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The Best Volunteer Management Strategies For Your Nonprofit

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Published: May 14, 2024

Here’s an interesting (and arguably enviable) story on volunteer management strategies that caught my eye recently.

On 24 March 2020, the UK government appealed to the people to join the NHS volunteer army and relieve the burden on healthcare workers.  

In the face of the ongoing pandemic this announcement had an overwhelming response.

Nearly 500,000 people signed up within a day. NHS easily reached its goal of 250,000 volunteers and, in fact, extended it to 750,000 volunteers. 

And guess what, they met that too!  

While such a show of solidarity is heartening, from the perspective of volunteer management, this raises two important questions:

  1. Can volunteer recruitment be this successful even without a global crisis? (or is it possible for me to replicate the same for my organization?)
  2. Will organizations be able to retain these volunteers once the crisis abates? (or even otherwise).

The answer to both these questions is a resounding No! (ah, were you expecting a yes?). 

You see, volunteer acquisition is at an all time high during crisis because people intrinsically ‘want to give back’. 

Since the feeling will abate after the pandemic, it is unlikely that they will stick around (or you would have the need to retain such a huge number).

However, a sound volunteer management strategy can replicate a similar increase in volunteer acquisition and retention.  

This post can help you there. Whether you are freshly launching a volunteer management strategy for your organization or looking to tweak it (in the face of alarming attrition), these pointers can walk you through building a solid strategy for your nonprofit. 

What is volunteer management?

Volunteer management consists of recruiting, training, engaging, and retaining volunteers for your organization.

successful-volunteer-management-callhub

An effective (and successful) volunteer management program can be judged based on 3 criteria:

  1. It is strategic – that is, it attracts the right volunteers at minimal cost to the organization
  2. Gives a positive volunteer experience – it trains and handles the volunteers the right way
  3. Reduces volunteer attrition – it encourages volunteers to continue supporting your organization.

So take a closer look at your existing volunteer management program. If you struggle with volunteer recruitment or attrition, you need to rethink your system.

Read Next: Volunteer Management Best Practices For Each Stage Of The Volunteer Lifecycle

Why is volunteer management important?

An Independent sector study (2018) found that a volunteer’s time is worth $25.43 per hour. Organizations that see such a high benefit clearly have a successful program that helps their volunteers reach their full potential. 

That is because a successful volunteer management program – 

  1. Attracts volunteers passionate about the cause
  2. Helps assign volunteers to the right roles (based on their skills and preferences)
  3. Enables efficient training of volunteers
  4. Keeps them engaged and retains them

Without a robust strategy, all the effort spent in their recruitment and training will be lost – and the volunteers will be unable to meet their potential as a critical asset to your organization.

Do you need volunteer management software?

This question often arises about successful volunteer management. A typical answer is an unequivocal yes. I would, however, be a bit more cautious. 

My answer would be “It depends.” Opting for volunteer management software depends on your organization’s needs (and financial position).

Volunteer management software helps you keep track of volunteer information (rather like a CRM for volunteers) and also enables you to communicate with them (via email).

If your organization is in its early stages or is pressed for money, spreadsheets are fine. You can use this data for volunteer communication by combining it with affordable mass texting or call center software

Cohesive working of software enables you to run targeted volunteer communication using the data in your spreadsheets, making it an important part of volunteer management strategies. 

However, if spreadsheets hinder the seamless movement of data to your communication platforms (and affect personalization), you may want to consider volunteer management software. 

A system designed to handle volunteer data and activities and track their performance can help streamline your volunteer management program.

You May Also Like: 23 Best Volunteer Management Software to Recruit and Organize Volunteers

Building a volunteer management strategy

Every volunteer management process encompasses 5 elements:

  • Planning
  • Recruiting
  • Training
  • Managing
  • Evaluating performance 
Volunteer-management-strategies-process-callhub
How volunteer management works

Credits: Samhsa.gov

While these elements can provide a framework for your volunteer management strategy, certain nuances that you need to keep in mind can vary between organizations.

Let’s go into more detail for each of these steps.

Volunteer management strategy – Planning

From the image above, it is clear that the planning part of the process is to get the resources in place before recruiting new volunteers. 

But one crucial element is missing. Focusing on the goals and objectives of your volunteer management program will better inform your strategy.

Volunteer management strategies #1: Set a goal for your volunteer management program

The goal of your program defines how you handle recruiting and training your volunteers later in the process. 

Yes, you are told the goal should be a ‘SMART’ goal. The goal should also address the gaps in your volunteer management program today.

For instance, if your organization is struggling with volunteer retention, then the goal of the volunteer management program could be to reduce attrition.

Having a clear focus will better inform the next stages in the process.

If you’re interested in improving volunteer retention, for example, here is how the rest of your volunteer management process will pan out

  1. Measures to attract the right volunteers in the recruitment process
  2. A smarter training program that adds value to the volunteers
  3. Better communication during volunteering (and after)
  4. More volunteer appreciation
  5. Added perks for being a volunteer (maybe a letter of recommendation)
  6. Identifying the right metrics during the evaluation

Even if these pointers seem general best practices, many organizations struggle to execute them because they are not tied to an underlying goal. 

Therefore, set goals that make sense for you and then structure your best practices around achieving those goals. That way, they are less likely to be out-prioritized by other tasks.

Volunteer management best practice 

In light of the ongoing pandemic, the goals you had planned for would have pivoted slightly. E.g. you would be focused on getting more volunteers to respond to the crisis instead of retaining them. 

In such cases, try to adjust every part of the volunteer management process to ensure alignment with your new goals. 

Related Reading: 9 Volunteer Recruitment Ideas to Attract Talent During Pandemic

Create an accurate job description: volunteer management strategies #2

The job description you put out there must create curiosity and excitement among the prospects you are targeting. It should also set the right expectations and provide valid information.

Here are some things you should consider before creating your job description

  1. Who is your organization looking for?
  2. What position are you looking to fill up? What skills do you need?
  3. Where can they work from?
  4. When does the job start?
  5. Why do you need volunteers for this job? Why should they be interested?
  6. How can your volunteers be successful at the job?

Use simple language to answer the above questions and tailor it to your target audience. 

For example, if you are looking for student volunteers, let them know how this job will benefit their growth and development. 

If you want to target working professionals, give them insights into how volunteering will help them improve their skills, meet like-minded people, and make social connections.

Volunteer-job-description
Sample Volunteer Job Description

Source: Samhsa.gov

Volunteer management best practice: 

Volunteer job descriptions during the pandemic can also detail the extent of exposure a volunteer would get (in terms of social distancing). This will give them a sense of how safe it is to volunteer with you. 

You can also describe how the role is crucial in fighting the pandemic (in case your efforts are focused on fighting COVID-19). Doing so will convey a sense of urgency and importance to your role that can help increase your applications.

Volunteer management strategy -Recruitment

Recruitment starts when volunteer applications pour in and ends when a candidate is approved. 

Here are two aspects that can refine volunteer recruitment further.

Go digital: volunteer management strategies #3

Offering flyers, running TV ads, and even word of mouth are excellent ways to attract volunteers. However, overlooking social media as a recruitment channel can be an oversight. 

Here are the advantages your job application can get by being ‘social.’

  1. Your application is seen by followers of your account – this is a treasure trove of interested prospects who are the most likely to volunteer (and stick!)
  2. It increases the chances of your followers sharing the opportunity within their network. That means more eyeballs on your ad and, more importantly, a personal endorsement for the role (and more subtly for your organization).
  3. The ad targeting options help put your ad in front of the right audience (those most interested in your cause).

Volunteer management best practice 

There are multiple ad restrictions on using the ongoing pandemic to run ads. Ensure that your ads conform to them before publishing. Also, keep your ads relevant to the ongoing situation (so that they resonate with your audience).

Look at other sources for volunteers: volunteer management strategies #4

Volunteer service organizations, student populations, and even volunteer referral services are great options for broadening your existing volunteer pool. 

You can also look at businesses to see if they can pitch in (as part of their corporate social responsibility programs). They can help by creating a work environment that inspires their employees to volunteer and participate in your cause. 

Here are some alternative sources (as per Samhsa.gov)

  1. People in recovery
  2. Retirees
  3. Community associations
  4. People from shelters
  5. State denominational offices
  6. Persons mandated to perform community service
  7. Stay-at-home mothers
  8. Service providers

You May Also Like: Top 14 Ideas for Effective Youth Group Outreach

Volunteer management best practice

You can redefine the role of your volunteers based on their background. For instance, retirees can help conduct wellness checks on their peers (or others in retirement homes). 

If the scope of your cause does not allow for such a re-assignment, then be more circumspect about your hiring sources. 

Volunteer management strategy -Training

A successful volunteer management program gets the most out of its volunteers with as little resource investment (both time and manpower) as possible. This does not mean scrimping on the quality of your training program but rather being smart about its implementation.

Here is how you can achieve that goal:

Assess volunteer skills before the training program: volunteer management strategies #5

During your interview and screening of volunteers, check what skills they come with. Also understand if they have a natural aptitude for one particular role. These can be in addition to your general evaluation during volunteer recruitment.

Here is how it can add value to your organization

  1. Provide more custom training to every volunteer
  2. Understand volunteer capabilities and requirements better (and thus be more adept at handling them).
  3. Know the extent of the skill set available at your disposal to get the most from them.

Volunteer management best practice 

The post-pandemic world may require many training sessions to be held remotely. It would be a good idea to check the volunteer’s comfort level on that medium and the effort involved in onboarding them. 

Doing so will give you a realistic estimate of the costs (in terms of resources) to your organization and also set the right expectations for when they can actively help out.

Assign volunteers (with the right skill and passion) to every task: volunteer management strategies #6

Ideally, you would assign volunteers with complementary skill sets to tasks. This will ensure you get the best out of them with the least onboarding efforts involved. 

However, such a match made in heaven rarely happens. Your volunteers would apply to improve their skill sets and acquire new skills to help them later in their careers.

In such cases, match volunteers to tasks based on their passion for them. Even if it means a steep learning curve, it increases the chances of retaining them.

Volunteer management best practice

During times of crisis, you may not have the luxury of choosing the volunteers you get. It is typically an ‘all hands on deck’ scenario where everyone pitches in to do what they can.

Setting expectations with your volunteers (especially with the new ones) is important in such cases. For example, tell them that such an arrangement is temporary and that you could find something more suitable for them later.  

Volunteer management strategy -Managing volunteers

Your volunteer managers should be looking for signs of burnout and creating resources to help volunteers. 

In this stage, your role would be to enable the volunteer managers to do their jobs better. 

Using technology to streamline management: volunteer management strategies #7

A secret to high volunteer retention is personalized communication and engagement.

That means tracking the volunteer’s activities, strengths, and achievements and weaving that into your communication (or even your training).

Undoubtedly, such a high level of personalization cannot be possible without the right system in place. Here are some of the digital tools you should be using:

  1. Using online application forms to capture and record volunteer data accurately
  2. A CRM to keep track of volunteer activity and information. Yes, spreadsheets work. But honestly, they are tough to manage and use for personalization.
  3. Communication tools – emails and texting software to send out bulk messages
  4. Tool for analytics and reporting – to see how well your volunteer management process works. Typically, reporting is a part of a CRM or volunteer management software. However, if you are not using either of these tools, getting a tool to keep track of the numbers is important.

Volunteer management best practice

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, having data to inform your decisions can be a huge asset if you have to reassign volunteers or check on lockdown areas.

Effective and frequent communication: volunteer management strategies #8

We briefly touched on text messaging software as part of your digital tool kit. This is linked to it in part but is not wholly limited to it.

Effective communication inspires your volunteers to take action. Since text messages are so personal (and have such high response rates), they are perfect for that. 

In some cases, you can also run volunteer-led phone banks (with call center software), and immediately follow up the calls with texts to ensure that your prospects respond (use software that enables you to send texts from a call center).

Frequent communication also helps you keep your volunteers updated on how their efforts have helped shape your cause, for example, the impact of a fundraising event they may have helped organize.

Volunteer management best practice

Many of your existing volunteers would not be able to help out for different reasons.

In such cases, send them texts on what your organization is doing and keep them in the loop. This will ensure that they have a higher chance of returning to volunteer with your cause again.

Volunteer management strategy – evaluation

This is tricky because evaluating the success metrics of your volunteer management program will depend on the goals you had previously outlined (in the first step). 

While the data you collect for evaluation can be around those goals, here are two more aspects to consider for volunteer management strategies.

Set up a feedback system: volunteer management strategies #9

A feedback system gives you a different perspective on the gaps in your existing volunteer management system. You can ask volunteers to participate in a phone survey or an automated text survey and get them to share their thoughts.

If many volunteers say that they don’t feel appreciated enough in their roles, this can explain why your retention rates are low. 

This feedback can also give you insights to streamline your volunteer management process and better cater to volunteer’s needs and expectations. 

If many volunteers feel that they are not getting enough value from volunteering, you can step up your training program to ensure that they develop additional skills that will help them later.

Volunteer management best practice

While tweaking your volunteer management system is not always possible given the circumstances (read global pandemic), it is still essential that you continue to listen to what your volunteers say.

Not only will it help you plan a better program when things get back to ‘normal,’ but it will also give you a realistic view of how your existing volunteer management system fares when faced with a crisis.

10. Assess volunteer’s happiness while working

To be honest, this can be clubbed into your feedback form. However, it deserves a note of its own because it is very different from the regular feedback you get. 

Unlike your usual feedback forms, this does not tell you what you can improve. It merely assesses how happy a volunteer is while working with your organization. 

It is recommended that you run periodic happiness checks to gauge the pulse of your volunteers and see if you can actively improve their happiness.

This metric actually ties back to the initial stage of your volunteer management strategy (planning, goal setting). If your goal is about retention, then implementing a happiness metric is crucial.

Volunteer management strategies: best practice

It could be difficult to get the right numbers because of the adjustments you have made to your organization’s efforts in light of the pandemic.

You may have put some of your events on hold (which means that the volunteers who worked so hard for them are quite upset about it).

In these cases, either modify the questions or weight the scores to give you the true picture

Take-away from volunteer management strategies

Implementing a volunteer management program may seem simple. However, unless it is well thought out and supported by a solid strategy, it will be difficult to acquire, perform, and retain volunteers. 

Hopefully, these tips on volunteer management strategies helped you gain a fresh perspective on your existing volunteer management plan. Good luck!

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