Volunteer work is critical to your association. Not only does it supplement your staff’s daily workload, it deepens member relations to the organization and offers the chance to build new skills.
But how do you get members to start volunteering? Although you know the benefits of volunteer work—both for the association and for the members—it can be hard to convince a person who’s never volunteered to start.
The way a volunteer program is designed can impact whether people want to volunteer. If potential volunteers only see large projects or term-based volunteer opportunities, you miss out on a large swath of people who are interested in volunteering but don’t have the time for long-term assignments.
Here are four tips for designing a volunteer program that will entice your members to start volunteering—and continue coming back:
Don’t get overly ambitious in the beginning. It’s easy to be excited about new members—especially if they’re excited about volunteering—and assign too big a task. Consider offering a few micro-volunteer opportunities to get them started, such as:
Small opportunities like this expose new volunteers in your system and protocols. From there, you can begin bringing volunteers up through the ‘volunteer commitment curve’—small tasks turn into bigger tasks until, finally, some of your volunteers might start chairing positions or taking on long-term projects.
The Regulatory Affairs Professional Society (RAPS) took this micro-volunteering approach to heart. By lowering the barrier to entry, RAPS was able to collect information on many volunteers. Now they can dip into that information reserve and reach out to very specific groups of people for tasks that require specific skills or are based on certain geographic locations.
It’s pretty safe to say that most (if not all) volunteers volunteer for your association because they truly care and want to make a difference. With that being said … it’s still important to reward volunteers for their efforts.
One easy and effective way to reward volunteers is to give badges. Not only are members often proud of their badges, but it gives greater visibility to your volunteer program overall.
In fact, Wikipedia—the enormous crowd-sourced online encyclopedia—found that badges motivated volunteers to continue contributing because, with certain badges attached to their profile, they became part of an “exclusive” community. It’s a small gesture that works to reinforce and elevate the volunteer experience and community.
Depending on how large or how ambitious your volunteer program is, you’ll want to have a dedicated staff liaison managing it. A common problem associations find with volunteer programs is follow-up. It’s difficult to follow up with every volunteer, make sure their experience was positive, or tell them an opportunity has closed or is full.
Smoothing out the volunteer experience is critical for volunteer retention. The better run the program is, the more successful it will be and the more members will feel comfortable committing their time. Put a face to the program so volunteers always know who to turn to for questions, advice or problem solving.
Last, but not least, it’s very important to thank your volunteers for their hard work. Too often volunteering is a thankless job! Recognizing your volunteers—beyond automatically putting badges on their profiles—goes a long way.
Although it doesn’t scale well, a handwritten note is a great way to show your appreciation—especially for volunteers who really went above and beyond. If you’re handwriting isn’t good, or your volunteer program is too big, consider public shout-outs in your community. Not only do they get recognition in front of their peers, but it’s another good way to promote your volunteer program.Pro Tip: This is a great task to turn into a volunteer opportunity. You can create a volunteer committee dedicated to helping other volunteers become engaged. Outsourcing a task like this deepens the sense of community amongst volunteers.
The longer your volunteer program runs, the more momentum it will gain. Be patient as it starts and be sure to give members a wide range of opportunities—the more people you appeal to in the beginning, the more people will dip their toes in the water.