A tale of two volunteer programs
Have you ever showed up early in the morning to volunteer on a cold Saturday morning having skipped coffee or breakfast, only to be asked to wait awkwardly with other strangers making small talk? After a while, your stomach rumbling and your head starting to hurt from caffeine withdrawal, you’re led into a room and told to “prepare goodie bags” and handed some bags and flyers, without any clear process or instruction. Everyone just grabs a bag and starts to stuff things in it, wondering if this is the right way to do it. A few hours later someone comes in to dismiss you and you hightail it to Starbucks to feed your coffee habit and growling stomach.
Imagine if instead you were warmly greeted with a nametag, a free t-shirt so you can be easily identified as a volunteer, hot coffee, and a breakfast spread. As you are noshing and the other volunteers trickle in, you’re invited to take a live quiz on Slido asking you several questions about yourself, what inspired you to volunteer, and what skills you might like to contribute to the organization. As you’re enjoying your fresh blueberry muffin and the coffee is warming you up, the Volunteer Manager, Executive Director, or Founder takes the stage and gives you and other volunteers a thoughtful shout out, thanks you for coming, shares how your help today will impact the organization, and then walks you through the schedule and tasks you’ll be doing, which are also given to you in a handy one-page flyer. Just as you’re taking the last swig of your coffee and popping the last delectable bite of muffin into your mouth, a client who was served by the organization shares their moving testimonial. You aren’t a recreational crier but it’s hard to fight back the tears as you learn that without volunteers like you, she may have never gotten the help she so desperately needed.
After a full morning of work where you got to know several staff members and other volunteers, everyone sits around enjoying a pizza together, talking and laughing. You remember how caffeine deprived and hungry you were when you first got here, but now you feel relaxed, connected, grateful, and fulfilled.
After exchanging business cards and some hugs and high fives with other volunteers and staff, you head home. That Monday you get a personal email thanking you from the Volunteer Manager that offers to be a reference for you should you ever need one and includes a $5 gift card to Starbucks (they speak your love language!). The email includes some great candid photos of you with the other volunteers and staff working. The P.S. of the email includes a link to a short survey asking you questions about your experience, your date of birth, and it also includes a sign-up link to volunteer again, which you gladly do.
There’s a few things the second example does right that you can do, too.
Here a few tips for success to create memorable journeys for your volunteer programs:
- Make a great first impression by giving volunteers nourishment and a proper welcome.
- Make volunteers feel like part of the organization, even if it’s just for a short time, by helping them understand how their task is important to the mission.
- Make their time feel meaningful and well spent by having a client share a personal testimony of how the volunteer’s work helped them. This makes them feel like they are important and needed by the organization. You can never go wrong recognizing that you can’t do it without them!
- Welcome volunteers with a small token of appreciation (bonus points for using a t-shirt that makes you easy to identify).
- Give people a personal shout out to show you are known and appreciated.
- Take the time to get to know your volunteers and what motivates them with a quick mobile survey they can use to follow up with you and deepen the relationship.
- Provide a solid plan, schedule, and clear instructions.
- Enable them to enjoy themselves after their hard work by sharing a pizza.
- Follow up with a personal thanks and show of appreciation ($5 Starbucks gift card) which makes the volunteer feel known and appreciated.
- Follow up with a professional boost – offering to be a reference for them.
- Follow up with a survey and sign up to volunteer again.
Want more fun ideas to get great volunteers to come back?
- Give them access to leadership through “insider” invitations, such as lunch with staff or leadership, pre-event news, or special events.
- Offer special privileges, incentive, or access .
- Have leadership, staff and/or clients give them praise, thanks, or awards.
- Learn about their hobbies and interests.
- Thank their family.
- If you are offering staff professional development or other training opportunities, consider opening it up to volunteers.
- Communicate the impact of their work through personal stories.
- Brag on them to their boss, spouse, or other peers.
- Deliver unexpected indulgences, such as a gift card to a restaurant, car wash or free chair massages after a volunteer shift.
- Send them a card on their birthday.
- Create a hall of fame wall with volunteer photos.
- Give them a special parking place.
- Have a volunteer of the year (or month) award.
What tried-and-true strategies do you include in your volunteer programs? Share insights in the comments!