Member volunteering is important for obvious reasons -- it helps our organizations and saves money.
But remember how members can benefit, too: Volunteering keeps members engaged, happier and more likely to stay involved with your organization -- or tell peers to join.
It’s a proven fact that members who volunteer are happier with their membership than members who don’t volunteer -- they feel connected to the organization and as if they’re furthering an important cause. And many members who drop out or discontinue their membership do so because they don’t feel connected or valued -- a problem volunteering can help solve.
So it’s important to get those members engaged in meaningful ways! Here’s the catch -- there isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula and not all volunteer opportunities resonate with all members. Times are changing and not everyone is motivated by long term commitments or being elected to a committee. It’s important that you adapt, find and create volunteer opportunities that are both helpful for you and meaningful for your members.
Here are three ways to engage your volunteers, so you can help them help you:
1. Know what motivates your members
First, you need to know what motivates your members. Don’t assume you know from past experience or general knowledge -- actually listen to what they have to say. Watch what opportunities are most motivating -- or don’t motivate -- and adjust accordingly. If you assume what members like, you might be wrong and will miss out on incredible opportunities. What’s worked for the past 20 years might not work now, but you can’t fix what you don’t know.
So, how do you figure out what motivates members or what types of volunteer opportunities they want to participate in?
Regularly poll members to make sure you know what they want and check in to see how their volunteering experiences were. Not only does it educate you, but it also educates them -- now members know you want their expertise and help, and that there are opportunities for them to help the organization and make a difference.
2. Variety creates opportunities for everyone
Once you know what motivates members, it’s important to have a wide range of volunteer opportunity types. Again, not one size fits all -- everyone has various strengths, interests, abilities and amounts of time to give.
This doesn’t mean you always need to have dozens of volunteer opportunities to fit everyone’s possible needs. It does mean that throughout the year, as you come up with volunteer opportunities, you should have a variety -- which is also good for you.
Maybe there are small, one-time tasks that you typically don’t use volunteers for, like registration desk help or writing blog posts on the community, that would be a good match for several members. Each time you’re able to engage a member in a micro-volunteer activity, you’re deepening their relationship with the organization, giving their membership more meaning. And they give you back a few minutes of time, which all adds up.
So what types of commitments should you keep in mind to engage as many people as possible, on many different levels?
Here are a few ideas:
- Time -- Create opportunities with varying levels of time commitment. Some can be long term positions, but other opportunities may be as short as filling out a survey, writing a blog post, or spending 15 minutes passing out flyers. Some people want a recurring commitment, others just want to drop in and drop out as they’re able to. Don’t underestimate those small commitments -- they add up, saving you time and money, and ensure members feel included and valued.
- Working styles -- Similar to learning styles, everyone has different working styles. Some people prefer to go to meetings and want to be part of a board, others prefer to contribute value to the organization behind a computer or at an event. Scatter different opportunity types throughout the year, to gain the interest of members with different working styles.
- Skills -- Your members have unique and valuable skills -- make sure they know they’re valued and can be used. All members, but especially Millennials, like contributing to causes they care about with skills and talents they posses. That’s great for your organization, because you can harness their knowledge base and expertise in valuable ways. Do you need Photoshop help? Or blog posts? Or ideas for the next big event? Tap into your members -- if they have those skills, chances are they’ll be happy to help.
3. Manage well
It doesn’t matter how many opportunities you have, or how excited members are to volunteer, if you don’t have a plan and systems in place to manage. Everything from thinking of opportunities to execution and day-of logistics need to run smoothly if you want to get the most out of your members -- and for them to get the most out of their volunteer experience.
This is a great place for your community to come in. By putting opportunities on your online community, members can see who else is going to an event or volunteering for a project, can track their own progress and register for volunteer opportunities. As the organizer, your organization only needs to go to one place -- the community -- to track all your volunteers and promote opportunities.
Empower your volunteers
What’s an underlying key to making this all work? Empowerment. For your community and organization to truly be successful, your members and volunteers need to feel a sense of ownership over the cause. Volunteering is a great way to let go of the reins -- ever so slightly -- and give memberships a manageable sense of responsibility. They’ll feel more connected and you’ll build both a sustainable volunteer program and a lasting community at the same time.