Volunteers play an absolutely vital role in most organizations and are often the main workforce behind important programs and fundraising efforts. Now, volunteering has changed dramatically due to COVID-19. All nonessential in-person work has been paused, and volunteers are left sitting at home waiting for things to return to normal.
For many volunteers, their work for causes they believe in offers them a sense of community and purpose, which has been put at risk since the onset of the pandemic. However, with a little innovation, there are plenty of ways to bring your volunteers together for your cause during COVID-19.
To spark inspiration, this article will explore five tips to keep your volunteers invested in your cause during COVID-19. Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Offer new involvement opportunities.
- Take extra health precautions.
- Move your training online.
- Take advantage of volunteer management software.
- Prioritize volunteer retention.
So long as you put plenty of time and effort into your volunteers, your program can thrive despite the challenges thrown your way. Let’s dive into these tips so that you can develop an exceptional volunteer experience during the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Offer new involvement opportunities.
There is so much important work that can be done remotely, and your volunteers can help you do it. From community wellness calls to virtual fundraising, much of your volunteers’ work can be moved online.
Before you begin setting up your new volunteer opportunities, it is important to get a better idea of all your volunteers’ skills. Most volunteers have careers and specific skill sets that can be put to great use for your organization. To get a sense of your team’s abilities, create a new online registration form through your volunteer management solution and add questions relating to remote volunteer work skills and interests. Once you have completed that, you can quickly distribute it to your volunteers and collect all the information you need.
Once you have an idea of your team’s skills and interests, you can begin to create compelling remote volunteer roles. First and foremost, the roles should include information on why the work is important to the organization. This will ensure that the volunteer understands their time’s impact, helping keep them stay engaged and invested in the organization.
Here are a few remote volunteering opportunities ideas to get you started:
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- Online fundraising campaign management
- Community phone outreach
- Donor outreach
- Online teaching/tutoring services for families in need
- Writing or grant writing activities
- Online marketing activities
- Media outreach
- Data entry
Building out volunteer opportunities based on your volunteers’ skills will allow you to capture supporters’ interest, making them much more excited to participate. That way, you don’t have to worry about losing their attention despite the distance.
2. Take extra health precautions.
While there are many volunteer opportunities and activities that can be done remotely, some essential community services require volunteers to work in person. This can be anything from food bank work to health and wellness support for vulnerable community members.
Any volunteer work that takes place within the community must be done in accordance with all health and safety requirements and protocols that have been outlined by local health authorities. Screening volunteers to ensure that vulnerable volunteers with additional health risks are placed in remote work only is also an important step in ensuring your volunteers are kept safe.
While following health and safety protocols is essential, you should consider going above and beyond basic recommendations to increase your volunteers’ safety further while working in the community.
Here are a few health and safety precautions to consider implementing:
- Distribute medical masks or face shields during check-in.
- Set up hand sanitizer stations and encourage volunteers to bring their personal hand sanitizer.
- Take volunteers’ temperatures as they check in for their shifts.
- Ask essential health screening questions before each shift, such as whether they’ve experienced
- certain symptoms within the past 48 hours.
- Set up social distancing barriers and stickers.
By going the extra mile to protect volunteers, you’ll convey that you genuinely care about your supporters. In turn, these individuals will be much more willing and excited to participate. Your volunteers and your team will feel safe and relaxed with the proper precautions in place.
3. Move your training online.
Training is essential for all volunteers to ensure that everyone is aware of your organization’s mission and equipped with the skills and information they need to succeed in their roles. In-person training presents too much risk for your team, though. Luckily, there are many great online volunteer options available. Whether you are training new volunteers or existing volunteers who are working in a new role for your organization, online training is the only truly safe option during COVID-19.
Online training courses through a learning management system or even webinar-style video training offer a convenient training experience. The volunteer can work their training into their existing schedule and complete everything right from the comfort of their home.
Here are a few online training ideas to help you get started:
- Online courses through a learning management system
- Weekly training webinars in the evening
- Video training that’s available online
- Online peer-to-peer training
These remote training options will allow your team to get up and running with as few hiccups as possible. Volunteers will know exactly how to complete their jobs and fill expectations from the start, so they can focus on maximizing their impact.
4. Take advantage of volunteer management software.
Managing volunteers has become even more challenging during COVID-19 because of ever-increasing logistical requirements, remote work, and growing community demands on essential services.
A spreadsheet and form won’t do the trick anymore for most organizations managing volunteers. That’s where volunteer management software comes in to do the heavy lifting on administrative work. A dedicated platform will help to save time through a streamlined and organized volunteer management process.
Comprehensive volunteer management software should include the following functionality:
- Recruit volunteers online through a customizable registration form and onboarding workflow.
- Screen volunteer applications based on skills, qualifications, interests, and availability to match the right volunteer to the right role.
- Create a volunteer schedule quickly and empower volunteers to view and sign up for their preferred activities and missions.
- Manage and communicate with volunteers to keep them up to date with automated notifications, communications, and shift reminders.
- Report on hours worked and easily filter, review, and report on your volunteer program data to help you secure funding.
A volunteer management software’s role is to help streamline the administrative tasks required to manage a team of volunteers and allow that time to be reinvested in other activities that help an organization meet its goals. Taking the time to select the right platform up front will make for a seamless volunteer process for both your volunteers and your staff members.
5. Prioritize volunteer retention.
Volunteers are an essential and valuable resource for any organization, which makes volunteer retention very important. In order to retain your volunteers, you need to understand what motivates them to volunteer in the first place. Understanding that motivation will help you understand what tactics can be used to keep them invested for the long term.
Some common volunteer motivations are:
- A personal connection to the cause or mission
- An interest in making a positive impact
- A need to form new relationships
- A better connection to their community
- A meaningful way to spend spare time
- A need to learn new skills and experience
Once you have gathered all the information you need to understand your volunteers’ motivations, you can begin to plan your volunteer retention strategy. Any retention strategy’s goal should be to ensure volunteers are placed in roles they find meaningful to keep them engaged. However, if there are limited volunteer opportunities available, then there are other ways to keep them engaged in the meantime.
Many nonprofits find success in the following volunteer engagement ideas:
- Send routine email communications or newsletters.
- Offer bimonthly webinars for volunteers.
- Set up virtual social hours for volunteers to connect.
- Keep volunteers informed on any new volunteer opportunities.
When building out your retention plan, incorporate some (or all) of these strategies. Then, pay attention to which ones tend to work, as well as which ones fall short of expectations. This will enable you to continuously improve your tactics and retention numbers.
While COVID-19 continues to require limited in-person interactions, it is more important than ever for organizations to continue investing in volunteer retention and engagement strategies. Volunteers bring a tremendous amount of value to the organizations and communities they serve, and maintaining those relations will be increasingly necessary as community demands continue to rise.
This guest post was contributed by Cassandra Smallman, Head of Marketing at InitLive.
Cassandra is a passionate content creator dedicated to fostering positive impact through thought leadership in both the Nonprofit sector and live events industry. You can find her work at www.initlive.com or on Linkedin and Twitter.