Volunteer donations don't come in dollars and cents. Instead, volunteers contribute their time, knowledge, and enthusiasm for a cause, pushing your campaign across the finish line.
Cultivating healthy relationships with your volunteer team is critical to your campaign's success. It's important to put as much effort into maintaining those relationships as you would a high-gift donor.
Volunteer management is the process of recruiting, engaging with, and otherwise investing in volunteer relationships. Below, we dive into what volunteer management is, why it matters, and how to make it a central focus in your nonprofit strategy.
What is volunteer management and why does it matter?
Volunteer management means investing energy, resources, and technology into volunteer relationships.
A long-term volunteer is as valuable as a tenured leader at your organization. Just like a full-time team hire, a new volunteer takes time and resources to recruit, train, and educate on the ins and outs of your organization.
But a volunteer that sticks with you — and your cause — can take the reins at an event, no instruction necessary.
Every nonprofit organization understands the value of loyal, experienced volunteers. These people greet your community, answer donor questions on the fly, and direct foot traffic at events. Would you rather have someone who is smiling, friendly, knowledgeable, and clearly passionate about your cause...or someone who doesn't quite know what they're doing?
Devising a volunteer management strategy in 4 steps
Running an effective volunteer management strategy requires planning, coordination, and the right people to see it through.
Think of launching a volunteer management program as approaching your next campaign: Would you simply dive in with no prior planning, and hope for the best? Of course not. You would host a brainstorming session, set measurable goals, allocate resources, and put a timeline in place. Use these steps to get started.
1. Dedicating time: Set your goals upfront 🎯
The first step in devising a volunteer management program is to ask yourself, "What do we hope to get out of this?" Taking the time to set goals and develop a plan up front will spare resources in the long run.
Do you want more volunteers? Do you want to increase your volunteer retention rate? Do you want current volunteers to be more knowledgeable at fundraising events? What you hope to gain will influence what your goals will be. Your goals, in turn, will influence how you dedicate people and resources to your efforts.
2. Dedicating energy: Devising a volunteer management program 💪
With your goals in place, begin developing a volunteer program. How can your organization improve the overall volunteer experience? At minimum, you should look at the following areas:
- Volunteer recruitment 🙋: How can you acquire new volunteers? You could launch an email campaign, post signs in the neighborhood, start a social media push, or ask current volunteers for referrals.
- Volunteer communication 📞: How can communication lines between your team and volunteers be improved? You could send out quarterly surveys, conduct a focus group, or send feedback cards to volunteers after a fundraising event.
- Volunteer engagement 🙌: How will you keep top volunteer talent coming back? You could start a bi-monthly newsletter specifically for volunteers, start a "Friends Friday" series on Instagram Stories calling out loyal supporters, or start a thank-you note campaign to express your gratitude.
- Volunteer opportunities 💭: How can volunteers move up the ranks in your organization? Could you recruit volunteers to actually help start your volunteer management program, have them train new recruits, or start a "takeover" campaign on social media?
3. Dedicating people: Assigning roles and resources 👯
Once you brainstorm ideas, assign roles and responsibilities to make your vision a reality.
Recruiting volunteers, developing programs, and investing in technology requires serious project management skills. Assign a volunteer coordinator (or volunteer managers, if you have a larger staff) at your organization to develop actionable steps toward your goals, and empower them to do their job. Your coordinator will need the following volunteer management tools:
- A project management system 📆: Tools like Asana, Trello, or Basecamp make it easy to break ambitious goals into actionable tasks.
- A CRM system 📊: A volunteer database, housed within a CRM system, logs volunteer data and activities in an organized way (more on this below).
- Communication tools 📣: To communicate with volunteers in real-time, consider developing a Slack channel, Google Chat, or Chanty.
- Training 👋: Managing volunteers requires an onboarding system. You can use something as simple as sharing a slide deck, creating a shared folder in Google Drive or Dropbox, or investing in onboarding software.
- Time tracking ⏰: While not necessary, you can use a time tracking app, allowing volunteers to check in and clock out. Apps include Toggl, Clockify, and Track It Forward, and usually offer free plans.
4. Dedicating technology: Investing in volunteer management software 💻
If you invest in just one piece of technology, it should be a volunteer management system.
A volunteer management solution, like a donor database, houses all information related to volunteer service. This includes contact information, volunteer activities and correspondence, logged volunteer hours, and notes from your team.
Here's the good news: You don't need separate CRM systems for both your donors and your volunteers (although some sales people may tell you otherwise). Instead, you can store virtually any contact at your organization in one central place. To streamline your CRM system, take advantage of the following:
- Contact type 🙆: Think of contact types as distinct audiences, including donors, event attendees, vendors, and volunteers. Make this field required (i.e., every contact will be assigned a type before the system allows you to save it), then run reports on type = volunteers to create a snapshot of your volunteer base.
- Roles and permissions 🙅: If you don't want some team members seeing privileged information (like donation amounts), have your CRM administrator assign different roles so some users only see certain pieces of information.
- Custom reports and dashboards 📉: Run reports to better understand your volunteers. What were their start and end dates for volunteering (volunteer lifecycle)? How many hours does the average volunteer contribute per month, quarter, or year (volunteer time)? How long does it take to train one individual before they begin their volunteer work (onboarding)?
Volunteer management requires people, resources, and technology
Volunteers are critical to any nonprofit.
The right volunteers share their expertise, passion, and time in furthering your good cause, which directly impacts your bottom line.
To develop a volunteer management program, your organization needs to allocate people, resources, and technology. Carve out a volunteer coordinator role, empower them with the tools they need, and invest in a robust CRM system to keep things organized.
If you're on a budget, there are free apps that improve communication, training, and project management within your volunteer team. Plus, you can use the same CRM software to house both your donors and your volunteers. To learn more about choosing the right CRM software for your nonprofit, review these resources:
- Why you need a donor database to scale your organization
- Choosing a fundraising CRM: Tips, tricks, and best options
- Best CRM for nonprofits: 3 options and how to choose yours
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Rachel is a fundraising and marketing consultant for nonprofits whose aspiration since she was 16-years-old is simply this: help others, help others.