Volunteers are powerful partners for nonprofits, driving their campaigns, events, and even day-to-day operations to success by generously donating their time. In the past year, as many of your operational activities like fundraising and trainings have moved online, virtual volunteering has rapidly grown in popularity, too.
But how can you ensure that your relationships with those key supporters don’t come to an end after your current campaign, event, or other volunteer opportunity wraps up?
At Mobilize, we connect mission-driven organizations with passionate supporters—over 4 million and counting! Reaching new volunteers has never been easier for nonprofits thanks to smarter outreach tactics and networks like our own, but you’ll need a concrete volunteer management strategy for keeping those volunteers engaged with your mission over time. Here are a few of our recommendations:
- Use dedicated volunteer management software.
- Actively communicate with volunteers.
- Provide additional ways for volunteers to grow their impact.
By actively building your relationships with volunteers, you’ll build a solid foundation to retain their support over the long run. With a dedicated base of long-term supporters to rely on, you’ll be able to focus on pursuing your mission, connecting with the community, and raising funds, not on constantly recruiting new batches of volunteers. Let’s dive in.
1. Use dedicated volunteer management software.
To proactively grow your relationships with volunteers over time, you first need an accurate idea of where you’re starting from. Dedicated volunteer management software like these top picks will help you track volunteer engagement through event attendance, sign-ups, communication open rates, and more.
Use this data to identify trends and opportunities to grow your relationships. For instance:
- Did volunteer engagement drop off after a particular event or campaign? Take a look back at the strategies you used (or didn’t use) to stay in touch with those volunteers and how you might have approached it differently.
- Are your sign-up rates low for certain types of opportunities? Think about how you might promote and explain them differently in order to attract more volunteers.
- Are your volunteers more responsive to certain communication outlets? If your email open rates are low, consider how you can better target your messages to catch volunteers’ attention. Or if your email open rates are high after some events or opportunities, look at what you’re doing right and think about how those strategies can inform your broader engagement efforts.
You’ll also likely want to keep track of useful information about your volunteers, like how they heard about your organization, any special skills or interests they may have, and their preferred method of contact. Integrated volunteer management software that includes all-in-one management, communication, and reporting features will be your best bet.
Taking advantage of all the online tools available to you is essential to keep up in this technological age. This is why integrated systems that combine data management and other functionalities in one place are quickly becoming the norm. CRM platforms like Salesforce and others make it easy to build out an integrated nonprofit toolkit. If you adopt new volunteer management software, ensuring it integrates with your CRM of choice will deliver the most long-term value for your organization.
2. Actively communicate with volunteers.
To keep a healthy relationship with your volunteer base, communication is key. Following up with your volunteers and staying in contact over the long term is essential for actively maintaining and growing those relationships.
Before and during your volunteer opportunities, set the expectation that your organization will actively communicate with volunteers to set them up for success. Sign-up confirmations and automated reminders via email and text will be helpful, especially when they’re fully automated. You should also make sure your website is well-designed for users and potential volunteers—information about upcoming opportunities to join should be easily accessible to those not already on your email list.
After your volunteers participate in an event or opportunity, have a concrete strategy in place for staying in touch. Always start by expressing your gratitude. An immediate thank you message is essential for showing volunteers that you recognize and value their participation. For a complete rundown of thank-you best practices, check out this guide from Fundraising Letters. At this stage, you might also consider sending them a survey to provide qualitative feedback on their experience. Showing volunteers that you value their support and their thoughts goes a very long way to start building the foundations for long-term engagement.
Once you’ve appropriately thanked your volunteers and sent your initial volunteer follow-up emails, add them to your volunteer email list. Develop a newsletter or email stream specifically for volunteers to receive after they’ve participated in an event or opportunity. Focus the content specifically to this audience by:
- Communicating the impact that volunteers have on your mission. Be specific here. What did they help you accomplish at your last event? Maybe they saved you $2000 on event planning or staffing. Let them know what that money achieved in furtherance of your cause.
- Sharing volunteer stories or shout-outs (with their permission). The more you establish personal relationships with your volunteers, the more they will feel like an important part of your community. Sharing specific achievements of some of your most dedicated volunteers can help forge that connection and even encourage others to invest more in your mission.
- Promoting upcoming opportunities that you could use their help with. Your base of prior volunteers is a valuable resource for marketing your next big event. If they had an enjoyable experience lending a hand on your last initiative, they’re likely to tell their friends about your next one. Asking them to share your event page on social media or recruit another volunteer could have a huge impact on turnout at your next event.
Staying in touch with your volunteers not only ensures your organization is on their minds, but it also makes them feel their work is valued and appreciated. Knowing their work is making a difference, they’ll want to keep coming back to help.
3. Provide additional ways for volunteers to grow their impact.
If you want to deepen your relationships with volunteers, you first need to give them reasons to stick around! Even with solid management strategies and active communication, a boring or repetitive lineup of opportunities will risk disengaging even your most passionate volunteers.
Instead of offering them the same old ways to get involved, try these strategies:
- Tailor your volunteer opportunities based on what individual volunteers have been interested in in the past. This is another reason why tracking volunteer engagement data is so useful and will make sure you’re efficiently targeting your volunteers.
- Match their work to their experience and skill set. It’s important to know what your volunteers do or have done in their careers. Maybe you have volunteers who are event planners, social media managers, and web designers—consider asking them for help in their areas of expertise. If their tasks at your organization match closely with their skills, they are more likely to feel like truly valuable additions to your team. This is also an excellent way to begin building powerful corporate partnerships with your volunteers’ employers!
- Provide training opportunities for volunteers to learn new relevant skills and how to better advocate for your cause publicly. Not only will this increase the value of your volunteers, it will help them feel invested in your organization and keep them coming back for every event.
- Ask volunteers to take recruitment into their own hands. Peer-to-peer recruiting allows your volunteers to help spread the word and attract new supporters on your behalf. As we detail in the complete Mobilize guide to volunteer recruitment, you’ll need to ensure your sign-up tools are readily shareable through social media, email, and text. As your volunteers recruit others, the personal connections they build will help foster a more engaging sense of community.
- Encourage your most dedicated volunteers to host their own virtual events for your organization, like virtual watch parties and local community forums. This not only shows you trust your most dedicated volunteers with your mission, it lets them take ownership over your cause. All of this serves to deepen their connection to your organization.
Actively providing and promoting new ways to stay engaged is essential for growing your relationships with volunteers. Help them feel like they’re continually making a bigger impact on your mission, and they’re sure to stay involved.
And don’t forget: as your volunteers become more involved in your organization, keep recognizing them for their efforts and contributions! Showing appreciation is a must for driving retention and supporting the long-term tactics that you roll out.
As a nonprofit professional, sometimes it’s easy to put all of the focus on donors and forget about how valuable a committed base of volunteers is for your mission. Targeting your volunteer outreach efforts with the help of volunteer management software and data analysis (akin to donor prospect research) will make sure you’re getting the most out of your volunteer recruitment efforts.
After your volunteers donate their valuable time to your organization, make sure to thank them and stay in touch. Continuously give them new opportunities to get involved through attending a training session, hosting a virtual event, or becoming a recruiter. If you follow these tips, you’ll have all the volunteers you could need!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Allen Kramer is the Co-Founder and President of Mobilize. Before starting Mobilize with Alfred Johnson, he worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, in management consulting at Bain & Company, and helped grow a great social enterprise called Assured Labor. Allen was born and raised in NYC, loves a wide range of music and—on his better days—running.