The Smart Nonprofit’s Guide to Volunteer Management
Volunteers make up an essential part of a nonprofit’s workforce. In fact, about a third of Americans volunteer each year. Effective volunteer management vital to an organization’s day-to-day operations, meaning nonprofits need to invest in smart volunteer management practices to reduce administrative overhead and increase volunteer retention.
This article will ensure your organization is equipped with up-to-date information, best practices, and guidelines for managing your volunteer workforce successfully. Here’s what to expect:
- What is volunteer management?
- The essential elements of volunteer management
- What you need to know about volunteer management software
- Volunteer management best practices
Your volunteer management strategy shouldn’t be a secondary consideration. Instead, it’s the foundation of your volunteer program and a top priority for your nonprofit. Strong management practices mean that you’ll be able to recruit the right volunteers and retain them for the long term.
What is volunteer management?
Volunteer management is the process that a nonprofit organization uses to recruit, track, engage, and retain volunteers. By developing a strong volunteer management strategy, a nonprofit’s team can build a positive and immersive volunteer experience that will help cultivate lasting, mutually-beneficial supporter relationships.
Why is volunteer management important?
Volunteers are the unsung heroes of most nonprofits’ ongoing programming efforts and fundraising events. They’re your organization’s brand and mission ambassadors in the community and directly impact your organization’s success. Volunteers offer a tremendous amount of value and can thrive when given the right tools and resources.
This infographic outlines the value of volunteers:
- 72% of volunteers serve only one organization or cause (Bureau Of Labour Statistics).
- The current value of an hour of volunteer time is $29.95 (Independent Sector).
- 77% of nonprofits say they believe that skilled volunteers could significantly improve their organization’s business practices (Deloitte Impact Survey).
- 85% of volunteers donate to the nonprofits that they volunteer for (Global Trends in Giving Report).
The essential elements of volunteer management
Your volunteer management strategy will be unique to your organization. However, the basic steps of the volunteer management process will look similar across all nonprofits.
The volunteer management process will always involve the following four stages: recruitment, training, and stewardship/retention. Let’s take a closer look at how you can optimize each stage for more successful volunteer management.
Recruiting volunteers has never been easier—there is no need to rely on a sign-up sheet on a bulletin board anymore. Digital channels offer a convenient way to find new volunteers and provide them with a simple sign-up process.
Here are the steps of the volunteer recruitment process:
- Plan and define your volunteer roles. Start by defining your volunteer roles and creating detailed role descriptions for each open position. Volunteers will feel much more comfortable joining a program that has clear expectations for time commitments and role responsibilities.
- Create a sign-up process. Create a sign-up form and onboarding process that gathers all the information you need to assign volunteer roles and shifts.
- Promote your opportunities. Advertise open roles using multiple channels, such as your website, email newsletter, and social media pages. Offer an easy-to-use online sign-up form that’s mobile friendly and fast to fill out.
- Screen volunteers and assign roles. Run background checks for new volunteers as needed and use what you know about volunteers’ skills and preferences to highlight relevant shift opportunities.
The goal of any successful volunteer recruitment plan should be to collect all the information required to place volunteers in roles where they will thrive. The simpler the sign-up process, the better. Ensure you are only collecting the relevant information you need to assess each application accurately.
Look for a volunteer management solution that allows you to ask logic-based questions during the sign-up process, reducing the number of fields a volunteer needs to answer. For example, if you need to know if someone is first-aid certified, your form could have a yes or no response, and then if a volunteer responds yes, the form could prompt them to provide a certificate.
The better the volunteer placement, the better the outcome for your organization and your volunteers. A satisfied volunteer shows up on time and comes back to volunteer more, helping you retain more volunteers in the long run.
The goal of your volunteer training and orientation should be to set your volunteers up for success by equipping them with the information and tools they need to thrive in their roles.
Send new volunteers a link to sign up for a training session as soon as you process their registration information. This helps maintain momentum and get volunteers involved as soon as possible.
Keep these volunteer training best practices in mind:
- Allow volunteers to complete training on their own time by offering online training modules and videos.
- Offer practical training tips and advice for scenarios volunteers may potentially encounter throughout their shift. For example, you might share best practices for interacting with kids or answering questions from community members.
- Acknowledge when a volunteer has successfully completed the training process so that they know they can begin signing up for shifts.
- Track where each volunteer is in the training process using your volunteer database so you don’t accidentally require them to repeat any exercises.
You never want to overwhelm your volunteers by making them jump through too many hoops. Keep things as straightforward forward as possible and ensure you only require training that is specific to the role or task a volunteer is responsible for.
Stewarding and retaining volunteers
From recruitment to training, your organization has invested a lot of effort into every volunteer, and they have invested in your organization’s success through their time and hard work. That’s why it is so important to continue to build relationships with volunteers through stewardship and recognition efforts.
Your volunteer recognition efforts don’t have to be complicated. Simple messages of appreciation or certificates of recognition can go a long way in making volunteers feel appreciated and helping retain them in the long run. You can also publicly recognize volunteers by sharing photos of them hard at work on your social media pages or website.
When volunteers feel appreciated for their efforts, they’ll be much more likely to stay involved with your organization.
What you need to know about volunteer management software
Keeping volunteer information organized throughout every step of the management process is no simple task. Software solutions can simplify the process, giving you access to all the tools you need to manage volunteers in one convenient place. Let’s explore the ins and outs of volunteer management software and what it can do for your nonprofit.
What is volunteer management software?
Volunteer management software offers tools and features specifically designed to help increase the administrative efficiency of managing volunteer programs and events. A comprehensive volunteer management system should provide volunteer coordinators and managers with tools to recruit, screen, schedule, manage, and communicate with volunteer workforces through a single system.
Volunteer management software should also provide volunteers with a smooth user experience during the sign-up and scheduling process, as well as communication tools that allow them to contact their volunteer manager. A volunteer management system’s role is to eliminate any miscommunication and no-shows, reduce administrative time, and increase volunteer retention.
If your nonprofit needs a new volunteer management system, look for one that offers the following features:
- The ability to customize your recruitment, scheduling, and administrative settings to your program’s needs
- A streamlined recruitment workflow with questions about qualifications and availability and a simple process for processing background checks and waivers
- A scheduling tool that allows you to track attendance and send shift confirmations and reminders
- Self-serve volunteer options that allow supporters to apply online and use a volunteer mobile app to view and sign up for open shifts
- The ability to send personalized outreach messages, such as appreciation notes, using email or the volunteer app
- 360-reporting features that allow you to track data from all programs and events and automatically sync this information with your CRM
Along with these features, some volunteer management platforms allow you to track both volunteers and donors in one system, giving you a holistic view of all supporters. Organizations interested in tracking all of their supporter information in one place may benefit from investing in a comprehensive solution.
What are the benefits of managing volunteers and donors within one system?
An integrated volunteer and donor management platform offers the following benefits:
- Save time and resources. By managing donors and volunteers in one system, you can save time from toggling back and forth between multiple platforms. Often, you’ll have donors who also volunteer and volunteers who also donate, so it makes sense to track all of these individuals using the same system. Plus, your organization can save money by avoiding having to invest in two separate platforms.
- Discover hidden fundraising opportunities among your volunteer base. Long-time volunteers or particularly passionate volunteers are often good candidates to send fundraising requests to. Your database can identify highly engaged volunteers, enabling you to develop a personalized outreach plan.
- Increase donor engagement by offering volunteer opportunities. Inviting donors to engage with your volunteer opportunities is an effective way to build long-term relationships. With an integrated system, you can easily reach out to donors and incorporate them into your volunteer scheduling processes.
Learn more about the benefits of integrated donor management and volunteer management software with our recent blog post.
Volunteer management best practices
Here are a few final tips to ensure that your volunteer management strategy is robust and sustainable:
Use a multichannel recruitment strategy.
Recruiting new volunteers to your organization requires a multi-channel marketing approach, which leverages all of your existing online channels and partnerships with other organizations to spread the word. To help you implement effective communication practices, let’s walk through four primary channels that will enhance your volunteer recruitment process.
If you already have a list of volunteers who have worked at previous events you’ve organized, make them feel appreciated by giving them exclusive access to available positions. Encourage your email recipients to share volunteer opportunities with their friends and family. Consider offering a referral thank you gift as an incentive.
Keep your volunteer opportunities page up to date, providing potential volunteers with an easier way to sign up for any opportunities that interest them. Ensure your volunteer web page is optimized for mobile use to give mobile visitors a streamlined, convenient experience.
Use social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to promote your volunteer opportunities and share information about the purpose and success of the program. Share videos and photos from past volunteer opportunities to thank volunteers for their involvement and show potential volunteers how much fun they can have by getting involved.
Consider partnering with other local nonprofit organizations to help spread the word to a broader audience. The partnership should be a mutually beneficial one where you both support each other’s recruitment efforts through social media posts or email messages.
Get to know your volunteers.
Keeping track of your volunteers’ interests, goals, and skills ensures they have a fulfilling experience with your organization and guarantees that your nonprofit makes the most of what they have to offer.
When volunteers register for the first time, ask a few questions about what skills they have to offer that are relevant to your nonprofit’s needs, such as graphic design or social media marketing experience. Note these skills in your volunteer database and use your communications to highlight opportunities that appeal to volunteers.
Volunteers will find greater long-term fulfillment from working with your organization if they have the opportunity to use their unique talents to make a difference.
Ask volunteers for feedback.
Volunteer feedback is valuable to help improve everything from operational planning to organizational culture. Receiving insight from your volunteers can help you understand their needs and wants, which ultimately helps retention.
Consider sending a simple survey to volunteers after they complete a shift or take the time to grab a coffee with a small volunteer group once a month and discuss how you could improve their experience. Document the feedback you receive in your volunteer management software, and put the insights into action as you plan your next program or initiative.
A lot goes into successfully managing volunteers, but the rewards are well worth the work. Effective volunteer management leads to better volunteer retention, keeping your volunteer program strong and stable for years to come.