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The best engagement strategies for managing virtual volunteers during COVID

Nonprofits are pressured from every angle (fundraising and service demand). Volunteers are an incredible resource to have. But it works both ways. Research shows that volunteering has a positive impact on individual mental health and well-being. It improves social connections, builds social capital, a sense of community, and belonging. When a placement goes well, feelings of appreciation, ‘mattering’ and ‘getting something back’ all help build a volunteer’s sense of self and purpose. Key ingredients to improving mental, and even physical, well-being.

But how to deliver a gold star volunteer experience in a virtual world?

Embrace the world of virtual volunteering

Just because your office and services have gone virtual, volunteer roles are not redundant. You may need to rewrite a few job descriptions but try and keep placements going if you can. Take a step back and look at your operations as they are now. Where are the gaps? What do you need? Map your volunteer placements and skill requirements and give people the chance to transition. There are lots of opportunities, even in a virtual world.  According to a recent Good Housekeeping poll, 48% said COVID has impacted their volunteer efforts, while 46% said their volunteering was largely unaffected, 5% said they shifted their volunteering to be online. Here are some of our favorites:

StoriiTime: connects children with seniors for virtual story hours. You can sign up as a reader, a parent who would like their child read to, or a care provider looking to get their residents involved.

Catch a Fire: connects professionals with nonprofits that need their skills.

Bookshare: an ebook library that makes reading easier for people with barriers such as visual impairments, dyslexia, learning disabilities, and more.

Hire a Hero: helps veterans and military spouses excel in their career by offering mock interviews, career counseling, and other guidance.

The takeaway? Embrace virtual volunteering and get ready to support existing volunteers as they enter a virtual world. Don’t be afraid to recruit for new positions if they are needed. 

Top tips to help manage virtual volunteers

Here are five ways you can deliver a volunteer engagement model in a lockdown.

  • Tip #1: It’s all about communication

Now more than ever, you need to keep in regular communication with your volunteers. It might sound obvious, but in a lockdown bubble it is easy to let things slip. Schedule in some regular time with your volunteers – and step it up a bit. If you used to check in every few weeks, make it weekly. It doesn’t have to take long, but it is important that you keep the connection going. There’s video calling, but you could also pick up the phone. There is comfort to be had in some traditional technology. So, take time out for a good old-fashioned chat.

  • Tip #2: Be flexible and understanding

You might think we would all be used to lockdown by now. But as the situation continues, lockdown life can take its toll. Work is disrupted, people are separated from their families, and losing loved ones. It is important that you are flexible and understanding. Show them that you value their time and commitment, and work together to create a relationship that works. If there are digital skills gaps, see if you can find opportunity for training, development, and even mentoring.

  • Tip #3: Create virtual connections and opportunity

It is very easy to feel alone when you are working from home. This makes opportunity for social connections essential. It might not be a team lunch or outing, but virtual socials, quizzes, coffee and cake are simple ways to keep people connected. If you haven’t already, why not set up a members Facebook or LinkedIn group to give people a platform to chat, share, and get to know each other?

  • Tip #4: Remember, volunteers are part of the team

Without a coworking space you are going to need to go the extra mile to help your volunteers feel part of the team. Why not invite them to your next team meeting or catch-up? Include your volunteers in (appropriate) group emails, organizational updates, and events. You could even set up a buddy system – pairing volunteers and staff together to support each other during lockdown times. 

  • Tip #5: Work together to create a solution

Virtual offices and virtual volunteering are new for almost everyone. You cannot, and should not, be expected to have all the answers. It is a learning curve, so ask your volunteers for input and feedback as you create your virtual program. The key here is to engage, listen, and respond. Do this, and there is no reason why you can’t deliver a winning virtual volunteer experience.

Creative ways to engage, recognize, and reward virtual volunteers 

When it comes down to it, virtual volunteer management – and indeed, volunteer management in general – is all about value. Never take someone’s time for granted. Show your volunteers that you appreciate their commitment and that their hard work is making a difference. ‘Thank you’ are two of the most powerful words in your toolkit. But it isn’t just what you say, it’s how you say it. So why not try:

-A call from a team member (or even your CEO) ‘just because’.

-A short thank you video or online shout-out

-Spotlight features and volunteer stories on your website and social media.

-Anniversary and milestone celebrations (request a demo to discover how thankQ can help manage you volunteers and create strong relationships).

-A (physical) card, note, certificate, or token sent to a home address.

-Invites to virtual events, training, and other (fun) activities.

‘-Virtual Volunteer of the Month’ awards.

-Sharing beneficiary stories and features that bring your work to life.

Lockdown is hard on everyone, but if you play your cards right you can be the bright spot in someone else’s day. Because a gold star volunteer program doesn’t just help your nonprofit. It helps everyone. And when times get tough, we need to be there for each other.

thankQ CRM can help you manage your volunteers and create strong relationships with them.  Contact us to see how. Set up your personalized demo today.