Virtual volunteerism has been on the rise for quite some time.
Not only is it an easy way for supporters to give back to a cause they care about, but it also provides your organization with some much-needed help without extra cost.
With recent global events, virtual volunteering is now a necessity for many charitable organizations. As a volunteer management leader, you likely have had to likely expand virtual offerings in order to sustain support for your mission.
A common challenge to virtual volunteerism is actually recruiting the volunteers. This can come from:
Lack of event visibility
Lack of awareness
Lack of active promotion
Lack of understanding impact
In this guide, we’ll explore exactly who virtual volunteers are, how to find them, and some of our favorite tips for recruiting them.
What are virtual volunteers?
Let’s start with a basic definition. Virtual volunteers are supporters who participate in activities, events, and programs for the full benefit of an organization through the internet and their smartphones.
Expanding your volunteer programs to include virtual opportunities is significant for many reasons. One of the top benefits for volunteer management leaders is that it can expand your volunteer base and help you meet new potential supporters. Because no one has to necessarily participate in person, you can enlist volunteers from all over the world!
Additionally, offering virtual opportunities is an extremely convenient alternative for supporters who want to give back but don’t have the means or schedule needed for in-person volunteering. With online options, these people can support your cause without leaving the comfort of their own home and on their own time.
While the virtual volunteer opportunities you host will depend on your unique organization, goals, and mission, here are the common forms it can take:
Fundraising phone calls and outreach
Advocacy phone banking or texting
Website design or support
Email marketing or management
Social media promotion and management
Copywriting, blogging, or editing
Graphic design and photography
Marketing or branding assistance
Now that you know what exactly virtual volunteering looks like, it’s time to figure how you can find viable prospects in order to recruit them for your mission.
How to find virtual volunteers
If you want to work on recruiting virtual volunteers, you’ll need to know exactly where you can find them. This is where having a dependable volunteer database will come in handy. Recruiting supporters who already know your organization and have volunteered before will be the most effective place to start, and then you can expand your reach from there.
Consider these methods for finding virtual volunteers for your online offerings:
Reach out to your existing volunteer base
It’s much more beneficial and cost-effective to retain current supporters instead of using time and resources to continually acquire new ones. Use this same thought process for your virtual volunteers. Send an email blast to your existing volunteer base asking them if they’d be interested in supporting your cause through entirely online means. More often than not, your volunteers are probably not even aware you’re providing virtual opportunities.
Segment your existing supporters by skillset
If your virtual volunteer events are based on certain skills, try and filter your existing supporters by that skill. This can give you a clue into the people who are most likely to sign up for your virtual event but also succeed in it. Virtual volunteer activities like phone banking, social media promotion, or app development might be best for people who work in customer service, are social influencers, or have experience in coding.
Visit volunteer listing sites
There are a ton of websites out there, like Mobilize, that serve as volunteering marketplaces for supporters to find new causes and for organizations to source new volunteers. People will usually sign up for the site, input any special skills or passions, and look for volunteer events that catch their eye. As a volunteer management leader, you can also use these platforms to post your own virtual opportunities and contact new registrants.
Look to your corporate partnerships
Oftentimes, companies and businesses will incentivize their own employees to volunteer for a charitable cause. This can be either through a corporate social responsibility program or a corporate-nonprofit sponsorship. It often results in the corporation’s employees volunteering for your organization on their company’s behalf.
Consider any businesses that you already have relationships with and reach out if their skills and goals align with yours. If you don’t have any existing partnerships, you can always take the steps to seek them out by exploring local businesses with similar missions to yours.
The people who volunteer for your organization come from a variety of backgrounds and places. Using your existing database, a public volunteer listing site, or your corporate partnerships is a key way to narrow down your choices and increase your virtual volunteer recruitment
6 tips for recruiting virtual volunteers
Even without the virtual aspect, recruiting volunteers isn’t always a walk in the park. From ensuring that your supporters know of the right opportunities to setting volunteers up with the right digital tools, there are numerous aspects that you must consider.
1. Ensure virtual volunteer opportunities are easy to find
For one thing, it shouldn’t be hard for your supporters to find your virtual volunteer opportunities. Let’s say they want to support your cause digitally; however, if they can’t easily figure out how to do so, they’ll be much more likely to give up and move on to another organization.
If you want to ensure your virtual volunteer opportunities are easy to find, follow these steps:
Make sure you have an SEO optimized and well-designed website. Your website should be on the first page of search results when someone looks up your organization’s name. From there, as soon as a user lands on your site, your volunteer opportunities should be front and center. This can be with an eye-catching button or through a prominent link on your website’s main menu.
Have a dedicated page for volunteer opportunities with a filter for virtual ones. Once people are on your organization’s website, you should direct them to a dedicated page for all of your volunteer opportunities. From there, make it easy to find purely virtual ones by filters. As you create new volunteer events, make sure to tag them as virtual or in-person so that this filter feature works accurately.
Ensure each virtual opportunity has a comprehensive description. Virtual volunteer events are unique in that they likely require a certain online tool or device to pull it off. Make sure this is clearly stated in the event description. This should include a summary of the job at hand, the skills required for the task, any major time commitments, and more.
With this crossed off your to-do list, you can rest assured knowing that your supporters know exactly where to go if they want to support your organization virtually.
2. Market your virtual volunteer opportunities smartly
Along with having a dedicated page on your organization’s website for your virtual volunteer opportunities, you’re going to need a digital marketing and outreach strategy. After all, how else are you going to direct your volunteer prospects to your website and different virtual events?
It’s recommended that you use a multichannel marketing strategy. Using multiple channels to connect with potential volunteers is the best way to funnel them towards your virtual volunteer opportunity. Multichannel marketing is simply the concept of using more than one communication channel to promote an opportunity, leading your supporters to different channels until they end up on your desired page.
The most common ways to reach out to your potential virtual volunteers will likely be through social media, regular email newsletters, or text blasts. How can you turn this into a multichannel strategy?
For instance, your regular newsletters should already be encouraging readers to follow your social media accounts. From there, use your social media account to tell the story of your organization. One popular tactic is to post highlights from any past virtual events. Within some posts, encourage your followers to sign up for your text message blasts. You can then use your text messages to directly send virtual volunteer opportunities that the recipient will be interested in.
In this example, you can see that the different marketing channels are supporting each other and funneling the prospect to your virtual volunteering events. Remember, multichannel marketing isn’t linear. People might find you through your social media first.
That’s why it’s important to not only have your different channels support each other but to also incorporate key links and marketing content in each of these channels. This way, no matter how the prospect engages with your organization, they know exactly where to go for virtual opportunities.
3. Have a dedicated virtual training or onboarding program
This isn’t exactly a recruitment tip, but a retention tip. One of the best ways to recruit virtual volunteers is already having a group of supporters who have volunteered in a similar way in the past. This can be done by implementing a dedicated virtual training or onboarding program from the start.
As you already know, virtual volunteering has more technical factors and maybe even equipment than a regular event might have. This is because the work has to be done entirely online. This might be difficult for your older volunteers or those who are just not as advanced in digital literacy.
Your regular volunteer events likely already have some type of onboarding or training to ensure that volunteers understand what the task needs and that they can successfully complete it. Once onboarding is completed, they shouldn’t have to go through this process again as they’re already as prepared as they need to be.
Incorporating virtual training follows this same thought process. However, traditional training is often successful because it is in-person and an expert is physically leading, giving the trainees opportunities to ask questions or correct themselves.
How can you pivot this online engagement to the virtual space? Consider using these tools:
PDFs and other online documents
Online quizzes and surveys
While virtual training may lack the face-to-face aspect, this can be made up with certain video conferencing solutions. The same goes for other in-person activities. Incorporating virtual elements into your training is even a good practice to take for your non-virtual volunteer events. Online training is often more convenient for the volunteer and can be completed at their own time.
4. Encourage virtual volunteers to connect with each other
Sometimes, your volunteers are wary about virtual opportunities because they lack in-person interaction. One of the best parts of volunteering for a cause you care about is meeting other people who feel the same. In-person engagement builds camaraderie and motivates supporters to continue volunteering for your organization. This can be a barrier when it comes to recruiting your virtual volunteers.
However, there are ways you can still encourage your virtual volunteers to connect and engage with each other. Consider doing the following:
Pair new recruits with more experienced volunteers. Having a more experienced mentor walk you through the volunteer process is a great way to connect them deeper to your mission. Encourage volunteers to talk to new recruits through virtual meetups and calls! This is also a key chance for newbies to ask any pressing questions they have.
Set up a video chat session with your virtual volunteers. If you or another program leader have some extra time, consider setting up a video chat session with all your virtual volunteer recruits. You can answer any questions, as well as introduce volunteers to each other.
Host an online meet and greet for virtual volunteers to meet key staff members. Virtual volunteers lose out on the opportunity to meet key staff members in person. Consider setting up a live online meet and greet for your virtual recruits to introduce themselves and get familiar with the top players in your organization.
When your supporters see that you’re making the effort to still build an engaging volunteer community, they’re more likely to sign up and continue signing up for your virtual opportunities, giving you a loyal pool of supporters for future events.
5. Continue virtual volunteer engagement over time.
This is another retention tip, as opposed to recruitment. Continuing virtual volunteer engagement after you’ve already recruited the volunteer is key to ensuring that they continue to support your organization and participate in your events.
How can you actively keep up engagement with your virtual volunteers? Follow these suggestions:
Be responsive to any emails, calls, or other questions asked.
As soon as a virtual volunteer completes an event, send them an appreciation email or letter.
Keep volunteers in the know on any wide organizational updates (this is especially useful when a global pandemic turns life upside down).
Consistently match volunteers with virtual opportunities that they’re interested in and have the skills for.
Ask for feedback from virtual volunteers and genuinely implement it.
Recruiting volunteers isn’t something that stops once they participate in a program or event. If anything, if that volunteer doesn’t continue with your organization, your recruitment efforts are moot. Retaining your virtual volunteers is a key indicator of successful volunteer recruitment! Continuing valuable engagement with those volunteers is your best bet.
6. Use dedicated volunteer management software.
You likely already use and know the benefits of volunteer management software. But if you’re expanding your virtual volunteerism efforts, the software you use is even more critical. Having a dedicated place to refer to key data points and metrics is necessary if you want to improve your virtual volunteer opportunities and recruitment efforts.
Make sure your volunteer management solutions can handle the following:
Collect and store volunteer data in a centralized database.
Create new segments of your volunteer base for marketing or programming purposes.
Customize volunteer registration forms to align with the opportunity at hand.
Automate communications with volunteers.
Compile reports on volunteer engagement data.
Along with a volunteer management solution, you’ll likely need a couple of additional tools to pull off your virtual event. Look into video conferencing software, live streaming tools, instant chat functions, and more.
As a volunteer management leader, recruiting volunteers is not a new concept. After all, that’s how you get supporters to participate in your events and support your cause. However, virtual volunteer opportunities do pose additional challenges due to their technical aspect and the fact that not everyone even knows they exist. Use the tips above to optimize your own recruitment tactics and engage your virtual volunteers effectively.
Alfred I. Johnson is Co-Founder and CEO of Mobilize, an events management and supporter mobilization platform that connects mission-driven organizations and people. Prior to founding Mobilize, Alfred was Head of Sales and Head of People at Clara Lending.