Volunteer Management: Everything Your Nonprofit Should Know

April 14, 2022 | Grace Duginski
Volunteer Management: Everything Your Nonprofit Should Know

Many nonprofits want to run programs in their home community, host an event, register voters, or otherwise move their mission forward, but face a critical question: “how do we do this with our current staff?”

For many, the answer to this question is a robust volunteer program! An effective volunteer program can help you speak to the needs of your community, create and maintain strong supporter relationships, meet new donors, and ultimately do more with less effort from your staff to move your mission forward. Here’s what nonprofits should know about how to effectively manage their volunteers.

First, we’ll define what volunteer management is, and why it’s important. Then, we’ll get into some best practices, and illustrate how volunteer management software can help. Let’s go!

What is volunteer management?

Volunteer management is the process of recruiting, engaging, activating, and retaining volunteers who step up and take on a prescribed role to help you run programs and ultimately advance your mission.

Volunteers can help you meet a wide range of goals, but only if you create and follow an effective and complete volunteer management plan in order to give folks a good experience working with you. A positive volunteering experience not only means better execution for your event, action, or program, but also better retention and longer relationships with supporters. Let’s dive in.

Why is volunteer management important?

An effective volunteer management plan is important because volunteers can help nonprofits expand their capacity and reach their goals in an efficient way—but only if your program is managed well by setting clear expectations and giving supporters a smooth experience. Volunteers contribute their free time and skills because your mission resonates with them, which means it’s a mutually beneficial relationship: your organization receives additional people power to carry out your programs, and your volunteers receive the joy and feeling of community that come from getting involved with a cause close to their heart.

Volunteers are valuable in abstract ways, but they’re valuable in quantifiable ways, too: the NonProfit Times reported that in 2020, the value of a volunteered hour was estimated at $28.54 and rose to $29.95 in 2021; and Nonprofit Source revealed that 72 percent of volunteers are only involved with one organization—meaning your volunteer management process is critical to keeping them engaged and retained. Additionally, your volunteers will often want to show support in other ways: our own Mobilize network has found that volunteers are twice as likely as non-volunteers to donate to an organization, so if you’re not cultivating those connections now, you could be leaving money on the table!

The volunteer management process

For most nonprofits, the volunteer management process follows a framework with five key steps.

The volunteer management process can be broken down into 5 key steps.

Step 1: Define your program’s goals

You wouldn’t launch a fundraising campaign without first setting a revenue goal, and a volunteer program is similar: setting goals for your volunteer program will help you keep it focused, track its successes, and improve it over time.

When you’re setting goals for your volunteer program, you’ll first want to identify how volunteers fit into your scope of work and who your ideal volunteer would be: what tasks will they need to accomplish? What kinds of qualifications and availability do they need to have? No matter what you’re recruiting volunteers for, make sure the goals you set for your program are SMART: specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound. When you can measure your volunteer program’s success, you stand a much better chance of refining and growing it over time, which means you’ll have the power to do even more to move your mission forward.

Step 2: Create a sign-up form

Your registration process should be simple and intuitive, while still collecting the key information you need to effectively contact folks and manage your relationships with them.

Although many organizations used paper sign-up sheets in a past life, by now most use digital forms. The most effective digital sign-up forms, like the ones in EveryAction and our Mobilize network, are customizable, embeddable, and shareable. You’ll want to customize your forms in order to make sure they’re eye-catching, on brand, and clear about which event/s supporters are signing up for, as well as compatible with screen readers and other accessibility tools. You’ll also need the ability to embed your sign-up forms into your website and other spaces your supporters frequent to make it easy for them to sign up.

Lastly, a sign-up form or functionality that’s easily shareable means you can include it in supporter messages across your different digital channels and audiences—including on volunteer platforms like Mobilize, where since 2017, organizations have built a network of over 4 million volunteers who have taken over 15 million actions to help move their favorite causes forward. In fact, we’ve found that promoting a volunteer event to the Mobilize public network increases registrations by 40 percent!

Step 3: Recruit volunteers

Now that you’ve set your goals and made your sign-up form, it’s time to recruit your volunteers. One smart place to start is with supporters you already have relationships with, so use your existing channels to contact donors, members, advocates, and folks who’ve volunteered with you in the past to sign up for a shift—you can include it in your newsletter, in social media posts, in SMS messages, and more. And, if you use a highly integrated or unified CRM, all the information you need in order to contact those audiences should be readily available to help you segment and reach them with personalized messages.

When you’re looking to recruit new supporters who don’t have any prior history with you, consider where you’re likely to find them. Are they on social media? What are some terms or keywords they’re searching for to find your organization? Can you make your volunteer opportunity easy to find on your website?

One tried-and-true strategy for bringing in new supporters is asking your existing supporters to invite their friends—after all, they likely share interests and values, and may want to spend time volunteering together. Our Mobilize network has seen how powerful a shareable sign-up functionality can be, since more than 20 percent of supporters who have taken action through Mobilize have come from one of their bring-a-friend features, and almost 40 percent of supporters have taken action with the same people multiple times. It’s a win for everyone!

Step 4: Screen your volunteers and assign roles

Step four in the volunteer management process is screening volunteers and assigning roles, in order to make sure people are taking on responsibilities that are a good fit for their skills.

You can incorporate some of your screening questions into your digital recruiting process right from the start by using customizable forms to ask screening questions and identify the right opportunities for each volunteer, and then segmenting them into email and SMS streams with regular invitations to opportunities that match their screening responses. This helps both staff and supporters alike: it reduces staff time spent on sorting volunteers into the right shifts, and gives supporters ways to self-select into shifts on good days and times for them. Overall, this creates a smoother experience with your organization.

Step 5: Train your volunteers and get to work

The last step before sending your volunteers out to knock doors, serve community members, phonebank, or take any other action on your behalf is training them. Training is important for every type of volunteer activity, since you want your supporters to know what to expect and feel confident that they can help you move your mission forward.

First, make a list of key information and skills you need volunteers to have before their shift. This can be as simple or as complex as you need it to be: would you like them to review a script before making their first phonebanking call? Do you need volunteers to make sure they have their App Store password and download the MiniVAN app at home before showing up your canvass? Should volunteers review a set of FAQs so they’re prepared to answer questions from the community you’re serving? Making sure your event goes off without a hitch means getting clear on what your volunteers need to know before they show up.

Once you’ve identified the training objectives for your volunteers, you can use that information to decide what format/s your training should take. Are you able to deliver all the right training to volunteers virtually, or do you need some or all of it to take place face-to-face? Can you offer asynchronous training modules and resources, or does it need to happen in real time? Should your volunteers be trained in groups, or would one-on-one work better? Every volunteer needs proper guidance in order to succeed, so think about what the structure of an effective training would look like in order to teach them what you need them to know.

Tips for effectively managing volunteers

While every volunteer program looks a little different, there are some tried-and-true techniques and best practices that can help you effectively manage your program.

Reward and recognize your volunteers

It’s important to send a thank-you message to volunteers who complete a shift with you. Thanking your volunteers for donating their time helps them understand the impact they helped you make, reminds them of how good it feels to support a beloved cause, and incentivizes them to keep returning for more shifts in the future. (Thanking them sincerely for their time can also be an important step in cultivating them and eventually asking them to make their first gift!)

Offer a range of volunteer opportunities

You wouldn’t ask every donor to give the same exact gift—why ask every volunteer to show their support in the same way? If at all possible, nonprofits should offer a range of different volunteer activities in order to appeal to a wider supporter audience.

When we think of volunteering, many of us imagine stocking shelves at a food bank or walking shelter dogs, but taking action to support a worthy cause doesn’t always need to happen in person. Virtual volunteering has been an option for many years, and since early 2020 it’s become an important strategy for engaging supporters who may not be able to attend events and other initiatives in person. Whether you’re organizing a phonebank, hosting a tutoring program on Zoom, or creating other volunteering opportunities, virtual events are a great way to empower volunteers all over to take action on behalf of your cause.

Match volunteers to the right roles

Although supporters may be dedicated to your mission, their interest in donating their time to your cause isn’t a blank check—if you want to retain your volunteers for the long haul, it’s important to match them with tasks that actually interest them. Connecting your supporters with volunteer roles that they can succeed at and enjoy doing will show that your organization values their time and engagement.

How nonprofit volunteer management software can help

There’s a lot to consider when building your volunteer program—but luckily, volunteer management software can help. Some useful features to look for include:

  • Online forms for volunteer sign-up
    Customizable, embeddable, and shareable sign-up forms make it easy to find and welcome new volunteers to your program.
  • Distributed events and organizing
    Empower your volunteers to host their own house parties, fundraisers, community events, and more, while ensuring that RSVP and attendee data is easily and accurately reflected in your database.
  • Integrated fundraising
    Volunteers are twice as likely to make a donation to your organization, and integrated fundraising forms make it easy for them to show their support.
  • Event calendar
    See and manage events of all types in one place.
  • Mobile event check-in
    Check-in event attendees on a mobile device for reduced manual data entry and a smooth attendee experience.

EveryAction’s volunteer management software

We’ve seen how organizations like Equality Florida and the Romero Institute have been able to succeed by operating their fundraising, organizing, and supporter engagement programs in concert with EveryAction’s volunteer management software. Some of EveryAction’s unique tools and functionalities that have helped organizations like these include:

  • Seamless volunteer communication
    A unified or highly-integrated platform like EveryAction makes it simple to segment lists of registrations and attendees for email, call, and text communication, while workflow automation ensures that all outreach is timely.
  • Volunteer recruitment and management
    Attract new volunteers through our built-in activist network and easily manage recruiting, shift sign-up, confirming, and follow-up. Track engagement, automate communication, and more.
  • Event and shift management
    Easily manage events from start to finish, including building sign-up forms, recruiting, confirming attendees, conducting check-in on mobile devices, and following-up, all from the same database.
  • Multi-channel messaging
    Contact volunteers through their preferred channel, including phone, email, and SMS. Results recorded instantly in the same database, for seamless multi-channel outreach.
  • Engagement points
    Measure and track different levels of supporter engagement with custom action scoring to find your best supporters and personalize communication for different groups.
  • Canvassing
    Go door-to-door with the most trusted canvassing tools in the country. Generate turfs and walk sheets with custom scripts, maps, and corresponding lists of voters. Use sophisticated MiniVAN mobile solutions to distribute canvass lists, monitor canvasser progress, and more.
  • Phone banking
    Cutting edge phone banking solutions like our click-to-dial OpenVPB and VPB Connect tool make it simple and easy to call members, voters, volunteers, and more.
  • Voter file
    EveryAction contains the best voting age population file, which includes enhanced contact data, consumer data from our partner TargetSmart Communications, and models that are not available anywhere else.
  • Year-round engagement and advocacy
    Keep supporters engaged between election cycles with advocacy tools that make it easy to harness grassroots energy for your legislative agenda.
  • Fundraising
    With a unified CRM, integrating fundraising into your volunteer program has never been easier.

Wrapping Up

Establishing, growing, and evolving your volunteer program requires careful planning, data tracking, and strategic decision-making—and the right nonprofit platform and volunteer management software can help you meet those goals.

Need help evaluating your organization’s strategic needs and choosing the right platform for all your programs, from engagement to fundraising to volunteering? Download our complete Nonprofit CRM Buyer’s Guide, produced with two of our expert partners in CRM selection and implementation—Raise HECK and Maureen Wallbeoff.

Want to learn more about how the right person-to-person support can help you successfully choose, implement, and get the most value out of your nonprofit fundraising, engagement, and volunteer management software? Check out EveryAction’s CRM implementation services and our support and training resources.

Lastly, if you’re interested in learning more about how EveryAction’s nonprofit CRM can help your organization engage more supporters with more programs across more channels to raise more dollars and advance your mission—all without needing to add more staff—get a demo today.