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How to fill the gaps when volunteers can’t show up in person

With Renata Sahagian of No Vet Alone, we drew on data from our network to identify 3 ways to fill the volunteer gaps during COVID-19.

Volunteers are one of nonprofits’ most strategic assets, yet they often have a narrow view of who volunteers are and what they can do. So, in times of crisis like COVID-19, as in-person opportunities disappear, nonprofits struggle to engage their volunteers. They must define supporters more broadly—as volunteers, donors, and advocates—and then build smarter online opportunities for those supporters to serve people in need, donate supplies, and give funds.

Renata Sahagian, Chief Experience Officer of No Vet Alone, developed three strategies for navigating this critical time with our team at Mobilize, the events management and volunteer recruitment platform that connects mission-driven organizations and their supporters. Drawing on data from the Mobilize network of 1.7M+ supporters, we identified three quick wins for filling the volunteer gaps during COVID-19:

  1. Find innovative ways to engage them virtually. People want to help from home, and virtual opportunities are an engaging format, particularly when they involve specific calls to action. In mid-March 2020, 88% of the opportunities created on Mobilize were virtual and 90% of signups were for virtual events. Nonprofits should create varied virtual opportunities to maintain connection with their volunteer base. We’ve seen countless innovative virtual opportunities on Mobilize as of late, including:
  1. Virtual fundraisers like this one from Mission Graduates, anchored by a message from the CEO
  2. Meet-ups on COVID-19 related issues featuring prominent speakers like No Vet Alone’s Happy Hour
  3. Virtual phone banks for volunteers to call and check in on vulnerable community members like Meals on Wheels
  4. Massive volunteer virtual phone back to check on millions of seniors across the state to ensure they have help and resources needed
  5. Domestic violence advocacy groups asking survivors, family/friends, advocates and activists to post Sexual Assault Awareness Month graphics on all their social media accounts for 1 day. They provide a link to download graphics and list hashtags to use on all posts.

  1. Integrate additional calls to action around the online opportunity. Once we design innovative opportunities for supporters to engage virtually, it’s essential to integrate additional timely calls to action into the online experience. Data shows that when these prompts are strategically included from event discovery to completion, they can multiply list size and deepen engagement. These calls to action can include:  
  1. Ask them to bring their friends and share the event on social media. 40% of people on Mobilize share opportunities with friends, leading to 15-20% increase in signups.
  2. Ask them to donate. On Mobilize, 15% of people shown a donation prompt will initiate one.
  3. Ask them to attend more events. 15-20% of volunteers on Mobilize immediately sign up for suggested opportunities when prompted.
  4. Remind them to show up. Through automated reminders, Mobilize has driven 30% higher attendance rate for nonprofits.
  5. Request feedback from them. 40% of Mobilize users respond to the survey sent one hour after completing an opportunity.

  1. Promote other organizations’ opportunities. Now, more than ever, we need to collaborate with each other to drive impact at scale. Volunteers are not a finite resource, especially when we broaden our definition of who a volunteer can be. By promoting each other’s events on our own websites and feeds, we attract more volunteers overall and forge deeper partnerships with organizations with similar missions. 40% of sign-ups on Mobilize are driven by organizations promoting each others’ opportunities on the platform.

There is significant risk to the traditional view of “volunteer” as the person who shows up on-site for a few hours to help. It excludes a larger group that voluntarily gives—your Board, your advocates, your donors. It limits a highly engaged group to giving in-person time, and it rarely considers that this volunteer is likely giving their time elsewhere, too. Especially now when in-person is no longer an option, it’s critical to call a broader audience to virtual action, empower them to do more, and—as organizations—promote one another’s opportunities.

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