All sorts of organizations rely on volunteer programs to engage their communities and deepen their relationships with key supporters. Nonprofits, community groups, schools, and churches all devote crucial time and energy to managing volunteers.
After all, making the most of generously donated time is the best way to show that you appreciate it and don’t take it for granted. Boredom might generate smart new ideas for small businesses, but bored volunteers rarely stay engaged for long no matter how much they care about your organization’s mission.
So your team spends a lot of time focused on volunteer programming, developing interesting opportunities and ways for supporters to get involved. But how are you recruiting volunteers in the first place?
Let’s walk through a few tech strategies for boosting your volunteer recruitment techniques:
Create a dedicated space on your site for volunteers.
Use specialized tools whenever possible.
Create constant opportunities for communication.
Conduct a highly engaging campaign to grow your audience.
Deliberately target volunteer grants.
Although many organizations put a lot of thought into engaging with volunteers once they’ve signed up to get involved, not quite as much strategy goes into initially securing their support. Don’t leave it up to chance! With a few tech strategies, you can start attracting more volunteers to your programs in no time.
1. Create a dedicated space on your site for volunteers
To start laying the groundwork for a more strategic approach to volunteer recruitment, look to your website.
Do you have a dedicated page or section about your volunteer program? If it’s difficult to quickly find information on what your volunteers do and how to get involved, you’re actively driving away potential newcomers. Simply providing information and making it easy to learn more will support all of your efforts to promote your program.
The volunteers section of your site might take a number of forms, such as
- A section somewhere on your homepage, a “Donor Engagement” page, or an “Our Community” page that includes a blurb about your volunteer program plus an embedded registration or contact form
- A dedicated “Volunteers” page all about your programs and opportunities to get involved (an online calendar with upcoming events and registration tools would be a perfect addition)
- A complete volunteer portal for supporters to view upcoming events, share updates on a message board, register for new opportunities, upload their information to individual profiles, etc.
Depending on the extent of your volunteer programming, one option might be a better fit than another, but your organization should use at least one of them. Offering a more tailored, informative experience is better than providing nothing for prospective volunteers to go on.
Many organizations match their volunteers’ skills with their assignments. If your organization makes an effort to do this, reflect it on your website’s volunteer section. Include brief descriptions like the following:
- Are you a master of social media? We just implemented new peer-to-peer fundraising tools and need your help launching our next campaign!
- Do you know how to really whip an office into shape? We could use your help! Please volunteer your expertise to help us tidy up our office and digital database.
- Are you an artist at heart or, better yet, for a living? Tap into your creativity and earn some money and experience teaching art classes to our community. We offer the program for free, but happy students often want to tip their instructors.
However you choose to break it out, the main idea is to get specific. If you’ll help volunteers find the perfect job for their skills and interests, make sure they can actually get a sense of what those jobs might be before they sign up. Learning that you need art instructors, for instance, could be a big motivating factor for some supporters who otherwise might not volunteer.
To support this strategy, your organization needs a well-designed, easy-to-use website. Integrated tools that can record registrant information directly into your database, like volunteer registration forms, are ideal. At the very least, you should provide prospective volunteers with enough information about your program and an easy way to get in touch to learn more or register.
2. Use specialized tools whenever possible
Using toolkits that are specifically designed for your type of organization — a business, nonprofit, association, school, church, etc. — is almost always better than using general software. This might mean working with volunteer management tools or a platform that’s specific to your sector and can be built out with additional features as needed.
This is especially true if your organization relies on an active volunteer program. Your tools should help you
- Track engagement data and contact info for your volunteers
- Manage jobs and assign tasks for volunteers
- Develop and execute marketing strategies to secure new volunteers
Being able to track and manage every aspect of your volunteer program in one place will give you a fuller view of its performance. These insights can then guide your recruitment strategies in new ways. Think of this tip as a foundation for building a stronger program over the long run.
For nonprofit organizations, working with a customized, integrated platform will be the best bet to handle all of these important elements in one place. When it comes to digital marketing, the Luminate Online suite of tools is a great example of the level of functionality and flexibility to look for.
Even for more niche sectors that rely on volunteers for their day-to-day operations, investing in specialized software when possible is a smart move. The features will be more immediately relevant for your work, and an experienced consultant will be able to customize new features as needed. This CommunityPass recreation management software is a good example of a useful niche tool.
3. Create constant opportunities for communication
What sustains your volunteers’ relationships with your organization? A sense of impact. They need to feel like their support is actively helping to further your mission. You need to show that even the more mundane volunteer tasks provide a demonstrable benefit and fit into your broader social or philanthropic mission in some way.
How do you ensure volunteers continue to see their work reflected in your organization’s work as a whole? Tell them about it.
Strengthening your volunteer engagement will strengthen the program overall. The stronger your program, the more interesting it will be for potential volunteers as a worthwhile way to spend time supporting a good mission in the community.
Provide tons of opportunities to communicate with volunteers, and constantly be on the lookout for new ways to engage with them. Focus your efforts on these communication channels:
- Your email newsletters. Create a dedicated newsletter, segmented email campaign, or listserv just for volunteers.
- Social media pages. Directly engage with volunteers on social media, for instance, by asking them to share their own stories and photos. You might even create an online group just for volunteers to more easily share updates and events.
- Your organization’s blog. This is a good place to post shoutouts for volunteers who went above and beyond at your last event or campaign.
- Feedback surveys. How will you be able to improve your volunteer program if you’re not sure what your volunteers think of your programming? Conduct regular surveys and take your time analyzing the results.
The previous tips relate directly to this one. Creating a dedicated space on your website is a best practice that can support all your volunteer recruitment strategies in the long run, and it can become a central communication channel for your organization. If you invest in a volunteer portal or message board, for instance, focus your energies there.
We also mentioned how it’s often a smart move to use specialized software whenever possible. This is true, but the main idea here is to be as open and communicative with your volunteers as possible. If that means creating a basic survey with a word processor instead of complex management software, then that’s fine!
4. Conduct an engaging campaign to grow your audience
To reach more prospective volunteers, you should develop an engaging campaign that puts them at the center. In many ways, the rise of more decentralized or peer-to-peer styles of outreach, fundraising, and marketing in recent years has made it easier than ever to grow your audience simply by allowing them to become more directly involved.
Two common examples of this campaign style for organizations with volunteer programs are peer-to-peer fundraising and advocacy campaigns:
- Peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns allow your volunteers to set up their own individual donation pages that they then promote to their networks of friends and family online. The scale of these campaigns varies greatly, but the main idea is that decentralizing the campaign can greatly expand its audience. And since these campaigns rely on volunteers, they’re a perfect way to get more folks directly involved with your work and develop deeper, more engaged relationships with them.
- Advocacy campaigns raise awareness for a social or political mission, usually revolving around a specific upcoming event, piece of legislation, or recent development. Advocacy campaigns rely on reaching wide audiences to be successful, and the growth of mobile technology has revolutionized how these campaigns can be conducted. Your volunteers can spread the word on your behalf and then help to recruit new advocates and volunteers to further your message. Check out the TeamDNL guide to advocacy apps to see some examples.
Volunteer engagement and recruitment are closely related, as more engaged volunteers are more likely to recommend your program to friends or bring them along to events. By devoting plenty of attention to your existing volunteers and getting them more directly involved with an engaging campaign style, you can build a stronger program to attract new supporters.
5. Deliberately target volunteer grants
Volunteer grants are an underutilized form of corporate philanthropy. Through company grants, companies financially match the hours that their employees spend volunteering for eligible nonprofit organizations. Many volunteers are unaware that their employers even offer these programs, so reminding them to check is always a good idea.
In fact, for organizations with very active volunteer programs, it might be a smart use of your resources to create a more thorough digital marketing plan to fully promote these grants to your audience.
By deliberately targeting volunteer grants with a marketing plan, you’ll not only boost revenue with matched funding from your volunteers’ employers, but you’ll also incentivize broader audiences of potential volunteers to get involved. Knowing that their time or contributions will be matched can be a major motivating factor for some supporters.
Plus, pursuing volunteer grants with a deliberate strategy can easily develop into more structured relationships with local companies. If a business has many employees who volunteer with your organization, you can eventually begin a structured partnership for greater financial or volunteer support.
Work volunteer grants into your broader tech strategies, including the volunteer section of your website, your marketing materials, and your volunteer-centric campaigns. Explore this guide to volunteer grants for a more comprehensive overview of the topic and how to get started.
Many organizations do a great job of engaging with their volunteers and yet don’t have any concrete strategies in place for recruiting new ones.
Relying solely on a haphazard approach like this where self-motivated individuals seek you out on their own won’t drive long-term success. You need to actively attract new volunteers to your program. Your technology can (and should) support your goals.