4-Part Anatomy of an Ideal Nonprofit Volunteer Experience

Steven Shattuck is VP of Marketing at Bloomerang. As a HubSpot Certified inbound marketer, he is a contributor to Nonprofit Hub, National Council of Nonprofits, Ragan, Social Media Today, Search Engine Journal, The Build Network, HubSpot, Content Marketing Institute and Business2Community. Steven has spoken at national and local conferences, and is frequently interviewed by media outlets for his expertise in digital marketing.

For some nonprofits, volunteers are the lifeblood of their organization. Volunteers can be even more valuable than donors. Every nonprofit can benefit from the help of volunteers, but recruiting and retaining new volunteers is easier said than done.

Whether you’re a large nonprofit looking for a corporate group, or a small nonprofit who needs one or two hands around the office, here are the four parts of an ideal first-time experience for your nonprofit’s volunteers:

1. Website

A website that is user-friendly and communicates clearly is essential to recruiting volunteers. From the second someone lands on your site, it should be very easy for them to access information about volunteering, especially if that is why they are on your site to begin with.

Having a dedicated volunteer page is a great start, but a simple sign-up form isn’t enough. Some things you should think of including are:

The impact volunteers have on your organization
• Detailed descriptions of multiple, individual volunteer opportunities
• Contact information to the employee(s) responsible for volunteer coordination
• Photos/videos of past volunteers
• Testimonials from past volunteers
• Volunteer guidelines
• Downloadable volunteer release form

Having all of this information available upfront will increase your credibility in the eyes of the prospective volunteer, and prevent you from having to provide information via email or phone once they make contact.

When you’re ready to create the contact/sign-up form, here is some information you think about asking for:

• Name / contact info
• Reason for seeking volunteer work
• Physical limitations
• Education/special training
• Paid work experience
• Volunteer experience
• Personal interests/hobbies
• Date/time available to volunteer

Having this information will help you assign tasks that fit their skill-set. When a volunteer is enthusiastic about what they are doing, they are more likely to persist in supporting your organization.

2. Scheduling, Preparation and Communication

Once a volunteer has been recruited, over-communication is almost impossible. Make sure they know where to be, what they need to bring, and what they can expect from the visit.

If you haven’t already shared your volunteer guidelines, now is the time to do it. Consider sharing a minute-by-minute schedule of their assigned responsibilities and a detailed task list.

The worst thing that can happen is for a volunteer to show up to the wrong place and the wrong time, or not know what to do once they get there.

3. On-Site Experience

Giving your volunteer a world-class experience while on-site at your nonprofit facility or event is the most crucial component.

The Bloomerang team recently spent a half-day volunteering at Gleaners Food Bank, a nonprofit based in Indianapolis. Out of all of my personal volunteer experiences, theirs was the most top-notch. Here’s a quick recap of how they handled our group:

  1. We had clear instructions and expectations prior to arriving at their facility.
  2. When we walked in the door, we were greeted by a smiling member of the leadership team who introduced herself, shook all of our hands, and led us into a conference room.
  3. Here, we were greeted by the volunteer coordinator, who showed us a short film about the organization (which communicated the need and impact of their volunteers).
  4. We were given detailed instructions on what would happen over the next four hours.
  5. We were led to their food distribution center, where a foreman trained us on what we would be doing. We were then cut loose to work, sorting donations and weeding out expired or damaged food items.
  6. Halfway through the shift, we were given a 15 minute break in their office kitchen (coffee provided).
  7. Back to work for the rest of the shift. An employee floated around taking photos of all of the volunteers.
  8. At the end of the shift, we were debriefed in the conference room, thanked, and sent on our way.

The entire process was so diligently organized to the point where no one ever felt like they had nothing to do or weren’t sure what to do next. It was more professional than most corporate job interviews I have had!

The main point here is that you shouldn’t act flippant or willy-nilly with on-site volunteers. Treat them the same as you would a new employee on their first day, a board member or a major donor who is visiting the office. Their impressions of the experience will go a long way in future volunteerism, financial support and your word of mouth reputation.

4. Acknowledgement and Follow-Up

You should keep in close contact with volunteers long after they leave your facility or event. Be sure to thank your volunteer within 24 hours of the visit. If it’s their first time, pick up the phone and call.

After the Gleaners trip, I immediately received a thank you email. They even posted our group picture on their Facebook page to publicly acknowledge the support. In fact, their Facebook page is almost entirely devoted to volunteer acknowledgement.

Gathering feedback is also important. Consider sending a questionnaire or web form that asks the volunteer(s) what they thought of the experience, what they liked and didn’t like, and how you can improve future visits. Here you can see a great example of this kind of survey.

Follow-up communications are also a great opportunity to ask for a donation. According to Fidelity Charitable, those who have volunteered in the last 12 months donate ten times more money to charities than non-volunteers ($2,593/yr vs. $230/yr), so don’t be shy about asking!

All in all, your volunteer program should be taken as seriously as your fund development program. Make it an experience that they’ll never forget, and they’ll never forget to support you!

4-Part Anatomy of an Ideal Nonprofit Volunteer Experience

Steven Shattuck

Steven Shattuck is Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang and Executive Director of Launch Cause. A prolific writer and speaker, Steven is a contributor to "Fundraising Principles and Practice: Second Edition" and volunteers his time on the Project Work Group of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project and is an AFP Center for Fundraising Innovation (CFI) committee member.

July 31, 2014

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