The day had finally arrived and I was ready. My passion was high, my thoughts popped like a spark. I was ready to create a bigger stronger volunteer program. I could see people standing in line to volunteer. Okay maybe that was something of an exaggeration, but I learned a lot of lessons during that time on how to effectively run a successful volunteer program.
1. Keep the lines of communications open! This applies to the coordinator, staff and volunteers: Often, an event is planned and then you get a call from someone saying, “Wait! I didn’t know that was today.”
Communicate with volunteers and key staff members days or even weeks in advance and send reminders as the date approaches. This helps avoid miscommunication among all parties and can address any potential questions or issues that may arise.
2. Be a part of the team: Instead of saying something is not in your job description view it as going above and beyond what is required of you. Embrace the moment and cross train and learn the role of others. While getting snacks or water was not part of the job description, it showed volunteers that the work they performed was appreciated. Would getting water lead to bankruptcy? The answer to this question was a resounding no. Was having a hot and hungry volunteer a part of the job? Again, the answer was emphatically negatory. Doing what was necessary and within reason to please volunteers leads to further goodwill and camaraderie and establishing team spirit, as well as happier volunteers. This in turn usually lead to them volunteering on a monthly basis.
3. No job is too big or small and for some reason we feel the bigger the event the better: This statement isn’t always accurate. Size does not matter. Whether the group size is 10 or 100 you should approach it with the same vigor and passion. You should always put your best foot forward because a volunteer is a volunteer! Celebrate their successes and anticipate their needs. What if you were told to secure bigger groups of volunteers? What about the dedicated 30 that show up? What about the 10 five year olds ready to clean a park? Do we turn them down? Of course not! Create an experience that appeals to the 10 five year olds. Everyone brings value, no matter their age or size. Determine specific goals for various ages based on the length of time they are participating.
4. Find new ways to recruit: Perhaps sites like Volunteer Match aren’t working as well for you as they once had. So get out of the office and find volunteers. Go to Career Days and close out by asking for volunteers. Since most corporate organizations have a community relations team, call or send a note detailing your volunteer opportunities. Some examples of tasks include picking up trash, painting homes or even sorting food donations. It all counts and puts you up close to the volunteer experience. It also provides a way for the company to give back and enhance their team building skills. Some companies have even held “lunch and learns” for people to learn about their volunteer opportunities.
Corporate opportunities, are of course, not your only avenue to go about recruiting. Civic groups are another way to rally volunteers to improve the community. In the event of things going a bit slowly for your volunteer program, do not fret. There are plenty of ways to get people involved in promoting your cause. You have to make your cause known and visible to the public however! Churches tend to be wonderful places to advance the civic good and promote your particular cause. Visit places of worship and ask if they are looking for outreach or youth ministry opportunities. For example, check out The Souper Bowl of Caring, which does a fantastic job of bringing together churches, schools, companies, individuals and families looking to support a worthy cause.
5. Show Results: In the first six months of my new role, I doubled the amount of volunteers and almost tripled the amount of volunteer hours. How was this accomplished? It was accomplished by asking others to volunteer frequently. The program was already great and had a long standing history in the community. It just needed a human/personalized touch for some added flavor.
Personalization and catering to individuals, seeming human if you will, goes a long way. Accomplish this by using social media to create partnerships and offering alternatives to the traditional volunteer experience. Holiday greeting and thank you cards should become the norm as well as replacing group emails with a personalized call or email. It takes a lot of work, but is guaranteed to show results by growing your volunteer program.
The next time you are faced with growing or revamping a volunteer program, ask if any of these methods could work for you. Volunteer programs can thrive when you create ideas, build trust and find a way for all group sizes to give back.