What better time to think about your volunteers than during National Volunteer Week? One consultant offers tips for engaging volunteers and keeping them involved.
Volunteers play a crucial role in their communities, including in associations. And to give them the recognition they deserve, this week Points of Light, an organization dedicated to volunteer service, hosted its annual National Volunteer Week.
“Volunteers allow the association to execute its mission,” said Allison Reznick, principal of Advanced Interactions, LLC. “They work to put together high-level strategies and member programs and benefits. And they participate in efforts like peer review, program committees, and related services, which wouldn’t have the same quality, or even be offered, without the engagement of our volunteers. They are really the backbone of an association who work in collaboration with the staff.”
And because volunteers form a major part of association operations, Reznick offers ways associations can effectively recruit and retain volunteers [login required].
Surveys. Associations should be surveying volunteers, either through formal mechanisms or informal small group conversations, to determine what they want to receive from their service.
“In my experience, I have found that in order to really get at the crux of what your volunteers are looking for in a position is to survey current and past volunteers to determine their motivators,” Reznick said. Often these motivators include leadership skills, networking opportunities, and resume building.
Benefits-based programs. With the survey results, associations should then build volunteer programs that offer benefits in line with the volunteers’ motivators. For example, if volunteers are looking for networking opportunities, associations can host small events like dinner groups to allow volunteering members to make connections with new peers and reconnect with old ones.
If volunteers are young professionals, associations may consider a mentoring program, matching the YPs on a committee with more experienced volunteers.
Staff-volunteer relationships. A welcoming culture and strong relationships between staff and volunteers are essential to retaining volunteer leaders. To create these relationships, associations can encourage staff to quickly introduce themselves to new volunteers, provide welcome packets and orientation sessions, and announce new volunteers in their communication channels.
Staff members should seek personal relationships with volunteers by having conversations in-person and via phone, instead of just through email.
Recognition. A key factor in keeping volunteers is recognizing the work they do. “They want to feel like they’re accomplishing something in terms of giving back and supporting the association, meeting the goals of whatever their job position or volunteer position is,” she said.
Publicly, associations can recognize their volunteers’ service through social media, e-newsletters, or on their website. But they can also host events exclusively for volunteers at their meetings or present awards, such as a “volunteer of the year” or a length of service award.
In addition, volunteers should also be thanked on a personal level with birthday cards, thank you cards, or even handwritten notes. “These efforts don’t have to be so over-the-top or expensive, but simply need to be genuine gestures,” Reznick said.
But, ultimately, she says successful volunteer recruitment and retention come down to three things: “Be respectful of their time, communicate, and thank them as many times as you can,” she said. “In my experience, these simple but effective strategies are the foundation for building your recruitment and retention efforts. They’ll help you engage your volunteers in a way that they will just want to give back.”