Managing Your Volunteers: 6 Updated Best Practices

August 7, 2018 - 15 minutes read

managing your volunteers onecause

A huge proportion of any nonprofit’s ground-level campaign work is completed by volunteers who generously donate their time to support the missions they believe in. Chances are your organization fits into this group and has a volunteering program of its own.

Keeping your volunteers satisfied, engaged, and excited to help are essential to boosting your retention rates building an increasingly dependable base of support.

The key to this kind of success is continually updating and improving your volunteer management strategies. Too many nonprofits get stuck in the past as they grow, managing volunteer programs that grew right along in size but not in scope or vision.

What this means is that volunteers in out-of-touch programs consistently feel underappreciated or don’t see how their contributions fit into the evolving goals of the nonprofit.

Take a close look at your own volunteer program and study up on these 6 updated best practices:

  1. Never neglect training your volunteers.
  2. Set goals for your volunteer program.
  3. Focus on building deeper relationships.
  4. Assign tasks that suit volunteer skills.
  5. Actively encourage a sense of belonging.
  6. Prioritize motivation and recognition.

If one or more of these best practices sounds like an area where your nonprofit could use some improvement, read on for some key tips and resources!

All nonprofits face the never-ending challenge of securing funding to complete their projects and grow their impact. Just make sure this challenge doesn’t overshadow your volunteers or get between you and the real value of their contributions!

1. Never neglect training your volunteers.

Your nonprofit (hopefully) already has a volunteer onboarding and training system in place to introduce newcomers to your operations and projects. But when was the last time you took a look at that training system?

Many organizations do a fantastic job of training and engaging their volunteers early on but then fail to update their process as they grow.

If the nonprofit’s operations and tools haven’t changed much over the years, this might not be a huge problem. However, chances are your strategies and tools have changed a lot since your organization was founded.

Consider the various tools and methods you now rely on that might not be fully incorporated or explained in your volunteer training process:

  • Updated CRM or other database systems that might be useful for volunteers to understand for basic data entry purposes.
  • Peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns that rely on volunteer-power. Read through this introductory guide from OneCause for more context.
  • Social media marketing strategies and pages that volunteers might manage.
  • Mobile engagement strategies and technologies like apps or text-to-give tools.
  • Campaign-specific methods like pledge drive call center protocols.

These are just a few examples, but they probably apply to your nonprofit. Start by thinking of any new fundraising technologies you’ve adopted in the last several years. Ask a few long-term volunteers if there were any grey areas they struggled to catch up on at first.

The flipside of this best practice is to ensure that your staff fully understands the roles that volunteers play in your organization!

Your internal staff has grown since your early days, so make sure none of your staffers accidentally overwhelm volunteers with too many requests or take over any of their responsibilities.

2. Set goals for your volunteer program.

This best practice is particularly important for nonprofits that want or need to create lasting improvements and growth in their volunteer programs.

Your volunteers of course all work towards a project or campaign goal related to your mission, but how do you shape the growth of your volunteer program as a whole?

Without a big picture goal, volunteer programs too often stagnate and begin to experience drops in retention. Here are some examples of the kinds of overarching goals we mean:

  • Improving volunteer retention rates
  • Boosting volunteer recruitment
  • Growing the conversion rate of volunteers to donors
  • Improving volunteer satisfaction and engagement
  • Implementing more efficient or useful data tools
  • Strengthening communication across the program
  • Measuring actual volunteer impact

Just as your organization identifies problem areas in its fundraising strategies, and as businesses focus their growth efforts on specific issues, your volunteer program must do the same to truly keep volunteers engaged as it grows.

There’s a huge plus to actively identifying issues and developing goals and plans to address them. That new level of focus and motivation for your entire team will result in more effective volunteer management strategies overall.

What’s a problem that your volunteer program currently faces? Improving your program and strengthening your base of support begins with asking this simple question.

3. Focus on building deeper relationships.

A guiding purpose of any nonprofit volunteer program should be to continually invest in those valuable relationships with devoted supporters. Even if your program’s methods are a little out-of-date, your team still likely goes out of its way to help volunteers feel valued.

Building deeper relationships with your volunteers of course begins with thanking them, but it encompasses quite a lot more, too. Consider these strategies:

  • Offering event perks to dedicated volunteers. If they’re not staffing your events, offer your loyal volunteers free or discounted tickets. Use a customizable online event registration platform to make the process easier.
  • Focus on training and additional opportunities. As discussed in the first section, updated training is essential for any volunteer program. Offering additional skill-development opportunities and leadership roles is a great way to help them valued.
  • Promote corporate volunteer grant programs. Volunteer grants are an extremely effective way to help volunteers feel that they’ve made a positive impact on your work. Check out the top volunteer grant companies from 360MatchPro for more information.
  • Offer plenty of opportunities for input. Developing updates and optimizations around volunteer input is the single best way to ensure your program remains engaging. Take the time to actually listen and respond to any and all actionable suggestions.

Expressing your gratitude, investing in their skills, and finding ways to boost their impact are all great ways to build lifelong relationships with your volunteers. This will boost retention for years to come and contribute to a strong, supportive culture within your organization.

Many nonprofits focus on converting their volunteers to donors. While there’s nothing wrong with this strategy, make sure your program’s larger priorities don’t get overtaken.

4. Assign tasks that suit volunteer skills.

The smartest way to ensure your volunteers feel appreciated, engaged, and impactful to the cause? Get to know them and their skill sets, then match them up with the tasks you know they’ll excel at.

This best practice is another great example of the previous section, building deeper relationships. Understanding and valuing a volunteer’s unique skills is an extremely effective way to show that you care about them and the contributions they bring to the table.

Here are a few examples of how you might put this advice into action:

  • For tech-savvy volunteers, ask them to help research new tools your team is thinking of adopting to help make the smartest choice.
  • For outgoing volunteers, have them serve as main hosts for your events. Their energy alone can go a long way to boost attendance over time.
  • For design-minded volunteers, ask them to help create new marketing materials for your upcoming campaigns.
  • For more reserved volunteers, orient them with your digital fundraising tools. For instance, ask a volunteer to help track your text-to-give campaign results.
  • For younger volunteers, ask them for truthful feedback and suggestions on your marketing and social media strategies.

Volunteers should never feel bored when donating their time to your nonprofit. After all, they’re present because they believe in your mission! Boredom often signifies poor or inefficient volunteer management, and it’s terrible for retention.

Besides, matching tasks with skills is a surefire way to ensure that each problem will be solved by the very best team for the job!

5. Actively encourage a sense of belonging.

Time for an old-fashioned but extremely reliable best practice for volunteer management. Building team spirit is an old stand-by for effective management and for good reason!

As with any group of people working together towards a shared goal, in this case your mission or specific campaign targets, it’s crucial that every member of the team understand how their individual contributions fit into the larger strategy. This can be accomplished with comprehensive planning and up-to-date training processes.

A sense of belonging and team identity is important for helping your volunteers feel included and valued. Depending on their roles and the types of events you host, there are a few classic tools for encouraging these feelings:

  • Team-building exercises and excursions
  • Customized badges and ID cards
  • Volunteer uniform t-shirts

Badges and t-shirts double as an extremely useful way to identify volunteers staffing your public events. Just make sure to find a custom merchandise platform that allows you to print and order as few or as many items as you need.

The value that these strategies can provide your organization’s public image also shouldn’t be overlooked. The sight of volunteers (in well-designed uniforms) feeling valued and fulfilled while supporting your mission says so much more than any marketing email ever could.

6. Prioritize motivation and recognition.

Motivation and recognition are the two most important concepts for incentivizing continued volunteer engagement and maintaining high retention rates.

Volunteers need to understand the real impact that their contributions have on your work, and they have to feel that those contributions are truly valued by your team. There are some essential steps you can take to ensure your organization prioritizes these crucial parts of volunteer management:

  • Identify quantifiable metrics for each campaign to measure the real impact of volunteer work on your constituents or overarching goal.
  • Try to get all your volunteers involved in fieldwork from time to time. No one should stay in the office during an entire campaign.
  • Report on volunteer accomplishments in your newsletters, or highlight top volunteers in dedicated weekly social media posts.
  • Actively strengthen communication across your nonprofit, looping in your volunteer leaders on all new developments and strategies.
  • Host annual volunteers-only events to present awards, congratulate them on accomplishments, and express your thanks with a fun night out.

Of course you value their contributions, but your nonprofit should treat dedicated volunteers as essential members of the team.

Developing personal relationships while also instituting operational structures and schedules (like the concepts listed above) is the best way to ensure that retention, engagement, and satisfaction are boosted on all sides.

Managing your nonprofit’s volunteer program can be a real balancing act. Effectively distributing tasks, keeping everyone engaged, and finding the time to thank everyone for their help can feel overwhelming.

Following even a few updated best practices and continually re-examining your practices goes a long way to ease the management process. Plus it keeps more and more of your supporters excited to stay involved as your organization grows!


Author: Kelly Velasquez-Hague

Kelly Velasquez-Hague brings over 20 years of fundraising, nonprofit management, and sales/marketing experience to her role as the Director of Content Marketing for OneCause. As a member of the OneCause sales and marketing team, Kelly manages all of the company’s content strategy and execution. She is passionate about empowering great missions and loves that her current role allows her to continue to help nonprofits reach new donors raise more funds for their cause.