Maintaining effective volunteer communication is essential to the success of every nonprofit organization. To keep volunteers energized and engaged in their work, it's important to let them know what the organization's needs are, express appreciation for their efforts, and make sure they understand how vital their contributions are. Effective communication is a crucial element for building lasting relationships with volunteers.
Add a Volunteer Section to Your Website
Adding a volunteer-specific section to your website is a great way to communicate with your current volunteers and attract new ones. By setting up and maintaining a volunteer communication center on your group's website, you'll be making it easy for volunteers to keep up with what is going on with the organization. Be sure to feature pictures or videos that show volunteers in action (with their permission). You can also publish things like volunteer opportunities, upcoming committee meetings, and other information of interest to volunteers. Depending on how sophisticated your website is, you may be able to provide a way for volunteers to upload documents, track their service hours, or view training materials.
Get to Know Volunteers Via a Survey
A survey is a helpful communication tool for getting to know volunteers and discovering how they'd like to get involved with your organization. Consider making a survey available via the volunteer section of your website, or include it in an email template that goes out to new volunteers. It should have just a few questions that will allow you to get a sense of what types of volunteer activities they'd like to participate in and what skills they have. Have someone review the results, then reach out individually with information about committees or projects that match their interests. Put this information into a volunteer database that can be used in the future to notify people as new projects become available.
Connect With Volunteers Via Social Media
Leverage your organization's social media presence as a communication tool for interacting with volunteers and other stakeholder groups. Encourage volunteers to follow the organization's social media pages and return the favor, such as by following them back on Twitter or Instagram. Post photos and captions that highlight the contributions of your group's volunteers, along with links to media coverage of the group. Encourage volunteers to interact by commenting on and/or sharing the organization's posts. Promote volunteer engagement with the organization's overall communication efforts by setting up a social media committee to coordinate or assist with social posting.
Publish a Volunteer Newsletter
Many nonprofit organizations send out a newsletter to volunteers, as well as to donors, funding agencies, consumer referral sources, and other groups on a monthly or quarterly basis. Distributing a newsletter is a great way to let interested parties know about the charitable group's recent accomplishments, current projects, and future goals. It also provides an excellent vehicle for recognizing the contributions of outstanding volunteers. Depending on who your volunteers and other interested parties are, you may need to print and mail a newsletter, or you may be better served by an electronic newsletter. Consider inviting stakeholders to subscribe to their preferred delivery option.
Maintain One-on-One Personal Contact
When it comes to building relationships with volunteers, there is no substitute for making personal contact with the individuals who generously donate their time and talents to your organization. It's advisable to periodically schedule face-to-face meetings with volunteers who hold chair positions or who play other key roles that allow your charitable group to accomplish its mission. Periodically calling volunteers to check in can be an effective way to maintain individualized contact without having to ask them to set aside time for a formal, in-person discussion or video conference. The executive director could also set up chat times when volunteers are encouraged to stop by or call for a personal connection.
Connect Via Committee Meetings
Volunteer committee meetings can be essential to the success of all types of projects. When a new project is starting, it's advisable to hold a meeting with those interested in volunteering so they have an opportunity to learn more about what types of roles are available and what kind of time commitment each might require. Once a committee is formed, whether for a special project or for an ongoing workgroup, regular meetings continue to be important to manage the process and maintain effective volunteer communication. It's best to establish a set schedule for meetings, such as the third Tuesday of every month, so that volunteers are able to make plans in advance.
Ask Volunteers to Share Feedback
Communication needs to flow both ways. It's just as important to encourage volunteers to share their thoughts and ideas with the organization and its leaders as it is to make sure that information flows to the volunteers. There are many ways to make it easy for volunteers to provide feedback or share suggestions. If volunteers come into the office regularly, set up a suggestion box. Or, set up a feedback@ email address that volunteers can use any time they want. It's also a good idea to get in the habit of setting aside time for people to share feedback and suggestions on meeting agendas. You may even want to periodically host focus groups to explore and discuss feedback. What matters is that it's easy for volunteers to provide feedback.
Host Social Gatherings for Volunteers
Provide opportunities for volunteers to connect with each other via social gatherings that don't involve requests to donate time or money. Consider periodically hosting a volunteer-only mixer at your office or at the home of a board member or committee chair. Invite everyone who has volunteered within a set timeframe. Depending on your organization's budget, you could provide refreshments, or it may be better to plan a potluck. The key is to provide a way for people who share an interest in your organization to get to know one another and begin to form bonds. After all, your volunteers will be much more likely to stay engaged with the organization if their friends are also involved.
Recognize Volunteer Efforts
Make sure that volunteers are recognized for the important role they plan in allowing your organization to meet its mission or otherwise help important causes. Make sure that public mentions of the organization recognize volunteers rather than focusing too much on the executive director or other staff members. For example, when seeking publicity for the organization, direct members of the media or bloggers to interview committee chairs or board members in addition to employees. When publishing photos of the organization's activities, choose images that feature volunteers. When promoting special event fundraisers, consider listing the names of committee members on the announcement.
Formally Express Appreciation to Volunteers
Recognition is important, but so is appreciation. Be sure to say thank you to volunteers, both face-to-face and via formal thank you notes. Consider hosting a volunteer appreciation event at least once per year, such as a volunteer-only luncheon or another gathering that includes a volunteer appreciation speech and service awards. Provide plaques or other awards for volunteers who have made particularly significant contributions to the group or who are long-time supporters. Consider years of service awards for major milestones, as well as paper certificates of appreciation for all volunteers.
Use a Variety of Volunteer Communication Tools
Any organization that relies on the service of volunteers must take steps to engage and retain those who share their time and talent and to recruit new people to help. There's no substitute for maintaining effective communication with volunteers. Using a variety of communication tools will help you build and engage a strong team of volunteers who are committed to your organization. Through effective volunteer communication, you'll be able to cultivate solid relationships with individuals who are likely to remain engaged with your charitable entity for many years to come.