12 Steps to Building an Engaged Volunteer Base (Part 2)

If you missed the Introduction and Part 1, be sure to catch up first.

We’re finally to the last six steps to create a remarkable volunteer base. Let’s dig in!

7. Talk big picture

All of your volunteers should believe in the mission of your organization, but that doesn’t mean that they know all of the intricacies of it.

When onboarding new volunteers, I spend time talking to them about how the organization came to be, where we stand today and where I see it going in the future. Not all of this will impact them directly but it serves two purposes.

  1. It gives them a better context for the organization that they will serve.
  2. It provides them with sound bites when talking about the organization with others.

This is also a good chance to talk strategy, goals and ideas for the project. The first few meetings consist of brainstorming ways to improve and grow. This benefits the organization by having volunteers with more personal investment in a project’s success and a wider range of fresh, new ideas.

8. Work together

Don’t leave your volunteers out of determining project goals and key dates to stay on track. As a Director, Program Coordinator or a leader in any way on a project, it is your job to make sure you are hitting deadlines sticking to the mission of the organization and moving the project forward.

However, your volunteers represent your organization and will be working for you. Spend some time with your volunteers determining goals they would like to meet and deadlines that make sense for the project.

With Make a Mark, our Advisory Board spends time after thinking about the logistics of the project after brainstorming. I then spend some time on my own, figuring out what other deadlines and deliverables we need to hit and if any need to be revised. This information is then communicated back to the board for feedback and for awareness.

This ensures that everyone feels responsible for the success of project and it does not just fall on the project manager to bear all of the weight.

It is important to determine responsible parities and due dates for items that are critical for success. The design marathon requires many due dates and many different responsible parties. Start by allowing those people to self select and give themselves deadlines. However, you may need to nudge people in the right direction. This will be discussed in the next step.

Below is an example from a backpack program expansion.

Sample Plan Worksheet with Due Dates and Responsible Parties

9. Encourage your volunteers to use their skills

Actively engage your volunteers with tasks that hit their skills or areas of interest. Some volunteers will be vocal about what they enjoy, but others won’t share as easily. This is when you had to listen and watch. Look for signs of excitements regarding certain topics or tasks including head nods, smiles and comments. Take notes of what they comment about most often.

While some people may be extroverted and excited to share their strengths and skills, some are introverted and may not be as open to share. This is your opportunity to ask them one on one for their help. Don’t be afraid to dig in deeper as long as they are comfortable sharing. You might find that someone has a hidden talent.

10. Avoid busy work, but stay busy

It can be easy to give your volunteers tasks that you need help with when you’re busy. However, this often ends with poor results, low volunteer engagement and a lot of rework.

The first step to avoid dolling out busy work is to make sure you commit the right bandwidth to your volunteers. You might not always have tasks that align with their skills, but you can have discussions with them to ensure that they are doing something that fits their strengths.

At this point, referring back to your Skill Mapping notes might be helpful.

Skill Mapping

Say you have a volunteer that is skilled at digital marketing, but you already have digital marketing under control. Instead of assigning them to it, where you don’t need the help and they will get board or assigning them to data entry, which they do not enjoy, have a conversation as to why they enjoy digital marketing. Maybe they really love designing and digital marketing is their way of doing that. Then see if their strengths align with tasks that need completing.

11. Communicate with one another

This isn’t just information about your next meeting or deadlines that are approaching. Your volunteers want to stay in the know so they can continue to understand what is going on within your organization and feel a deep connect to its purpose.

By sharing good news and updates, volunteers can also celebrate those exciting moments. When there is a change or adjustment that needs to be made, you might not always need volunteer opinion, but by providing volunteers with the answers to the what and the why, you continue to make them feel important to the organization.

Don’t just communicate, but communicate in a way that works for your volunteers. I’ve learned over time that if you aren’t communicating in the way that is easy for the volunteer, you lose attention and interest.

Trying out new technologies for communication can enhance the way you all talk to one another, but you have to make sure that everyone agrees with this implementation.

At Make a Mark, we use Trello to help with our initial event planning process. Trello works very well for our group since most people use it at work already. Trello is a great project management tool and is a way to brainstorm, categorize and collect ideas and opinions. As you can see there is a voting option as well as the ability to assign due dates and add members.

2017 Roanoke — Blacksburg Make-a-Thon Trello Board

Whatever you do, make sure that everyone is aligned and feels comfortable using the tool.

12. Acknowledge volunteers

This seems obvious. It is easy to recognize your volunteers for big accomplishes like the completion of a large event or implementation of a new program. But it can also be easy to forget to recognize them during the year for the little things that they do — like taking time out of their busy schedule to attend a a two-hour meeting or sending donor emails out in the early morning before work.

Make sure to say thank you to them, but also keep in mind that people like to be acknowledged in different ways. I’ve worked in organizations where people want a public thank you for their accomplishments — that’s an easy one. However, I’ve also worked with people that don’t wish to be acknowledged publicly in any way.

Knowing that sometimes acknowledgement should be an announcement and sometimes it should be an intimate conversation is important and does have an impact of how valued and respected volunteers feel.

For more info, subscribe to the newsletter or send an email to me at hello@letsmakeamark.org.

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