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Volunteer Management: How to Develop an Engaging Program

December 17, 2020

Volunteers are a nonprofit's best untapped resource.

They are an essential part of many organizations, nonprofits, and events, and are the workforce behind the scenes and the people in the community.

They donate their valuable time, and in order to retain and grow a team of committed volunteers, it is essential to understand their motivations, expectations, and value and deliver an engaging and rewarding experience through a well-managed volunteer program. 

A lot goes into creating and managing a successful and engaging volunteer program, from great onboarding and training to intelligent scheduling and management. Every experience a volunteer has with your organization, from signup to clock out, matters. This article will offer an in-depth exploration of what is required to develop and manage an engaging volunteer program for your organization. 

What is volunteer management? 

Before you can begin exploring how to develop an engaging program, it is important to understand what goes into volunteer management. Volunteer management is the process of recruiting, supervising, engaging, and retaining volunteers to meet your organization's goals and mission. Creating a strong volunteer management process is important for developing and implementing an effective and efficient volunteer program for your organization or nonprofit. 

What does a volunteer manager do? 

Every organization that relies on volunteers needs a volunteer manager and coordinators to plan and manage all the administrative duties required to execute a volunteer program. The scope of work for a volunteer manager varies for each organization; however, there are many common duties a volunteer manager is normally responsible for. 

Here is a list of typical duties a volunteer manager or coordinator is responsible for: 

  • Collecting and managing all volunteer profile data (e.g. contact information, skills, and availability)
  • Planning the staffing requirements, roles, and responsibilities for volunteers 
  • Creating and maintaining the volunteer shift schedule 
  • Screening new volunteers 
  • Administrating volunteer training 
  • Communicating and coordinating with volunteers 
  • Managing or supervising volunteers during shifts 
  • Tracking and reporting on volunteer hours and other key program metrics 

The role requires a lot of good communication and organizational skills to keep everything moving smoothly. A good volunteer management team is essential to the success of any organization's volunteer program. 

How to build a volunteer program for your team 

Investing enough time to plan a well thought out volunteer program for your organization is well worth the upfront investment. A volunteer program consists of many elements, all of which add up to empowering volunteers to do their best work and help your organization meet its goals.

So that you can kick off your volunteer program on the right foot, let’s walk through the key first steps: establishing goals, conducting a staffing analysis, and establishing a management team.

Establishing goals 

Before you can begin any logistical planning, you must first establish measurable goals for your volunteer program. It's so important to have a clear understanding of what your volunteer program is trying to accomplish and how to measure that success. This is often overlooked for most organizations, but simply establishing a goal will serve as a compass as you start planning your work. 

Here are a few examples of measurable goals for a volunteer program: 

  • An impact goal: This is how much positive impact or service your program was able to accomplish for your community. For example, 500 meals served or 200 animals saved. 
  • A service time goal: This is how many hours of volunteer service time was spent in the community doing a specific task. For example, 300 hundred hours served for community cleanup or 50 hours a week to help the elderly live independently
  • A fundraising goal: This is how many donations your volunteer program was able to fundraise for your cause. 

Once you have a clear understanding of what your volunteer program is working towards accomplishing, you can now start planning how you intend to implement your program to meet your goal. 

Conducting a staffing analysis

Now that you have a goal in mind, it's time to start looking at what staffing requirements you need to put in place to accomplish it. That’s where a staffing analysis comes in. A staffing analysis allows you to identify how many volunteers you need to manage the workload required to meet your goal. This allows you to establish what skills and qualifications are required to do the tasks and what type of time commitment is needed to meet your goal. 

It is essential to clearly identify what tasks need to be completed and what skills are needed to do so. By documenting this, you will have a better understanding of who your ideal volunteers are which will allow you to better define roles and responsibilities in the recruitment and scheduling process. 

Another key factor in a staff analysis is determining how many volunteers are needed to execute the task requirements. For example, on Tuesdays, you may only need five volunteers, but when things are busy on Saturdays,  you may need twenty.

All this information should be documented in a way that can be easily transferred to your volunteer management software and its scheduling tools. That will make administration easier in the long term as you begin to build out your program schedule. 

Establishing a management team

It is incredibly important to define your volunteer programs’ management team. Defining the roles and responsibilities of the people who oversee the volunteer program is paramount to your organization's success. Leadership can make or break any organization's goals. So take the time to create clear scopes of work for your organization's volunteer management and then ensure that every leadership team member is properly trained and equipped with the resources they need to execute their responsibility. 

Once you have clearly defined the leadership team, you should be prepared to communicate that information to your volunteers, so they know who is the right person to talk to with questions or when issues arise. Overall, a strong leadership team is the foundation of a successful volunteer program. 

5 tips for managing volunteers

Before you start recruiting volunteers and engaging with them, it is vital that you implement a clear volunteer management process or procedure to ensure that you don't miss any important steps. 

How you choose to manage your volunteer work will vary based on your organizational and logistical needs. However, there are many common management practices that will serve you well no matter what your needs are. Here are some tips and management strategies to help you further define your volunteer management process. 

1. Create well-defined volunteer roles

Creating well-defined roles is essential to ensuring your organization can properly match the right volunteer with the right role. Creating a detailed role description should be easier once you have done your staffing analysis. A role description serves as both a guide for you and your volunteers to understand the skills and responsibilities associated with the tasks that will be performed when working in the role. 

Here is a quick summary of all the information you need to define for every role you create: 

  • Role title: A self-exploratory, descriptive title
  • Role description: A general description of what the role entails on a high level (a few sentences) 
  • Tasks/duties: A list of primary task or duties that need to be performed 
  • Skills and qualifications: A list of all the skills and qualifications required to perform the task outlines. Make sure to include physical or technical requirements as well. 
  • Certifications: Define and list any certifications required for the role like first aid training, a background check, and a valid driver's license. 

Once you have completed this exercise and created it in your volunteer management system, you can reuse these role descriptions throughout multiple volunteer programs for fundraising events which will save you time in the long term. 

2. Develop a recruitment strategy

There are many ways to recruit volunteers for your program. However, some are more effective than others. A good volunteer recruitment strategy should make the volunteer sign up and ongoing process as easy as possible. You don't want to scare interested volunteers off. 

You must carefully consider multiple components of a volunteer recruitment process when creating your volunteer recruitment strategy. Here are some component requirements for any volunteer recruitment strategy. 

Creating your online sign-up process

Gone are the days of a signup sheet in a community center doing the trick. Nearly everyone is online, making an online signup process more essential than ever before. Your online signup process should be convenient, meaning that your form should be available on computers, tablets, and mobile devices. You want to avoid placing any limitations on how a volunteer can sign up. 

Here are some things to consider when creating your sign-up process: 

  • Sign-up form: Your signup form needs to collect all the information you need to place volunteers in roles that they are interested in and qualified for. Utilize your role description to help ensure you don't miss any important information. 
  • Self sign-up to shifts: Consider allowing volunteers to sign up for specific available volunteer shifts. You can promote all your current shifts or opportunities on your website and encourage volunteers to sign up for the shift and role they are interested in and available to work. 

Creating your volunteer recruitment marketing plan

Your website is the first place people go to sign up to volunteer; make sure you have a volunteer page with the signup links or public opportunities available. Creating a recruitment plan doesn't need to be difficult, but it is important to take a multi-channel approach. Before you can begin marketing your volunteer opportunities, you need to establish your marketing message. 

Here are a few tips to help you craft that message:

  • What is your organization's goal?
  • How does your organization's goal make a positive impact in the world?
  • Why do you need volunteers to accomplish your goal? Explain why the work they do matters.
  • Who are your ideal volunteers? Talk about a shared commitment to the cause. 
  • What is the time frame in which you need volunteers to work? 

Your message is what motivates and inspires people to take action and sign up to volunteer. People volunteer for what they believe in. Try to incorporate statistics and stories of the great impact your organizations and it's volunteers have on the world or community. 

Getting your message out 

There are so many ways to recruit volunteers online. It is important to leverage all the channels you can. Make sure to use all your free channels before you consider spending anything on advertising. For most organizations, advertising should be a last resort for their volunteer recruitment plan. 

Here are some free channels to spread your recruitment message and gain more volunteers: 

  • Peer-to-peer marketing: Harness your existing network of staff and volunteers and ask them to share upcoming volunteer opportunities with their personal networks. 
  • Website: Make sure to promote your volunteer opportunities on the front page of your website. Consider adding pop-up on secondary pages.
  • Social media: Send out your recruitment messages throughout your social media channels. Make sure to post often, and encourage people to share your content. 
  • Local media: Send out a press release to your local media and ask them to help spread the word that you are looking for volunteers. 

3. Establish a clear line of communication

Confusion can not only cause problems for your volunteer program, but it can directly impact your volunteer retention. There is nothing more frustrating to a volunteer than being left in the dark or being given the wrong information. 

That's why investing in communication tools is so important. All communications from shift changes to emergency announcements are essential to running a successful volunteer program. Mobile communications tools offer the most convenient method of communication for both managers and volunteers. 

No matter what communication method you choose to use, it is important to make sure that there is a clear two-way communication line between volunteers and managers. Communication is an important factor in encouraging meaningful volunteer engagement. 

4. Match volunteers to the right positions

Make sure that volunteers are not only working roles that they are qualified for but also that they are interested in. You want to be certain that each volunteer's time working for your organization is a positive experience, which will ensure they come back and potentially bring friends and family with them. So with all that in mind, you can see how important it is to match volunteers to the right roles to secure a successful volunteer program. 

There are methods in which to do this, but anything manual is very time consuming and can often lead to errors. Most organizations choose to use a volunteer management solution to do the heavy lifting by harnessing volunteer profile data collected in the signup process and making match recommendations. The bottom line here is that volunteers should be allowed to work in a role they are passionate about, and it's up to you to ensure that happens.  

5. Thank your volunteers

Volunteers donate their time to your organization, and they deserve to feel appreciated. A little thanks and goodwill go a long way when it comes to volunteer retention. When volunteers are left feeling underappreciated and frustrated, they will give their time to someone else.

Ensuring your volunteer appreciation plan is in place is important. It can be as simple as a thank you message sent at the end of every shift or a party that brings everyone together. However your organization chooses to show gratitude, the investment will certainly be well worth the return. 

An overview of volunteer management software 

Managing an engaging volunteer program requires a lot of logistics and administration. A simple spreadsheet and calendar app won't do the trick for most organizations – that's where volunteer management software comes in. Volunteer management software offers tools specifically designed to help increase the administrative efficiency of managing volunteer programs and events.

A volunteer management platform should offer an organization everything they need to manage their volunteer program from recruitment, screening, and scheduling to communication, management, and reporting. This software solution should provide an excellent user experience for your volunteers and your management team. 

Here are a few key features to look for in a volunteer management platform: 

  • Customizable online volunteer signup form and onboarding workflow 
  • A branded volunteer recruitment page with public shift opportunities
  • A centralized volunteer database with volunteer profiles 
  • An easy-to-use volunteer scheduling system with smart matching 
  • Automated system notifications and communications
  • Mobile management, communication, and shift check-in capabilities 
  • Volunteer service time tracking and comprehensive reporting

A volunteer management solution is purpose-built and should make all administration more efficient and effective. There are so many options available to your organization. All you need to do is determine your unique needs and feature requirements and start looking for the best solution for you. 

Conclusion

Whether you are running a volunteer program with 60 volunteers or a fundraising event with 4,000 volunteers, good volunteer management is essential to your organization's success. As this article has covered, there is a lot of planning and management that goes into running any volunteer program, but the rewards will ultimately outweigh the costs. 

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