Have you attended my Volunteer
Management trainings in Kansas City?
I’ve been offering it for some time and during this training module, I learn just as much as I deliver.
One thing I’ve learned training Kansas City volunteer managers is the vastness of the field and the many dimensions of the role itself. In fact, the volunteer management role is as wide-ranging as the nonprofit organizations in our city.
Oh my goodness.
Kansas City has so many nonprofits!
It’s both an awesome and a wonderful thing.
Just in Kansas City alone, the pool of nonprofits is as diverse as the many ways we prepare BBQ!
We have the national nonprofits like the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Kansas City all the way to smaller ones like Whatsoever Community Center in northeast Kansas City. Head north and you’ll bump into Synergy Services; go south and you’ll find Sunflower House and many more in between. Yep, lots of organizations in my area; tons of volunteers and even more volunteer managers working to make it all come together.
I could write a million word blog post on the nuances of nonprofit life and the role volunteers play in our communities. But, don’t worry, I won’t… at least not in this post. Instead, I’ll begin by examining dynamics and solutions for engaging long-term volunteers.
Whether or not you’re an experienced volunteer manager or just starting out, I have the perfect place to begin thinking about your volunteer strategy: length of service.
As you likely know, in nonprofit work, your volunteers fall into one of two categories: short-term or long-term. Let’s define short-term volunteers for those who may not know. They are the kind-hearted people who solve a problem or meet a momentary need then they are gone until you need them again. Think of them as “one and done”. Some examples include the volunteers that clean up after an awful storm, the people who manage the registration table at your conference or the helpers who stuff bags the evening prior. You get the picture.
Next, you have volunteers that serve for longer periods of time (i.e. long-term volunteers). Examples are troop leaders for Girl Scouts, a volunteer who comes weekly to answer your phones until you find a new staff person. A long-term volunteer could also be someone who serves on a planning committee for months. Church ministry leaders are also considered long-term volunteers. We often forget to consider the volunteers that serve in faith-based organizations. They are volunteers too.
Engaging your long-term volunteers
Allow me to share a bit of my training material with you. Attend one of my trainings for volunteer managers in Kansas City and you’ll get this information and much more. I hope you find this “snapshot” useful as you work to engage your long-term volunteers.
1. Schedule interaction with your volunteers.
It may sound regimented, but it’s too important to leave to chance. Interaction is the cornerstone of volunteer management. I understand you’re busy; I am too. That’s why I love to share shortcuts. The first that comes to mind is Outlook’s Delay Delivery option for emails. Are you familiar with it? Well, it enables you to write an email and schedule it’s delivery for a later date. I’ve used this function to send volunteers sporadic communications. Sometimes, I’ll say something like:
“Hi Kim, you were on my mind today.
I don’t want anything at all but to thank
you for volunteering for our organization. Your assistance
helps us in ways you’ll never fully know. Thanks so much for enriching our
[church, community, etc.] and my life as well.”
Schedule the occasional “howdy” email like the one above every so often. I usually load up my “Outbox” with these communications. Anything important is worth scheduling. Not sure how to do a delay delivery email? Here’s a link.
Another option is to put telephone outreach on your calendar. I literally mean schedule “Call Jill” every four months so you won’t forget to touch base with her. You’re incredibly busy and your work is demanding. Planning it takes the load off and helps you get it accomplished. Whether you schedule emails or calendar reminders; reach out to your volunteers and do it often.
2. Use Microsoft Merge to communicate with volunteers.
Microsoft Word’s Mail Merge function is another great tool to communicate with your volunteers.
Instead of sending the dreaded group email no one ever wants to get, use this function to send personal, direct emails to each volunteer with one convenient click. Besides, group emails end up in the recipient’s SPAM folder most of the time anyway.
Personal emails are a bit more special and intentional. Plus, people seem more likely to step up and volunteer to do something when you send an email straight to them – and only to them. Why do you think that is? I think it’s because folks always assume “someone else will do it”. However, when it’s directed to them, they feel more responsibility. That’s my opinion.
You know volunteers love it when you make them feel like the wonderful INDIVIDUALS (emphasis on individuals) they are. No one wants to feel like one of many. Not sure how to do a Mail Merge? Microsoft has directions on it’s website here.
3. Share you updates.
As you know, volunteers are magnificent- but very busy- people. When they volunteer, they invest one of their most precious resources – their time. Help them connect their valuable investment to your organizational results. You can do this by sharing your success numbers with them.
Not sure where to get the data? Every organization is different, but start with your fund development department or grant writer. Trust me; they have great data you can share.
Volunteers will love to know the bags they stuffed contributed to an event that reached 1,400 women. This sort of information brings fulfillment and builds loyalty.
Sure, your volunteers may like you [as a person], but make no bones about it; they are there for the organization’s mission. Help them stay engaged and confirm they are making a genuine difference.
4. Building relationships that matter
For some volunteer managers, this one can be awkward. I wish I had a dollar for every one that’s asked me: “Teri, do you think it is appropriate to be friends with my volunteers or should I keep it strictly professional?” I usually pause to see what the others volunteer managers will say.
Well, here’s my short answer: managing volunteers is business; it’s just wrapped in a great big hug. I know it sounds corny and a bit like an oxymoron, but it’s true.
Let me explain.
Business it is because this is your job, right? It is not a diversion from your busy life – it is an integral part of it. Now, consider the relationship from the volunteer’s perspective. Volunteering, in their view, may be a bit of a hobby, distraction or even a sideline activity.
From these two viewpoints, relationships ensue. In the end, it’s up to you which direction it takes, but do understand, it will have a personal tone. I think it must. Be prepared, volunteers will share hugs, family stories and your families may even become familiar with one another. There’s no avoiding it; nor should you want to evade it. It’s a beautiful thing.
Trust me, you’ll find the proper balance. But, be advised: you’ll likely have a personal connection with your volunteers that a banker would not have with his customers. It’s a different sort of business – a completely different sector.
That’s it. Which of these strategies will work best for you – staying in touch with them, broadcasting their successes or opening your heart to them?
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