Volunteers have gone above and beyond since the beginning of this pandemic. But it’s no surprise that volunteering during challenging times can take a toll. The strains of the pandemic have highlighted the need to support volunteers’ physical and emotional health. Otherwise, you face losing them to burnout.
Rather than only pouring resources into recruiting new volunteers, strategic volunteer coordinators focus their attention on how to better support the volunteers they already have.
Providing the appropriate amount of support will help keep volunteers energized for your cause, which has a direct impact on volunteer engagement and retention.
Why is supporting volunteers important?
You know how much effort goes into recruiting a single volunteer. As volunteer managers build their volunteer retention plan, it’s important to include a strategy for volunteer support.
If volunteers feel unsupported, they are likely to experience volunteer burnout. This can lead to inconsistency in their volunteerism, the choice to leave your organization, or resigning from volunteerism entirely.
Not only does volunteer support prevent burnout, but it also helps the volunteer feel more empowered in their role. Just like paid staff, volunteers deserve the chance to grow, to feel safe, to give and receive feedback, and to receive proper guidance and training so they have a chance to excel in their roles.
When volunteers feel properly supported, they are empowered to:
- Do the best job they can
- Cope with the mental and physical demands of their role
- Experience personal growth (e.g., community-building, personal relationships, new friendships)
- Achieve professional growth (e.g., job skills, employability, networking, exposure to new roles)
- Feel satisfaction for their experience and accomplishments
- Understand more about the organization or the population they are serving
6 Ways to Support Your Volunteers
Methods of expressing volunteer support will vary based on organization, but here are some of the top ways to support for your volunteers:
1. Give and receive feedback
Giving and receiving volunteer feedback is a key part of better supporting your volunteers. By sharing and collecting volunteer feedback, you can empower your volunteers, improve their experience, and bolster volunteer retention. Everyone wants to feel heard, but they also want to know how they can continue to improve.
The way your organization gives and receives feedback will vary based on your available resources and the number of volunteers involved. A volunteer survey is one option for collecting volunteer feedback. Surveys are a great way to gather data and analyze your volunteer program, and they tend to have relatively high response rates. The survey results will help you to craft programming that better supports your volunteers in the long-run.
2. Clearly define policies and procedures
You should have thoroughly defined policies and procedures before volunteers arrive on site. Volunteer managers need to share this information with the volunteer in a timely manner and verify that the volunteer understands the information. Make sure you leave room for any questions and concerns and address these. This will empower volunteers and help maintain their safety while they are on site. You may choose to outline your policies and procedures in your volunteer liability waiver. Find out how volunteers can sign your liability waiver during volunteer sign up.
People don’t like feeling confused or unsure of their role. By clearly defining policies and procedures early on in the volunteer relationship, you build a sense of trust and support with your volunteer.
3. Communicate Volunteer Impact
Volunteers want to know that their work has meaning. By regularly communicating volunteer impact, you can show your volunteers that you see and appreciate their efforts. This kind of support boosts personal satisfaction and thus, volunteer retention. Learn your volunteers’ preferences for impact reporting and try to communicate program results in the way that means the most to them.
4. Provide in-depth volunteer orientation and training
One of the best ways to empower and provide support for your volunteers is through an in-depth volunteer orientation and training program. Organizations that thoughtfully train volunteers are more likely to retain and engage them later on.
Proper orientation and training will also support your volunteers’ confidence and enthusiasm. If you cultivate motivation and excitement in a volunteer, you will reaffirm their decision to volunteer for you. Therefore, support is a critical step in retaining that volunteer, and in turning them into a long-term volunteer or potential future donor.
5. Invest in your volunteers’ skill development
Another way you can empower and support your volunteers is by investing in their skills development. Volunteer experience can help bridge resume gaps, support a career transition, or get a student into their desired college.
When possible, allow your volunteers to fill leadership roles, and trust them with other tasks within your organization. For example, you may invite your local university’s marketing students to help with a social media marketing campaign. You can also invite your skilled volunteers to demonstrate their expertise.
By investing in your volunteers’ skills development, you are supporting their future.
6. Recognize volunteers and hold volunteer appreciation events
And finally, a key to better showing volunteer support is recognizing volunteers and holding volunteer appreciation events. As a volunteer manager, you can find creative ways to thank your volunteers both individually and as a group. A kind word, thank you note, or check in can go a long way towards cultivating a sense of appreciation and support.
Recognizing your volunteers for their time and efforts is key to making them feel more supported and engaged. And a bonus? Volunteers are more likely to become lifelong supporters of your cause when they feel appreciated.
Supporting your volunteers comes in many practical forms. It’s all under the umbrella of treating them with care, concern, and appreciation- creating a safe space to give and receive feedback and express their feelings about the time spent with your organization.
Sometimes, this can mean a volunteer may be doing too much and having a conversation about scaling back their hours may actually lead to better retention for them long term rather than allowing burnout to occur. Or perhaps they’re ready to take on more of a leadership role and want more training.
When you’re engaged with your volunteers through these 6 ways to support them, you’ll have a strong understanding of exactly where they are at in their volunteerism journey leading to better outcomes for the volunteer and your organization.