5 Ideas for Developing More Inclusive Volunteer Management

Four people stand next to one another looking into the camera. They're wearing grey sweatshirts with the word VOLUNTEER in white type on a red background. In front of them is a table filled with boxes of vegetables and water bottles.
Apr 6, 2021
9 minute read
Volunteer Management
For many nonprofit organizations, diversity and inclusion are considered a top priority in their annual goals, and for a good reason. A team with a wide array of backgrounds benefits from unique perspectives, resulting in better decision-making and innovative approaches toward the nonprofit's mission. However, infusing diversity and inclusion into your organization will likely require new practices to be put in place. An excellent place to start promoting inclusivity is your organization's volunteer programs.

Evaluating and determining what barriers your organization's volunteer programs have and then working to break them down is a solid first step in attracting and retaining a more diverse and welcoming volunteer workforce. This article will offer five ways to make your volunteer management process more inclusive by providing all volunteers a better experience from sign-up to clock out.

Here is what we'll cover in this article:

  1. Make volunteering as accessible as possible.

  2. Invest in accessible volunteer recruitment.

  3. Build relationships with volunteers.

  4. Make sure volunteers feel appreciated.

  5. Leverage technology to improve the volunteer experience.

At InitLive, we've worked with thousands of organizations to refine their volunteer programs and provide valuable volunteer opportunities. We've seen these five strategies promote healthy and inclusive environments, making it a more worthwhile experience for everyone involved. Without further ado, let's dive in.

1. Make volunteering as accessible as possible.

Many organizations use the same few volunteer management strategies for all their programs and events. While this may make sense and save time, these methods may be causing unknown barriers for new volunteers.

For example, if your volunteer program requires a month-long commitment on weekdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., that means anyone with work or child-care responsibilities can't help at all. Similarly, if you are only marketing volunteer opportunities to your existing network of volunteers, there is no opportunity for anyone outside of your network to join the team.

To avoid these less-than-ideal situations, it is important always to consider how your organization can ensure everyone has an opportunity to volunteer.

Volunteer Program Planning and Scheduling

One of the primary causes of inaccessible volunteer opportunities is poor planning and scheduling. When creating a volunteer program, consider how you can make it easier for all volunteers to participate. That means you need to consider the following needs:

  • Time — Consider the timing of your programs. Try and offer volunteer opportunities in the evening and consider smaller shift commitment options. For example, offer a few shifts a week from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., allowing them to participate outside of standard working hours.

  • Child Care — Can your volunteers bring their children during volunteer shifts? Consider offering some flexibility and child-care options that allow volunteers to have their children supervised while they work.

  • Transportation — How easily can your volunteers get to the volunteer location without a car? If there is limited public transportation, consider offering a shuttle service or carpool program to take the pressure off volunteers who need it.

  • Language — Is English the primary language of all your volunteer programs? Can you incorporate some other languages to include more people from your community? Take stock of your existing staff and volunteer language capabilities and incorporate different languages in your volunteer programs to make them more inclusive.

  • Food — Food is always nice to have during volunteer meetings or shifts, but it might be necessary for some volunteers who face food insecurity. Try and offer some food during longer shifts for volunteers. It makes everyone feel appreciated.

There are so many different barriers for volunteers depending on their unique circumstances. However, it is up to you and your organization to remove as many barriers as possible to ensure your volunteer programs are as inclusive as possible.

2. Invest in accessible volunteer recruitment.

Create a more accessible recruitment strategy that uses more inclusive and community-driven language. The last thing you want to do is scare off any potential volunteers from day one. It should be easy for someone to see what volunteer opportunities are available, what those volunteer roles are, and then sign up for the option that interests them. Long application forms that don't offer a clear idea of what a volunteer will be doing can often leave people uneasy about what they may or may not be asked to do.

Here are some key elements to consider when building an inclusive volunteer recruitment process:

  • Don't limit volunteers' shifts with too many qualifications or skill requirements. If you can teach a new volunteer a necessary skill for the role, consider removing it as a prerequisite. Many volunteers sign up for opportunities to learn new skills so the complex screening process can limit their growth.

  • Create an online volunteer sign-up page with public volunteer opportunities and shifts. This allows volunteers to browse opportunities, sign up for what interests them, and work it into their existing schedule.

  • Offer a signup process and communication in multiple languages. If you want to attract volunteers from all backgrounds, make sure to invest in a program that supports multiple languages.

By opening up the recruitment process to account for varying skills, schedules, and languages, you're much more likely to attract a wide array of volunteers. This can jumpstart your journey to inclusivity and kick your relationships with new volunteers off on the right foot.

3. Build relationships with volunteers.

Volunteer engagement strategies are a core component of all volunteer programs, but ensuring every voice is heard may require a little extra effort. To ensure you are fostering an inclusive volunteer culture, you need to build meaningful relationships with volunteers. By investing in volunteer engagement efforts, you will be able to better understand your volunteers' needs and how to set them up for success in a meaningful and fulfilling way.

InitLive's volunteer engagement guide offers several ways to build meaningful relationships with your volunteers, and here are a few of the easiest ones to implement:

  • Create an open line of communication with all your volunteers. Offer your volunteers a direct communication line to a volunteer manager. This can be through email, SMS, or a volunteer mobile app. Volunteers should feel empowered to ask questions.

  • Send frequent updates and communications. Share all the significant impact each of your programs is having with the volunteers contributing to the program's success. Not only will this make your volunteers feel good about the work they are going to do, but they will also feel more connected to your organization.

  • Collect volunteer feedback through surveys. Routinely send out communications to your volunteers asking for feedback on how you can better support them. This can be done through an online survey to make it more anonymous and help everyone feel comfortable sharing their perspectives. Make sure to share the survey results with your volunteers and communicate how you will improve their areas of concern.

  • Host volunteer social events. Bring all your volunteers together for a monthly lunch or weekly coffee break to connect and chat with your team. These social events also encourage volunteers to connect and build new relationships with each other.

By prioritizing volunteers' engagement, you'll convey that you genuinely care about their experiences. In turn, they'll feel much more involved and like a vital part of your work, directly encouraging them to stick around for the long haul.

4. Make sure volunteers feel appreciated.

Volunteers are the main workforce behind a lot of important programs and fundraising events. Despite their varying backgrounds, these people band together and donate their time and effort to a cause they all believe in. Showing appreciation to those volunteers goes a long way in making them feel seen and cared for.

You don't need to spend a large portion of your budget to make your volunteers feel appreciated. You simply need to dedicate some effort to communicating thank you to your team in ways that resonate with them. You would be amazed how far those two words go in delivering a warm and welcoming volunteer environment.

Here are a few volunteer appreciation ideas to help you get started:

  • Host a thank you event. Set milestones in your programs with thank-you events for your volunteers. During these events, share all the great impact the volunteers have made toward the program and consider handing out awards to your top volunteers. You may even line up catering for the event to show even more appreciation.

  • Host giveaways. Consider giving your volunteers some branded swag from your organization. A shirt or a water bottle with your organization's logo on it makes them feel like they are an official part of your organization's team.

  • Send personalized communications. Consider sending out a thank you message to each volunteer after their shift or after a fundraising event. Try to customize your message as much as possible. For instance, use each volunteer's preferred name and directly reference the results of their efforts to convey that their contributions matter.

Regardless of the strategies you implement, what's important is that your volunteers feel appreciated. They'll recognize when you go out of your way to express appreciation in a personalized way.

5. Leverage technology to improve the volunteer experience.

Volunteering with your organization should be a simple and rewarding experience for your volunteers. Complex administrative processes can leave volunteers confused and frustrated, making the volunteer process inaccessible and resulting in more volunteer drop-off in the signup and onboarding process. That's where technology comes in to simplify the process.

Unlike spreadsheets and online forms, a volunteer management solution is built to manage and engage with volunteers simply, saving time and reducing confusion. There are so many great purpose-built solutions available to organizations just like yours. Make sure to look for a volunteer management solution that can break down all the barriers discussed to ensure that every volunteer has the chance to participate in a meaningful way.

For instance, you should be able to develop a standout onboarding process that anyone can navigate. This process should allow you to build informative role descriptions, capture essential details about volunteers, and match them to the right roles based on their qualifications and interests.

During their time with your organization, you should also easily stay in contact with them using communication features. They should be comfortable and able to share their opinions and communicate any challenges they're facing. In turn, you'll be able to develop lasting relationships, resulting in a more significant lifetime value of volunteers year-over-year.

Now it's time for you to evaluate what barriers in your volunteer management process are limiting who can participate in your organization's volunteer programs. Once you have established those barriers, you can remove them through the right volunteer management tools and practices to make your programs more inclusive, diverse, and all-around impactful.
Cassandra Smallman

Cassandra Smallman


Head of Marketing, InitLive

Cassandra is a passionate content creator dedicated to fostering positive impact through thought leadership in both the nonprofit sector and live events industry. You can find her work at InitLive or on Linkedin and Twitter.

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