Volunteers are the lifeblood of any organization. They donate their free time to further your mission, whether they’re marketing an upcoming event, engaging in advocacy outreach, or lending a hand to build a new homeless shelter for your organization. Especially for small organizations that don’t have a lot of staff bandwidth (such as youth service organizations that need mentors and food banks that fight against hunger), volunteers are instrumental in their success.
According to national volunteer research, volunteers most often engage in activities like food collection or distribution (24.2%), fundraising or selling items to raise money (23.9%), general labor or transportation (18.8%), and tutoring or teaching (17.9%). However, each organization relies on different types of volunteer work, and there are countless ways to tie supporters into your work and empower them to make an impact on a cause that matters to them.
No matter how you utilize volunteers, your volunteer system or CRM gathers a lot of information throughout the entire volunteer management process. There are plenty of touchpoints where you gather information between signup forms, one-on-one conversations with volunteers, and follow-up surveys. And while it matters what type of volunteer data you gather, it matters even more how you use that information.
Your analytics can provide visibility into the effectiveness of your volunteer management strategies. Especially if you face limited staff time, you need to make the most of the information you gather if you want your volunteers to stick around. To help you put the information you’re likely already gathering to use, we’ll walk you through several ways to effectively manage your volunteer data. These are the three main strategies for using your data to craft a more impactful volunteer experience that we’ll cover:
- Offer tailored opportunities that are designed to convert.
- Communicate impact with volunteers.
- Pinpoint untapped funding opportunities
By understanding how you can leverage your volunteer data, you can provide valuable experiences to supporters and make smarter decisions that will reel new supporters into your cause. In turn, you can effectively increase your organization’s ROI and expand your base of support.
1. Offer tailored opportunities that are designed to convert
While there are essential activities that your staff finds important, it also matters what your volunteers will enjoy and which activities will help them feel like they’re making a difference. Ultimately, if they don’t see the value in the work they’re doing, they likely won’t continue serving your organization or even sign up in the first place.
Your data can point to which activities people enjoy as well as which ones fewer people prefer doing. Take a look at past opportunities within your database. You might notice that there were high involvement rates for particular activities, like phone banking or working at a community event. Knowing this, you can base your upcoming opportunities on what your volunteers found interesting. If there are less popular activities that still absolutely need to be done, you’ll also know to ramp up communications to get the opportunity in front of more prospects, increasing your potential pool of volunteers.
As Mobilize’s guide to volunteer management explains, your volunteer database will automatically track this information across campaigns and store this information for you, making it easy to create enticing opportunities tailored to your unique base of supporters. Here’s an example of how your platform might organize your shift-specific data into an easily understandable dashboard:
How This Worked For Joe Biden’s Presidential Campaign
As you start to think about how you can tailor your own opportunities, take Joe Biden’s presidential campaign for example. With the landscape quickly shifting to digital-first methods during the height of the 2020 presidential campaign, it was challenging to determine which activities inspired people to get involved, especially with some people being less comfortable with digital campaigning.
Backed by a volunteer platform that automatically tracked which activities volunteers were participating in, campaign organizers were able to create opportunities that kept volunteers engaged — even during social distancing. They noticed that:
- Watch parties, virtual rallies, community events, and house parties made up 35% of their campaign’s events.
- Traditional voter contact events were also popular. Campaign-affiliated volunteers were particularly interested in phone and text banks.
Knowing this, they were able to ramp up these opportunities and present valuable options that supporters were actually interested in. In the end, the Biden campaign hosted 37,641 events on Mobilize over the course of the campaign, and campaign-affiliated volunteers made more than 300 million phone calls and sent more than 330 million text messages. While this campaign was on a national scale, you can still learn lessons from its successes as you start to craft your strategies.
How To Present The Right Opportunities To Specific Groups
After you understand what types of activities drive sign-ups, you can also take it a step further by segmenting the opportunities you share with different people. Instead of sending generic appeals to a wide audience, send opportunities tailored to different groups within your supporter base.
Your data can point to different opportunities that particular groups of people found appealing. Then, when those opportunities arrive, you can share them with those who are most likely to participate. Here are a few examples of how you can segment your volunteers:
- By type of volunteer activities they’re interested in: To motivate people, you need to present them with roles that align with their interests. Specific examples might include conducting advocacy campaign outreach, hosting community events, or soliciting donations. Conversely, you should be cognizant of the activities they don’t want to engage in. For example, one group of volunteers may enjoy soliciting donations whereas others have indicated that they absolutely don’t enjoy that activity.
- By skills and certifications: Some activities require certain skill sets and certifications to complete successfully. For example, people need to be CPR certified, be able to lift 50 pounds to help with event setup, or know how to successfully solicit donations during peer-to-peer outreach. Grouping people by qualifications allows you to suggest roles that align with their skills.
- By availability: Perhaps you have a handful of on-call volunteers who have shared their availability to help out your organization. Knowing this, you can present them with shifts that will fit into their schedules.
You can certainly gather this information during the signup process, but bear in mind that information like this can also come up during one-on-one conversations. Encourage any staff members who interact with volunteers to add any relevant information into your volunteer database as soon as it comes up.
2. Communicate impact with volunteers
When someone first gets involved with your cause, they’re doing it because they feel connected to the cause. If they don’t sign up for a future event, it’s probably not because they stopped caring. They might just not understand that what they were doing was actually making an impact, thus reducing their engagement.
That’s why it’s so crucial that you follow up with information regarding how they influenced your cause through their work. Something as simple as sending a summary of their impact when they reach a milestone or finish helping out with an event can go a long way in retaining their support. If you already send out thank-you letters to volunteers, you can easily pull data that your organization’s software gathers to help communicate the impact of their work, rather than simply saying you appreciate their work.
As you start crafting your impact summaries or thank-you letters, pull this information from your database to help people understand the value of their contributions:
- The number of hours spent doing the volunteer activity
- Any special skills the volunteer leveraged
- Metrics tied directly to their impact (e.g. “X cats found their forever homes”)
Put yourself in a committed volunteer’s shoes for a moment. As a volunteer, it’s much more impactful to see that you contributed 150 hours to the nonprofit than receiving a simple email that says, “Thanks for all your hard work!” This is even more so true when a specific metric is tied to it to help communicate impact, such as “The 150 hours you’ve contributed so far is the equivalent of donating $4,281, based on the current estimated national value of volunteer hours of $28.54.”
Not to mention, by tracking the data we mentioned above, when it comes time to apply for a grant or communicate impact to corporate sponsors, you’ll already have tangible data to share. This makes it incredibly easy to create your value proposition and build a solid case for support to any potential funders. Otherwise, it can be difficult to advocate for your work if they’re having doubts about continuing to support your work.
3. Pinpoint untapped funding opportunities
Another opportunity that is often overlooked in volunteer programs is corporate giving, particularly through the use of volunteer grants. Employers offer this type of program as a way to support their employees’ involvement in charitable causes. In it, they’ll offer to donate to an organization once one of their employees volunteers a certain number of hours at a specific organization, whether through activities like helping run events or serving on a nonprofit’s board of directors.
While corporate giving is a valuable opportunity, Double the Donation’s list of matching gifts statistics estimates that about 63 million Americans volunteer each year, yet the average corporate volunteer grant participation rate is only 33%. In other words, organizations are actively missing out on what are essentially free donations.
That’s why it’s so crucial to track individual volunteers’ metrics and inquire about the right information during their time with your organization. To ensure you’re getting the most out of your volunteers’ time through corporate volunteer grants, make sure you’re tracking the following information:
- Their employer information: Knowing who your volunteers work for allows you to determine if their companies offer this type of program and the specific eligibility requirements they have in place. For instance, they might implement stipulations regarding which types of employees (e.g. full-time, part-time, or retired) and nonprofits are eligible. It’s often easiest to inquire about who your volunteers’ employers are during the signup process.
- Their number of volunteer hours: In addition to employee and volunteer eligibility, companies also require employees to volunteer a minimum number of hours in order to win a volunteer grant. This is a metric that you’ll need to track throughout a volunteer’s history with your organization. Knowing this allows you to validate eligibility and follow up with volunteers at the appropriate time.
Storing this information in your database will empower you to maximize your funding. However, it also increases individual volunteers’ impact when they can also acquire donations for your organization simply by volunteering. When they successfully win volunteer grants for your organization, you’ll have specific, monetary metrics that you can share with them to communicate their impact. In turn, you’ll be able to effectively engage volunteers and inspire them to continue serving your cause.
Volunteer data can point you toward gaps in your program so your team can deliver a much more impactful experience for volunteers. Whether you start tailoring the opportunities you share or follow up on missing volunteer grant money, make sure you’re putting the information you gather to use.
As you get started with these strategies, take a look at the data you’re already collecting and determine if there are other sources you can leverage for even more insight into your program and its participants. In turn, you’ll create valuable volunteer opportunities that excite your supporters and deepen their affinity for your cause.
Content Marketer, Bonterra
Craig Grella is a Content Marketer at Bonterra, the leader in social good technology. Bonterra enables and elevates the hardworking people at organizations that do social good by bringing together best-in-class tools and technology. In his role, Craig serves thousands of nonprofits and advocacy organizations across the U.S.
Craig focuses on digital strategy using email marketing, online advertising campaigns, SMS campaigns, CRM management, reporting/analytics for KPIs, and more. He’s also the founder of Think Big Campaigns, a full-service consulting firm that specializes in political consulting, digital organizing, and issue advocacy.