Volunteer management is the set of processes that organizations use to recruit, engage, empower, and mobilize their on-the-ground and virtual supporters.
Effective volunteer management has some major benefits, including increased engagement, deepened lifelong relationships, and boosts to revenue over time. Plus, a strong volunteer management strategy will save your team’s time and grow the impact and reach of your events and campaigns.
However, many organizations tend to neglect their volunteer management strategies, often because they feel they don’t have the time or because volunteer management is not on their radar.
Remember, your supporters are your organization’s greatest asset! Investing in those relationships and empowering volunteers to drive your mission forward can repay dividends over time.
At Mobilize, our goal is to help mission-driven organizations reach and engage more supporters than ever before. By making the right connections and then reinforcing them with smart volunteer management strategies, you’ll build a strong foundation of support for your organization and its mission.
In this guide, we’ll walk through all the essentials you’ll need to orient your organization with volunteer management best practices. Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Volunteer Management FAQ
- Top 6 Volunteer Management Strategies
- Volunteer Management Software 101
- Learning More about Volunteer Management
Equipped with these tips and resources, your organization will recruit and retain more supporters than ever.
Volunteer Management FAQ
If your organization is new to developing concrete volunteer management strategies, you might be unsure of where to start. These frequently asked questions can give you a quick overview of the essentials:
Which types of organizations use volunteer management strategies?
Any mission-driven organization that relies on supporters for events or campaigns, both virtual and on-the-ground, can benefit from implementing volunteer management strategies. These include nonprofit organizations, advocacy groups, political campaigns, labor unions, and more.
What are the elements of effective volunteer management?
Volunteer management can encompass a number of different strategies and techniques depending on your organization’s exact projects and goals.
However, there are a few critical components of any volunteer program: recruitment, engagement, retention, and empowerment. These essential elements cover the entire engagement lifecycle, from attracting supporters and getting them involved, to retaining their support and growing their involvement over time.
Is volunteer management effective for virtual or online-only campaigns?
Yes! In many ways, effective volunteer management is even more important for virtual campaigns and events to ensure the whole team is on the same page.
Plus, virtual organizing has become the new necessity for nonprofits, advocacy groups, political campaigns, and unions alike amid the COVID-19 pandemic. With effective volunteer management software, you can train new supporters, mobilize them to take action for your cause, and tap into social media to grow your reach, all from a safe, virtual distance.
Why is effective volunteer management important?
Volunteer management is important for organizations because it helps you actively build stronger long-term relationships with supporters.
Effective volunteer management strategies and tools should improve the supporter experience, which ensures they’ll stick around long after their first sign-up. When actively managed and engaged, supporters are also more likely to become donors and help you recruit more supporters. These benefits generate more short- and long-term value for your organization.
What does an organization risk by not engaging and managing volunteers?
Simply put, supporters won’t feel much of a reason to stick around. Without a concrete plan in place for attracting, engaging, and retaining volunteers, they’re not likely to have a great experience when they show up to support your work.
A poor experience combined with few real opportunities to drive your mission forward means that supporters are unlikely to stay engaged for very long. Supporter retention should be prioritized whenever possible.
Which tools can organizations use to manage volunteers?
Volunteer management software and related tools can assist organizations in every aspect of the supporter lifecycle, including recruitment, engagement, retention, and empowerment.
We’ll dive deeper into the features to look for in volunteer management software below, but one best practice is to centralize multiple elements of your strategy into a single platform whenever possible. For instance, a volunteer recruitment platform that also includes volunteer management, social sharing, and data reporting features will streamline your efforts across the board.
Top 6 Volunteer Management Strategies
Clearly, volunteer management can take your organization’s approach to supporter engagement to the next level. But how do you begin developing a concrete plan for recruiting, managing, and retaining volunteers?
Let’s walk through the most effective volunteer management strategies. Each of these tips, when combined and adapted to fit your organization’s unique needs, can help form a complete, start-to-finish plan.
1. Supercharge your volunteer recruitment process.
Before you can begin effectively managing your organization’s volunteers, you have to recruit them!
Reach out to your existing pool of donors and supporters in the community, but look to additional outlets to reach even wider audiences whenever possible. For instance, the Mobilize.us platform allows organizations to tap into a rapidly growing network of nearly 2 million dedicated volunteers looking for their next cause to support. Then, you can send updates via email, social media, text, and your website to reach each and every supporter.
By listing your volunteering opportunity on an online volunteer recruitment platform, you can direct existing supporters to your listing to register while also reaching new supporters. Then, encourage registered volunteers to share your event or campaign with their own networks of friends to supercharge your reach!
2. Make registration easy and convenient.
The registration process can make or break your volunteer recruitment efforts. A streamlined, convenient process will always secure more supporters for your event or campaign than a clunky one that takes too long or simply doesn’t work.
Whether you offer registration tools via an event listing and recruitment platform or directly on your organization’s website, ensure that the steps to sign up for your in-person or virtual opportunities takes only a few minutes and clicks. This will drive more sign-ups to completion and ultimately generate more support for your cause.
Pro tip: Automating email and text messages to registrants reminding them of upcoming events can be a game-changing strategy that drives more follow-through and engagement. Use volunteer management software that includes automated communication tools—more on this below.
3. Offer engaging volunteer opportunities in-person and online.
Volunteer opportunities come in all shapes and sizes. Offering a variety of engaging options for your audience of supporters is a smart way to maximize engagement over time.
For in-person volunteering, consider these common roles that volunteers fill:
- Event support, like set-up, guest registration, discussion facilitation, merchandise sales, and more
- Skills-based volunteering or the in-kind donation of skills like accounting, legal, marketing, or event planning expertise
- Administrative support, like internal clerical work, data entry, or reception
- Long-term volunteering, like serving as a youth mentor, tutor, coach, or troop leader
- Advocacy work, like promoting your cause or campaign, securing petition signatures, or hosting discussion events
- Canvassing and phone banking, typically for an advocacy push or political campaign
- Committee service, often in relation to event planning or serving on your board
However, in-person opportunities aren’t always enough! In 2020 and beyond, offering virtual volunteer opportunities is a must.
When supporters can’t physically gather to support your cause, it is critical to ensure they have ways to get involved and drive your mission online. Plus, it opens up your opportunities to much wider virtual audiences than you’d otherwise reach! Consider virtual opportunities for supporters to get involved, like:
- Virtual discussion events, like town halls and roundtables
- Online meetups, happy hours, and celebrations
- Phone and text banking and training
- Training for other forms of online advocacy
- Live-streamed programming
Check out these creative virtual events we’ve seen organizations host, then start brainstorming unique online opportunities for your own organization!
4. Recognize and celebrate your volunteers to drive retention.
Retention is a critical part of any volunteer management strategy. When you retain volunteers from one event or campaign to the next, you strengthen your relationships with those supporters, leading to long-term support in the form of volunteering, donations, and more.
To start boosting retention, acknowledge your supporters for the critical roles they play in your organization’s success. During and after each event, acknowledge and thank your volunteers for their support, and call out key individuals by name when appropriate. You might even host a special party or virtual celebration just to express your gratitude to volunteers.
Pro tip: Using dedicated volunteer management software makes it easy to track individuals’ engagement history with your organization. When they hit a certain number of volunteer hours, send personal thank you messages to show that you value every volunteer’s support.
5. Provide additional ways to empower your volunteers.
As your organization begins retaining the support of volunteers across events, campaigns, and virtual opportunities, it’s important to provide additional ways for them to stay involved.
Empower your most dedicated supporters to take the next step in driving your mission forward. Consider these strategies:
- Provide training opportunities for supporters to more effectively advocate for your cause.
- Encourage volunteers to become donors and vice-versa to boost their impact.
- Use peer-to-peer recruiting tools to grow your audience and secure more registrants.
- Empower superstar volunteers to create and host events on your behalf, like watch parties or community forum events.
- Promote corporate philanthropy opportunities, like volunteer grants, that supporters can tap into to double their impact on your mission.
Offering plenty of ways for volunteers to get involved and support your mission is an effective way to grow stronger relationships and sustain your organization over the long-run. Plus, simply offering more ways to engage increases the odds that every potential supporter finds the right opportunity for them!
6. Prioritize stewardship and communication with your volunteers.
Finally, to cap off your volunteer management strategy and drive long-term success, you’ll need to actively steward the support of your volunteers.
This means expressing your gratitude, providing multiple ways to get involved, empowering them to deepen their impact on your mission, and developing a long-term plan for keeping them engaged with updates and opportunities. Automated communication will be your best bet for ensuring your organization stays on the minds of past and present volunteers.
Volunteer management software can play a vital role in shaping your stewardship strategies. With access to volunteer engagement data down to the personal level, it’s easier than ever to craft a plan for keeping supporters involved. But what should you look for in a volunteer management platform?
Volunteer Management Software 101
If your nonprofit, political organization, advocacy group, or union is new to volunteer management, it can be tricky getting your bearings when it comes to software. There’s a variety of platforms on the market geared towards organizations of all shapes and sizes.
However, there are key features to look for regardless of the type of organization you represent or the scale of your events or campaigns, including:
Handling volunteer recruitment, management, and communication all through separate platforms will quickly become a logistical nightmare for your team. Whenever possible, combine key tasks into a single platform.
More comprehensive software won’t only simplify your work, but it’ll provide a more coherent, streamlined experience for supporters.
For instance, NARAL used the Mobilize platform of recruitment, management, and communication tools to centralize their organizing efforts and generate more engagement across the board:
By handling all of their recruiting, event planning, communication, and peer-to-peer tasks within a single platform, NARAL saw a 300% increase in monthly volunteer shifts and a 20% conversion rate on their shift sign-up forms.
We’ve touched on communication automation a few times and for good reason! Automating emails and text messages to your registered volunteers can significantly boost engagement with your opportunities.
This is true both before and after your events and virtual opportunities. Automated reminder messages before your opportunities have been shown to reduce no-shows by up to 30%, while post-event surveys give you invaluable insights into your volunteers’ experiences. In fact, on Mobilize, 32% of respondents share in-depth qualitative feedback.
For many types of volunteer events and opportunities, it can be difficult to field post-event feedback or comments from supporters. Marches, protests, and live-streamed events are great examples. With volunteer management software that includes communication features, it’s easier than ever to fill these blind spots in your engagement strategy!
Robust Data Features
Access to your volunteer engagement data will be crucial for continuing to improve your strategies going forward. Look for software that provides a number of data reporting features, including:
- User-friendly, comprehensive dashboards
- Complete volunteer tracking functions from initial sign-up to long-term engagement
- Real-time mobile engagement data from events
- CSV export options and easy-to-use APIs
To really maximize the value of the data generated by your volunteer management software, look for platforms that integrate with your other systems, like your donation processing software, phone banking platform, or constituent relationship management (CRM) system.
Complete access to your data allows your organization to continuously analyze your performance. Where is your volunteer management strategy succeeding? How can you better reach or engage supporters? Your data has the answers!
These are just a few of the main characteristics to look for in volunteer management software that can drive long-term value for your organization. Check out the Mobilize platform’s suite of tools and features for more examples of what to look for as you begin your research.
Learning More about Volunteer Management
A concrete volunteer management strategy backed up with effective software can take your organization’s events and campaigns to the next level. Reaching more supporters, getting them involved, and keeping them engaged with your work builds a solid foundation of support for your future projects.
Learn more as you start developing your own volunteer management strategies! Check out these additional resources:
- 3 Data-Driven Strategies to Drive Donations During COVID-19. Has your organization’s bottom line been affected by the pandemic? Study up with this guide and webinar for professional insights on the situation.
- Empower Supporters & Scale Organizing Programs: 3 Big Changes. Even little changes to the volunteer experience can drive big results! Check out how we’ve refined our platform’s UX to generate more volunteer engagement for organizations.
- How to Fill the Gaps When Volunteers Can’t Show Up in Person. Have social distancing guidelines impacted your ability to host in-person events? Virtual opportunities and programming can keep volunteers engaged in the meantime and going forward.