Here, we’ll talk through 5 strategies that can revolutionize your approach to volunteer management, each of which can help you increase volunteer engagement and retention.

Try one of the following tips on its own or put all of them together for a truly comprehensive strategy:

1. Have a tangible goal in mind

Why does it matter?

Volunteer management, volunteer engagement, and volunteer satisfaction—what does any of it really mean?

Defining these and a myriad of other similar terms is easier said than done, since every organization will inevitably have a different perspective on what a successful volunteer program looks like.

That said, the first step of any volunteer management plan should be to establish what success means to you and your organization.

It’s impossible to accomplish a goal that hasn’t been set, so be specific from the get-go with what you want your volunteer management to lead to.

How do you do it?

Depending on what you’re looking for, you’ll need to establish how you’ll measure your goals so that you can track them accurately. For example, you might select one of the following:

  • Increased retention. How much of an increase do you want to see in your retention rates, and over what time period? Do you want first-time volunteers to come back or to hold on to more long-term donors?
  • Increased acquisition. Is your recruitment general or focused on specific skills and interests? How can you diversify this year’s recruits from last year’s?
  • Greater volunteer satisfaction. Will you quantify satisfaction by sending an anonymous survey, asking specific volunteers for feedback on certain opportunities, or another way?
  • More organizational involvement. Do you want to convert donors into volunteers or vice versa? How will you measure a volunteer’s participation in other aspects of your organization?

Your goals will be completely unique to your volunteer program, but no matter what you hope to accomplish, make sure it’s measurable and realistic.

Set a time frame (a quarter, a year, five years, etc) and checkpoints along the way to ensure you’re on the right track and don’t burn out midway through.

Additionally, establish which members of your volunteer management team will be responsible for completing different aspects of your goal. What does each individual need to accomplish on their own in order to reach this goal as an organization?

This strategy at a glance: In order to succeed at volunteer management, you should set a goal that’s quantifiable. Determine what effective volunteer management looks like to you; then set out to achieve it!


2. Incorporate technology

Why does it matter?

In this day and age, there’s an app for everything. Technology helps us get work done more quickly, more accurately, and more easily.

There are a number of tools and resources available to help nonprofits with virtually anything. Thankfully, volunteer management is no exception!

Volunteer management software can work in conjunction with your nonprofit CRM to help you store volunteer data and complete a number of important tasks.

The right software can empower you to amplify your understanding of volunteer management. You’ll have access to tools that streamline the volunteer management process at every stage and make it easier for you to implement strategies that can engage and inspire your volunteers.

When all volunteer data is easily accessible, your tasks are automated or streamlined, and your next steps are organized in front of you, you’ll be able to step back and focus on what really matters: connecting with your volunteers!

How do you do it?

Let’s look at a few key features you can take advantage of with your volunteer management software:

  • Time-tracking capabilities. Staying on top of volunteer hours can be a major hassle without the help of a volunteer management tool. With software, you’ll be able to more accurately capture and track volunteer activity (and view it in one centralized location).
  • Detailed volunteer profiles. To help your volunteers succeed in their roles, it’s important you understand their personalities and needs. Your software can enable you to keep records of all volunteer data, including communication preferences, contact information, volunteer history, and relevant skills or interests.
  • Volunteer communications. Automate and send individual or batch emails directly through your software. You can segment your volunteer list so that only certain groups receive emails (such as long-term volunteers, lapsed volunteers, or recent sign-ups).

Plus, volunteer management software can open you up to expanding your digital volunteer management strategy in other ways.

Not only can you easily send emails, but depending on your provider, you may also be able to set up an online volunteer portal, send text message communications, or connect more effectively with volunteers on social media.

This strategy at a glance: The right technology can strongly impact your nonprofit’s ability to engage with volunteers. Choose volunteer management software that can streamline your daily tasks and make it easier for volunteers to connect with your organization.

3. Encourage “non-volunteers” to become volunteers

Why does it matter?

When we interact with a number of different kinds of supporters every day, it’s easy to get caught up in the habit of compartmentalizing constituents into one category or another.

Instead of segmenting our supporters into types (i.e., “donors” vs. “members” vs. “volunteers” and so on), you can get more from your volunteer program by taking a holistic approach.

By ignoring donors or members as potential volunteers, you could be inadvertently shutting out a heavily impactful group.

On the other hand, by seeing all your organization’s supporters as potential volunteers, you’ll be able to develop deeper relationships with passionate individuals who really consider themselves a part of your nonprofit as a whole.

How do you do it?

Encourage donors and members (as well as any other unmentioned type of supporter you may have!) to participate in volunteer activities.

Since they already have a relationship with your organization, consider asking them to volunteer personally via email or on the phone. Don’t forget to share how volunteering impacts your cause.

Another way to encourage crossover between groups of constituents? Make sure you’re hooked up with software that allows you to store all supporter data in one place.

We’ve already discussed the importance of volunteer management software, but it’s equally (if not more) important to be able to view your volunteer data in conjunction with all other types of supporter information.

When you integrate your volunteer management software with your nonprofit CRM (or membership management software, depending on your type of organization), you’ll be able to get a full picture of your constituents at every angle—as donors, as volunteers, etc—all in one place.

Pro tip: If you don’t have a nonprofit CRM, they’re not hard to get started with. Check out this helpful resource from @Pay to learn how to find a budget-friendly CRM with all the tools you need to juggle volunteer and donor data.

This strategy at a glance: By purposefully including all your organization’s supporters as a piece of your volunteer management strategy, you’ll be able to develop a more robust volunteer program that encourages involvement with your nonprofit at multiple levels.

4. Focus your recruitment process

Why does it matter?

Volunteer recruitment is one of the most important aspects of volunteer management.

Without a recruitment strategy in place, you might be left with fewer volunteers than you need or volunteers who aren’t a good fit for your opportunities.

Additionally, if your recruitment strategy doesn’t accurately reflect your specific needs as a nonprofit, it will be difficult to find volunteers who can successfully serve your organization.

A focused recruitment plan, however, can help you kickstart engagement from the very beginning of the volunteer experience. You’ll have a better understanding of the volunteers you recruit and will be more prepared to immediately connect with them as valued parts of your organization.

How do you do it?

Start with your volunteer registration form. You can tailor your application to include as many fields as you’d like, so don’t be afraid to ask questions!

While you definitely don’t want to force your prospective volunteers to fill out a multi-page volunteer application just for the sake of having complete data, you should give them the option to tell you anything you might need to know to create the most comprehensive volunteer profile.

For example, you can ask them to list their skills, interests, and professional history in addition to providing basic details such as contact information and biographical data.

While you might not need to know all this information right now, as more opportunities become available, you may be able to use this data to your advantage.

Make sure your application syncs up to your volunteer database or nonprofit CRM so that all the data you collect flows into your supporter profiles. That way, you’ll ensure accuracy and save a lot of time on manual data entry.

This strategy at a glance: Instead of taking a catchall approach to volunteer recruitment, tailor the process to fit your organization. When you collect the data you need during the application process, you’ll be in a good position to align volunteers with relevant opportunities in the future.

5. Prioritize regular volunteer recognition

Why does it matter?

While thanking your volunteers every time they serve is a great practice to take on, in order to truly engage and retain your volunteers, you should show your gratitude as often and in as many ways as possible.

Like everyone else, volunteers want to know that they’re valued. If they’re unsure that their hard work has made an impact, they’re less likely to continue volunteering and are almost certainly not going to look for other ways to deepen their relationship with your nonprofit.

Conversely, if a volunteer knows that their contributions are not only noticed, but seriously appreciated, they’ll feel good about continuing or furthering their involvement.

How do you do it?

Go beyond the thank-you note. Make your volunteer recognition a top priority by developing a series of practices to show your thanks.

Let’s look at some specific examples of how you can create more engaging acknowledgements than the thank-you note alone:

  • Go online. Social media makes it easy to connect with your volunteers. Consider posting regular volunteer shout-outs on your organization’s Facebook or Twitter page. Or, dedicate a full page on your nonprofit website to highlighting your volunteers as a whole.
  • Share their impact. What have your volunteers done for your organization or community? Broadcast it! Share how specific volunteer involvement has impacted the world around them, in small or large ways.
  • Host an appreciation event. The internet is a great place to thank your volunteers, but let’s face it—nothing beats interacting one-on-one, in person. Promote volunteer community while showing your gratitude at an exciting appreciation event for your loyal volunteers.

It’s a good idea to take a multifaceted approach to volunteer acknowledgement, since some channels will reach some volunteers better than others.

And, when in doubt, don’t be afraid to be personal. Simply calling a volunteer on the phone or saying “thank you” at the next community service event can go a long way to reiterate your appreciation.

This strategy at a glance: Show your volunteers how much you value their support by thanking them as much as you can. Plan out a strategy for how you’ll approach acknowledgement in a way that reaches your volunteers.

Effective volunteer management is no small task, but that’s not to say that it’s impossible!

By implementing these strategies into your volunteer management plan, you’ll be a few steps closer to engaged, excited volunteers.


This article was written by Amy DeVita originally posted on TopNonprofits and appears here with permission.

Ready to make a difference? Registration for Good Deeds Day is now open! Let us know what you’ll be doing to make the world a better place on April 15, 2018.


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