Although they grew more popular because of the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual volunteer opportunities are likely here to stay. Why is that? Besides keeping people safe during the pandemic, virtual volunteering also allows nonprofits to:
- Reach a more geographically far-flung audience.
- Make volunteering more inclusive, especially for those with physical disabilities or time restrictions.
- Offer skills-based volunteer opportunities for participants to enhance certain skills, especially tech-related ones.
However, just because virtual volunteer opportunities offer inherent benefits doesn’t mean your nonprofit’s volunteers will automatically sign up for each opportunity you present. Your virtual volunteer experiences must be engaging to inspire your audience members to get involved.
Here are five tips for planning engaging virtual volunteer opportunities:
- Make your virtual volunteer experience unique and hands-on.
- Ask volunteers what they’d like to see.
- Ensure your technology is up-to-date.
- Offer a valuable training process.
- Conduct volunteer appreciation efforts.
As InitLive’s volunteer engagement guide states, every interaction your volunteers have with your organization matters. If your volunteers have a positive experience with your virtual opportunities, from the time they sign up to when the opportunity ends, they’ll be much more likely to stick around for the long term. Let’s dive in!
1. Make your virtual volunteer experience unique and hands-on.
There are plenty of virtual volunteer opportunities that offer participants a unique experience that they can’t get anywhere else. Plus, you can still make your virtual opportunities hands-on by giving participants an active role in driving your mission forward.
You want to offer opportunities that will excite your volunteers and make them look forward to participating. Ensure you thoroughly explain what each role involves and create fun role descriptions to get volunteers interested and prepared! Remember to offer roles where your volunteers can learn new skills and engage with others, just like they can with in-person opportunities.
Let’s demonstrate with a few examples of virtual volunteer opportunities you can host:
- A virtual food drive — Spread the word about your opportunity on several social media platforms and offer potential volunteers instructions on how to participate. Volunteers can help by acting as ambassadors and reaching out to their social media followers to encourage them to participate.
- Virtual advocacy opportunities — Teach volunteers to be strong advocates for your cause. For instance, you can host a virtual session on how to write effective letters to representatives. This will allow your volunteers to develop leadership skills and reputations as action-takers.
- A peer-to-peer fundraiser — Encourage volunteers to create personalized fundraising pages and share them with family members and friends on their social media accounts. You can also create a social media group to share information about your fundraising campaign. LinkedIn and Facebook are great places to create group pages to share important information with fundraising participants. Use these pages to reach everyone all at once and keep participants engaged in the virtual fundraising effort.
- A virtual advice line for community members — Train volunteers to answer questions and offer guidance on topics relevant to your nonprofit’s mission. For example, if your nonprofit specializes in teaching financial literacy, you can set up an advice line for community members to call in with their financial questions. This will allow your volunteers to take on a hands-on role and provide a valuable resource for community members seeking help.
These ideas will engage volunteers more effectively than generic ideas or ones that don’t require a lot of hands-on involvement.
2. Ask volunteers what they’d like to see.
Volunteers play an important role in any nonprofit organization. They lend their skills and expertise to help you deliver vital programs and services. Keeping this in mind, it’s important to consider how you can offer an experience that appeals to volunteers’ interests and preferences.
To offer the best experience possible for your volunteers, it’s important to understand what they would like to get out of your virtual opportunity. Send out a survey to your volunteers ahead of time asking about what they’d like to see in your virtual volunteer opportunities. This is a great way to show your volunteers that their opinions matter.
Here are some questions you may consider asking:
- How likely are you to participate in a virtual volunteer opportunity?
- What would make you more likely to participate in virtual opportunities?
- How much time do you have to devote to participating in virtual volunteer activities?
- Do you prefer to work collaboratively or independently?
Asking these questions before creating your virtual opportunities allows you to plan accordingly, ensuring your volunteers’ experience is exactly what they imagined it to be. You can also take their feedback after their volunteer experience to see whether it was successful or not. This way, you know what to continue doing and what to change for next time.
3. Ensure your technology is up-to-date.
Like your virtual fundraising events, your online volunteer opportunities require powerful technology tools to succeed. Having up-to-date technology simplifies your workload and saves time, allowing you to focus on other important areas of your organization.
According to a Salesforce Nonprofit Trends Report, 85% of nonprofits said technology is crucial for their organizations’ success. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, nonprofits are taking advantage of all kinds of virtual opportunities, opening new frontiers in digital volunteerism. Having access to volunteer management software will allow you to communicate with your volunteers, organize their information, and plan better virtual opportunities.
Ensure your organization has access to the following tools:
- Event planning software — User-friendly event planning software will help you manage your event staff data and plan virtual experiences. You can also set up schedules and make changes easily through the web or a mobile app to communicate with all your staff and volunteers.
- Livestreaming software — You can gain a real-time view across all events, improve visibility, and manage multiple events through a single end-to-end solution. This will help you provide a better virtual volunteer experience and ensure everything runs smoothly.
- Volunteer management software — To manage a large group of passionate volunteers, up-to-date volunteer management software will help you efficiently recruit, interview, schedule, and engage volunteers and report on your volunteer activities. You can use this system to offer the best volunteer experience from sign-up to check-out and provide volunteers with all the tools they need to succeed.
4. Offer a valuable training process.
After your volunteers sign up, your training process helps them get into the swing of things and stay engaged in your virtual opportunities. Plus, when volunteers receive proper training, they’ll get much more fulfillment from participating in your opportunities because they’ll actually be able to make a difference.
Your volunteers will deliver the most impactful work when they are confident and passionate about what they have been assigned. Your training process sets the foundation for your volunteers’ success and empowers them to put their best foot forward. Organizations with organized volunteer training processes are more likely to experience greater volunteer engagement and satisfaction.
Your training process can be a live video chat with a group of new volunteers or a self-guided training module that volunteers can work through in their own time. Either way, ensure the training covers everything volunteers need to know to participate in your virtual experiences, including:
- A detailed explanation of your organization’s history and mission.
- How to log into your online systems or live stream.
- Any specific skills they’ll need, such as how to make an advocacy phone call or log data in an online database.
- How to check into and out of your virtual opportunities and how to track their volunteer hours.
Remember to monitor the training process. Reach out to your volunteers from time to time and encourage them to come to you if they have questions or concerns along the way.
Also, it’s important to keep in mind that every volunteer will have their preferred way of learning. Some may prefer group learning, while others may prefer individual, self-guided training. Ensure you tailor the learning experience to appeal to different learning styles.
Consider offering your volunteers a variety of learning opportunities with different platforms to create a fun and engaging way to prepare volunteers for the next steps!
5. Conduct volunteer appreciation efforts.
Volunteer appreciation is one of the most important components of boosting volunteer satisfaction. Your volunteer appreciation efforts help engage volunteers for the long term, not just for a single volunteer opportunity. Recognizing your volunteers for their hard work helps them build self-esteem and confidence.
When your volunteers feel appreciated and important, they are more likely to feel connected to your cause, resulting in a greater sense of personal fulfillment. Remember to maintain recognition throughout the virtual volunteer journey because ongoing volunteer recognition is crucial to keep volunteers motivated.
Here are a few effective ways to express gratitude to virtual volunteers:
- Send them a free volunteer t-shirt — Offering free merchandise is always an enticing thank-you gift, especially if your t-shirts are well-made and comfortable. Remember to add your organization's logo to the shirts to promote your brand and make your volunteers feel proud to be a part of your organization.
- Offer them a gift card to a local restaurant — Who doesn’t love free food? You can ask your volunteers their favorite food or restaurant and offer a gift card. This is a great way to make your volunteers feel recognized for their hard work.
- Letters from the community — Nothing feels better than words of gratitude coming from the people they served in their community! Invite community members to write letters to the volunteers who made a difference in their lives. Your volunteers will feel special and see that their hard work truly makes a positive impact.
- Post shoutouts on your social media pages — Social media is the best place to highlight and spotlight your volunteers’ accomplishments in a public forum. Consider posting a picture of your team or specific individuals who went above and beyond to highlight their accomplishments. You can also write about your volunteers on your website and share it on social media for everyone to read.
These appreciation efforts will make your volunteers more inclined to participate in future opportunities. Your volunteers donate many hours to support your cause. In return, it’s essential to show them that you notice all their achievements.
. . .
Now that you’ve learned about several tips on how to plan engaging virtual volunteering opportunities, it’s time to start planning accordingly! Offering an engaging, exciting experience for virtual volunteers makes all the difference in running effective virtual volunteer opportunities.
Remember to let your volunteers know that you’re open to feedback and their opinions on your program to help you understand what works best for them. Maintain consistent communication and continue to show your appreciation. Good luck!
Digital Marketing Specialist, InitLive
Shreya is a creative content creator focusing on delivering information about the importance of volunteerism for nonprofit organizations. She is passionate about creating engaging content, writing, and graphic design to help viewers easily retain information. You can find her work at initlive.com or on Linkedin and Twitter.