7 ways to increase volunteer engagement

Does your association’s volunteer program already have plenty of recruits? If so, your challenge may be with volunteer engagement and creating meaningful experiences for volunteers so they’re willing to give their time.

When you prioritize volunteer engagement, your volunteer program benefits, and so does your association’s bottom line. Volunteers have the power to save your association time and money. According to AmeriCorps, Americans volunteered an average of 7.8 billion hours. AmeriCorps estimates the industry of volunteerism to be worth $184 billion.

Volunteers are an invaluable resource, assisting your association in a myriad of ways. Whether it’s through speaking at your events, or helping to advance your advocacy efforts, volunteers are often the face of your association, serving on boards or committees and representing your mission and goals. Therefore, it’s crucial to invest in volunteer engagement and strategize on how to keep your volunteers happy, motivated, and committed to the work they do for your association. Ultimately, the level of volunteer engagement will impact your association’s ability to retain and develop volunteers. 

What is an effective volunteer engagement strategy?
When it comes to your volunteer program, you’ll want to implement a strategy that promotes collaboration between volunteers and staff to foster worthwhile volunteer opportunities. These volunteer opportunities will not only positively impact your association, but they’ll benefit your profession and industry. When developing your volunteer engagement strategy, attempt to match your volunteers with opportunities that provide valuable experiences. 

1. Survey your volunteers and routinely seek their feedback
To provide a worthwhile experience for your volunteers and begin implementing your volunteer engagement strategy you’ll need to seek their authentic feedback. The easiest way to listen to your volunteers’ voices is to conduct a survey. The aim of conducting a volunteer survey is to gain statistically beneficial answers, while simultaneously empowering them and bolstering your retention efforts.

With a good volunteer survey, you have the power to impact the effectiveness of volunteer orientation, training, recruitment, and retention. Before you create your survey and send it through email or your association management software (AMS), consider how you’ll get volunteers to participate. Try the following methods to increase volunteer responses: 

  • Explain the benefits 
    • In the introduction of the survey, share how it will help the volunteer program provide better opportunities for its participants. Explain that when volunteers offer honest feedback, you’ll be able to match them in the perfect experience.
  • Communicate your goals
    • You ultimately hope to increase volunteer engagement and bolster recruitment and retention. Be honest with your volunteers and communicate your goals in the introduction of the survey. Likely, your volunteers will see the importance of their feedback and offer it freely.
  • Make the survey anonymous
    • If you seek your volunteer’s honesty, you might want to consider making some surveys anonymous. You’re less likely to get their authentic feedback if you make them submit their names. Keep in mind, if you plan to share the survey results outside of the association, you must tell your volunteers before doing so.
  • Offer an incentive
    • Consider purchasing a small gift card and randomly selecting a winner from those who complete the survey. It might seem like a small incentive, but you’d be surprised what motivates people to complete a survey.
  • Build hype
    • Ensure you’re promoting your survey in multiple locations – through emails, on your association website, and on social media. Always include a call to action, which features a link to the survey location.
  • Keep it short
    • While you may have a lot of questions for your volunteers, try not to make your survey longer than five minutes to complete. Be respectful of your volunteers’ time – even if your questions are incredible, they likely won’t sit to complete 20 minutes of questions. Best practice is to keep your surveys short. You can always do another one to follow up in the future.

Questions to include in your survey 
When compiling your first volunteer survey, you’ll want to consider beginning it with basic demographic data and association specific details, such as the following:

  • Contact information/demographic data
  • Availability and scheduling
  • What skills do you have?
  • What are your interests?
  • Describe why you first wanted to volunteer at the association.
  • What motivates you to volunteer with our association?

These questions will provide a helpful foundation before delving into the meat of your survey.  

Because your association is seeking to increase volunteer engagement, the primary focus of the remaining survey will be on what motivates your volunteers. The questions could also help you learn more about issues that are important in your community. Consider asking questions like:

  • How would you rate your current volunteer experience, from one to ten?
  • Do you find your volunteer work at the association impactful? If you answered no, explain how we could make the work more meaningful.
  • Do you feel like a valued member of our association? Is there any way we could make you feel more appreciated?
  • Do we offer enough training opportunities, and was our orientation process thorough enough that you feel prepared to do your volunteer duties?
  • Are there volunteer opportunities we don’t currently offer, but you’d be willing to participate in? 
  • What is the most important work you do for our community through our association?
  • Are there any needs in our community that our association can work to address? 
  • Has your work contributed to any noticeable results? Has the association communicated these wins to you or the rest of the volunteers? 

While these questions are open-ended in nature, they will lead to qualitative results. Once you gather your results and analyze the data, you’ll have a keen sense of what motivates your volunteers to give time to your association. You’ll also understand how your association can better support your volunteers.

TECH TIP: Utilize Nimble AMS to access the Salesforce AppExchange and apply a survey tool to your Nimble AMS experience. With the power of the Salesforce AppExchange, you can browse from over 3,000 apps and select the best survey solution for your association.

2. Understand what motivates your volunteers
There are various reasons volunteers are motivated to give their time. Once you get the results from your survey, you’ll have a clearer sense of why your volunteers choose to work. Analyze the survey results and listen to your volunteers’ feedback.

The quickest way to lose a volunteer is to ignore their motivation. Instead, you’ll want to take the survey results and see if you can match your volunteers’ interests with available opportunities within your association. Doing so will ensure volunteer engagement.

At a most basic level, volunteers give their time because:

  • They were asked.  
  • They want to do good. 

Your members will provide additional reasons they volunteer that can be divided into the following categories Professional and Personal Motivations. 

Professional motivations
If you have volunteers who are motivated by professional causes, these reasons will likely influence why they donate their time to your association: 

  • To network with their professional community
  • To diversify their current skillset
  • To consider a job change
  • To gain leadership skills
  • To donate their professional skills
  • To serve their industry and local community 

Personal motivations
If you find your volunteers are moved by personal motivations, they’ll likely be influenced by the following reasons:

  • To impact their profession and industry
  • To do something different from their job
  • To show commitment to an organization’s mission
  • To be part of something bigger than themselves
  • Because they were asked to volunteer by a friend or colleague 

TECH TIP:Nimble AMS has built-in AI and predictive analytics to help you better understand your volunteers’ behavior and boost your volunteer engagement strategy.

3. Leverage volunteer interests and create a volunteer perk program
One of the best ways to jumpstart volunteer recruitment and maximize engagement is to grant your volunteers professional and personal perks. Consider offering the following benefits to volunteers at your association: 

Professional perks

  • Let volunteers promote their company at events if relevant to the association’s mission and goals
  • Allow qualified volunteers to speak at conference sessions and webinars
  • Have a volunteer take over your social media once a month
  • Allow volunteers to share program updates at a member town hall
  • Let qualified volunteers teach professional development sessions

Personal perks

  • Provide food and drinks during volunteer hours
  • Reimburse travel costs when possible
  • Create and provide volunteer t-shirts
  • Offer mentor/mentee volunteer programs
  • Provide an unforgettable experience that impacts your volunteers

Offering a perk program provides another reason for volunteers to work for your association and stay engaged. Giving volunteers facetime at member events might also serve as an effective recruitment technique within your association. 

4. Provide volunteer orientation
Volunteer orientation is all about educating your workers about the mission and goals of your association. The emphasis of orientation should be to help your volunteers learn more about your association and understand how they fit in. If your volunteers have a clear sense of role and where they fit in at your association, you can foster an individual’s excitement and maximize volunteer engagement.

Design an orientation program
Determine how you want to conduct your volunteer orientation. Will it be in person or virtual? Having in-person orientation is a great way for volunteers to meet and bond, but virtual options are flexible and easy to access for busy volunteers. If you opt for an in-person orientation, you’ll also want to consider a suitable day and time for the event. Your volunteers are likely more available in the early evenings or at the weekends, however, you can also request their availability to set an orientation around their needs. 

Create an orientation manual 
Creating a manual will further solidify your orientation information and compile all presented information in one location. Consider including the following components in your manual:

  • Association mission statement
  • List of goals and summary of the long-term plan
  • Staff and volunteer directory
  • List of Board of Directors and members of other important committees
  • Association rules, procedures, and expectations for volunteers
  • Volunteer check-in system
  • Reimbursement policy
  • Termination policy 

TECH TIP:In Nimble AMS, use the Committee function to organize and track constituent groups like the Board of Directors or a volunteer program in your association. Committee management allows you to document member participation and all term information necessary for committee membership.

Make it memorable
To immediately engage your recruits at the start of orientation, try making your approach appealing to all learning styles. Try out these formats in your orientation:

  • Use PowerPoint or a similar slide deck to serve as a visual outline of the information you need to cover during your orientation.
  • Try gamification to engage your volunteers during the orientation experience.
  • Include times of discussion and allow your volunteers to ask questions.
  • Add roleplaying and group activities that allow for team building and friendship forming.
  • Provide testimonials about your volunteer program. If possible, bring in veteran volunteers and have them share their experiences.

TECH TIP: Use the MyTrailhead function to help onboard your volunteers. Easily design a volunteer orientation module with engaging content like videos, graphs, and gamification features to convey essential information about your association.

Make sure you follow up with your volunteers after orientation. Survey them to see how they felt about the experience to see if there are any areas where you can improve. Additionally, you’ll want to provide next-step information on where they should report for training if it’s not happening on the same day as your volunteer orientation.

5. Train your volunteers
Training your volunteers refers to the time when you cover the role-specific details of their work. If your volunteers are helping staff in their positions, try to have staff train them directly. Ensure training includes the following:

  • How the volunteers should handle their specific tasks
  • What they should do in an emergency
  • What are the goals for their position
  • What equipment is required for their role
  • A general walkthrough of their tasks 

If possible, consider converting your volunteering training to online videos or modules, for easy access for recruits. Always seek your volunteers’ feedback through a survey and ask how effective they found their training. Well-trained volunteers are a crucial aspect of volunteer engagement. 

Professional development opportunities
Training can also refer to professional development opportunities within the volunteer program at your association. Whether it’s leadership training or learning a new skill, your volunteers may be motivated to give their time to advance their skill set. Consider offering professional development sessions to help your volunteers earn continuing education credits.

6. Use an online member community to engage with your volunteers
It can be a challenge to keep your volunteers engaged outside of their prearranged volunteer hours. Some will only participate in their volunteer hours, while others will choose to engage in additional member programming. However, giving volunteers a platform to connect, like an online member community, is more likely to keep them naturally engaged.

Design your online community
To get started, you’ll first need to create a virtual community. If your association already has an online member community, consider creating different channels or subgroups for your volunteers to increase engagement. Before starting, think through the following important questions: 

  • Who will manage the community?
    • Does your association have a manager to oversee the supervision of the new online platform? It might be wise to select one staff member to oversee the creation and general management of the community groups. Within the groups themselves, consider selecting a volunteer to lead or manage discussions for your community forum.
  • Do you need to create group descriptions or ground rules?
    • It’s always wise to have reminders of the community’s purpose and reminders to be polite and respectful.
  • Who else should know about the online community?
    • Chances are you’ll get a lot of great testimonials from the group which could lead to excellent marketing material. If your volunteers are okay with you sharing their stories, consider keeping your entire association in the loop. 

TECH TIP:Nimble Communities is a fantastic way for volunteers to connect virtually for training, orientation, and support purposes because you can build configurable groups for different volunteer cohorts. 

Engage with volunteers
To foster your online community, consider creating some basic content to get the discussion going. From there, your volunteers will take over. 

  • Mix up the content.
    • Try creating a schedule of content and posting different types depending on the day. For example, Monday could be motivational, Tuesday could be tips, Wednesday could be wisdom, Thursday could be thanksgiving, and Friday could be fun. Be sure to post different content formats to the online communities too, like videos, gifs, and pictures, in addition to text.
  • Promote your online communities.
    • Ensure you invite your volunteers to the online community through email. Consider sending a text invite and promoting your online communities on social media too.
  • Connect veterans and new volunteers.
    • Another great way to foster community within your volunteers is to pair experienced and new volunteers in a mentoring sort of relationship. Consider creating a separate community group of veteran and new volunteers to encourage the discussion of personal volunteer experiences and the exchange of ideas for ongoing success. 

7. Recognize your volunteers and their accomplishments
Always give your volunteers recognition amongst your members. Never ever assume a volunteer knows you appreciate their hard work for the association.  

Send thank you’s 
Ensure you say thank you each time your volunteers dedicate their time to an event or have a weekend board meeting. Say it in person and follow up with a handwritten note or virtual thank you.

TECH TIP:Use Nimble Create to generate personalized content and thank your volunteers. You can apply easy-to-use templates and automate the thank you email process, saving you time and showing you care about your volunteers. 

Host a thank you party 
Recognize your volunteers formally by hosting an annual party, in person or virtually, to celebrate their efforts. Provide a meal or drinks and consider purchasing gifts to thank your volunteers for their dedication to your association. During the event, allow various volunteers to share their favorite memories from their experiences. If possible, also have higher-level staff speak to share their thanks with the volunteer group.

Send birthday greetings
Another terrific way to acknowledge your volunteers is to send birthday greetings. This is an effortless approach to personalizing the volunteer experience at your association. On a volunteer’s birthday, be sure to send a handwritten card or personalized email, depending on the number of volunteers at your association. The volunteer will be sure to appreciate the gesture. 

Note volunteer milestones 
You can also recognize your volunteers by celebrating important milestones they reach within your volunteer program. For example, acknowledge your volunteers when they’ve volunteered for six months or hit 100 hours of service. Consider recognizing these milestones at your association’s volunteer thank you party and be sure to send a personalized thank-you note. Also, consider acknowledging volunteer milestones in association publications or at member town hall meetings. 

TECH TIP: Apply Nimble AMS data reporting functions to keep track of important volunteer milestones like how long volunteers have been serving at the association, how many events worked, and how many hours they’ve volunteered. Nimble AMS offers an abundance of configurable reporting options for your association. 


Learn more

Discover key components of the volunteer journey and learn how to boost your association’s missions and goals – read the guide, How to Recruit More Members at Your Association.

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