Social Media & the 3 Rs: Content Strategy Basics for Engaging Volunteers

Submitted on Fri, 2/15/2013 - 1:26pm
There are two key areas of volunteer engagement – recruitment and recognition – that are such great matches for social media that it’s worth a second look no matter how your organization is structured.

From designing volunteer opportunities, to recruiting new volunteers, to creating risk management policies, to screening volunteers, to recognizing great supporters…there are a lot of elements to successfully engaging volunteers with your organization. And not all of them easily translate to the social media realm.

However, there are two key areas of volunteer engagement – recruitment and recognition – that are such great matches for social media that it’s worth a second look no matter how your organization is structured.

The big question is, why should you engage volunteers via social media? And another thing: How can you harness your content to work for you while doing so? Here’s my rationale for bringing together your social media and volunteer engagement strategies, and a few simple ideas for making it all work:

Why Volunteer Engagement and Social Media

A lot has been made about the estimated value of a Facebook like to an organization’s donor program, but what if I told you that our research shows that a volunteer you recruit today at VolunteerMatch.org will, on average, eventually provide more than $3,000 in equivalent social value for your organization?

On top of this, volunteers also donate…a lot!  Not only do two-thirds of volunteers also give money to organizations, they give an average of ten times as much money as non-volunteers.

Donations, which are transactional in nature, often lack the relational buy-in to your mission to which volunteers have already committed. Volunteers often work side by side with your team. And because they already donate their time… the most precious thing they have…there is no group of supporters more primed to help you in other ways than volunteers.

While not every volunteer will want to share their interests on social media, connect with your cause, inspire others to get involved, or follow your news, many volunteers will.  

Here a few tips for using content to engage volunteers via social media:

  • Get the basics right first – Make sure your web pages support volunteer engagement… your website is still the heart of your digital strategy, so make sure volunteering is present in your navigation, on a page of its own, etc.
  • Listen - Be engaged in what supporters and prospective supporters care about.
  • Update your messaging – How do you talk to prospective volunteers? Do you have established calls to action, graphics and keywords? Make sure you extend your brand to accommodate volunteer engagement needs.
  • Leverage stories – The best way to engage anyone is by tapping their emotions, and storytelling is still the best way to do this. Gather stories of impact and craft them to fit on the social media platforms you choose. Speaking of which…
  • Optimize your presence – You don’t have to be on every social media platform under the sun. Choose social media platforms that have a large base of supporters for your organization, and that fit well with your content needs.
  • Think like a collector/curator – Don’t just broadcast your own messaging – by sharing other people’s and organizations’ content you’ll show your supporters that you play well with others, and will build a reputation for being a trusted go-to resource for knowledge in the space.
  • Create sharable content – People love videos and pictures. Create content that people will want to share with their friends and family members. Test what works well with your community and do more of that.

What Success Looks Like

Finally, how will you know it’s working? When measuring volunteer engagement via social media, try to answer these kinds of questions, which are readily available via analytics:

  • Am I effectively tapping the most vocal supporters of our volunteer program for other roles?
  • How many of our Facebook fans volunteered with us last month?
  • What are our most effective methods for promoting our volunteer opportunities via social media?
  • Which types of volunteer-related social media content are most likely to inspire followers to act?
  • Which social platforms are the best places to tell our volunteers’ stories?  

If these questions look familiar, they should be! These are simply adaptations of common measurement-related questions that nonprofits often ask about their social media performance overall. Now that you can see how to apply them to volunteer engagement, you’re well on the road to making volunteering, and your volunteers, a bigger part of your social media activities.

What’s working for your organization? Share your social media and volunteer engagement success stories here.

Robert raises awareness about VolunteerMatch as head of their public relations, marketing, social media, membership communications, and public thought-leadership activities. He joined VolunteerMatch in 2006 and has helped the organization double in size while delivering more than $1 billion in social value in that time. Before this he raised money for important causes, helped build and sell a high-rise building, ran his own consulting firm, survived the dot-com era, and worked in the independent press.