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Become Inspired – Increasing Volunteer Engagement in your Non-Profit

08 Sep 2017

Call me naïve, but I like to believe that people are innately compassionate, and as such, they want to promote good in the world. However, some nonprofit organizations may disagree, because it has proven difficult to recruit and maintain volunteers. So what do nonprofits have to do to increase volunteer engagement?

Here is some volunteer wisdom …“If you want to acquire volunteers, you must become the volunteer.”

Take yourself back to the time when you first joined your current nonprofit, assume instead of taking a paid position you volunteered and answer these questions:

“Why did I choose to volunteer?”

“How did I first hear of the opportunity to volunteer?

“What made me choose this organization?”

Although the times and technology may change, human nature is relatively static. If you can understand what motivates a person to make a difference, then you can focus on those elements to drive engagement.

Align the volunteer’s values with the organization’s mission:

Many people feel the burning desire to be a part of something greater than themselves, but have no idea where, or how to direct that energy.

Social media is your greatest asset in your effort to communicate your message to the public. For people to experience your message, and your brand, it is imperative to post content that pulls on the values of your audience. Although human nature may be static, humans themselves are idiosyncratic; two people may be attracted to the same non-profit for separate reasons. It is crucial to realize that no one factor motivates a person to give or get involved. A nonprofit must take stock in the values and motivations of their volunteers whether it be: business, community, charity, or just a spur of the moment kindness.

If new volunteers are not coming to you, you can go to them. On Instagram alone, there are currently 4.8 million hashtags for “#charity,” 2.5 million hashtags for “#volunteer” and 762 thousand hashtags for “#volunteering.” There is clearly a wealth of people that are willing to volunteer, so perhaps you have been casting your lines with the right bait, but at the wrong location, or worse, the wrong timing.

Make Volunteering Convenient:

In the fast paced world of the 21st century, there appears to perpetually be a deficit of time. Many people want to give, but have no flexibility in their schedules to do so. We are in the era of the 9–5 job, and if you’re really lucky, an 8–6 plus commute time. If you cannot get volunteers to come to you, go to them! It is not unheard of for a nonprofit organization to partner with another nonprofit, or even better, a for-profit business. I once attended a charity event for the organization “Stop Hunger Now” where we made 300,000 meals in the course of two hours in the company cafeteria.

To provide convenience for people that also work full time, it is imperative to think of creative solutions, or even simply plan an event on the weekend. Some companies even offer “HERO” programs where they offer their employees 8 hours of paid time off to volunteer for a non-profit entity.

Managing Your Volunteers:

When someone shows interest in volunteering for your nonprofit it would be prudent to treat it almost like you’re interviewing a new employee.

Outline Clear Expectations for Volunteers:

If you were given a new position with no instructions, how well would you perform? Once you acquire a candidate, it is important to assess their understanding as to what is expected from them. This will aid you greatly in the future, because it will allow you to conclude how reliable the candidate is, and if that candidate is someone who can properly represent the “brand” of excellence the nonprofit stands for. Make them understand that you are appreciative of their interest in the organization, but there are deadlines that must be met, and commitments that must be made. If they are unable to meet the expectation set forth by the organization, or a particular event; encourage them by finding an alternative way for them to contribute to the cause.

Provide External or Internal Accreditation:

To achieve maximum effectiveness and efficiency from your volunteers, train them! You can either provide your volunteers with opportunities to get accredited internally, externally, or both. Naturally, receiving accreditation outside your organization will be more expensive, but it may motivate your volunteer to continue contributing because of the honor of the award, so there is a cost benefit analysis that you will have to assess. Internal accreditation is the less expensive option and it guarantees that you have a team that’s prepared and centralized around the core mission of the organization.

Utilize Volunteer Management Software:

Once you successfully handpick and train your volunteers, you have to organize and mobilize them. If you fail to keep your volunteers informed, it will only hinder their desire to get involved. Volunteer management software is a win-win for nonprofits because it allows them to communicate with their volunteers with relative ease, and it allows for their volunteers to communicate with the community. The existence of a tightly knit community where seamless communication is available, creates a sense of accountability amongst the volunteers. Perhaps, “Tim” would be more likely to attend an event at 5 am on a Saturday if he saw that his friends “Jasmine and Garret” are going to the event too. When people are left to their own devices, it is easy for them to grow bored, or get lazy; however, by providing them with a community, they will be much more inclined to participate because it will also be an opportunity to socialize with their friends.

Keeping Your Volunteers:

After you have spent so much effort crafting your perfect volunteer, naturally you want to keep them. At the end of the day, all people crave some sort of validation, so give it to them.

Good Work Earns Appreciation:

If you provide gestures of appreciation, it will feed your volunteer’s sense of purpose, and reinforce the mission in their hearts. The reasoning is simple enough, people like feeling appreciated, and when they do not feel valued, they will move on to the next thing. If you have a volunteer that has been with the organization for five years, interview them. Give them some time in the spot light, and highlight what they have achieved in the last half decade of their life; perhaps even make a donation in their honor.

Facilitate Competition:

Feasibly, a little friendly competition will inspire your volunteers to work harder. If you invest $100 in a gift card, it could reap ten times the benefit by motivating Michael to knock on just one more door than Sam. It can be smart to add an element of “play” to what can be viewed as “work” during stressful times.

Give them a Voice:

For some, awards may seem superficial; the prize that some people claim more than prestige is a voice. It is not strange to consider that someone who actively gives their time for free to an organization may be passionate about the cause, and as such, have ideas to improve upon it.

Identify and Feed Potential:

A person that demonstrates the qualities of a leader is rare, and as such should be treated as such. If you acknowledge a person that has truly risen far beyond what any ordinary volunteer would do, perhaps, they could provide even more value to your organization with some guidance. Conceivably, if you were to provide continued training for your volunteers, they could grow to become even more effective contributors to the organization, such as a member of your board.