Volunteers are crucial to many nonprofits. And it’s no easy task to find dedicated volunteers in the first place. People are busy and there are a lot of nonprofit organizations competing for their service. Once you’ve found a volunteer that’s willing to dedicate their time and talent to your nonprofit, it’s worth thinking about the best way to maintain that relationship in an effort to promote future volunteerism.
While most nonprofits know volunteer retention is a worthwhile endeavor, many are struggling to successfully foster repeated volunteerism. In fact, one study on volunteerism in America found that “more than one-third of those who volunteer one year don’t donate their time the next year – at any nonprofit.” There’s a serious need to figure out better ways to retain volunteers.
While a lot of volunteer retention has to do with the way in which you’re actually implementing your volunteer opportunities, this discussion, while vitally important, falls outside the scope of this article. Instead, we’re going to focus on what you can do after a volunteer has given their time to your nonprofit to help ensure they decide to come back in the future.
Why Maintaining Relationships with Volunteers Matters
In case you’re not so sure exactly why it’s important to maintain relationships with volunteers, here are a few key ideas to keep in mind.
Volunteers Already Support Your Mission and Nonprofit
You don’t have to convince them of the importance of your mission. You don’t have to sell the benefits of working with your organization over another similar nonprofit. A volunteer for your organization has likely already decided they believe in what you’re doing to serve your community. Now you need to focus on leveraging their support into the future.
Volunteers Can Help Recruit Other Supporters
If a volunteer has a good experience working with your nonprofit, they can easily become a major recruiter of other supporters. By discussing the experience of working with your nonprofit within their social circles, happy volunteers can help raise awareness for your organization and bring along friends and family to give their time in the future. People are much more receptive to messages coming from someone they value and trust. Someone that starts as a volunteer may quickly become an advocate for your nonprofit.
Volunteers Donate More Money
In addition to giving their time, there’s evidence that volunteers tend to also give more money than those that don’t volunteer. One study on volunteerism found “on average, those who have volunteered in the last 12 months donate ten times more money to charities than non-volunteers.” While not necessarily a causal relationship, maintaining bonds with volunteers can be advantageous to your fundraising efforts as well.
Volunteering Produces Donor Loyalty
In addition to volunteers being more apt to give financial support to charities in general, it appears volunteerism can engender a strong sense of loyalty towards a particular nonprofit. In fact, the same study found 67% of people that reported volunteering in the last 12 months also indicated they donated to the organizations at which they volunteer.
Volunteers are not only incredibly giving of their time, they can also become donors and advocates for your nonprofit. Effectively leveraging your volunteers and maintaining these relationships over time can significantly bolster your nonprofit’s ability to serve your community.
Here are some ways you can use the internet to support the relationships you’ve fostered with your volunteers.
Share the Impact Volunteers Have in Your Community
Your volunteers are likely working with your nonprofit because they believe in your mission and want to make a difference. You need to make sure they’re well aware of the impact their hard work is having in the world. Don’t simply tell your volunteers their hard work is bettering the world – show them.
You can showcase the impact volunteers are having in a variety of ways, including:
- Email newsletters
- Social media networks
- Blog posts
- Pages on your website
No matter which medium you ultimately choose, it’s important to think about how you can tell this story in a compelling way. That’s where photos and videos come in.
The Importance of Photos and Videos
When it comes to sharing the impact your volunteers are having, you need to think of yourself as a storyteller. It’s your job to weave a compelling narrative that clearly demonstrates the way your volunteers are improving the world. Photos and videos can help your volunteers see the results of their work, even if it’s occurring on the other side of the world.
In terms of showcasing results, video is an especially powerful medium. Imagine you’re a nonprofit that provides school supplies in rural Africa and uses volunteers to sort supplies into backpacks to be distributed to students. There’s a very good chance your volunteers will never meet the children that benefit from your organization’s work. But if you bring along a video camera and tape both the distribution of supplies as well as kids and teachers thanking volunteers and donors, those that helped contribute to the program can easily see the impact they’re having on the other side of the world.
Technology has helped to make the world feel smaller than ever before. It’s up to you to leverage it to show those that help your organization the impact their efforts are having in the communities you serve.
Thank Individuals on Social Media Networks
General messages that thank a group of volunteers are fine. But it’s even better to show individual volunteers how much you care by mentioning them by name on various social media networks. If you can find one of your volunteers on Facebook or Twitter, thank them individually, mentioning them using the @ symbol and their username. This will notify the user that you’ve mentioned them in your message.
Create a Segmented List for Your Email Newsletter
An email newsletter can help you keep in touch with volunteers, share the impact they’ve had and inform them of upcoming opportunities to get involved. The key here is to create a segmented list that’s aimed at those interested in volunteering with your nonprofit. A segmented list is basically a smaller list within your overall email list that’s based around a certain criterion, in this case an interest in volunteerism. The easiest way to segment your list is to give users the option to indicate their interests as they’re signing up for your mailing list.
Segmenting your list will allow you to send content about volunteering to only those people likely to want it. If you want to be even more effective, create another subset of this list for those that have volunteered with you in the past. You can either do this manually using volunteer email addresses or automate the process if you’re able to integrate your email and volunteer management systems. By doing so, you can send more targeted content to past volunteers than you would to someone that’s never donated their time to your organization.
The more tailored your content is to match your audience, the more likely it is people will open your emails and find the information resonates with them.
Send Out Personalized “Thank You” Emails
Depending on the size of your organization and the number of volunteers you regularly have, it may be beneficial to send out personalized “thank you” emails to those that give their time. A volunteer will likely feel a sense of appreciation if the executive director of their favorite nonprofit sends them an email thanking them for their support.
But make sure it’s personal. Don’t just send a generic “Thanks for being great” message that could be addressed to anyone. Take a few minutes to appreciate each individual volunteer. A little effort can go a long way.
Ask Regular Volunteers to Guest Blog
If your nonprofit has a blog, ask a supportive volunteer to write a guest post. Not only will your guest author likely be flattered by your request, they’ll also likely promote the post once it’s up, leading to a boost in website traffic and hopefully increased interest from their peers. Such a post can also help sway potential volunteers that see such content on your site.
The post can be about anything you think would be a good fit, but here are a few ideas you could consider:
- Why they volunteer for your nonprofit
- Why they support your organization and its mission
- How they got involved in the first place
- Any advice they have for future volunteers
- What they’ve learned through volunteering with your organization
- Their favorite project they’ve worked on
Ask for Feedback from Volunteers
Asking for feedback from those who volunteer to support your organization has two primary benefits. First, allowing a volunteer to give input on how volunteer opportunities are governed can help invest your volunteers in continuing to support your nonprofit. Second, actually listening to the feedback your volunteers provide can help you improve the opportunities you’re offering to volunteers in the future.
There are a variety of ways you can gather feedback from volunteers, but regardless of the method you choose, it’s important to remember a few key ideas:
- Reply to Feedback – If volunteers are taking the time to provide you with feedback, let them know you’re hearing what they have to say. You should do this individually whenever possible, but en masse when individual responses aren’t appropriate or feasible.
- Report on Feedback – It can be beneficial to sum up the type of feedback you’ve received from volunteers, letting them know of any trends that emerged and your key takeaways as an organization.
- Implement Feedback – The main point of asking for feedback is to improve the experience volunteers are having when they work with your nonprofit. Make sure you’re actually implementing the feedback you receive.
- Don’t Fear Feedback – Don’t get caught up in fearing critical feedback. Instead, embrace it as an opportunity to improve. If you’re responding constructively to critical feedback, it can make you appear proactive and help persuade potential volunteers to give your nonprofit a shot.
Here are two potential avenues to gather feedback from your volunteers.
Gathering Volunteer Feedback Through a Blog Post
After a volunteer event, write a summary blog post explaining details about the event, who participated and the impact of the event. Share as many concrete stories as you can, including images and videos whenever possible.
At the end of your blog post, ask volunteers to weigh in with their thoughts. You could ask them:
- What was your role in the volunteer effort?
- What were your takeaways from volunteering?
- How did it feel to participate in this volunteer project?
- What would you like to change for future volunteer opportunities?
After you’ve posted, reach out to those that volunteered and let them know you’d like to hear their feedback. When they do comment, post a response thanking them and letting them know you’ve heard what they have to say.
Gathering Volunteer Feedback Through Social Media
You can reach out to volunteers directly through social media, asking individuals what they thought of the volunteer event and how you can improve in the future. Post a status on your Facebook Timeline thanking volunteers and asking for their thoughts. Send individual messages on Twitter doing the same. Make sure your requests for feedback are genuine and personalized, not simply cut and paste to a group of people.
Make It Easy to Find Future Volunteer Opportunities
If someone has decided they’d like to volunteer with your nonprofit, you need to ensure it’s as easy as possible for them to do so. Losing a potential volunteer to the frustration of finding an opportunity to get involved should be considered unacceptable.
There are a few key considerations to bear in mind to make your volunteer’s search for future opportunities as easy as possible:
- Website Structure – Use elements of design and overall website organization to make sure those interested in volunteering can easily do so. Organize pages detailing volunteer opportunities intuitively within the navigation and highlight them with links and buttons throughout your design.
- Social Media – Promote volunteer opportunities via your social media channels. Instead of sending interested folks to your homepage, send them to a specific landing page that’s targeted for volunteers.
- Targeted Emails – If you’ve segmented your email list to include a sublist for those interested in volunteer opportunities, be sure to reach out to them regularly with ways they can get involved. Again, include links that lead those interested to specific landing pages about volunteer opportunities.
- Streamline the Signup Process – The easier you make the signup process, the less likely it is you’ll lose a potential volunteer to the frustration of registration.
The bottom line is you need to make it easy for those that want to give their time to do so.
It’s All About Relationships
No matter which of the aforementioned methods you ultimately decide to use to maintain connections with volunteers, remember it’s all about relationships. Choose the approach that feels right to you. If you’re genuine in sharing how important your volunteers are to your nonprofit and the community you serve, you’ll likely see a substantial uptick in donor retention.
Volunteerism and Charitable Giving in 2009 Executive Summary – Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund
The New Volunteer Workforce – The Stanford Social Innovation Review