive experience by creating an engaging volunteer program. Listen to your volunteers’ feedback and have the systems in place to keep their data organized, allowing you to offer unique, valuable experiences that will keep them coming back.
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.