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5 Great Ways to Keep Your Volunteers Engaged
Engaging volunteers and keeping them motivated can be a full-time job within your organisation. We’ve gathered five tips that you can put to work today.
Engagement means sparking interest in your volunteers for an organisation or cause through meaningful interactions to cultivate more motivation and excitement. Volunteers offer their time and specialties with very few expectations for anything in return. Learning how to engage your team members and volunteers could transform the future of your organisation.
Pre-coronavirus, global estimates place the number of volunteers worldwide at 970 million, equating to around $1.348 trillion or 2.4% of the entire global economy. Keeping volunteers engaged can be a challenge for many organisations and causes with long-term goals.
Let’s explore a few ways you can amp up your engagement numbers, and how that can have a positive impact on your day-to-day operations.
5 tips you can use today
There are many ways that engagement can be defined, but all in all, it circles back to the level at which your volunteers feel connected with your mission, cause and the impact that they can provide within their roles.
A lot of organisations don’t necessarily have a hard time finding volunteers so much as keeping them engaged for long periods of time. To meet your goals, however, maintaining relationships and engagement is vital to get the work done.
Here are five helpful tips to boost volunteer engagement.
1. Boost volunteer motivation
Motivating volunteers can vary depending on how you need them to show up for your organisation. To get started, let’s consider what motivates people to help others.
For example, you may put an ad out for a long-term volunteer who can dedicate six months to being on-site at your nonprofit. Or, you may need a large group of volunteers for a music festival, which takes place across one big weekend. In either scenario, the rewards and benefits for the volunteer may look very different.
In the first example, the volunteer may simply feel connected to your cause and show up for the sole purpose of ensuring that the organisation succeeds in its mission. In the second scenario, a festival goer may volunteer part of their time during the cause or event for a free ticket or free meals or to be a part of the action of an event they would have liked to attend. Both are unpaid but the motivations vary based on the reward at the end of their commitment.
Volunteers offer their time for several reasons:
- Giving back to a community and/or a cause that they are passionate about.
- Wanting to be part of an organisation, cause or event that excites them.
- Looking to meet new people and socialise.
- Hoping to learn new skills.
- Wanting to build up their experience for their resume.
- Building their networks within a certain field or organisation.
- Trying to meet graduation requirements.
Understand what drives them
Understanding who your volunteers are could start with why they’ve decided to volunteer their time. This can give you some insight not only into the reason they registered to volunteer, but also into how committed they may be for a long-term commitment.
Getting to know your volunteers can help you connect with their expectations within the opportunity, like the motivation to sign up, and then curate a personalised experience for them. At the same time, the volunteer may feel like you see them as a person on your team, someone with worth, skills and value to the objectives of the organisation.
One of the best ways to get to know your volunteers is by having an open-door policy, or communicating that anyone is welcome to ask questions whenever needed. Let’s explore why communication is so important.
2. Communicate clearly with volunteers
Opening the door to communicating with your volunteers can create an incredible sense of trust. Volunteer management becomes a lot easier when volunteers feel comfortable, heard and seen. While each opportunity may call for a different approach, communication can act as a north star.
Do your volunteers understand which tasks are a priority? What about basic points like what to bring to their first shift? Effective communication can have a huge impact on the success of your program.
Getting to know your volunteers
The best way to improve engagement is through effective communication. Take the time to understand where they’re coming from and where they’re heading. When you dive deeper into who your volunteers are, you can better understand which shifts they’d prefer and what skills they possess. Some opening conversation points you could use include questions like:
- What part of town are they from?
- What interested them in the opportunity?
- What is their goal as a volunteer?
- What skills and limitations do they possess?
- Are they on any time restriction and how many hours are they looking to complete?
- What’s their favourite thing to do in their free time?
The more you know about your volunteer, the happier they may be spending time for your organisation — and they may return when another opportunity opens up.
While one-on-one communication is best, we understand that for large workforce programs this isn’t always a reality. By enlisting team leader volunteers to act on your behalf or investing in volunteer management technology to help you automate some of these processes, you can easily communicate in the thousands.
Approachable, open communication style
Outside of getting to know your volunteers, you should also make a note of how they prefer to be communicated with. From SMS to email, phone calls and video calls, each volunteer may have a preference for how they can best receive information. Between virtual volunteer opportunities and remote teams, to large organisations and complicated volunteer involvement, clear communication can get you pretty far.
Updates such as shift changes, check-in times, where they will be volunteering and so on are just a few examples of important points that your volunteers need to know. However, not everyone checks their email, or may hate getting text messages, so you need to know how to best communicate in a way that gets everyone on the same page.
There are so many creative ways to engage volunteers through communication. Think more broadly about the types of communications you could send. We would suggest a minimum of one piece of communication per month to keep recruits involved, but not overwhelmed or disorganised.
Some great ideas for engaging communications include:
- Video message from CEO: Make your volunteers feel special with a pre-recorded welcome from your CEO outlining the important role volunteers will play in achieving your organisational mission.
- Volunteer newsletter: Consider developing a volunteer newsletter featuring important updates, profiles for staff and features on your cause or event and fundraising targets.
- Volunteer feature: How do you keep volunteers involved? Why not run a feature on alumni volunteers on a social channel each month with a Q&A style interview that explains why they’re volunteering and what they’re hoping to achieve?
- Invitation to follow socials: Encourage volunteers to like and share your social media content. This is not only engaging for volunteers, but also helps to further promote your brand.
- Milestone celebrations: Send out happy birthday and anniversary emails to celebrate your volunteers. Or sending congratulatory emails once key milestones are achieved can make a huge impact on your volunteer program.
- General updates. Workforce programs are often a moving beast so from time to time you may need to get in touch with volunteers regarding changes or updates. Make sure you are always upfront and honest with your communication updates and that these are delivered in a timely fashion (i.e not 10 minutes before their shift).
How to keep your volunteers. Harnessing the power of automation
We know that if you could have it all, every volunteer would get personalised gifts and messages. But you’re not a superhero, and there are only 24 hours in a day. Use automation technology to lift some of those manual tasks off of your shoulders. Mass messaging can still be personal with the right technology, and at the end of the day, if your volunteers are engaged and informed, then you’re on the right track.
3. Encourage onboarding best practices
As you improve your volunteer program by getting a grasp on motivation tactics and engagement, you’ll need to focus on volunteer training and recruitment. Getting volunteers motivated to offer their time — locally and remotely — is the cornerstone to growing your organisation. Donors have their motivations for giving such as tax benefits or connection with the cause, but volunteers need to be recruited and nurtured differently.
Even though most volunteers dedicate their time to the mission of your organisation, they’re also looking to learn something from the experience as well. Training and inductions can transform this experience for volunteers so they get the most out of their time.
It’s also beneficial to you to train volunteers. In a 2020 research study published in Sage Journals about volunteer management and induction, they found that a good volunteer engagement strategy resulted in higher engagement numbers — especially around training and orientation before their shift starts.
Using technology to boost onboarding engagement
Long before the volunteer shows up to their shift, they should be well informed on, not only the responsibilities within the opportunity, but the organisation as a whole, their fellow team members and how to prepare for their time.
How can you do this on a large-scale volunteer program? With automation technology, powered by Rosterfy.
With the right tool, you can set up onboarding triggers as the volunteer goes through the onboarding process. For example, once they’re approved for the opportunity, the software will automatically send over a background check and certification screening. Once this part is passed, they’ll get regular (again, maybe once a month leading up to their shift) training modules they must complete.
Without lifting a finger or managing the volunteer onboarding process yourself, your recruits are prepared and informed before showing up to their shift.
These preparations create an incredible impression on your volunteers. There’s nothing worse than signing up for a volunteer opportunity but not knowing a thing about the when, where or how. Instead, your organisation looks professional and organised while making your volunteers feel like their time is valued and worthwhile.
Training & Upskilling.
Engagement through volunteer training is a great way to connect with them. Remembering that volunteers choose to offer their time for different reasons, training can be a great way to provide a value-added experience that they can take with them long after their shift concludes.
The other benefit of training? Your new volunteer is armed with the knowledge to perform their role with confidence and that makes for a better experience for all.
If you’re keen to learn more about how training can be used to enhance your engagement, take a look at Rosterfy’s training functionality.
4. Offer rewards and recognition
Why not gamify your volunteer program? Volunteering can be fun and exciting on its own, but nothing keeps people involved than a rewards and recognition program — something tangible to work toward. As volunteers put effort toward their goals, you can automate rewards they can earn along the way for their hard work.
Make a volunteering board where each volunteer can compare their journey and reach for the next tier within the organisation. Things like badges or callouts on social media, merchandise or tickets to a local event are excellent ways to connect and boost engagement in a fun way.
While not every organisation has the additional cash to invest in big rewards like box tickets to a soccer game, you could look into connecting with local corporate partners for help. Corporate partners could help provide rewards for the recognised volunteers which could potentially make volunteers even more motivated to volunteer again.
5. Use technology and automation
We’ve mentioned using technology here and there, but let’s be honest, running a mission-driven organisation that leverages the help of unpaid volunteering en-mass to reach its goals takes a lot of work. Any association takes effort but keeping volunteers engaged can be a challenge all on its own.
Using volunteer management software can list some of that heavy workload off your shoulders so you can focus on fun and exciting ways to engage them. Your casual staff will have more flexibility to develop new volunteer opportunities, engagement strategies, donor involvement and so much more.
To make volunteering engaging you need to make it as simple and convenient for the volunteers as possible. The easiest way to do this is through automated technology. All of the tips listed above can easily be implemented by software powered by Rosterfy. With the right volunteer management software solution, the automated technology bears a lot of the heavy lifting that helps boost volunteer engagement.
How engagement affects recruitment
Building a quality engagement program can reverberate throughout your organisation. With great engagement comes great recruitment responsibility. Once the word gets out that you have an incredible program that is stellar at communication, involvement, skills training and recognition, you’re sure to get more attention from potential volunteers.
The first important step of having a highly engaged cause or organisation is attracting volunteers. But iffirst your association is disorganised or inefficient, then volunteers are less inclined to want to join and give their time. Volunteers want just as much support and engagement as full-time employees.
Whether you’re operating a nonprofit organisation or a Fortune 500 putting on a charity event, volunteer engagement can motivate and inspire your entire organisation. Harvard Business Review contributor Jessical Rodell has founded many studies that say that volunteering in corporate settings boosts productivity, employee engagement, recruitment and retention.
The reason these studies exist is that volunteers and employees alike want to feel a sense of pride in their organisation, cause, or event — robust volunteer engagement supported by comprehensive software can make every bit of difference.
Optimise engagement with volunteer management software
If you’d like to learn more about how Rosterfy can help you better engage with your volunteers through a volunteer management solution, don’t hesitate to book a demo with a Rosterfy engagement specialist today.