How Nonprofits Can Create an Impactful Volunteer Experience

Imperative to the survival of many nonprofit organizations, volunteers are key stakeholders for your mission. Cassandra Smallman, from InitLive, provides a few key tips for enhancing your volunteers’ experience.

Volunteers are integral to nonprofit organizations, and for many they are the main workforce and faces behind the organization. Providing volunteers with meaningful and positive volunteer experiences every time they show up to work is crucial to ensuring your organization has a sustainable volunteer team in the long term.

As such, investing in delivering great volunteer experiences is not only good for your organization’s volunteer retention strategy. It can also help deepen each volunteer’s engagement and commitment to your cause.

Boosting your volunteer communication and engagement strategy to ensure that every individual has a significant and impactful experience with your organization. Here’s a rundown on ways to improve your game plan for the much-loved volunteers in your life:

  1. Provide accessible opportunities
  2. Make it easy to get involved
  3. Invest in strategic volunteer training
  4. Measure and communicate their impact

While creating great volunteer experiences does require some extra time and resources, that investment is well worth it in the long run. Imagine if you could increase the annual average number of hours worked by each volunteer by 5-8 hours. How much more good could your organization do towards your cause?

1. Provide accessible opportunities

Volunteers come from a wide range of backgrounds. Not all volunteers can work twice a week during business hours, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to contribute in other ways.

Make sure to offer a diverse set of opportunities with different times and locations to match the unique needs of your volunteers. Here are a few different options to consider when planning your volunteer opportunities:

  • Virtual Volunteering – This offers great flexibility for all those eager volunteers who are unable to work onsite because of transportation, location, or time constraints. Virtual volunteer opportunities are great because it empowers a volunteer to do the work on their own schedule in the comfort of their own home.
  • Evening Shifts – Many volunteers who work full-time can’t always participate in volunteer programs because they occur during business hours. Consider moving some shifts to be on weekday evenings or even weekends.
  • Child Care – One of the greater challenges some volunteers face is child care issues. Consider offering shifts that encourage parents to bring their children with them and offer onsite childcare while they volunteer.

The greater variety of volunteer opportunities you can offer, the greater the chance you have to recruit and retain a more diverse volunteer team. Offering convenient ways to volunteer will go a long way in creating more engaged volunteers overall.

2. Make it easy to get involved

There’s nothing more frustrating to volunteers than confusing registration and communication processes. When a person wants to start volunteering with your organization, consider the following:

  • What does that process look like?
  • How many steps are there?
  • Can they complete the process quickly?

A volunteer management software can go a long way in helping you create customized volunteer recruitment, screening, scheduling, and management processes that are specific to your organizational needs. By harnessing tools to help your organization manage the entire volunteer experience, you can ensure that the process is streamlined from start to finish.

The first place people look to volunteer is a nonprofit organization’s website. It is essential to offer a great volunteer page where people can review existing volunteer opportunities and sign up for the one that interests them the most. No phone calls, no emails, and no delay. The more barriers you put in front of a new volunteer, the less likely they are to get involved.

3. Invest in strategic volunteer training

Once you’ve recruited volunteers and placed them in their roles and shifts, it is essential to make sure they have all the information and tools they need to do their best work. Showing up feeling unprepared and confused for a volunteer shift is a fast way to spoil a volunteer’s experiences with your organization. That’s why it’s important to consider investing a portion of your time and budget to train your volunteers so they are well prepared to do great work.

You might even offer self-paced online training courses to make training as convenient as possible. By investing in the development of your volunteers, you communicate that you value each volunteer’s experience and their skill set. This can go a long way in ensuring that every volunteer feels prepared and valued whenever they show up to volunteer with your organization.

4. Measure and communicate their impact

Data is king, especially for nonprofit organizations. Harness the power of the volunteer activity data from your volunteer management software to measure and communicate volunteer program impact. While there is a lot of data at your fingertips, it is essential to narrow down what matters and measure your progress accordingly.

Consider tracking the following metrics:

  • Individual volunteer hours – How many hours has an individual volunteer worked in a given period of time?
  • Volunteer hours by group – How many hours has a group of people (such as a corporate volunteer team) worked?
  • Volunteer hours by program or event – How many hours did all volunteers collectively contribute to a specific program, event, or cause?

While these impact measurements are great, you can take it a step further and add direct impact data like the number of food bank clients served or the number of animals saved because of volunteers’ hard work.

Share your data with all the volunteers that positively contributed to your organization. In those communications, make sure to thank your volunteers for their hard work and consider offering appreciation events or awards for your top volunteers. These small gestures go a long way in making everyone feel valued.

While volunteers are motivated to help for many reasons, most of them are there to make a difference. That’s why having the ability to actually measure and communicate their tangible impact is such a powerful way to enhance their experience and keep them motivated.

Because volunteers are so essential to many of your day-to-day operations and events, taking steps to ensure that your volunteers will still be there year over year to help you accomplish your goals and serve your community is a wise decision.

Investing in your volunteer experience will pay dividends well into the future, ensuring that your organization continues to thrive.