Today, organizations are increasingly relying upon dedicated, passion-driven, skilled volunteers to help them thrive amidst times of limited funding and staffing insufficiencies. These volunteers are highly respected and oftentimes regarded as the pulse of an organization, as they serve of their own free will to support and maintain an organization that might otherwise struggle without them. Performing an assortment of tasks, volunteers may serve on boards or committees or be utilized to manage day-to-day operational functions, special projects, and fulfill other capacities as warranted by an organization’s needs, ultimately serving as ambassadors for the organization.
How do you find volunteers? – Organizations may send out a call for volunteers via mail campaign, email, social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter. Etc.), website posting, printed publications/signage, or announcement at industry events. Some advertise on radio or TV. You may be surprised, but an organization’s marketing efforts aren’t always what drives volunteer engagement. In fact, it isn’t uncommon for individuals to reach out to organizations on their own accord, based on their individual concerns and areas of interest.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (this excerpt comes directly from their website), “…about 62.6 million people volunteered through or for an organization at least once between September 2014 and September 2015. During this time, the proportion of volunteers who became involved with their main organization after being asked to volunteer (41.2 percent) was about the same as the proportion who became involved on their own (41.6 percent) –that is, those who approached the organization. Those who were asked to volunteer were most often asked by someone in the organization.” These statistics convey a relatively, but somewhat unexpected balance when it comes to outreach based results vs blind inquires made by individuals (self-recruitment).
What motivates volunteers? – Volunteers are motivated by a variety of internally driven factors, some of which may be morally-based, faith-based, or be contingent upon their passion for a specific cause. Their involvement can be derived by a love for animals, concern for the environment, interest in helping the less fortunate, career development, increased industry involvement, etc. Some people do it for self-esteem improvement or to build relationships and make new friends. Some are dedicated to supporting a friend or loved one whom your organization’s mission supports. Others have decided to “pay it forward” to an organization that helped them during difficult times in the past. The point is that people have such varying philanthropic interests, we must aspire to attract the population who hasn’t yet locked into their passion area, those who are open to contributing to a cause they may be unfamiliar with, or who might be considering a secondary volunteer opportunity.
What are you offering your volunteers & why should they stay? – Now that we know what inspires volunteers, let’s consider why they come and stay. While some organizations utilize 3rd-party placement service company, many businesses are responsible for managing and coordinating the screening, placement, training, and maintenance of their own volunteers. For those of us who handle this internally, the first step is to ask what’s in it for the volunteers. What unique benefits would attract someone who has considered volunteering to do so for your specific organization?
Some organizations offer tangible perks ranging from free coffee during their shift, free or discounted access to items, product, or events they helped prepare or execute, to letters of reference, awards or certificates, etc. Intangible, yet highly desired benefits of volunteering include networking opportunities, learning/educational opportunities, career advancement, participation recognition (certificates, etc.), and/or simple reciprocity from the satisfaction one finds in contributing to a cause, product, or service they believe in (this often involves the belief in what goes around comes around, or karma).
Consider the incentives you could offer to encourage your volunteers to keep them coming back. Be sure to incorporate relationship-building by means of expressing your gratitude through your communications and actions. Appreciation is a crucial motivational element and when combined with other desirable benefits, it can mean the difference between your success in maintaining productivity and retaining your best volunteers. Show them the love!
How do you effectively market your volunteer opportunities? – When placing a call for volunteers, highlighting what sets your volunteers and organization apart from and above the rest is a key element in gaining interest. When announcing volunteer opportunities, always outline your purpose and mission, and include statistical data and any other information you think would behoove an individual to want to become involved (for a food bank, what’s the breakdown of children/adults/seniors who were fed last year by volunteers, how many hours were contributed, who are your partners – such as lunch programs with area schools, etc.). Include quotes from area leaders, other volunteers, and/or beneficiary testimonials. Explain the duration of the project, provide in detail the volunteer position requirements, expectations, duties, and anticipated time commitment (this should include training time).
How can you best manage your volunteer program? – Aside from the tips mentioned above, it is imperative that you identify your volunteers’ strengths and determine how those might best benefit the organization to ensure proper placement. Always have the appropriate training planned with available reference materials. Offer variety in scope of work to keep volunteers engaged and interested (a good mix of duties can provide a much sought-after change of pace). Always keep in mind that if your volunteers are happy, they’ll tell others about their great experience, and that in itself is a valuable recruitment tool.
The bottom line – Finding volunteers is no less challenging than keeping them. Once you identify your target audience and appropriately market your volunteer opportunities, you need a plan in place for matching qualified individuals to specific tasks based on their individual knowledge and skillset. Adequate training and task oriented procedures must be established. After a volunteer comes onboard, the key to keeping them involved is to provide a positive work environment, express appreciation regularly, and offer a variety of ways to thank and recognize them for their invaluable, voluntary contributions to the betterment of your organization.
What are you waiting for!?!? – Taking the time now to review, reevaluate, and enhance your volunteer program will spare you later from wondering why your volunteers don’t stay. You’ll quickly discover that with the right strategies, your volunteers will be happy, and happy volunteers equate to long-term volunteers, the pulse of your organization.
If you need assistance creating, revamping, or implementing your volunteer program, or you simply want a fresh pair of eyes to look it over, give us a call. We’re here to help! We are The Solution.