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Tips for Working with Volunteer Surge

Everyday there is another reason to protest. From the new presidential administration to environmental catastrophes and beyond, there is some crazypants-bananas-what-just-happened moments we face and are forced to emotionally process nearly continually. With that comes more involved and curious people who are looking to get involved to help make a difference.

You want proof?  See this statement made just after the election: “Right now there is clearly a lot of energy around people looking to get more involved and make a commitment to the things they care about,” says President Greg Baldwin in the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

The effects on organizations both big and small are obvious. Nonprofits with missions that are threatened by the incumbent administration — like Planned Parenthood and organizations with a focus on immigrants and refugee services (see TIRRC)— are receiving an influx of support.

Here at Community Shares, we are dedicated to helping our member groups do the best with what they have. So, here are some reminders and tips to keep those post-inauguration volunteers engaged:

  1. Thank them (over and over and over). You’ve had the march and protests and now you’re back at the office with stacks of volunteer sign ups, what to do?! Email them, of course! Well, after you get them entered into an Excel document or some other volunteer/donor software, that is. Thank them for coming out to the demonstration and for stopping by your table to learn more about what you do, welcome them to the organization and to your e-newsletter, invite them to like your social media pages and checkout your website, and ask them to fill in the rest of their contact info (mainly phone number). Here is the kicker: have a volunteer ask at the ready. Don’t miss this very valuable opportunity to keep that momentum up. As Keri Adams, VP of External Affairs at PPMET says: “Make this moment a movement.”
  2. Develop a social media tree. Yes, just like the old-school phone trees, but for social media. Make sure you have a solid social media domino effect in place for all your posts. The way all those algorithms and whatnot are going, you can never tell if folks are actually seeing your posts. One way to ensure that more people will see them is to amplify your posts with dedicated post ‘likers’ and ‘re-posters’. Enlist the volunteers who are already on the social media platforms and can navigate them easily. Save them to an email group.  Communicate with that group of volunteers when you post something you want shared and commented on. As they ‘like,’ comment, and share, your post stays at the top of your page and is more likely to be seen by others in their feeds as well.
  3. Find a way to include volunteers in your work at least once per month. As engaged and dedicated people can be, sometimes life is just too hectic to make it out that one time. So, find a way to interact with your volunteers at least once a month, if practical (and useful). Don’t create more work for yourself if there is no reason, but you can always tag along to other events and ask your volunteers to go along as a group. You can even rep your agency with t-shirts! Have monthly postcard writing parties or create some other creative way to get together and spend your time working toward your mission.
  4. Ask them to help you – often. If you are going to the capitol to lobby, ask them to come too. If you are speaking at a community meeting, ask them to come too. If you are eyeball deep in administrative filing, ask them to come help. Are you behind on donor thank you calls? Ask the volunteers to help! Literally, there is no end to the work volunteers can help you with, so ask them.
  5. Send them important news stories that effect your work via email once per week. This is an easy way to keep them engaged with what you are doing. A short message and a list of links once per week goes a long way. You could even have a volunteer do it. LOL
  6. Schedule a time to create a photo/video (or several) that support your organization and invite them to participate. If you’ve been meaning to get around to creating a short photo or video series or a message from the ED to put on your website, now may be the time. With energy and new faces, you could spend a day getting lots of great footage and b-roll to edit later. Just make sure to get photo releases signed.
  7. Reply to their emails/comments/questions and get to know them. Sometimes, a volunteer can be a wealth of resources in many ways. Some have lots of friends and can bring a crowd. Other volunteers may have super skills, like graphic design or event planning, that they can lend your agency. Still, others may have the energy and strategic abilities you’ve been looking for, or they could be statistics professor that knows how to work and present numbers! The point is to just engage with them. Don’t treat them like a number.  Instead, ask them how they came to be involved, what motivates them, and how they would prefer to spend their time helping your organization.
  8. Don’t ask for money. Volunteers want to give their time to a cause they feel deeply passionate about. They may give money — if they can. But they are showing up because that’s what they want to do. It’s a magnanimous offer, too. The value of volunteer work can run into the hundreds of thousands for some organizations. In fact, for Tennessee, the value of volunteer time was last clocked at $20.92 per hour! So, don’t leave them feeling unappreciated by asking for money. Once they feel comfortable, and they are ready, they may ask about giving options and you can tell them all about Community Shares, right!
  9. Hold a few rounds of informal focus groups. This would be a good time to get the pulse of your community.
  10. Don’t expect too much. Don’t burden yourself or the volunteers with being perfect. Just keep mission-focused and the volunteers will, too. So, if you can’t pull a volunteer activity together every month, don’t hyperventilate. Your volunteers won’t leave you. Go easy on yourself and make what you can do count.

I hope you found this helpful. Best of luck on meeting your mission and impact goals this year!