Volunteers who feel loved, appreciated and connected to your organization are more likely to stick around for the long haul. And how do you instill these feelings? Through volunteer engagement.
When you email your volunteers, are you thanking them? Are you letting them know how their work is making an impact? Are you welcoming them or getting to know them better? Or do you stick to asking them for help and updating them on what they’ve already committed to?
What is Volunteer Engagement?
Volunteer engagement is exactly what it sounds like, back and forth communication with your volunteers to build a long-lasting relationship.
Great volunteer engagement involves building a community around your volunteers so that your nonprofit staff and volunteers feel like family. Even the volunteer who only got involved through a work event or the volunteer who stops by once a year when he catches the holiday spirit. Start focusing on volunteer engagement and you’ll see volunteer retention rates begin to climb as well. When you make an effort to engage with people, no one is completely out of reach.
But true volunteer engagement can be a tricky note to strike, especially due to the variable nature of different audiences. Your volunteers are not the same people as the next organization’s volunteers, or even across your organization, and they may not need the same things. However there are email marketing best practices and strategies that stretch across them all.
Email Best Practices
As you build out the right email outreach strategies for your specific volunteers, don’t forget about these tried and true best practices.
- Get to know volunteers on a personal level – Understand who your volunteers are and tailor communications to that understanding, including their motivation to volunteer.
- Be accessible – Communication goes both ways. Assign one of your team members to be the point person for communication with volunteers.
- Listen – When they mention preferences regarding communication methods or the types of opportunities and information they’re interested in hearing about, follow it.
- Reach out to first-time volunteers – Start building a relationship with new volunteers with a friendly email a few days after they first volunteer.
- Take time into consideration – The last thing you want is for volunteers to feel like reading your emails is a waste of time.
- Make your calls to action clear – Always be as specific as you can so there’s no confusion around what you’re asking them to do.
- Write conversationally – Using a conversational tone in your emails lets volunteers know that you’re friendly and approachable, opening the door for further engagement.
All of the emails you send to your volunteers should be targeted. Trying to address all of your audiences with one email leaves everyone feeling like the email wasn’t meant for them. And when you feel like an email is not meant for you, the chance that you actually read it drops substantially. A volunteer that’s giving precious time to help you work toward your nonprofit’s mission should always feel like each email is just for them, containing the information they care about.
Within your main email list, give volunteers their own group or segment. And if you have volunteer opportunities that are pretty different, such as working directly with clients versus facility upkeep or one-time volunteering versus ongoing, you can get even more granular with your segmentation. Segmentation makes each email feel that much more personalized, leading to a healthier relationship and higher engagement with your volunteers.
Types of Volunteer Engagement Emails
Aside from the business of alerting volunteers to potential opportunities and keeping them updated on the details of opportunities they’ve signed up for, send the occasional extra email to keep volunteers connected with your mission. As you get more comfortable sending emails to volunteers and find you have more to say, you could even start a newsletter just for volunteers.
We outlined five possibilities for typical volunteer engagement emails:
Say Thank You
Don’t just send a cheesy email on Thanksgiving. Let your volunteers know how grateful you are for their time throughout the year, especially when they’ve gone above and beyond your organization’s expectations for volunteers.
Give an Impact Update
Volunteers give up their time to help your organization move its mission forward. They care about your cause and the impact that their work is having on it. Motivate them by highlighting the good they’re accomplishing through their volunteer work.
One way to do this is by sharing the stories of those whose lives their work has impacted. This is especially powerful for those volunteers who don’t get to interact with the people your nonprofit helps on a regular basis.
Welcome a New Volunteer
Establish a relationship with new volunteers right off the bat with a welcome email. Tell them about your organization and mission, including the integral role of volunteers, and give them the opportunity to ask you any questions. You could even create an automated workflow to onboard them and get them up to speed.
Ask for Feedback
To tailor your email strategy to real volunteers, let them weigh in on their preferences. In an email survey, ask 3-5 questions to gauge how your volunteers are perceiving attempts to engage. Some possible questions could be:
- As a volunteer with our organization, do you feel like part of a community?
- What’s one thing we could do to improve your volunteer experience?
- How often would you like to hear from us about volunteer opportunities?
You can also ask any specific questions about your email communications through the survey. And remember, once you get some answers, be sure to follow suit and make any necessary adjustments to your strategy.
Along with thanking your volunteers, it’s important to let them know they’re needed and appreciated. Send them a personal message recognizing a recent achievement or on the anniversary of the first time they volunteered. This can also be accomplished in combination with other strategies, possibly through events, formal recognition and spontaneous treats.
Volunteer engagement and retention go hand in hand. It would be silly to not connect the two. The more engaged your volunteers are (right from the start!), the less likely they are to stop volunteering. Use your email communication to encourage volunteers to keep doing what they do by building a relationship based on gratitude, motivation for the cause and open communication.
Does your nonprofit engage with volunteers through emails? What types of emails have you found successful? Let’s talk more in the comments.