12 Ways to Keep Your Volunteers Engaged and Inspired
Volunteers’ Week is a celebration of the fantastic contribution millions of volunteers make in the UK.
Over 21 million people volunteer in the UK at least once a year and this contributes an estimated £23.9bn to the UK economy.
This year, Volunteers’ Week has been extended to run from 1-12 June, offering an extra 5 days. The organisers are allowing for more time to celebrate and for organisations and individuals to get involved. As the industry grows and expectations evolve it’s a good time to reflect on what organisations need to keep volunteers dedicated to their cause.
Within organisations, volunteers are one audience group that requires unique, tailored comms to maintain involvement, focus and enthusiasm, keeping them inspired, connected and helping them work and support your cause effectively.
What is it about some organisations that never fail to attract people to volunteer for them?
Is it about the role itself? Is it the causes they support? The people and partners they work with? Their reputation? The answer to this is probably yes. Different people will their own motivators and drivers that make them want to volunteer.
The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) posed the question: What do the Samaritans, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and Doctors of the World all have in common?
Answer: People are queuing up to volunteer for them.
‘They’re not the only great volunteer-involving organisations. There are thousands of voluntary organisations, large and small, that are wonderfully innovative in creating volunteering roles that win the hearts of volunteers.’
So how exactly are they doing it?
Perhaps it makes good sense to take a look at some of the reasons why people volunteer in the first place and consider how to go about satisfying those needs and delivering on those expectations. From helping the environment or leading a more active lifestyle to feeling valued as part of a team and building social groups, people choose to volunteer for many reasons. And the types of roles they fulfil are just as varied - from archaeology and ecological activities to festival stewardship, retail assistants, charity fundraisers, humanitarian roles, teaching opportunities and support for vulnerable individuals, alongside a whole world of other activities.
Some personal thoughts on why people volunteer, from a fresh, young perspective...
Here are 12 ways you can help to inspire and engage your volunteers:
1. Explore creative recruitment methods
Recruitment should feature highly in your thinking and planning when you create a volunteer role.
As with any recruitment campaign, things are incredibly competitive. You’ll need to make yours stand out. Get creative on social media, use a variety of striking, visual content, include testimonials, short impactful videos (which needn’t be costly)and emotive experiences from existing volunteers to capture imagination and demonstrate the difference they’ll be making once they join.
This resource commissioned by Media Trust ‘comprehensively and splendidly provides a much-needed step-by-step guide through the opportunities, pitfalls and processes involved in taking volunteers on board.' It’s well worth a look.
According to Wild Apricot, providers of membership software for small associations, ‘good volunteer onboarding inspires a deeper participation and commitment.’ In this great article, they’ve put together four reasons why you need a clear volunteer onboarding process. Extend this to include effective ongoing training, supervision and support.
3. Make them feel welcome
Introduce them to employees and other volunteers to help them feel part of things. Have senior leaders drop by to introduce themselves. Show that you’re a warm, friendly and approachable organisation.
4. Establish excellent communication
Strong, regular communication motivates volunteers and a lack of it is one of the main reasons they become disillusioned. Ensure they’re receiving relevant, tailored information, rather than regurgitating organisation-wide messages that aren’t applicable. Deliver those comms using suitable channels that they’ve confirmed they’re happy to use. Be ready to listen and respond to feedback and concerns, particularly when the organisation is experiencing change or the role itself changes.
5. Ensure they have access to the resources they need
The nature of the role is likely to mean that volunteers won’t always be working conventional hours or in an office environment with easy access to resources. Make sure they can get hold of the information they need, when they need it - a volunteer’s portal or printed materials if necessary, just be sure to make access easy.
6. Introduce variety
Keep things interesting. Consider your volunteers as extra staff who are capable of performing complex tasks that use their experience and skills. Provide leadership opportunities to those who want to shoulder responsibility and guide others. Help them connect with people they may not otherwise interact with. Understand their skills and background - they maybe able to do more than you’re currently offering them.
7. Provide a named line manager
The line manager is the key to engagement, motivation and trust because human relationships and interaction matter. Make sure everyone knows who handles their ongoing support, guidance and direction and give them someone specific to talk to and share successes or concerns with.
8. Encourage managers to practice influencing skills
This piece from the NCVO talks about what managers can do to use their powers of influence such as sharing the organisation’s strategic vision for volunteering, using a variety of influencing strategies to help you clarify changes you want to bring about and influencing others within the organisation when it comes to valuing your volunteers.
9. Acknowledge contributions
Gratitude is a strong emotion. It can change a person’s outlook on just about any situation. Maintain morale by showing gratitude and demonstrating it openly. Don't overlook the power TNTs (Tiny Noticeable Things), those small, simple gestures like taking them to lunch, giving a small gift, or sending a thank you card to their home.
10. Help them to develop new skills
Anyone who is willing to volunteer is likely to have a healthy curiosity and willingness to try new things. Indeed, many volunteers get involved just so they can develop new skills around those topics and issues they feel passionate about. Often simply transitioning from the private sector to the voluntary sector requires a new skill-set and volunteers will welcome the opportunity to learn how to work effectively in a different environment.
11. Encourage social connectedness
Keep in mind that many people volunteer because of the social interaction so provide opportunities, both digitally and in person with colleagues, service users and visitors. Help people to feel connected and part of something bigger. Your staff and your volunteers are likely to be the best informed advocates of your brand and, given the opportunity, have great things to say. It’s a win-win situation!
12. Share success stories
Volunteers want to know that they are making a difference. Let them see their work in action through tours and presentations and by inviting them to provide suggestions about how that work can be done even better. Share those stories smartly and creatively with the wider public to spread the word even further and instil pride in your people.
Value your volunteers. Reward their dedication
Make the experience positive and enticing enough and they’ll remain committed, telling others and spreading the word that your organisation is the place to be for the savvy volunteer.
Get involved - share your experiences
The concept of volunteering, and its reputation is changing thanks to campaigns like #1MillionHours, the year long volunteering campaign run by BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra where listeners are pledging one million hours of their time to good causes.
It's a perfect time to celebrate our volunteers as well as sharing the opportunities we have for people to get involved.
This year the Volunteers’ Week organisers want to encourage organisations to showcase their range of volunteering opportunities available.
‘There are plenty of choices out there but sometimes people aren’t aware of them or they have a particular perception of what volunteering is about. Why not challenge these perceptions?’
Spread the word and raise awareness by holding an event to show the great work that you and your volunteers carry out. Events are always a big part of Volunteers’ Week and last year over 750 were posted on the Volunteers’ Week map from recruitment fairs to award ceremonies and tea parties.
NCVO will provide all the information, guidance and resources you need to make your big celebration a success. They are preparing a pack full of ideas and tips for making the most of Volunteers’ Week this year, special ways to say thank you and to help you run your own Big Celebration. You can follow all the goings-on on #VolunteersWeek and grab a resource pack right here.
The end of Volunteers’ Week will also coincide with the Patron’s Lunch on 12 June, a celebration of Her Majesty the Queen’s lifetime of service to more than 600 charities and organisations to which The Queen acts as a Patron, on the occasion of her 90th birthday.
How do you engage your volunteers? We’d love to hear how you keep your people inspired and motivated. Share your experiences with us @Alivewithideas.
"…I met with a number of agencies and I chose Alan and the team at Alive to help me with my project. The reason was simple – they totally got it. They were flexible and a pleasure to work with and I will certainly be seeking their help with future projects…”
- Baz MacLennan, Internal Communications Manager, Caffè Nero