Nonprofit organizations rely very heavily on the dedication of volunteers. Volunteers are the backbone of many nonprofits. To benefit from this potentially-vast resource, nonprofits must have a “volunteer management system” in place. Much like employees, volunteers expect their work to be truly engaging and rewarding. There are strategies that can elevate the volunteers’ experience and help with volunteer retention while allowing the nonprofit organization attain its larger goals.
1. Organization’s Goals
By nature [and applicable statutes], nonprofits are purpose driven; and are thus expected to have more focused goals. An organization’s overall raison d’être is what draws volunteers to one nonprofit as opposed to another. Volunteers must relate to and embrace the organization’s primary purpose to feel a sense of lasting commitment. Harvesting the volunteer force also requires a set of distinct goals of its own. Volunteer management must be carried out in a disciplined and focused manner to create a harmonious interconnection between volunteers and the organization. The more organizational involvement for the volunteers, the better the retention rate.
2. Volunteer Recruitment Plans
Nonprofits rely heavily on the availability of volunteers for many of their essential tasks. Few nonprofits can afford to do away with volunteers or replace them with paid staff. How does a nonprofit go about finding and recruiting suitable and qualified volunteers? One possible pool is the donor list. With proper coaching and inspiration, many non-volunteers could be prospective candidates as volunteers. In general, by seeing all your organization’s supporters as potential volunteers, you’ll be able to develop deeper relationships with passionate individuals who really consider themselves a part of your nonprofit as a whole. By ignoring donors or members as potential volunteers, a nonprofit could be inadvertently shutting out a heavily-impactful group.
3. The Role of Technology
Technology has permeated every aspect of our lives. Managing the volunteer program (recruitment, onboarding, retention and recognition) is no exception. There are simple and complex purpose-driven applications for any and all aspects of volunteer management as are more generic CRM software that can be adapted to help an organization in this important task. The right volunteer management software can help the organization to store volunteer data and empower it to amplify its understanding of volunteer management. In its core, even a simple volunteer management application should have the following important attributes:
- Time-keeping capabilities. Staying on top of volunteer hours can be a major burden without the help of a proper tool. With the right application, a nonprofit should be able to more accurately capture and track volunteer activity (and view/retain it in one centralized location).
- Detailed volunteer profiles. To help the volunteers succeed in their roles, it’s important that the organization understands their personalities and needs. The right software can enable the nonprofit to maintain all volunteer data, including communication preferences, contact information, volunteer history, and relevant skills or interests—and retrieve same when needed.
- Volunteer communications. Automate and send individual or batch emails directly through the right software.
4. Volunteer Recognition Program
While volunteers give of their time and expertise because they believe in the cause, it does not mean that the organization should take their involvement for granted. To retain and earn the loyalty of the volunteer workforce, an organization must develop a systematic practice of showing proper gratitude to volunteers for their services. While thanking volunteers every time they serve is a good gesture, the organization’s gratitude must be shown in as many ways as possible to result in lasting loyalty and retention. Like everyone else, volunteers want to know that they’re valued.
To go beyond verbal or written thank-you notes, an organization must invest in an engaging appreciation program including:
- Social Media. Social media makes it easy to connect with volunteers. Consider posting regular volunteer announcements on your organization’s Facebook or Twitter page. Or, dedicate a full page on your nonprofit website to highlighting your volunteers as a whole.
- Broadcast. What have your volunteers done for your organization? Broadcast it! Share how specific volunteer involvement has impacted the world around them, in small or large ways.
- Volunteer appreciation events. The internet is a great place to extend gratitude to your volunteers, but there is also value to in-person events. Recognize your volunteers at purpose-planned and exciting appreciation events.
- Developing an effective volunteer management can be a challenging task. However, it is imperative for nonprofits to have an appropriate program to be able to manage and benefit from engaged and enthusiastic volunteers—a potentially vast, valuable—and free—resource.
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