Top 5 tips for your volunteer engagement strategy

engagement, Retention

Written by Wendy Halley

We’re approaching that time of year when those new year’s resolutions lead to a surge in volunteer applications. Across the sector, volunteering departments will be sifting through all of these offers of help. But recruiting volunteers is just the start. Keeping them engaged can be more of a challenge. So here are five tips for a great volunteer engagement strategy.

1. Demonstrate the impact

If you asked a hundred volunteers why they volunteer, you’d get lots of different answers. Many would be the expected ones, from building a CV to making friends – although “You’re on my bus route” did make me smile. But surely “to make a difference” must be up there for most people. Whatever we do with our leisure time, we want it to be well-spent.  

Regularly showing volunteers how their activities have made a difference not only recognises the contribution they’re making but links what they’re doing closer to the organisational objectives. So don’t save your impact measurement stats and stories just for your Board or funders: regularly tell your volunteers too. 

2. Transition and broaden support

When your head of shops or service manager is saying they “need more volunteers” it’s very tempting just to start recruiting based on a rough idea of what they’ll be doing and what the application process will be. But a longer-term view, with how the role can evolve, the options for development or transition from one role to another can really help with ongoing engagement. With a plan written down, managers and volunteers can have clearly defined goals and more of a structure to the volunteer journey. Volunteering isn’t a job and not everyone will be wanting to do more or take on extra responsibilities. But for those who do, it can be a great tool in your engagement strategy to incorporate how a role can develop when you’re designing the volunteer offer. 

3. Share relatable content 

Along with the benefits they bring to organisations, there are also responsibilities and liabilities associated with volunteering. Policies and codes of conduct will usually apply to volunteers and staff alike. But volunteers aren’t staff and what is appropriate for employees may not be right for volunteers. Whether it’s a simple email, a training course or a policy to agree to, spend a little extra time thinking about your volunteer audience. “Worky” terms, like safeguarding or diversity, can be very off-putting if you’re unfamiliar with them. Making content, whatever it’s for, relatable and applicable to the volunteer experience is the best way to land any message. 

4. Great volunteer management 

Engagement is part of good management but the best engagement strategies in the world cannot overcome a poor volunteer management experience. Volunteers want to know what is being asked of them and have the tools and training to deliver. They also want support and direction from a manager who’s engaged with them and their volunteering.  

Choosing to invest time or money in training your volunteer managers will directly support your engagement strategy and improve the volunteering experience for all.

Consider a volunteer management software that offers a comprehensive feature set to support volunteer managers at each stage of the volunteer journey. This can save precious admin hours and leave more time to focus on nurturing relationships amongst your teams.  

5. Reward and recognition 

You can’t talk about volunteer engagement without reward and recognition, but you don’t need some fancy volunteer awards ceremony in an expensive hotel to show your volunteers that they’re valuable.  

Simply telling a-day-in-the-life-of story of different volunteers in a newsletter is great reward and recognition and you’ll also be able to increase knowledge about a different part of the organisation each time as you focus on another role. 

Celebrating the “how” in volunteering equally with the “how much” is also a great tactic for gently implementing values and behaviour work as well as making sure that different volunteers are included. A “Behind the Scenes Star” or “Innovative Fundraiser” is worth just as much as your top fundraiser or 20-year veteran.  

But the most important element of reward is Thank You. It’s that simple. Whether by their manager or the head of department, a regular and genuine expression of appreciation is, sadly, often overlooked in the busyness of life. Thank you events for Volunteers’ Week or Christmas are great and a call out of the blue from a senior manager can be a real boost, costing nothing. Managers usually are very appreciative of their volunteers – you might just have to remind them to say it from time-to-time. 

There are just some things in life that we all just agree are a good idea. Volunteer engagement is one of them. It brings our volunteers closer. Closer to their roles, more involved with the tasks they’re being asked to carry out and more aligned to the organisational aims and objectives, all of which increases the impact of volunteering.  

Hopefully these tips have given you some ideas, but volunteer engagement isn’t an exact science. You need to work out what’s right for your volunteers and your organisation.  

For more on how Assemble can support volunteer engagement, contact us or request a demo