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5 Steps for Recruiting and Managing Volunteers Virtually

Volunteers want to help your nonprofit accomplish its mission, so make it easy for them. These 5 tips will give you a solid foundation.
This guest post was written by the digital advocacy experts at Grassroots Unwired.

Nonprofits run on volunteers. These key supporters donate their time, energy, and attention to seeing your nonprofit take another step closer to fulfilling its mission. While the pandemic has changed the way your nonprofit uses its volunteers, it hasn’t changed the need for volunteers. 

Initial virtual volunteering setup can be a challenge, but organizing online does come with a few benefits. There’s no need to worry about transportation logistics for volunteers to get to work sites. Plus, volunteers can be recruited from anywhere in the world. Additionally, software for your nonprofits to recruit and manage volunteers virtually already exists and can be customized for your nonprofit’s needs and brand identity

Recruiting volunteers online is now the norm. The people who would’ve volunteered if you spoke to them in-person likely still want to volunteer—it’s just a matter of knowing how to reach them. You don’t have to be a master of social media to scout out the perfect crop of volunteers, either. Here are five steps towards recruiting your next group of online volunteers:

  1. Determine What Kind of Volunteers You Need
  2. Create Your Recruitment Message
  3. Launch Your Outreach Campaign
  4. Organize Your Volunteers 
  5. Retain the Volunteers You Have

While you may never meet face-to-face, volunteers recruited through social media are just as capable of doing good work for your nonprofit as any others. These five steps will walk you through how to plan your approach, begin conversations, and convince your volunteers to stay loyal to your cause. 

1. Determine What Kind of Volunteers You Need

Before you begin recruiting, you need to clearly define what you need your volunteers to accomplish. People volunteer for a number of reasons, but chief among them is feeling like they’re making real contributions to a cause they believe in. 

Planning what to do with your volunteers ahead of time will prevent your volunteers from wasting their time and ensure you’re getting the most from the volunteer program. Create a volunteer strategy that considers:

  • What your volunteers’ responsibilities will be. What do you need volunteers for? Have a specific purpose in mind when recruiting volunteers. Think about your call for volunteers like a job posting. Also remember that while volunteers want to help, they may feel frustrated if they’re assigned busywork. 
  • What kind of skills you’re looking for. Sometimes your organization will want to cast a wide net and recruit anyone who’s happy to work. Responsibilities such as collecting donations or running online booths will require some training, but most people with a can-do attitude can be taught the basics. If your nonprofit needs specialized skills such as legal expertise or design experience, you’ll need to recruit specific individuals rather than cast out an open invitation. 
  • How many volunteers you will need. After you determine what you need to accomplish, decide how many people are needed to do it. You don’t want to overwhelm your volunteers with work but also be sure enough there’s enough tasks for everyone to have something to do. 
  • How long your volunteers will work. Volunteers need to know how big of a time commitment they’re making before they sign up. Will your current project take days or months? How many hours do you need your volunteers to work at a time? 

You want to hit the ground running once you have recruited your volunteers. Knowing who you need and what you need them to do is the first step towards creating an efficient volunteer program before you begin your outreach. 

Software for managing volunteers can also be helpful for tracking your volunteers’ recruitment process. Shop around for a program that meets your specific needs. Most nonprofits will likely need a system that allows for scheduling, tracking volunteer hours, and supervising capabilities at a minimum.

2. Create Your Recruitment Message

Promoting volunteer opportunities requires knowing who your potential volunteers are, what they want, and how to inspire them to action. Think about both what your nonprofit needs from volunteers and what you can offer them in return. 

Volunteers offer nonprofits their time and energy for a number of reasons. Here are three groups who will each be motivated by something different when they read your volunteer job description:

  1. They or a loved one is affected by your nonprofit’s mission. People personally affected by your nonprofit’s cause will want to volunteer and get closer to the mission itself. Let them know how successful your nonprofit is with statistics and impact reports.
  2. They want to feel like they are doing something good. People who want to feel like they’re giving back in their communities will volunteer to experience the difference. Communicate emotional success stories with these individuals to show how they’re making a difference in a specific person’s life.
  3. They need volunteer hours to fulfill other obligations. People who are ultimately checking off a box for something else in their life will want to see that your nonprofit is organized and has opportunities that work with their schedule. Make it easy to find various opportunities on your website, discussing the potential skills volunteers can develop and a number of times or options that they can choose from.

Tailor your message to recruit the right volunteers by advertising your nonprofit’s success while also being upfront about the expectations of the role. Offer a variety of opportunities, so volunteers can find something rewarding that matches their skillset (or desired goals). That way, volunteers can self-select for the roles that make the most sense for them.

3. Launch Your Outreach Approach 

Engagement on social media can turn into results and sign-ups. 53% of people who interact with a nonprofit on social media end up volunteering. However, turning comments and retweets into a support base requires forethought and strategy.

After you’ve determined what kinds of volunteers you need and defined your message, you need to know where your potential volunteers are. CharityEngine’s guide to multi-channel marketing offers some key advice:

  1. Develop an email outreach strategy. While a slick social media campaign will go a long way, you also need to be ready for standardized communication via email to invite volunteers to join and inform them of their responsibilities after they’ve signed up. 
  2. Create brand recognition by posting your message in multiple places. Posting in only one place will limit the number of volunteers you recruit. While you may recruit the majority of your volunteers from a single platform if you’re recruiting for a single specialized skill, advertising across multiple platforms will give potential volunteers more opportunities to consider researching your nonprofit and signing on. 
  3. Adapt your approach for each social media platform. Each social media platform has its own rules to succeed. Reposting the same content without adjusting for the platform can make your nonprofit look outdated, if not outright unprofessional. 

The big three social media platforms are Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. However, your nonprofit shouldn’t pick just one and stick with it forever. Each has its own strengths that you should consider and each can contribute to finding volunteers when used in conjunction with one another. 

For example, your nonprofit can post a call for volunteers on Twitter, asking past volunteers to retweet and share their experiences. On Facebook, you can post a more detailed description of what volunteering for your nonprofit would look like and answer questions in response to comments. Then on Instagram, you can post a steady stream of photos of current volunteers in action to showcase the work potential volunteers would do. 

There are other creative ways to engage with social media. Some nonprofits encourage their supporters to post photos of their experiences as part of their volunteering experience. Others employ strategies such as peer-to-peer texting wherein volunteers text potential volunteers to engage them in one-on-one conversations about your nonprofit and how they can get involved. Research strategies like this one that other nonprofits are using to get inspired.

4. Organize Your Volunteers

Virtual supervision means your volunteers will have more independence than they might have at an in-person event. However, volunteers still want and need oversight to succeed. In some cases, volunteers might interpret a lack of management as a lack of care for their well-being and work, then turn to other causes to lend their time to. 

Once you’ve assembled a group of volunteers, you’ll need to manage them. Create a comprehensive program that:

  • Includes an orientation. All volunteers will need to attend an orientation meeting that establishes your nonprofit’s needs and expectations. Don’t overwhelm your volunteers but provide them with resources they can refer back to during their time at your nonprofit, such as policy handbooks.
  • Enables flexible scheduling. No matter how dedicated your volunteers may first seem, be prepared to shift strategies and move schedules around. Create a procedure on what to do when you encounter no-shows so you can be ready for them. Identify a core group of reliable volunteers who can jump in when needed to fill any last minute holes in your schedule.
  • Lets volunteers track their hours. High school and college students will need their volunteers tracked for their schools, but that’s not the only reason supporters might track their time. Some of your volunteers may also be eligible for employer volunteer grants—donations employers give to nonprofits with which their employees volunteer—after volunteering a certain number of hours.

The right software can automate these and other necessary parts of your volunteer program. For example, Grassroots Unwired has a real-time reporting system for virtual canvassing that lets managers assess volunteer’s performance and make adjustments as they go. 

Nobody likes being micromanaged, so be sure to give your volunteers some independence. However, ignoring them can cause volunteers to feel aimless and unsure if their efforts matter. A good balance of freedom and supervision through training and managerial feedback should lead to volunteers who understand their place at your nonprofit and are proud to work with you.

5. Retain the Volunteers You Have 

The easiest way to recruit volunteers is to maintain the ones already in your system. While some volunteers will leave after they’ve worked their hours, others can be convinced to come back for your next major project. 

Volunteers tend to stick around for the same reasons they join up with your nonprofit. They want to do fulfilling, meaningful work that matches their skill sets. Along with providing opportunities on the outset, reach out to volunteers for feedback on what could be improved for a better volunteer experience. Asking your volunteers what they think and implementing their advice will show that you care about their opinions and create a better overall volunteer program. 

Most importantly, after all of your volunteers’ hard work never forget to say thank you. Volunteers want to feel appreciated. Send out personalized emails acknowledging your volunteers’ efforts, send thank you cards in the mail, and give them shoutouts on social media, which further spreads the word about your nonprofit. 

Connecting with volunteers online means adapting your approach to outreach and management based on the channels your volunteers use. However, volunteers still want to support your nonprofit and are just as excited as ever to get a chance to give back. 

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