Oct 21, 2020
Read Time: 7 min
This article is perfect for event planners at mid-size organizations that rely on volunteers to power their projects and that are navigating the new necessity of engaging supporters virtually.
With the need to engage volunteers virtually, how can you ensure these supporters stay connected with your events? Here are four essentials to keep in mind.
Amid all the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought, effectively pivoting in-person events to take place virtually has been a major concern shared by both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors alike.
For nonprofits, new difficulties around events have impacted nearly every aspect of typical supporter engagement strategies. For example, how do you keep your organization on the minds of supporters when you can’t meet in person? And how do you stand out in a crowded online space full of other nonprofits trying to do the same?
For many organizations, the answer has been to take their events virtual. Thankfully, virtual event technology and communication platforms have been ready for the challenge, making it easier than ever for organizations of all sizes to engage supporters virtually.
At Mobilize, we focus on one thing: helping mission-based organizations reach, retain, and engage new supporters. Specifically, we help connect volunteers with the missions they’re passionate about and empower those organizations to make the most of their new connections.
For nonprofits that rely on volunteers to drive their missions forward, volunteering events and opportunities have also needed to follow suit amid the shift to virtual. Virtual volunteering events come with their own unique challenges. Effective planning, engagement tactics, and long-term volunteer management strategies are essential, but how can you ensure nothing falls through the cracks when adapting your program to take place virtually?
Here’s what you’ll need to succeed with virtual volunteering events:
The need for grassroots support hasn’t decreased over the course of 2020, and for many missions, it’s actually more pressing than ever. Attracting, engaging, and retaining virtual volunteers should be a top priority for any organization that relies on volunteer power. These essentials will set your organization up for success in the virtual sphere.
How you reach and recruit new virtual volunteers sets the tone for the rest of your relationship with them. To encourage long-term engagement from the start, offer as seamless a recruitment and sign-up process as possible. We recommend a few best practices:
Even though your organization might not be engaging with new volunteers face-to-face, prioritizing their registration experience is still essential—perhaps even more so than ever.
With organizations and businesses of all types shifting to virtual engagement tactics, there’s more competition for your supporters’ attention than ever before. Offering a streamlined, intuitive sign-up process is the best first step you can take to recruit more volunteers and reduce abandonment. For more tips and best practices, check out the complete Mobilize guide to volunteer recruitment.
Once you’ve secured the support of new virtual volunteers, you’ll need to actively keep them engaged and informed about your organization’s mission, projects, and opportunities. That’s where effective communication comes in. Simply put, when you can’t interact with volunteers in-person, you have to keep your organization on their minds in other ways.
If your organization has regularly worked with volunteers in the past, you likely already have some form of communication strategy in place. Review your existing methods, and double down on what’s worked well in the past. Look for any gaps in your communication at all stages of the volunteer journey, from recruitment to orientation to long-term engagement. Here are a few communication tactics we’ve seen work well for mission-based organizations:
To fully engage and retain virtual volunteers, your communication strategy should cover both immediate needs (like promoting your opportunities, sending reminders, and explaining tasks) and long-term needs (like keeping volunteers informed and growing their relationships with your mission).
This has been a new challenge for many nonprofits that hadn’t previously adhered to concrete communication strategies. With the shift to virtual fundraising, nonprofits have needed to both promote and explain their new events and campaigns in order to reduce donor disengagement or confusion. Take a similar approach to your volunteer programming, and remember that over-communication is always a safer bet than staying too quiet.
With a streamlined recruitment process and solid communication tactics in place, it’s time to consider the experience that volunteers will have when they’re actually completing the virtual tasks they’ve signed up for. Take any needed steps to ensure that volunteers’ tasks can be completed easily without overly-complicated processes.
Requiring volunteers to jump between multiple platforms is a common example that opens up space for confusion or frustration, but it can often be avoided through software integrations. Connecting your organization’s internal and supporter-facing platforms can drastically improve the volunteer experience and simplify management on your end.
For instance, imagine that you’re asking virtual volunteers to contact constituents on your organization’s behalf. Ideally, you’ll empower volunteers with dedicated communication tools for the job, like phone banking software.
However, unless your phone banking software can freely share data with your central database, the process of pulling contact lists can quickly become a logistical nightmare, requiring staff members to manually generate contact lists to share with volunteers or even requiring volunteers to navigate multiple platforms on their own.
By integrating your communication software with your database or CRM, contact data can be automatically shared between the two platforms. This will dramatically improve your volunteers’ experience and save your team’s time in the process.
Additionally, make sure that your organization’s volunteer management tools also integrate with your database. This way, contact info and engagement data on your volunteers get automatically saved for future reference. With more thorough data on how your volunteers engage with your programming, you can generate new insights to keep improving your opportunities and stewardship strategies over time.
Having a concrete plan for keeping volunteers engaged with your mission long after their first virtual experience is critical. If you rely on volunteer power to push projects or campaigns to completion, engagement and retention should be a top priority.
However, with many organizations scrambling to adapt their volunteer programming to the virtual sphere, long-term considerations can easily fall through the cracks. Without additional opportunities to get involved or ways to actively grow their impact on your mission, your busy volunteers can quickly become bored or disengaged. After all, there are a million other organizations competing for their attention online.
Don’t let your organization neglect engaging and retaining supporters over the long run!
Here are a few ideas we recommend for long-term volunteer engagement:
Developing a long-term engagement strategy with a defined volunteer lifecycle and roles they can fill over time is a smart move.
At a minimum, you should always include an additional upcoming volunteer opportunity in your follow-up messages to supporters after events. Make it easy for them to stay engaged by taking the guesswork out of what their next opportunity will be. As you build a stronger base of long-term volunteers, you’ll be able to focus less on recruitment and more on engagement, driving your mission forward and saving your team’s time.
With the shift to virtual operations, transitioning volunteering opportunities to the online space has been a major challenge for mission-based organizations.
Volunteers are extremely valuable supporters to have in your corner, so don’t let your strategies get lost in the shuffle. By staying focused on the essentials, including recruitment, communication, and engagement, as well as offering an intuitive virtual volunteering experience, you can maintain a strong program that retains support and lets supporters deepen their impact on your mission.
Allen Kramer is the Co-Founder and President of Mobilize. Before starting Mobilize with Alfred Johnson, he worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, in management consulting at Bain & Company, and helped grow a great social enterprise called Assured Labor. Allen was born and raised in NYC, loves a wide range of music and—on his better days—running.