So you’ve recruited a powerful team of passionate volunteers. Now, how do you keep them engaged and coming back for more?
A robust volunteer engagement strategy is a sure-fire way to increase retention and inspire these valuable supporters to stick around for the long haul. It also keeps volunteers actively engaged with your mission, creates synergies across departments and programs, and expands your organization's reach. In short, you'll mobilize supporters to deepen their connection to your cause and share that passion with others.
The sooner growing organizations develop concrete strategies for recruiting, managing, and engaging volunteers, the better. Even after nonprofits and grassroots organizations initially recruit volunteers, there are still steps that can and should be taken to create ongoing commitment.
This guide will explore everything you need to know about volunteer engagement, from developing your initial strategy to creating unique opportunities as time goes on. Here's what we'll cover:
- Volunteer engagement: the basics
- How to develop a volunteer engagement strategy
- 5 volunteer engagement ideas for long-term success
- How dedicated software can support your volunteer engagement efforts
- Getting started
Here at Mobilize, we empower organizations to connect with volunteers by providing the tools organizations need to inspire supporters to take that first action and to keep them engaged long term. After working with countless causes, we know what it takes to strengthen those powerful relationships and ignite a passion among your volunteers to do more good. Let's dive in!
Volunteer engagement: the basics
Before you can develop a long-term strategy, you need to understand the basics of volunteer engagement and what motivates volunteers to get involved with your cause in the first place. Doing this will help you to plan recruitment strategies for your programs and events and to identify gaps in your strategy when recruiting and engagement efforts start to wane or fall flat.
What is volunteer engagement?
Volunteer engagement is the process you follow to make sure your supporters are continually interested and actively engaged in your work throughout the entire lifecycle of their relationship with your organization. It requires constant communication with the volunteer from the minute they meet you, throughout the volunteer activity, and even after they’ve gone home.
Often, growing organizations believe that the most challenging part about volunteering is the recruitment process, but the true challenge is keeping volunteers engaged, fulfilled, and enthusiastic. At one time or another, we’ve all been excited to volunteer at an event only to show up and find the activities weren’t well planned, causing us to leave unfulfilled and unlikely to volunteer with that same organization.
That volunteer engagement process helps you identify the skills of your volunteers, place them in roles that match those skills, and provide learning and growth opportunities for them.
Your engagement strategy also provides insight into key metrics that tell you if your volunteers are being fully engaged and whether your organization is reaching its volunteer goals.
Powerful organizing tools like Mobilize help growing organizations track and organize those metrics and interactions as they execute their volunteer engagement strategies for long-term success.
Why is volunteer engagement important?
Whether or not you engage your volunteers determines your organization's overall success. Without your volunteers, you wouldn't have enough capacity to complete the activities that make your work possible.
Not to mention, your volunteers are often your biggest advocates and are usually the ones who most proactively spread the word about your cause to their own networks. With a firsthand account of all the hard work that goes into making your mission possible, they'll naturally testify to their friends and families about the importance of the cause and boost your organization's reputation.
How to develop a volunteer engagement strategy
Creating an effective volunteer engagement strategy is a multi-step process. If you're not sure where to start, don't worry! We'll break it down into nine easy steps.
Step 1: Understand your volunteers and goals.
If your volunteers feel closely aligned with your organization’s mission and goals, they will contribute. But first, you need to understand exactly what motivates them to contribute. When recruiting volunteers, explore their intent, interests, and skills to get a sense of how you can create appealing opportunities for them. There are a few chances where you can acquire this information, such as:
- During the sign-up process. Include fields on your sign-up form that inquire about the types of roles they'd be interested in and skills they think would be beneficial when serving your organization. This includes hard skills like marketing experience or the ability to lift a certain amount (for tasks like carrying a box of event t-shirts) and soft skills like interpersonal skills or problem-solving abilities.
- Conversations with team members. Your volunteers will naturally communicate with the volunteer manager or other team members at some point. Everyone should know to listen for any indication of what people enjoy and what they'd like to see in their future assignments.
- Informal training sessions and volunteer information conference calls. These can also give your team a better sense of who is willing to work, and who might have the experience necessary to be a stand-out volunteer leader.
Centralize any information you gather in your volunteer management solution, making it easy for any team member to reference your volunteers' preferences and place them in the roles that best suit each individual as they continue working with your organization.
What's more, if at any point they indicate that they'd like to develop a particular skill, that's a solid goal you can note and can consider offering training to support their development.
Overall, failing to understand the unique contributions of your volunteers or not placing them in roles that they are interested in can do serious damage to your volunteer retention rate. Volunteers who are not engaged do not return for future opportunities. That's why this is an integral part of any organization’s volunteer engagement strategy.
Step 2: Determine how you’ll measure volunteer engagement.
Measuring success looks different for every organization—but it's something that must be defined when creating a volunteer engagement strategy.
Does success mean having a large number of supporters that volunteer short-term? Does it mean having volunteers complete a certain number of volunteer shifts per month? It’s worth considering what success looks like to your organization so your goals will be reflected in your volunteer engagement strategy.
Here are some metrics that you might use to measure your program's progress:
- Frequency of volunteering. Determine how many shifts a volunteer works on average within a given period of time. Similarly, you might look at the average number of hours that volunteers contribute. If people are volunteering frequently and for long periods of time, that's a good sign that you're providing valuable experiences.
- Volunteer attendance rate. If your volunteers are signing up but not showing up to their shifts, that's a sign of poor volunteer engagement and that something deeper may be wrong (such as poor communication leading up to shifts). Keep an eye on the number of no-shows you have at different volunteer events and attempt to identify any trends or problem areas that might be causing no-shows.
- Volunteer retention rate. Whether individuals continue serving your organization is a good indication if they're engaged with their work. This metric is often measured year-over-year, but you can also measure it across events. Divide the number of volunteers you record at the end of your designated time period (such as the end of the year) by the number of volunteers you record at the beginning of it. Multiply by 100 to get your retention rate percentage.
- Donations made by volunteers. Many organizations have realized that their volunteers are also some of their most committed donors. Calculate how many of your volunteers also donate. You might also calculate the percentage of donations made by volunteers vs. non-volunteers. This may help determine if you should start making more donation appeals to your volunteers.
These are just a few of the volunteer engagement metrics you can set. Figuring out how you will define and measure success will help immensely, especially as you go through the initial stages of recruiting volunteers and making sure that they are a perfect fit. Pull your team together to discuss these goals and metrics BEFORE you start asking for volunteers. Then, as you find out what metrics are valuable for your program, you can continue developing the opportunities and make sure each volunteer has a positive experience with your organization.
Step 3: Clearly define what long-term engagement looks like for your organization.
While you set your metrics, you’ll also want to factor in what successful long-term engagement looks like. Long-term engagement will create lasting relationships, transform volunteers into donors, and create a community that encourages more people to become involved with your mission.
Maybe it’s watching your one-time volunteers evolve to committed veterans for your cause and then to trusted event hosts or donors. Many organizers use our distributed organizing feature to complement their volunteer engagement strategies and propel their long-term engagement forward.
Step 4: Walk through the volunteer engagement lifecycle and identify weak spots.
As you start to measure the performance of your volunteer program, take a good look at your current volunteer engagement lifecycle. Where can you make improvements? Implementing even the smallest of changes can have a major impact on the longevity of your overall engagement cycle.
If you find that your volunteers are burnt out and uninterested in their work, integrate more opportunities for communication and feedback. Maybe even consider upgrading your recognition programs and finding better ways to show volunteers your appreciation!
Your current volunteer engagement lifecycle should, at a minimum, include the following stages:
- Recruitment - As we mentioned, engagement starts the moment a volunteer interacts with your organization for the first time. Create a seamless signup process to create a positive first impression and start relationships off on the right foot. Organizing tools like Mobilize make it incredibly easy to post opportunities and connect with volunteers.
- Screening - This process involves vetting your volunteers to make sure they have the skills and meet the requirements necessary to thrive in their roles. This might entail background checks in certain circumstances, too.
- Placement - Putting your volunteers into the right roles is a crucial factor in their overall engagement. Consider any preferences they indicate during the signup process, including what shifts they request. You'll also want to consider which skills will align with the different roles you're offering to place them in a position where they'll succeed.
- Orientation and Training - Once you've divided up assignments, make sure your volunteers are prepared to fulfill expectations. Provide them with any training that they'll need, whether that's a one-pager, online training courses, or an in-person training session.
- Recognition - Make sure you're consistently expressing appreciation for your volunteers. This might include sending a post-event follow-up email, highlighting a standout volunteer in each of your monthly newsletters to your email list, or even posting about them on social media.
As you walk through each stage of the volunteer engagement lifecycle, use the metrics that you previously set as a barometer for success and to identify gaps or failures. If volunteer engagement dips in any one of these areas, you'll know where to revisit to fix the issue.
For instance, if your total number of volunteers is down, you might need to focus on recruitment by marketing any upcoming opportunities better. If your attendance rate is down and you have a high number of no-shows, you might need to increase communication leading up to volunteer events. By consistently monitoring metrics in each stage of this cycle, you won't go through your entire program only to find out something didn't work.
Step 5: Focus on your volunteer onboarding process.
Remember that your volunteers have committed themselves to your mission and goals! It's important to show that you are just as committed by creating a volunteer onboarding process to get them up and running as part of your volunteer engagement strategy.
A successful volunteer onboarding process should:
- Tell your organization’s story and mission
- Teach volunteers about different opportunities that are available to them
- Establish goals for volunteers to give them something to strive toward
- Offer space for volunteers and staff members to get to know each other
- Create an exciting team environment prepared to mobilize volunteers
Consider relevant workshops and presentations that you and your colleagues can prepare to help with your volunteer engagement strategy. Offer shadowing opportunities and mentorships to volunteers that will help them form an even more meaningful connection with your organization.
Think about which volunteer opportunities you will be filling. Do these various opportunities all require a separate level of preparation? Not every role will require a detailed onboarding process, but each one can involve some level of introduction and education (even if it's only for 10-15 minutes).
Step 6: Make sure you’ve got the right tools to support volunteer engagement.
The tools you choose to support your engagement will prove to be a gamechanger for your volunteer engagement strategy! As your organization continues to grow, the number of volunteers interested in supporting your mission will increase. Ensure that you have the proper tools and resources to stay ahead of the curve, retain volunteers, and build a stronger community.
You'll need tools that:
- Simplify the registration process so that you can provide a seamless signup process and inspire volunteers to get involved time and time again.
- Manage communication to remind volunteers of the opportunities they've signed up for and gather post-event feedback via surveys.
- Gather robust data (such as shift signups, types of volunteer roles that people sign up for, and so on) to help refine your volunteer engagement tactics.
For instance, Mobilize offers the tools you need to recruit, manage, and communicate with volunteers, helping to centralize your volunteers' efforts and generate higher engagement rates throughout the program.
Not only does our platform provide a central place where volunteers can see all the projects and programs they're already involved with, but it also helps make them aware of new opportunities they may be interested in. Plus, they can make changes to their profiles so that the organization can keep in touch with them whenever their contact information or preferences change. We'll take a deep dive into our platform's functionality later, but for now, know that it covers all of these bases!
Looking for more recommendations to create a standout volunteer program? Check out our top 10 recommended volunteer management tools!
Step 7: Explore additional offerings and strategies to keep volunteers engaged.
As your needs for volunteers evolve and the areas you need help with change, people's motivations and skills might change, too! That's why you should constantly explore additional offerings and strategies to keep volunteers engaged with your mission.
This is another opportunity where your metrics come in handy. They can be a powerful indicator whether your volunteers are engaged with the roles you're placing them in. If you notice that attendance numbers are dropping or long-term volunteers are lapsing, that could indicate that you need to offer new opportunities or improve the ones you already offer.
For instance, let's say you rely heavily on events to raise money and spread the word about your mission. You've noticed that the number of people signing up to help out has consistently declined from event to event. Maybe you've always needed plenty of hands-on help to set up the venue, direct parking, check guests in, and answer guests' questions throughout the event. At your next event, you can and should still offer this role, but you might want to expand your opportunities to help play to everyone's strengths and keep them interested. You could develop new roles and encourage people to engage in marketing the event, lining up sponsorships, putting together welcome bags, or taking pictures.
If you're having trouble determining what roles are enticing to volunteers, you can also easily leverage surveys. That way, you don't have to guess at which volunteer activities people enjoyed, which ones could be improved, and what types of new opportunities they'd like to see in the future.
Also remember that volunteers are more likely to volunteer again if they are able to mobilize with a community of friends around a common cause. Automated bring-a-friend nudges and volunteer-hosted events are just a few of the features that Mobilize offers to help facilitate volunteer engagement and create new opportunities that people are interested in.
Step 8: Reinforce the process with communication.
Creating a successful volunteer engagement strategy requires giving your volunteers the space to connect with your organization and with each other. Keeping an open line of communication with your volunteers is essential. Send text reminders about volunteer shifts, automate email reminders for your events to reduce no-shows, and embrace communication channels that create community.
For instance, Mobilize offers automated reminders and prompts to decrease the chance of your volunteers accidentally becoming no-shows and increases the number of shifts per volunteer. Organizations using Mobilize have seen, on average, a 30% decrease in no-shows. We offer a robust set of communication tools for organizers and volunteers involved with nonprofits, unions, advocacy organizations, and more. That way, you gain access to a solution that's unique to your organization's needs and helps you stay in contact with your volunteers.
Step 9: Regularly check in on your progress via surveys and data.
Whenever you want to check in on your program, keep up with your progress by sending out surveys and collecting data that will allow you to continuously adapt your volunteer engagement strategy. There is no better way to gauge your success than by leveraging the critical volunteer data that you gather.
For instance, Mobilize empowers organizations to collect volunteer data that syncs across their full tech stack and to send automated surveys after their events. This enables attendees to respond with in-depth qualitative feedback that these organizations can then use to refine their current volunteer engagement strategies. Having this insight will give you clear next steps for making your volunteer program better over time.
6 volunteer engagement ideas for long-term success
Once you've walked through the basic steps, you'll have a well-formed volunteer engagement strategy that addresses every one of your organizational needs and goals. The next step will be to build in the flexibility you need to continuously pique your volunteers' interests and be responsive to their changing wants and needs.
Here are six easy ways you can take volunteer engagement to the next level:
- Make the volunteer-to-volunteer recruitment process easier. Mobilize has a number of features designed to enhance peer-to-peer recruitment, including volunteer-hosted events, that allow your most dedicated supporters to recruit their friends and engage with them personally. Beyond connecting with new supporters, this takes your current volunteers' impact even further. Not to mention, having a tool that lets your existing volunteers recruit others like them is a force multiplier for your organization by helping you connect with the right volunteers.
- Create a formal recognition program for your volunteers. The more you show your appreciation, the more you will encourage your volunteers to come back! Lay out your recognition plan, and determine which volunteer achievements warrant different types of recognition. For example, every volunteer should receive a follow-up email after a volunteer event, but you might reserve higher levels of recognition (like a personal phone call, gift basket, or social media shoutout) for those who go above and beyond. Many organizations have gamified their activities to improve the recognition process. They have online communities (like custom websites and Slack channels) where they can stay connected with their volunteers, run leaderboards, and offer prizes for accomplishments like having the highest voter contact rates or the most voter IDs.
- Offer regular check-in times (or “office hours”) to receive feedback from volunteers and to help support them throughout their volunteer experience. They should feel open and comfortable sharing their ideas with your team. This can happen through weekly conference calls, volunteer training activities, or even the promotion of volunteers to team volunteer lead positions. The last option gives them the ability to train other volunteers and even to improve your existing processes by incorporating feedback from the people connected on the ground!
- Get to know your volunteers. Whether it’s through email or face-to-face conversations, make sure you speak to your volunteers about their interests. It could be as simple as having a conversation where you ask about their experience and hobbies or allowing them to rank available volunteer opportunities in order of their interest. Your check-in times can also help cultivate your relationships by naturally creating a time for these conversations.
- Provide your volunteers with opportunities to grow. When volunteers are provided with growth opportunities, they are more likely to remain engaged. Training is a fantastic place to start to support their development. Draw from the conversations you have from volunteers to determine which skills they'd like to develop so that you can provide the appropriate training experience. As part of this, you might implement a mentoring program that mixes staff and volunteers, giving volunteers a great resource to support their growth.
- Maximize impact with volunteer grants and matching gifts. Your volunteers give something immensely valuable to your organization: their time. They can grow that impact even further by bringing in much-deserved revenue. Their employers might offer volunteer grants, where the company will send a check to you once their employee spends a certain number of hours working with your organization. For volunteers who double as donors, their employers might also offer matching gifts, where the company will match any donations that employees give to your organization.
What engages volunteers varies from organization to organization, and these best practices will help make your program unique to your cause. By continuously improving your program (especially with input from supporters), you'll be able to offer an unforgettable experience.
How dedicated software can support your volunteer engagement efforts
Engaging your volunteers is a multifaceted process, and you can't afford to overlook anything if you want your supporters to stick around. That's why so many organizations invest in volunteer management software to automate and streamline key activities.
With Mobilize, you can centralize your volunteer engagement, recruitment, and ongoing management, rather than relying on separate platforms to get the job done.
Optimize every part of the process and make sure your volunteers are enjoying every moment with your organization with powerful tools for:
- Recruitment. Connect with passionate volunteers who will do what it takes to help your organization succeed. Tap into a network of more than 4 million volunteers who are ready to serve. Plus, empower your volunteers to recruit others for your mission by inviting their friends and hosting events on your behalf.
- Registration. Offer an easy registration process. Post event opportunities within minutes with options for single-shift or recurring-shift events as well as virtual and in-person events.
- Communication. Automate your outreach via email and text to remind people of their shifts. Then, encourage them to share their feedback afterwards with post-event surveys. That way, you can optimize their experience and keep them coming back.
- Data management. Stay on top of volunteer engagement with powerful reporting features. Gain access to comprehensive dashboards that summarize key data points from initial sign-up to long-term engagement. That way, you can determine where your volunteer engagement strategy is succeeding and continuously improve it moving forward.
Mobilize boasts an incredible 30% decrease in no-shows thanks to these powerful features. Encourage your volunteers to follow through on their commitments and keep showing up to future events by choosing a user-friendly system that centralizes the tools your volunteer team needs.
If you want to find out how Mobilize can drive long-term value for your volunteer program, check out our complete suite of features, or line up a time to meet with one of our team members and chat about what Mobilize can do for you.
Having a robust volunteer engagement strategy allows you to focus on matching your organization’s needs to the skills that volunteers have signed up to share. Your organization’s wildest dreams can come true when you create synergy between your staff members and volunteers!
Building a volunteer engagement strategy can help you reach more people since you'll be able to successfully maintain more hands on deck, but more hands on deck means a bigger need for effective management tools. like Mobilize.
As you refine your engagement strategies and build out your toolkit, keep learning and become a volunteer management expert with these additional Mobilize resources:
- Volunteer management | The complete guide for nonprofits: Learn the basics of volunteer management and top strategies for engaging supporters with this crash course.
- 30+ top online fundraising ideas for 2022 and beyond: We’ve seen creativity abound on our platform as our partners test new strategies for engaging supporters virtually. Check out some of our favorite online fundraising ideas to keep volunteers connected to the cause.
- How to recruit volunteers: Complete guide for organizations: Volunteer engagement starts the moment someone comes into contact with your cause. Try these strategies to enhance your recruitment process and start relationships off on the right foot.