Volunteers provide the free labor for churches and nonprofit organizations and the trick to recruiting and retaining volunteers is to keep them engaged with the organization. This requires a volunteer engagement strategy which is based on the organizations’ ability to help them feel like what they do adds value and that they make a difference.
Organizations that do a good job of engaging their volunteers find that the volunteers are excited about what they do and give more than is asked of them. Engaged volunteers also serve as advocates for the organization. However, when volunteers are not engaged they lose interest quickly and eventually step down from their role.
You will find that organizations that have a strong volunteer engagement model, understand leaderships’ role in creating an environment that fosters engagement. This involves developing a volunteer engagement strategy that includes creating systems and process that develop and reward volunteer efforts as well as streamlined volunteer communication processes that keep information flowing.
So what can your organization do to create a culture that fosters volunteer engagement?
9 Tips for Volunteer Engagement Strategy
1. Mission and Vision
Volunteers rally behind a cause and the mission of an organization. But once they are on board and actively involved, it is leadership’s responsibility to continually restate the mission and vision as a reminder for what they are participating in. For this reason it is important to have a mission and vision statement that can be memorized and recited by the volunteers. I worked for a pediatric hospital and the mission statement was we will do what is right for kids. Simply stated but very powerful and inviting to volunteer labor. Volunteers who are emotionally attached to a mission believe in what they do and are loyal and committed to the organization.
2. Structured Communication
Structured and consistent communication is one of the most important things an organization can do to foster engaged volunteers. Volunteers that give of their time, and a portion of their life, have a natural interest in what is happening behind the scenes. They want to know when there new endeavors being planned, how well the organization is achieving its mission and how what they do contributes to its success. Sharing performance data helps the volunteer see the big picture and further their passion for the organization.
3. Interaction with Supervisor
Never underestimate the value of supervisor interaction – especially volunteers who have been with the organization for a while value spending time with their supervisor. They enjoy the interactions and look forward to sharing both personal experiences as well as highlights of their volunteer experience. This also creates a great opportunity to learn how the organization can better support the volunteers. Volunteers want to know that they are cared for as individuals so asking about their family, their job, their hobbies or other personal interests makes them feel valued.
4. Volunteer Development
Organizations that utilize large numbers of volunteers need to be constantly looking for ways to develop and promote them to leadership positions. Volunteers that are engaged with the organization value opportunities to develop and grow in their volunteer role. This can be done by creating a process to identify those volunteers with leadership potential and having a defined developmental plan for then. This process can be as simple as making notes on volunteer performance and keeping a log of volunteers that demonstrate leadership characteristics. Keep in mind, not every volunteer (like not every employee) has the drive or the interest to develop so targeting those people who show an interest and desire can help you stay focused on those who have that potential.
5. Create Team Environment
Volunteer engagement is dependent, in part, on how well volunteers interact, get along and participate on a team. People want to feel like they belong to a community and other volunteers are often the only family volunteers have so creating a team environment where volunteers get along and work well together is really important.
6. Create a Culture of Trust
Volunteers need to be able to trust their leadership and are constantly watching to see if their behaviors reflect their words. They want to follow leaders who do what they say, say what they do and are the same regardless of who is around. Credibility is strengthened or lost based on how well a leader demonstrates consistency in their behaviors – both in their personal and professional lives.
7. Clear Expectations
Volunteers need to have a good understanding of their responsibilities and what is expected of them. This is done by providing them with a detailed volunteer job description as well as the training and tools to perform their job. Volunteers feel vulnerable when they don’t have the necessary resources to perform job tasks so the more detail and structure you can provide makes them feel comfortable in their role and valued as a volunteer.
Volunteers like to be acknowledged as a valued part of the organization and a major responsibility of volunteer leadership is to show volunteers care and appreciation for their efforts. This can be done in many different ways but the key is to send a consistent message of gratitude.
9. Volunteer Feedback
Because volunteers contribute so much of their time to an organization they want to feel like they can participate in the improvement process and that their ideas matter. They want to have a voice in how jobs are performed because they are often on the front-line and know the best approach to performing job tasks. Volunteers feel valued when an organization actively solicits feedback and incorporates their ideas into how volunteer jobs are carried out. Volunteers have great perspectives and can unleash a lot of great ideas that can help the organization continue to improve. If you want to see a volunteer light up, let them know that the organization will be implementing one of their improvement ideas!
Developing a culture that engages volunteers will not only have a positive impact on the volunteer but will also affect the customers or clients that the volunteer interacts with. This will result in one more thing that can reinforce the mission of the organization.
photo by: vastateparkstaff