In the virtual age, it’s not just Millennials and Gen Z who are using technology to stay connected. Virtual interactions are a fact of life for all demographics. So much of daily life, from work to socializing to shopping, now takes place online, and that includes many aspects of nonprofit management.
As a volunteer coordinator, that means you must adjust your volunteer engagement strategy to continue connecting with supporters in a digital-first environment. This has become especially important both during the height and in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic since you more than likely reduced your in-person activities to keep volunteers and staff members safe.
A strong virtual engagement strategy keeps volunteers interested and involved in your programs, even when you’re physically apart. Plus, it indicates that you genuinely care about their well-being which will strengthen their appreciation for your organization. Use these four powerful, outside-the-box tips to engage volunteers virtually:
- Use the right virtual engagement tools.
- Get creative with your volunteer opportunities.
- Engage volunteers more effectively across communication channels.
- Ask volunteers for their feedback.
Keep in mind that your volunteer engagement strategy is one of your most important building blocks when it comes to retention. When volunteers have a positive experience working with your organization and connecting with you using virtual platforms, they’ll be much more likely to stick around for the long term. Let’s take a closer look at each engagement strategy.
1. Use the right virtual engagement tools.
To connect with volunteers in the virtual age, you’ll need the right software. Volunteer management and communication platforms allow you to track volunteer information, plan virtual volunteer opportunities, and stay connected with volunteers even when you can’t meet in person.
Ensure you have access to the following tools for proper virtual engagement:
- Volunteer management software: The volunteer management process involves many moving parts, from volunteer recruitment to ongoing empowerment and engagement. Volunteer and constituent management software (also known as a CRM) systems allow you to keep volunteer information organized, schedule virtual volunteer opportunities, and communicate with volunteers, all within one platform.
- Marketing software: Marketing software, such as email and social media marketing platforms, enable you to promote your virtual volunteer opportunities across multiple communication channels. Create and schedule email and social media campaigns to keep your organization on your volunteers’ radars. Robust volunteer management solutions offer communication tools that are built into the platform, or you can integrate your third-party marketing tools with your volunteer management software.
- Live streaming tools: If you’re hosting any virtual volunteer meetings or live streamed events, live streaming software offers an easy way to broadcast your activities to a wider audience. Platforms like Zoom, Facebook, and Instagram Live allow you to meet with volunteers virtually, maintaining an atmosphere of teamwork and camaraderie during your virtual events.
These software solutions allow you to improve your virtual volunteer management strategy by staying organized. Instead of attempting to organize volunteer information with a variety of spreadsheets or email threads, these tools bring your management processes under one roof.
Volunteers will notice your efforts to provide a valuable virtual experience and capture their attention, leading to increased satisfaction with your cause.
2. Get creative with your volunteer opportunities.
It might be true that virtual volunteer opportunities aren’t the same as in-person ones. But that doesn’t mean they have to be any less engaging or valuable for participants!
By thinking outside the box and getting creative when planning virtual opportunities, you can still give volunteers an interesting, exciting experience. Volunteers will be much more likely to sign up for your remote opportunities when they see that they will be able to participate in a hands-on activity that directly relates to your mission.
There are plenty of ideas for more interactive and fun virtual volunteer activities. Let’s take a look at a few strategies that nonprofits find particularly successful.
Double the Donation’s peer-to-peer fundraising guide explains that this form of fundraising involves volunteers reaching out to their families and friends to raise money for a worthwhile cause. By empowering volunteers to become P2P fundraisers, you can involve them in an activity that directly benefits your organization. This helps volunteers feel more connected to your mission and responsible for reaching your goals.
You might align your P2P fundraising efforts with a social media campaign, virtual 5K race, or walk-a-thon to make it even more engaging.
Educational Activities and Training Opportunities
The concept of service-learning is often promoted as an effective way to employ volunteers in community projects while also providing them with valuable training and educational opportunities.
For instance, you might incorporate training opportunities such as how to write compelling lobbying messages, how to provide guidance and support for community members in crises, or how to log information into a complex spreadsheet or database. Volunteers can take these valuable skills with them to use in other situations.
If your organization is involved in any advocacy or lobbying efforts, your virtual volunteers can provide practical support. Train volunteers on how to effectively reach out to representatives with phone calls, emails, and letters. Provide frequent updates on the success of your advocacy efforts to keep volunteers updated and engaged in your work.
If you’ve ever planned an in-person or virtual event, you know an event planning checklist can get pretty lengthy. Your volunteers can help with every step of the process, from promoting your event to their family and friends, encouraging them to donate, and even helping during the event itself. For instance, deploy volunteers to help run your event’s livestream or share their stories during the event to encourage donations.
Even if you’re hosting the majority of your events in the virtual space, your volunteers still want to be able to work with your mission in a firsthand capacity. These creative virtual volunteer ideas can help actively maintain volunteers’ interest and allow them to contribute their time and talents in ways that benefit your nonprofit.
3. Engage volunteers more effectively across communication channels.
One of the most important aspects of sustaining volunteer engagement in the virtual era is maintaining a consistent communication strategy. A strong approach to virtual communication allows you to more effectively recruit new volunteers and retain existing ones.
Mobilize’s guide to volunteer recruitment emphasizes the importance of using efficient digital marketing techniques for spreading awareness and boosting engagement with your volunteer opportunities. Take your virtual communication strategy up a notch by:
- Posting new opportunities to recruitment platforms. You want as many volunteers as possible to feel connected to your mission. Expand your audience by posting volunteer opportunities to platforms that help connect you with new prospects who are ready to serve.
- Using the unique features of each social media platform. Use the tools and features of your organization’s social media platforms to your advantage. For instance, create a volunteer Facebook group and Facebook event pages for your volunteer opportunities. You can also endorse your volunteers on LinkedIn and tag them in appreciation posts to encourage sharing.
- Tailoring your email outreach. Segment your email list to send relevant messages to different groups of volunteers. For example, create segments of new, long-time, and lapsed volunteers. When you send relevant messages to each group, volunteers will be much more likely to actually interact with the content.
- Keeping your website updated. Use your website’s blog to post volunteer shoutouts, volunteer-of-the-month interviews, and other program information. Also, keep your website’s event calendar updated with upcoming volunteer opportunities.
- Sending text messages. Chances are that most of your volunteers carry their phones with them everywhere they go. You can make sure they get your most urgent messages quickly via text message. Plus, your texting tools can also be used for multiple purposes, including fundraising.
In the virtual era, it’s more important than ever that you stay on top of your volunteer communication strategy. A comprehensive communication plan allows you to continue recruiting new volunteers, even when your in-person recruitment efforts are more limited.
4. Ask volunteers for their feedback.
Asking your volunteers for their feedback on your program is one of the best ways to show that you value their contributions. When you show volunteers that their opinions matter, they’ll feel like integral partners in achieving your mission. This can lead to greater satisfaction and inspire them to stick around.
Plus, you can maintain volunteers’ attention using volunteer surveys, allowing them to participate in your program planning even if you’ve had to reduce your in-person volunteer opportunities.
In your feedback surveys, ask volunteers questions regarding their experiences, such as:
- How likely are you to participate in a virtual fundraising campaign, such as a peer-to-peer fundraiser?
- What is your preferred communication method?
- On a scale of 1-10, how enjoyable are our virtual volunteer opportunities?
- Do you have any suggestions for improving our virtual volunteer experience?
- How likely are you to recommend our virtual volunteer opportunities to a friend or family member?
- Do you have any other feedback you’d like to share about our volunteer program?
The answers to these questions will allow your organization to improve its volunteer program to align with volunteers’ preferences and expectations. For example, if your volunteers express a desire for more email communication or weeknight volunteer opportunities, adjust your approach to accommodate these preferences.
In the digital-first era, volunteer coordinators must keep thinking of new and exciting ways to maintain volunteers’ interest and support. This allows you to continue growing your volunteer program and adapt to meet volunteers’ needs and interests.
By using the right communication tools and strategies, planning engaging virtual volunteer opportunities, and involving volunteers in the planning process by requesting their input, you can maintain volunteers’ loyalty and support. Good luck!