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Volunteer Engagement: A Step-By-Step Guide

When applied well, volunteer engagement can solve some of the greatest challenges that nonprofits face. It can improve retention while increasing outputs from volunteers, all helping you generate a more positive impact. 

Simply put, volunteer engagement is a comprehensive strategy to relate well with the people who are helping an organization achieve their mission. It involves recruiting volunteers effectively, managing them well, thanking them for their work, and, most importantly, understanding them. 

It seems like common sense, yet nonprofits often put engagement on the backburner. Relationship maintenance can be time consuming and tricky to manage! But, in fact, studies have shown that volunteer engagement is as important to nonprofit health as financial stability. It really needs to be prioritized at the same level as fundraising. 

The best volunteer management software helps solve the barriers that most organizations face to effective volunteer engagement. It can help you automate your relationship management process  and support more targeted recruitment. When you have the right people working with you, you will find it easier to keep them engaged!    


Building an Effective Volunteer Engagement Strategy, Step-by-Step

Organizations must first consider their volunteer program’s goals and objectives and define clear roles for how volunteers fit into their strategic plan. At the same time, you should think about the process from the volunteer’s perspective - what drives them, how do they like to volunteer, and how can you support them? The best volunteer engagement strategy will meet in the middle and satisfy both stakeholders’ needs (your organization and the volunteer). 

Building an Effective Volunteer Engagement Strategy, Step-by-Step

Tips to Understanding Your Volunteers

You can best understand your volunteers by assessing your current ones! Consider some data points, and ask them some questions. You can easily form a demographic profile and develop a “needs analysis” this way, which will aid other aspects of the process. 

  • Who are your volunteers? Are they mostly women, men, young people, etc.? 
  • Where do they come from to help you?
  • Do they prefer working at home, in hybrid roles, in flexible roles, or at fixed events?
  • Why are they helping you? What drives them to support you? 
  • Why have they chosen your organization? 
  • How do you compare to other volunteer experiences?

Using a volunteer platform like Golden will make it easier to compile this data and analyze it. Much of it can be extracted from volunteer profiles and/or automated surveys, 

Determine How You Will Measure What “Successful” Volunteer Engagement Is

While you’re understanding your volunteers, think about what you need from a volunteer program in general. Within that context, what does “successful” volunteer engagement look like? 

For instance, most organizations measure volunteer program success by:

  • The number of participants that volunteer for your events.
  • The number of volunteer hours contributed as a whole and by each volunteer.
  • Your volunteer turnover rate.
  • Total donations generated by volunteers.

If you really want to understand your success in engaging, you can also develop satisfaction metrics. These might be more qualitative in nature. Golden can help you develop a star-rating system and also compile detailed feedback in answer form into analytics.

Provide Support Resources and Training 

When you ask your volunteers about “why” they volunteer, you can also ask them what they need to more effectively volunteer. 

A good number of volunteers are looking for training in specific skills, and that’s why they are helping you in the first place. At the same time, volunteers will perform a better job and be more engaged if you have good support resources in place to help them help you. 

This can involve automated onboarding training and skills training in a platform like Golden. A volunteer can understand what training they will need to complete to work with you in different roles. Golden will send you reports and keep you up-to-date once a volunteer qualifies for a work role. 

It can also include a well-organized and searchable resource database on your volunteer platform, and interactive tools to provide feedback. Keeping volunteers in dialogue during training and development processes is its own form of engagement! 

Use Tech Tools for All Components of Onboarding

Along with specific training requirements to be ready for a role, all the old paper processes of volunteer engagement can be simplified through a volunteer platform. 

This includes scheduling, background checks, “paperwork” like waivers, and communication strategies like pre-recorded welcome videos and automated personal texts and emails to make volunteers feel welcome and supported. 

Use Tech Tools for All Components of Onboarding

Show Appreciation 

Thanking your volunteers for their time, energy, commitment, and value towards your collective impact is a critical component of volunteer engagement. An effective volunteer engagement strategy will weave gratitude in every step of the process.

Some specific volunteer appreciation ideas include:

  1. Sending thank you cards, texts or notes before and after working an event or completing a set of hours. 
  2. Provide certificates and graduate volunteers to new stages of growth in your community after completing a set of hours or training. 
  3. Host volunteer appreciation events. 
  4. Use systems like Golden’s integrated Karats program to automatically reward volunteer contributions, by making people eligible for prizes and promotions in “payment” for their service. 

Prioritize Effective Communication   

Make sure that you are advising volunteers of all your potential opportunities and communicating your impact regularly. This is a difficult feat which has been made much simpler with tech tools like Golden. 

In fact, Golden is the world’s most awarded volunteer management software in large part because of its integrative tools to streamline communication. It can automate your communication systems across media platforms (SMS, email, social media). It also utilizes AI to better understand your volunteers and predict their interest in your different programs, and also to help you write messages that resonate perfectly with each individual based on those preferences. 

Yet another reason is because it works directly with existing CRM systems like Salesforce to sync communication data across an organization’s systems. 

Use Data-Driven Processes for Learning and Evaluation 

Golden enables organizations to track against their evaluation metrics in real-time, generating analytics that support deep learning and evaluation of success. It does so through automated volunteer tracking tools and built-in feedback systems, to constantly understand the evolving volunteer experience with your organization. 

You can use this data to improve your volunteer engagement, and also to improve your resource allocation. Maybe volunteers need more training. Maybe they prefer different experiences. What communication works best? What language resonates? What is their collective impact on helping you achieve your mission? 

Top 3 Volunteer Engagement Ideas for Long-term Impact

Now that you have thought through a basic volunteer engagement strategy, you will want to work in some additional best practices for long term impact. Here are 6 top ideas to maximize your efforts.

  1. Integrate volunteer-to-volunteer recruitment. When families and friends volunteer together, they stay together! A platform like Golden enables your volunteers to share opportunities and work together with their preferred groups. It connects with social media platforms to link profiles and generate new channels for support. 
  2. Think beyond formal events. While some volunteers may prefer to help out at formal events, many do not have time. They might prefer more flexible options for supporting your work, including virtual opportunities. Come up with new ways for people to become involved and learn from feedback as to what works and what doesn’t!
  3. Make it fun. Volunteers want to have fun while they are working towards something meaningful. Be creative, but make sure you integrate joy and laughter into the engagement strategy at multiple points! Some ideas are sending quirky memes in a chat group, or maybe creating an annual award for “the volunteer who made us laugh the hardest”.

Top 3 Ways to Improve Volunteer Relationships

Along with general strategies for improving the volunteer experience and improving retention, there are specific ways you can improve relationships.  It’s important to recognize the volunteer agreement for what it is and approach it like any work relationship or donor relationship. 

  1. Honor the commitment. Volunteers are giving their time and expertise. This is valuable! It is important to honor that they only have 3 hours to give, or that they can only work on Sundays. If you take advantage of your volunteers or do not show your appreciation for their time, they will stop giving it. 
  2. Make volunteering meaningful.  The kinder you are and the more time you take to develop personal relationships with your volunteers, the happier they will be. The experience itself has to be meaningful, something purposeful in their lives beyond helping you with your impact (though this is important too!). 
  3. Support growth. This ties with understanding your volunteers. If you know why they are helping you, and you stay in regular communication and dialogue, you will understand how they can improve with training and resources to better serve you and garner what they want from the experience. 

Volunteer Engagement Can Be a Golden Experience! 

Volunteer engagement strategies are critical to nonprofit success, especially for organizations who rely on volunteers to achieve their mission.  It does not have to be complicated, and can be a meaningful way to boost your overall impact goals if done effectively. 

Tools like Golden can take you to that level by providing comprehensive support throughout your management and recruitment process, your messaging and communication process, your training programs, and your evaluation and impact measurement.  Golden is the best because it integrates the most effective technologies to cut back on your admin, find the ideal volunteers, and then  keep them happy, with gamified rewards systems and capacity for volunteers to network outward and interact with you through the system.   

That level of volunteer engagement can help you grow to the next level and achieve more impact!