Whether they are raising awareness, picking up trash or engaging with those in need, volunteers are one of the largest and most valuable assets to nonprofit organizations. With limited manpower and tight budgets, we’re grateful for the time volunteers donate and usually assume that is all they want to offer. In reality, they have much more potential.
A loyal, committed and engaged volunteer group takes their work as seriously as paid employees and will benefit both your nonprofit’s cause, and the lives of those involved. One key to building a rockstar volunteer base is communicating the right way. How you communicate with volunteers defines your organization’s volunteering culture and determines how your volunteers feel about the work they accomplish.
These five tips will ensure your nonprofit organization is on the right track to building a volunteer dream team:
1. Building John Doe Volunteer
Trying to communicate with everyone at your organization all at once creates a generic, boring message that doesn’t resonate effectively. Since our minds are designed to communicate with people one-on-one, a great way to fix the barrier is by creating a volunteer character profile.
Take some time to identify the characteristics that best fit the majority of your volunteers or the volunteers you want to connect with the most. How old are they? What are their interests? Are they in school? Are they retired? What do they do on the weekends? Why do they like your organization and want to volunteer?
Example: Mike (John Doe) is a young professional that just got out college and wants to spend his years doing good for his community and having fun before settling into a nine to five job and starting a family. He is tall, brown hair and really likes working with children and the outdoors.
From there, print your character profile’s face and name with his description on paper. Talk to this character every time you craft an email, social media post or flyer. Your message will resonate with the lives of your volunteer base and grab their attention.
Extra Tip: Don’t assume a lawyer that is volunteering will want to do legal work for your organization. Don’t pigeon hole your volunteers in their career skills because chances are they’ll volunteer more if you give them a vacation from their day job, not an extra shift.
2. Crafting the Right Message to Motivate Volunteers
The reason your volunteers take action and the reason they support your cause are often very different. In many cases, you can assume your volunteer base already supports your organization philosophically. To maximize results, focus on what motivates your John Doe volunteers to spend their free time coming to your event and supporting your organization.
For our character profile example, Mike, he may see this volunteer group as an opportunity for socializing. In this case, instead of an email headline for a beach cleanup stating, “The ocean needs your help!” try, “Get some sun, make friends and make a difference.”
Other volunteers may be looking to develop skills, build their resume or try new things. If they already support your cause, speak to these needs first and watch your attendance rise.
3. Build a Volunteer Tribe
The best volunteers not only feel connected to your cause, but also to staff members and fellow volunteers. Your volunteers need to see everyone as a friend rather than an acquaintance. Ensuring your volunteers feel comfortable is key to getting them excited, returning more often, sharing ideas and going above and beyond.
To build a sense of camaraderie, you can create t-shirts, get-togethers and happy hours after volunteer events. For your most loyal volunteers, invite them to staff brainstorms and bonding activities. Incorporating the personality of organization and staff members into your communications will help them feel like they are part of the tribe.
Extra Tip: Team up with other like-minded nonprofit groups to host volunteer gatherings and events and create a larger, united team. You’ll offer your volunteers more opportunities to get involved and extend the reach of your communications.
4. Cohesive Message in All Channels
People learn through repetition. Once you have perfected your message to resonate with the right people, standardize it across all of your media channels and re-use your content. With repetition, your brand’s message will become its identity.
It will also save you valuable time and money and ensure your message is of the same caliber, whether it’s your executive director or your social media intern broadcasting it.
For example, my client, San Diego Coastkeeper, regularly produces flyers, event information, environmental tips and press releases. All have the organization’s logo and mission statement, “protecting and restoring fishable, swimmable and drinkable waters in San Diego County,” on all content.
5. Following Up
All communications professionals will tell you, follow up is key! Whether this is the first time the volunteer showed to get their hands dirty, or a volunteer you have a relationship with because they continue to return—follow up and make them feel important.
Following up can be as simple as a personal email or thank you card. Thank them for their time and let them know how they impacted your organization and the community. Honors and awards also keep volunteers motivated. Award a new volunteer as “Volunteer of the Month.” Display this award in a high-traffic area and share across social media channels to motivate other volunteers and reinforce their value.
Jamie Hampton guides nonprofit communications as the CEO of Mixte Communications, an extension-of-staff communications agency with a mission to empower nice organizations to tell their stories. In her role, she runs the communications department for San Diego Coastkeeper, a nonprofit that relies on volunteers to help preserve and protect the county’s water.