As a volunteer coordinator, you know clear communication is key to your program’s success. You can probably always trace a glitch in an otherwise seamless event or initiative back to some sort of communication lapse.
By identifying the gaps in your communication strategy, you can fix them and ensure your program continues running smoothly. Establishing clear communication practices creates less stress for your team and a better experience for volunteers, improving retention.
In this guide, we’ll cover seven communication strategies to consider incorporating into your volunteer management approach:
- Establish a chain of command
- Stay in touch over multiple platforms
- Address emergency and safety issues quickly
- Provide volunteers with easy access to necessary information
- Get to know volunteers on a personal level
- Ask volunteers for feedback
- Make gratitude a central part of your communications
These strategies aren’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Assess your organization’s communications approach and adapt these tips to fit your unique audience and communication goals.
1. Establish a chain of command.
Make sure volunteers know who they should contact with any questions before, during or after each volunteer shift. By designating a single staff member or leader as the point person for each opportunity, you can avoid confusion, especially during high-value events.
Let volunteers know which platform they should use to contact your staff. For example, emails might be appropriate for pre-event communications, while texts or phone calls might work better for event-day messaging.
Here is an example of what this could look like for an animal shelter volunteer program:
My name is Adriana Mendes and I’m looking forward to working with you all at our Saturday PetLand adoption event. I will be your point of contact for the event. If you have any questions before the event, you can reach me at my cell phone (123-456-7890) or my email address ([email protected]). On event day, please text or call me with any questions.”
2. Stay in touch over multiple platforms
Volunteers might prefer certain communication platforms over others. Also, some channels are better for delivering urgent messages.
With this in mind, here are some of the communication platforms you might use to get in touch with volunteers:
- Email. Email makes recruiting volunteers, gathering their information and sending important updates/documents fast and efficient. Email is the easiest way to send detailed, long-form information to volunteers, such as event-day logistics. They can reference their inboxes for these details at any point.
- Texts or mobile app notifications. The vast majority (if not all) of your volunteers will have smartphones, making texts or mobile app notifications a convenient option for fast communications. Plus, you can centralize volunteer communications by choosing robust volunteer management software that includes a mobile app. You can easily send messages to volunteer groups and allow supporters to message back with any questions or concerns.
- Phone calls. Phone calls are useful for reaching a single person right away and resolving issues that would take more than a couple of texts to explain. However, volunteers may not be able to answer your call immediately. Leave a short voicemail and follow up with a text message requesting a return call as soon as possible.
Use your volunteer management system to track volunteers’ contact information, such as phone numbers and email addresses, as well as their communication preferences. This ensures that you can get in touch with them when needed and reach out to them through the channel they’re most likely to respond to.
3. Address emergency and safety issues quickly
Whether there’s an incident in the parking lot or a major spill in the reception hall, clear communication about potential safety hazards is essential. Give volunteers the ability to report unexpected issues, whether via text or using your volunteer communications app. Then, you or your lead roles can contact the appropriate responders, ensure that the issue is properly addressed, and give and receive updates.
Responding to emergencies quickly and effectively makes volunteers feel more comfortable working with your organization and facilitates a safe experience for everyone involved.
Here’s an example of an emergency message you might send out before a volunteer event:
“Today’s community health fair volunteers: A fallen tree from last night’s storm is blocking the main entryway to the parking lot. Please use the side entrance off Maplewood Road to enter the lot. Thank you!”
4. Provide volunteers with easy access to necessary information
Volunteers should have access to necessary documents and detailed information about their role and your organization. This information should be easily accessible on multiple platforms, including your website and volunteer app.
Ensure volunteers can always access information such as:
- Your volunteer schedule so supporters can see all upcoming opportunities and open shifts
- The logistics of each shift they sign up for, including the date and time, location, contact information for the point of contact, supplies they need to bring, the role they’ll be responsible for during the event, and parking instructions
- Training materials, such as instructional manuals or video tutorials
Use your orientation sessions to let volunteers know where they can find all of this information. This can help reduce confusion and limit questions.
5. Get to know volunteers on a personal level
Your volunteer communications strategy should help you form personal relationships with volunteers. When you get to know volunteers as people and encourage them to build connections with fellow volunteers, they’ll have a much more engaging and fulfilling experience as a member of your team.
Ask volunteers about their skills and interests through either in-person communications or more formal online surveys. Then, reference this information to recommend roles that align with their preferences.
For instance, perhaps you learn that a certain volunteer has experience with and interest in graphic design. You could ask them to design the poster and t-shirt for your next 5K fundraising event.
6. Ask volunteers for feedback
Give volunteers a chance to make their voices heard by asking for their feedback. Request volunteers’ input regularly to adjust your program to better meet supporters’ expectations.
Send volunteer surveys via email or text with questions like:
- Did you feel properly prepared for your role?
- Do you feel your work as a volunteer makes a real difference?
- What suggestions do you have to improve the volunteer experience?
- How likely are you to participate in another volunteer opportunity?
- Would you recommend our volunteer program to a friend?
Once you’ve received and compiled volunteers’ responses, outline a plan for addressing their feedback. Share the plan with volunteers to let them know that you’re taking their suggestions seriously.
7. Make gratitude a central part of your communications
Showing appreciation for volunteers is critical to boosting your volunteer retention rate. Volunteers should feel like valued, essential members of your nonprofit’s team.
Aim to make gratitude messages a regular part of your volunteer communication, not just a one-time task you complete after a volunteer opportunity. Incorporate ongoing appreciation activities into your regular communications, such as:
- Thank you letters and emails. Send a quick thank-you letter or email to volunteers after every shift. Occasional handwritten letters can provide a special touch and show volunteers that you took the time to write out your appreciation.
- Gratitude gifts. Send volunteers appreciation gifts to express your gratitude. For example, you might mail them some stickers or magnets branded with your organization’s logo or give them a complimentary hat at your next volunteer meeting. You can even enter the names of your most active volunteers into a drawing for a larger prize basket, complete with a free t-shirt, gift certificates and sweet treats.
- Social media shoutouts. Post photos of your volunteers on social media (with their permission) and tag volunteers to specifically say thank you. Make your posts shareable so volunteers can talk about and show off their experiences to their followers.
Your volunteer communications should make it clear just how much your organization relies on and values volunteers. The more volunteers feel like their efforts are recognized and appreciated, the more likely they are to continue engaging with your nonprofit.
Clear, consistent communications prepare your volunteers to complete their tasks confidently and efficiently. These strategies will help maintain effective communications throughout every step of the volunteer management process, from recruitment to training and ongoing engagement.
Looking for more information about how to optimize your volunteer engagement processes? Check out these additional resources:
- The Smart Nonprofit’s Guide to Volunteer Management. As mentioned, volunteer communications are just one aspect of your organization’s volunteer management strategy. Build out a robust approach to managing the volunteer journey with this guide.
- 17 Top Volunteer Management Software Options for Nonprofits. Volunteer management software can help keep your volunteer communications organized and help you maintain the right outreach cadence. Explore 17 top options in this guide.
- Volunteer Engagement | Strategies for Smart Organizations. Maintaining volunteer support over time relies on your ability to properly engage volunteers. Use this guide to learn more about volunteer engagement strategies.