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Best Practices to Strengthen Your Organization with Volunteers

By 3p Contributor

By Steven Page

Volunteer engagement is an ever-changing field. It no longer makes sense for nonprofits to simply take whoever wants to volunteer. In order to actually grow your organization, you want to make sure you choose qualified volunteers with special skills that can be utilized. Don’t be afraid to say “no” when someone is not the right fit for your organization.

How do you know if they are the right fit?

Set your expectations early on and write clear position descriptions the same way you would for any job, so they know what they are getting into from the beginning.

More and more, especially in the millennial generation, people are choosing to volunteer at organizations where they can use their specialized skills rather than just finding a cause that interests them. They want to feel like they are doing something useful and valuable with their time. Giving volunteers options for skilled positions has become one of the key differentiators for successful nonprofits.

In the position description it is important to let prospective volunteers know:

  • What skills are desired

  • What training is needed

  • What time commitment you are looking for

Many organizations receive emails or get people who come to their offices interested in volunteering. The organization will then try and find a place for them. This passive approach works in some cases, but it is much more effective if you proactively reach out for qualified candidates. Not only will you be able to specify and select candidates for exactly what you need, but you’ll be saving your organization a lot of time and headaches down the road.

Reaching and recruiting volunteers

Volunteers can really help your organization grow year after year. The key is keeping your volunteers engaged once you have clearly identified the roles they will be assigned.

How do you best do that?

You need to create a strategic plan for your volunteer program, which will initially take some of your resources—the biggest of which being time. Dedicating a few hours to nailing down the ways in which volunteers can serve your organization is necessary for success.

Your organization should also set up a time for volunteer appreciation activities such as managing and mentoring them, as well as volunteer-specific events. Don’t just let them come in and give them a little wave. A volunteer who feels under-appreciated will most likely leave, putting you back at square one. Bringing on volunteers and expecting them to fill gaps rarely works, so be sure to show them how much you care.

The most under-utilized way to recruit volunteers is word-of-mouth

Whether or not they are current volunteers, supporters of your organization should be able to serve as brand ambassadors to talk about the great work you are doing and the impact that you are having. Positive word-of-mouth will inspire other people who want to get involved and give back. And remember, a really good volunteer experience goes a long way. If people have a negative experience with you, they are going to talk about it. If they have a positive experience they are going to talk about it as well.

As in person, online word-of-mouth is powerful—perhaps even more powerful—as it will live online for all to see. Encourage volunteers and supporters to share your message, volunteer programs, videos, and photos on social media. The more supporters you have, the larger the network your organization will reach.

Importance of mobile in recruiting volunteers

More than 71 percent of people use mobile to access social media. So the messaging, online forms, and website your supporters share will be seen by the majority of people that are on mobile.

When a person clicks to donate, register for an event, or wants to sign up to volunteer, you don’t want them to have a poor mobile experience. This creates a barrier and will likely cause them to leave your form or website and lose interest, causing you to run the risk of losing that contact forever.

To overcome this obstacle, be sure that your website and online forms are mobile-friendly. This gives potential volunteers a great mobile experience and creates an increase in form submissions, creating a positive start to their impression of your organization.

If you are looking to find more volunteers, check out Taproot Foundation, WomenOnCall, VolunteerMatch and Catchafire.

Partnering with for-profit corporations

It is becoming more and more of a trend for companies to give back in more ways than just writing a check to a nonprofit. Businesses are seeing the benefits of encouraging their employees to volunteer at different kinds of fundraising events.

Benefits include:

  • Team building

  • Skills development

  • A positive workplace experience

More and more companies are reaching out to nonprofits to form partnerships, host volunteer events, and even set up volunteer grant programs. This a huge benefit to both parties but it is also takes a lot of work.

Quick tips for partnering with corporations:

  • Be sure you have the capacity to support the program

  • Meet with the company ahead of time

  • Lay out the groundwork for what’s going to happen

  • Ensure partner expectations are clear

  • Make sure you have a backup plan (for low turnout, weather, etc.)

Here are seven companies that make employee volunteering a priority.

Truths about volunteering

The importance of planning your volunteer program ahead of time, showing volunteer appreciation, and empowering your volunteers to share your message can’t be stressed enough. You must equip them with knowledge and talking points but also make sure that you are creating positive experiences that they’ll want to share.

Remember these key points:

  • Creating a volunteer strategy ensures that you set yourself up for success

  • A healthy base of volunteers will accelerate all aspects of your mission

  • Effective nonprofits recognize volunteers and highlight the importance of their impact

  • Volunteers with great experiences are likely to become long-term advocates and donors

That last point is very important. Too many nonprofits put volunteers and donors into two separate silos, when the reality is that there’s a huge potential for overlap. People who volunteer with an organization are far more likely to donate when asked than people who haven’t volunteered, meaning a positive volunteer experience is even more important to your organization as it has the added benefit of helping you grow your donor base.

When someone supports your organization they support it because your mission resonates with them, meaning they are going to want to help in any way they can. The main motivator that makes a volunteer choose your organization over another is their passion about your cause. Keep this in mind as you are planning your volunteer outreach and experience, and be sure to let them know just how important they are!

Image credit: Flickr/Daniel Thornton

Steve Page is a marketer and webmaster for MobileCause, the world’s leading mobile and online fundraising platform. Follow MobileCause on Facebook or Twitter.

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