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Volunteer engagement: 9 steps for building your strategy

Ready to create lasting relationships with your volunteers? Check out our tips for building your robust volunteer engagement strategy.

Now that you’ve recruited your volunteers, how will you keep them coming back?

A robust volunteer engagement strategy is a sure-fire way to increase volunteer retention. It helps keep volunteers actively engaged with your mission, creates synergy, and expands the reach of your organization. Mobilizing with your organization will become more effective.

The sooner growing organizations develop concrete strategies for recruiting, managing, and engaging volunteers, the better. Even after nonprofits and grassroots organizations recruit volunteers, there are still steps that can be taken to create a successful volunteer engagement strategy.

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Volunteer Engagement: The Basics

Volunteer engagement is the vehicle that will drive your organization towards success. It is a simple strategy that will keep your volunteers active and interested while building strong relationships. A volunteer engagement strategy begins with the initial recruitment process and continues with planned engagement that empowers volunteers and encourages long-term retention.

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.

A concrete volunteer engagement strategy has plans in place from as early as your initial contact with volunteers and continues to thrive with consistent communication, recognition, and intentionally placing your volunteers in key opportunities.

Powerful organizing tools like Mobilize help growing organizations as they execute their volunteer engagement strategies for long-term success.

How to Develop a Volunteer Engagement Strategy

Step 1: Understand your volunteers and goals.

What motivates your volunteers? Chances are they feel closely aligned with your organization’s missions and goals, but there is more to it! When recruiting volunteers, it is important to explore their intent, interests, and skills. You know that they believe in your company goal, but do you know what part they would like to play in accomplishing it?

Some volunteers want to learn new skills while others want to hone existing ones. Failing to understand the unique contributions of your volunteers or not placing volunteers in roles that they are interested in can do serious damage to your volunteer retention. This is an integral part of your volunteer engagement strategy.

If Zuleyka signs up to volunteer and notes her interest in participating in canvassing, but you continuously offer her opportunities in phone banking, then there is a good chance that she won’t return to volunteer.  Understand your volunteers and your shared goals!

Step 2: Determine how you’ll measure success.

What does a successful volunteer program look like for your organization? Measuring success may look different for different organizations—but it is 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 success mean having volunteers complete a certain amount of volunteer shifts per month? Do both of these things require the same sort of volunteer engagement plan?

Figuring out how you will define and measure success will help you, especially as you go through the initial stages of recruiting volunteers and making sure that they are a perfect fit!

Step 3: Walk through the volunteer engagement lifecycle and identify weak spots.

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 effect 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 least include the following elements:

  • Recruitment
  • Screening
  • Placement
  • Orientation and Training
  • Recognition

Step 4: Focus on your volunteer onboarding process.

Remember that your volunteers have committed themselves to your mission and goals! It is important to show that you are just as committed by creating a volunteer onboarding process as part of your volunteer engagement strategy.

A successful volunteer onboarding process should:

  • Tell your organization’s story and mission
  • Teach volunteers about different volunteer opportunities
  • Establish goals for volunteers
  • 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 each role will require a detailed onboarding process, but each role can involve some level of introduction and education (if even for 10-15 minutes).

Step 5: Make sure you’ve got the right tools to support 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 numbers 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.

Check out our top 10 recommended tools!

Step 6: Clearly define what long-term engagement looks like for your organization.

Long-term engagement with your volunteers will create long-lasting relationships, transform volunteers into donors, and create a community that encourages more people to become involved with your mission. What does long long-term engagement look like for your organization?

Maybe it’s watching your volunteers evolve from one-time volunteers to committed volunteers to trusted volunteer event hosts, donors, etc. Many organizers use our distributed organizing feature to complement their volunteer engagement strategies and propel their long-term engagement.

Step 7: Explore additional offerings and strategies to keep volunteers engaged.

You will most likely have a working copy of your volunteer engagement strategy. As your needs for volunteers change, their motivations and skills might change, too! Be sure to explore additional offerings and strategies to keep volunteers engaged with your mission.

Remember that volunteers are more likely to volunteer again if they volunteer with friends and are able to mobilize with a community 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.

Feeling stuck? Keep up with our volunteer blog for content that will help you engage with your volunteers!

Step 8: Reinforce the process with communication.

Creating a successful volunteer engagement strategy requires giving your volunteers the space to connect with you, your organization, and each other. Keeping an open line of communication with your volunteers is integral! Send text reminders about volunteer shifts, send email reminders about your events, and embrace communication channels that create community.

Automated reminders and prompts decrease the chance of your volunteers becoming no-shows and increases the amount of shifts per volunteer. Mobilize’s  communication features keep volunteers engaged and coming back.

We offer a robust set of communication tools for organizers and volunteers involved with nonprofits, unions, advocacy organizations, and more.

Step 9: Regularly check in on your progress via surveys and data.

Data! Data! Data! 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 having critical volunteer data available to you!

Our partners use Mobilize to collect volunteer data that syncs across their full tech stack and to send automated surveys after their events. Approximately 32% of attendees respond with in-depth qualitative feedback that partners can use to improve their current volunteer engagement strategies.

Volunteer Engagement Tips for Long-Term Success

  1. Make the volunteer-to-volunteer recruitment process easier. Mobilize has a number of features, including volunteer-hosted events, that allow your most dedicated supporters to recruit their friends and to engage with them personally.
  2. Create a formal recognition program for your volunteers. The more you show your appreciation, the more you will encourage your volunteers to come back!
  3. Offer regular check-in times (or “office hours”) to receive feedback from volunteers and to help support them throughout their volunteer experience.
  4. Get to know your volunteers. Whether it’s through email or face-to-face, make sure you speak to your volunteers about their interests. It could be as simple as a conversation asking about their experience and hobbies—or allowing them to rank available volunteer opportunities in order of their interest.
  5. Provide your volunteers with opportunities to grow. When volunteers are provided with opportunities for growth, they are more likely to remain engaged. Implement a mentoring program that mixes staff and volunteers. You can even create a network of volunteers so that old volunteers can mentor new ones!

Getting Started

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 are successfully maintaining more hands on deck, but more hands on deck means a bigger need for management tools. Test drive one of our free starter accounts today!

Oh, and don’t forget to become a volunteer management expert with these additional Mobilize resources:

See what Mobilize can do for you.

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