Creating inclusive volunteer programs that provide everyone the opportunity to volunteer requires lots of planning. Every individual comes from different walks of life, and you may wonder how you can incorporate inclusivity in your planning process. There are plenty of factors to take into consideration when building your team, from recruitment, to building long-lasting relationships to make your volunteers feel appreciated during and after any event or program.
As a volunteer coordinator, you know that volunteers are the foundation of any successful nonprofit organization. They dedicate many hours to help you achieve your mission, and in return, it’s your job to offer a seamless recruitment process for everyone to ensure a memorable volunteer experience.
To create inclusive volunteer programs, it’s crucial to determine what barriers your applicants have and how to overcome them to build a diverse team. With the right volunteer management strategies in place from start to finish, you can ensure volunteer satisfaction in your organization.
In this guide, we’ll explore the five essential tips in creating inclusive volunteer programs:
- Define and identify barriers
- Create more inclusive volunteer opportunities
- Build relationships with volunteers
- Make volunteers feel appreciated
- Implement new strategies and technology
You want to optimize your volunteers’ experience, which encourages volunteers to give their best effort, leading to an increase in volunteer engagement and greater support for your mission. Let’s dive in to learn more!
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1. Defining and Identify Barriers
While planning out how to make your volunteer programs inclusive to all groups, several factors must be considered, such as identifying any barriers. Volunteer barriers go beyond just physical barriers, there can be social barriers and attitudinal barriers, which can present obstacles to your volunteers’ desire to volunteer.
A common barrier that some volunteers may experience is a language barrier. Some volunteers may not be able to speak fluent English, which may stop them from volunteering. There may also be physical barriers where some individuals may not be able to stand for long periods of time or lift heavy items. Maybe your volunteering event is located in a location that isn’t accessible by public transportation.
These barriers must be taken into consideration to allow everyone a chance to participate. To begin your planning process, you can start by finding solutions to these questions:
- How can you remove barriers during the planning process?
- How can you make it easier for all volunteers to participate in your programs and opportunities?
- How can you make it easier for volunteers to sign up and review what volunteer opportunities you have?
To make scheduling easier, here are some considerations to take a look at when planning. When your volunteers know you’ve taken the time to work around their barriers, they will appreciate your nonprofit and want to stay with your organization longer!
- Time – try and offer volunteer opportunities in the evening and consider smaller shift commitment options for those with time restrictions.
- Child care – consider offering some flexibility and child-care options that allow volunteers to have their children supervised while they work, allowing them to volunteer with a free and relaxed mind.
- Transportation – if there is limited public transportation, consider offering a shuttle service or carpool programs.
- Language – take stock of your existing staff and volunteer language capabilities and incorporate different languages in your volunteer programs.
- Food – try and offer some food during longer shifts for volunteers, it makes everyone feel appreciated. You can also consider offering a variety of different foods from different ethnic backgrounds. Make sure to ask about allergies and restrictions!
Identifying and removing barriers before your planning process will show your volunteers that your nonprofit is open to individuals from all walks of life and will offer a memorable experience for everyone!
2. Create More Inclusive Volunteer Opportunities
Inclusivity can be defined as the practice or policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those having physical or mental disabilities or belonging to other minority groups.
Offering inclusive volunteer opportunities means actively involving your volunteers and empowering them to continue giving their best efforts. You want to recognize specialties and worth in your volunteers, regardless of their beliefs, ethnic backgrounds, gender, age, or religion. Offering a diverse range of opportunities that require different skill sets will attract a larger pool of diverse volunteers. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of Inclusivity and diversity:
- Increase in innovation and creativity – Inclusive teams are six times more likely to be innovative because when volunteers feel included and valued, it results in a high functioning volunteer environment.
- Diversity improves community outreach and trust – Many people are more responsive to a diverse volunteer team because team members with different backgrounds may be able to understand and respond better to community needs. If you have volunteers who can speak other languages, it allows them to communicate with those not as fluent in English.
- Inclusive volunteer recruitment brings in a variety of skills – A racially and ethnically diverse group performs 35% better than non-diverse teams. When you have a team of diverse backgrounds, they come in with different life experiences and skills, making your organization more effective in reaching your goals.
- Inclusion increases volunteer retention – When your volunteers feel comfortable physically and mentally, they are more likely to stay longer. To offer a memorable experience and boost volunteer retention, all volunteers should feel appreciated regardless of their ethnicity, gender, age or religion.
To offer accessible volunteer recruitment, don’t limit volunteers’ shifts with too many qualifications or skill requirements as it may narrow down applicants. Create an online volunteer sign-up page with public volunteer opportunities and varieties of shift availabilities. You can also offer sign-up processes and communications in multiple languages.
3. Build Relationships with Volunteers
Volunteers are the foundation of a successful nonprofit organization. They donate many hours and offer their skills to help you achieve your mission with passion. You want to build a strong relationship with them, allowing them to feel like integral members of your organization. This will keep your volunteers engaged and motivated throughout your program.
One way you can build long-lasting relationships with your volunteers is by creating an open line of communication. Update your volunteers with information on new volunteer opportunities or share the success of your organization with them. Let your volunteers know how their hard work has positively impacted your community. You can also give stats such as how well your fundraising goals have done, or what the impacts of their efforts have had on the community.
Another way you can enhance your bond with your team is by sending frequent updates and communications. Keep your volunteers in the loop of any upcoming events or conferences to allow enough time to prepare. Consider investing in a volunteer management software or app to help with quick updates, such as postponing an outdoor activity due to a storm or bad weather conditions.
Remember to collect volunteer feedback. Volunteer feedback is vital in helping your nonprofit grow and understand what’s working and what isn’t. You can collect feedback through surveys after any event or through virtual team meetings where everyone can express their thoughts. This shows your volunteers that you genuinely care about their experience and well-being with your organization, increasing volunteer satisfaction.
Build better relationships with your volunteers.
4. Make Volunteers Feel Appreciated
Your volunteers deserve to be recognized in a meaningful way for their contributions and efforts. Volunteer recognition is an essential component of volunteer retention. When they feel important and appreciated, they are more likely to stay connected to your cause and continue engaging with your organization. Volunteers feel a greater sense of personal fulfillment when your organization expresses its appreciation for their help.
Ongoing recognition is crucial to keep your volunteers motivated. You need to personalize messaging to each individual and their level of engagement. Here are some volunteer appreciation ideas to help you get started:
- Send personalized appreciation communications – Consider writing a letter, posting social media shout-outs, or writing a small blog or article about your volunteers on your website. Did you have a volunteer who went above and beyond? Be sure to mention exactly what they did and highlight their accomplishments. This will make your volunteers feel like you acknowledged their work and make them feel special.
- Let your volunteers know their work makes a difference – Helping your volunteers understand how much of an impact their hard work is bringing in is rewarding. Your volunteers want to see the difference they’re making. When they know they have an important role to play in your nonprofit services, they will want to continue giving their best efforts.
- Plan a group outing – Consider planning a night out where your volunteers can relax and get to know each other better. You can plan a movie night, go bowling, or even a team lunch or dinner. You can also host a volunteer appreciation gala where everybody can dress up and get together to celebrate accomplishments. This is an excellent opportunity to give awards or certificates to outstanding volunteers.
There are many ways to express appreciation. Whether big or small, when your volunteers feel acknowledged, they’ll feel more inclined to participate in future events and activities. Any form of recognition shows your volunteers that you notice their input and the impact it creates.
5. Implement New Strategies and Technology
Volunteering with your organization should be a simple, inclusive, and rewarding experience for your volunteers. Complex administrative processes can leave volunteers confused and frustrated, making the volunteer process inaccessible and resulting in more volunteer drop-offs in the sign-up and onboarding process.
Technology has altered the way many organizations work and communicate. According to a recent Salesforce Nonprofit Trends Report, approximately 85% of nonprofits state that technology is the key to the success of their organization! One of the greatest benefits of modern technology is that it has simplified and automated processes, which allows volunteer coordinators to have time to focus on other areas of work.
A volunteer management solution is built to manage and engage with volunteers simply, saving time and reducing confusion. Investing in an effective volunteer management software can also aid volunteers in need of help. A quick text message, an email, or notification can be sent through a mobile app, communicating any important information if a situation arises.
Key volunteer management functions should help your organization save time and increase your impact by streamlining your volunteer management. Let’s explore some of the key features that an effective volunteer management software should have:
- Recruit – Your VMS should allow you to create volunteer sign-up pages branded with your organization’s colors and logo that provide available shifts and roles with necessary qualifications to help volunteers easily identify and sign-up for roles that best match their strengths and interests.
- Qualify – To ensure every team member has the right qualifications to accomplish tasks successfully, you should be able to assess, accept or reject applications from your centralized database.
- Schedule – An automated matching feature allowing volunteers to be paired up with roles and shifts that suit their qualifications and availability is also a must. There should be a way to offer multiple scheduling views, such as a calendar or a list.
- Engage – A VMS must allow you to stay connected with your volunteers by enabling the sending of automated emails, SMS, or alert notifications to deliver information quickly. You should also be able to time track and keep internal notes on volunteer performance, so you can send personalized thank you messages, showing your appreciation.
- Report – You should be able to track volunteer hours along with a summary of check-in and check-out timestamps, allowing you to report on volunteer program data accurately. It also helps you see which volunteers are most engaged and how to increase engagement with those who are not as active.
Your volunteer management software should provide all the features you need to successfully run any fundraising events and community programs, all in one tool!
Now that you’ve learned several ways to create a more inclusive volunteer program, it’s time to start planning! Following an inclusive volunteer management process results in greater volunteer engagement and retention. Start by assessing what barriers some volunteers may face and try to overcome them during your recruitment process. From there, all you need to do is provide constant support and build strong long-term relationships with your volunteers. Good luck!
If you are interested in more information, we have compiled a list of other great resources about volunteer management solutions to help your organization thrive:
- Volunteer Engagement | Strategies for Smart Organizations – This article explores how your organization can ensure every volunteer has a meaningful and positive experience through a well-thought-out volunteer engagement strategy.
- Volunteer Management Software: FAQ +17 Top Solutions – Check out this article to get a comprehensive list of volunteer management software providers to help your organization find the right solution.