Four Ways to Supercharge Your Volunteer Program

Does this sound familiar? A database filled with names of people who were, at some point, eager participants in your cause. They ran in the races, they collected the auction items, they sealed and stamped the envelopes.

Now they languish there, happy to receive the occasional update on your initiatives, but never actually engaging with you again in a more meaningful way. What should you do?

You’ve tried different ways of reaching out, of encouraging them to participate further, but it isn’t working. So instead you continue to recruit new volunteers, adding them to the ever-expanding list of once eager active participants now turned disengaged casual observers. It’s a never-ending cycle that leaves you treading water – surviving, but never getting ahead. You need some new ideas, and here are four good ones to try.

Secure funding for your volunteer program

In my experience, the volunteer department of any organization is often the bottom rung of the ladder – getting whatever is left over once the budget has been sorted. And that really needs to change. But for now, it’s important for you to educate your leadership that volunteers aren’t actually free. Everything costs something, and in this case, investing in a dedicated staff person with dedicated dollars for recruitment and retention will exponentially increase your ROI.

Communicate with volunteers

Create an ambassador program, and not just for external engagements. Bring your volunteers in and get them talking to each other and to you. What’s working and what isn’t? What do they appreciate about the organization, why are they there, and are they willing to share that with others? What kind of work would they like to do for your organization? There’s a wealth of opportunity here: turn some of those casual observers into leaders, empower all volunteers to share your message with passion, and as an organization, be known for responsiveness and collaboration.

Branding is for nonprofits too

Develop your brand voice. Look at your vision statement, or mission statement, or guiding values. What is it you want volunteers to feel when they become a part of the team? What do you want the public to feel when they see your volunteer walking by? Can you think of some stories and key words and images that define the impact your volunteers have? Role all of these ideas into a brand voice and even have some fun with it – a team name, a colour palette and visuals, a mascot even. Then build this into your website, marketing materials, promotional items, and at events.

Get set up on social media

Good ROI on social media takes time and thoughtful planning. If features like Facebook ads and Instagram stories, or words like analytics and funnels send you into a sweat, don’t worry, you’re not alone. You can start small to keep it manageable and figure out what works and what doesn’t. You can even add a new role to your roster and get a social savvy volunteer to help out (don’t forget that job description)! You might not know it, but you’re halfway there with content – think event promotion, client impact stories, and new program initiatives. Then throw in some education or advocacy pieces, a few inspirational quotes and stats, some appropriate hashtags, and voila! Enter this all into a simple editorial calendar to plan your posts month to month. And don’t forget high quality images for visual impact.

I'm inspired! What do I do next?

There are a number of tools that are low-cost or even free for nonprofits to help with branding and social media. Additionally, you can ask to sit in on annual budget discussions, and look up some resources on facilitation and collaboration. However, the best place to start might be with the volunteers you already have, so put together some round-table discussions (provide in person and online options) and gather feedback.

I want to know, have you tried any of these methods already? How did it go? Share your ideas and successes in the comments!

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