4 Best Practices to Boost Every Volunteer Program
Last week, we hosted a live masterclass on best practices in volunteer management. We featured 3 of our very own VolunteerPro members who shared how they tackle and overcome their biggest challenges.
They had tons of actionable wisdom to share, so we’re breaking down the key takeaways for you. The good news is you can start implementing their ideas immediately, and start getting traction today!
Let’s get started.
4 Best Practices in Volunteer Management Our Members Use to Realize Success
Best Practice #1: Conduct an Annual Volunteer Survey
While the volunteer survey can be a bit of a bear to undertake, it is one of the most important benchmarking strategies you can implement for your volunteer program.
Running your survey annually is one of our best practices in volunteer management. It allows you to set a baseline against which you can track the impact of you interventions and what’s changing within your program and volunteer base. Without this, you won’t have an accurate picture of where you are or where you need to be. You don’t need to ask precisely the same questions every year, but do include some consistency so you can compare apples to apples, year over year.
Here’s how one VolunteerPro member tackles volunteer surveys:
Chelsey Banaskavich is the Coordinator of Volunteers at Jewish Family & Children’s Service (JF&CS), a social service agency located in St. Louis, Missouri. They offer sliding-scale fee counseling services, free learning behavior diagnostics for children under 18, case management services, school-based services, elder services for aging in place, food pantry, and chaplaincy support.
Her Challenges & Solutions
Chelsey had conducted volunteer surveys before to mixed results that rarely resulted in positive change for her volunteer program. She wanted to implement the right kind of survey in order to get the necessary feedback to boost her volunteer recruitment results.
Chelsey took VolunteerPro’s Volunteer Surveys Signature Online Course, and discovered fresh ways to implement purposeful volunteer surveys. Here are two ways she did it:
1. Ask the Right Questions
After taking our Surveys Course, she realized she’d been asking the wrong questions. So, she and her team took every question and delved into the driving purpose behind each. What was the goal of the question? Why were they phrasing it that specific way? Was it a benchmark they really wanted to measure?
2. Run With the Results
The survey worked as a catalyst for positive change in her volunteer program, especially recruitment. In addition to the survey, she organized a volunteer advisory committee made up of seasoned and new volunteers who were committed to walking alongside Chelsey as she led the program.
From their ongoing feedback and direction, they have brainstormed and implemented fresh recruitment ideas, which have resulted in more committed, more diverse recruits. She has broadened her market without cheapening her organization’s brand.
“Don’t go it alone. Reach out to people who are doing what you’re doing. Utilize things like VolunteerPro and your local volunteer groups. It’s not just your organization or just your volunteers. Crowdsource information and give information back. Also, trust your volunteers. They want to help you because they enjoy volunteering with you. Get their feedback. Think outside the box and try it.”
Interested in learning more about volunteer surveys? Get on the waitlist for our Surveys Course, which will be launched later this summer.
Best Practice #2: Address Volunteer Anxieties on the Outset
We know from our annual Volunteer Management Progress Report that recruitment is one of the biggest challenges for leaders of volunteers. One tactic for boosting recruitment is reducing barriers to entry. And, one of your best practices in volunteer management is to reduce those barriers to entry by knowing your volunteers’ fears and anxieties and alleviating them from the beginning.
Here’s how one VolunteerPro member does it:
Jenny Beatty is a master-networking, specialist in community and volunteer engagement for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) programs. She recruits and places over 1500 event volunteers each year, 40% of which are skilled volunteers that require technical training.
Her Challenges & Solutions
Jenny’s biggest challenges is recruiting volunteers from all over the state and region from ages 13-90. She works with a wide range of backgrounds and demographics, so she must effectively communicate through many different avenues and styles.
Over the years she’s realized that one of her best practices in volunteer management is to recruit volunteers is to let go of the “one size fits all” mindset and address common anxieties people have about volunteering. Here are three ways she says you can cut down on those anxieties:
1. Distill Volunteer Position Descriptions
You don’t want people to get lost in the details, feel overwhelmed, and turn away before they’ve given your organization a chance. So, Jenny keeps position descriptions under 3 pages and simply links to longer form content or legalese when necessary. She is a big advocate of Google docs and sheets to maximize the efficiency of her workflow and making tech work in her favor.
2. Recruit Busy People
It may seem counterintuitive, but Jenny is a firm believer that the busiest people are the ones who know how to get stuff done. She’s also found that they are often looking for the next big challenge. They might feel they are “too busy” at first, but once the position has been framed to reduce their anxieties, you’ll have committed supporters on your hands.
3. Answer the phone
And the texts. And the emails… Basically, be available to your volunteers and make sure they feel comfortable reaching out to you with issues and questions. Not everyone will need your help, but you can empower those who do by giving them constructive advice and cheering them on. If you don’t have the time to answer all the calls, consider forming a volunteer help desk to be there to answer FAQs.
“Communication is the route of all problems for everything, so you have to figure out how to open up those lines of communication. Make people feel comfortable to reach out to you when they do have a question or are uneasy – and that prevents issues down the road. Until you get through the little stuff, you won’t be able to tackle the big stuff.”
Best Practice #3: Let Go or Redirect Volunteers Who Aren’t Contributing to Your Mission
Your mission is the whole point. It’s the reason you chose to work for your organization, and it’s why your volunteers choose to commit. So, what do you do when you have a long roster of volunteers who aren’t engaged anymore? How do you focus on the right people to further your mission?
Here’s how one VolunteerPro member does it:
Alana Knoppow is the regional manager for Hospice of Michigan and Arbor Hospice. She specializes in aging populations and volunteer management and is a founding member of VolunteerPro.
Her Challenges & Solutions
Alana’s biggest challenges is recruiting and retaining the right kind of volunteers who will commit long-term to visiting and befriending patients in their final years, months, and days of life.
This is not an easy task, but Alana does it in three ways:
1. More Thorough Screening Up Front
Sometimes we are tempted to onboard a volunteer simply because they want to serve with us. They have a good heart, so even when they can’t fully commit to our organization’s needs, we make acceptions. Alana, however, is very clear with volunteers during the screening process. She tells them what her organization needs so they can decide if they have that extra mile to give.
She also tries to be as clear as possible as she can in recruitment appeals with standards and expectations. This ensures the right people are applying from the onset.
2. Prioritize Difficult Conversations
Giving feedback is never the most comfortable part of leading volunteers, but it is quite necessary, especially when touching base with unengaged volunteers. One of Alana’s best practices in volunteer management is to face these conversations head on, rather than putting them off.
She even has these conversations with big donors and legacy volunteers. She begins these face-to-face meetings with how much she appreciates the volunteer’s work. Then she delicately lays out the issue at hand and compassionately helps the volunteer come to their own conclusion about continued service with their organization.
Sometimes the conversations result in the volunteer leaving the organization. Other times a simple role change will suffice.
3. Make it OK for Volunteers to Leave
Alana has found that sometimes people are looking for a way out. So, addressing their low engagement can actually be a gift in disguise. It can help them feel like it’s ok to leave. They aren’t abandoning an obligation or letting anyone down – they have simply had a life change, and that’s ok.
“If someone is not furthering your mission, they’re taking away from it. It’s our responsibility to the organization to put a cap on people’s ability to take away from the mission, so we can focus on those who are furthering it.”
Best Practice #4: Maintain Good Communications
As you can see, the common theme between all of these best practices in volunteer management is communication. We’ve heard it said: Clear is compassionate. People feel respected when you are open, honest, and (sometimes) forward with them.
Conducting an annual survey is a way to show your volunteers you are listening to them. Answering the phone shows you are available. Having tough conversations shows you care.
As you keep those communication lines open, you’ll progress closer and closer to success.
Finally, communicate with peers and others who can share successes and advice. When you’re spinning your wheels on a big challenge, there’s nothing like getting a fresh set of eyes on the problem. VolunteerPro membership can help put you in touch with a network of professionals around the world who know where you’re coming from because they’re living it, too.