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How to Future-Proof Your Volunteer Program in 8 Steps

We’ve entered an age of rapid change; technology advances at lightning speeds and circumstances seem increasingly unpredictable. After all, few could predict the magnitude of the challenges faced in 2020. But communities and the individuals who support them have also set in motion remarkable feats of resilience and ingenuity. 

In the spirit of moving forward, we’re focused on helping volunteer programs prepare for a future that can seem equal parts hopeful and unpredictable. 

But how can volunteer programs prepare for the future? 

Preparedness (and a bit of foresight) is the key to success. We keep our finger on the pulse of today’s trends to better predict what volunteerism will look like tomorrow. Based on our research, we have compiled eight solutions to revisit your strategy and upgrade your technology so that your volunteer program is ready for the future’s offerings.

1. Diversify Your Volunteer Program

Representation matters. That’s why we think the future is bright for volunteer programs that embrace diversity. By working to engage a diverse group of volunteers, you’ll also welcome new perspectives. So while you may rely on a core crew of loyal helpers, find ways to include fresh voices. 

How to Welcome Diversity Into Your Volunteer Program

Take these actions to foster a more inclusive volunteering environment:

Reach Out to Community Leaders

Community leaders are invested in the future of their communities and can influence those they represent. Reach out to community leaders, share your mission, and communicate how they can make a difference to your program. 

Start by contacting leadership at community institutions, such as:

  • Houses of worship
  • Elected offices
  • Civic and cultural organizations
  • Neighborhood associations
  • University clubs, sororities, and fraternities
  • Small business owners

Work on Your Long-Term Relationships

To truly welcome new volunteers, you’ll need to foster a sense of trust with your organization and its mission. Developing this trust takes time and effort. 

Reach out to organizations like those listed above and begin by inviting dialogue; what do community members want to see in terms of change and progress? What motivates them to volunteer? What can your organization offer in return? 

Once you’ve established a foundation of understanding, prospects may feel more comfortable offering their time and ideas. Most importantly, continue to communicate. Your sustained partnership can inspire volunteerism that works for both parties. 

Welcome Volunteers with Technology

The future of your volunteer program is today’s young volunteers. Invite volunteers of all ages to help shape your program. 

Engage teens and young adults by meeting them where they are: online! These online engagement strategies will help your program encourage the next generation: 

  • Develop a social media presence: Launch a volunteer campaign on your social media channels to highlight exciting initiatives.
  • Adopt a volunteer app: Teen volunteers will love signing up, checking-in, and logging their time on their smartphones.
  • Reach your volunteers via text messaging: Boost your engagement by sending notifications and updates via text. You’re more likely to get a response from tech-savvy volunteers.

2. Mitigate Future Risk

When disaster strikes, it can feel as though businesses and community organizations alike seem to have only two options: sink or swim. But as an unprecedented 2020 offers hindsight, volunteer programs can work to prepare for future challenges. 

Steps for Mitigating Future Risks

To better mitigate disaster or risks, you’ll need to imagine what a sustainable future looks like for your volunteer program.

Reflect and Evaluate

Here are some questions to help you anticipate changes to your community’s needs and your program’s adaptations to these changes:

  • What was our program’s core essential services before disaster response? 
  • Will our community’s needs change following the disaster? How will we reassess these needs?
  • Which programs will we deactivate? 
  • Will our organization continue pre-disaster programming, or do we anticipate that the community’s long-term needs will evolve?
  • Do we have the tools and resources available to meet these long-term community needs?
  • What changes to our programming will we need to institute to meet long-term community needs?

Your response to the COVID-19 crisis likely involved short-term adaptations to programming. On the other hand, mitigation should deal with the long-term sustainability of your community programming. 

Assess the Risks

In the event of a disaster, you’ll want to have a plan in place for safeguarding your volunteers and employees. 

The idea here is to anticipate the likelihood of a hazard or risk, and the scale of the consequence should an event occur. Understanding risk will help organizations prioritize planning and mitigation efforts. 

Check out these EPA resources and risk management tools to help organizations mitigate the harmful outcomes. 

Get Your Finances in Order

Disaster and economic hardship can leave organizations vulnerable and scrambling to recover, not to mention the barrage of paperwork that’s likely to ensue. 

One of the best ways to mitigate financial strain is to get your program’s finances in order. While program finances might not be in your wheelhouse, there are items and data you can gather to help financial personnel. 

Take these financial actions:

  • Gather program expense reports.
  • Track volunteer hours and impact.
  • Organize employee salary and benefits information.
  • Continue to log all incoming funds and expenses. 
  • Calculate cash flow using this worksheet.

Plan for Recovery

Even with mitigation strategies in place, disasters can result in unpredictable outcomes. You can still reduce irreparable damage to your program by planning for recovery. We created this recovery guide to help volunteer programs prepare for recovery from COVID-19. These recommendations can also direct your recovery plan for other economic hardships. 

3. Build a Sustainable Virtual Volunteering Program

Many programs adapted to a shifting volunteer landscape by creating virtual volunteering opportunities. You may have discovered that many of your volunteers enjoyed the flexibility of helping from home. And we’re predicting that virtual volunteerism will endure in the post-pandemic future. 

You may have already developed a framework for your virtual volunteer program, making it a sustainable addition to your in-person volunteer opportunities. If you haven’t embraced virtual volunteerism yet, it’s never too late to add dimension and flexibility to your programming!

How to Build a Sustainable Virtual Volunteering Program

Consider these recommendations for creating a virtual volunteer program that sustains for years to come. 

Assess Your Community’s Needs 

What gaps in service are you currently prepared to address? What virtual volunteer roles can help your organization fulfill its mission? To get the most return for your investment in a virtual volunteer program, you’ll want to make sure it addresses real organizational or community needs

Compose a List of Virtual Volunteer Opportunities

Once you’ve developed a sense of where virtual volunteers fit into your program, you can create a list of virtual volunteer opportunities and role descriptions. Need a little inspiration? Here are some great virtual volunteer opportunities to inspire yours:

  • Data Entry (or other administrative tasks)
  • Tutoring or Mentoring
  • Graphic Design
  • Managing Social Media Accounts
  • Editing or Writing
  • Document Translation
  • Research
  • Fundraising

Recruit Virtual Volunteers

You already have a recruitment strategy in place for your in-person volunteers, but you’ll also need to think about how you’ll recruit virtual volunteers. Start by making your virtual volunteer opportunities easy to find; create a section on your volunteer opportunities page specifically for virtual options. Highlight virtual opportunities in your email newsletter, and follow these steps for promoting volunteering at home

Keep Virtual Volunteers Engaged

Without the benefits of in-person interaction, remote volunteers may begin to feel disconnected from your cause over time. To keep virtual volunteers excited about getting involved, you’ll want to develop an engagement strategy that targets your virtual volunteers. 

Some ways to keep remote volunteers engaged include: 

  • Recognize your volunteers often. Regardless of the task, recognize all volunteers for their time and effort. 
  • Be responsive. Invite your virtual volunteers to contact you with any questions, concerns, and ideas they may have—schedule time in your day to reach out and respond to your volunteers.
  • Collect volunteer feedback to better support your volunteers. Survey tools like Survey Monkey or Google Forms can help you gauge your volunteers’ involvement with the virtual opportunities, which can ultimately guide your program’s future success.

Measure the Program’s Impact

As with any volunteering initiative, it’s essential to communicate the impact of volunteer contributions. Gather stories from virtual volunteers and clients. How is each party benefiting from the virtual volunteer program? Collect volunteer data specific to your virtual volunteer opportunities and report the value of their time to your community.

4. Make Your Volunteer Program Mobile-Friendly

By 2022, smartphone users are predicted to reach 271 million in the U.S. alone. And tech users are increasingly relying on smartphones to perform web-based activities. There’s a good chance many visitors are using their smartphones to interact with your volunteer program. 

Is your website mobile-friendly?

Mobile-friendly websites perform well on smartphones and scale automatically to smartphone screen dimensions, improving the users’ experience. While not all websites come mobile-friendly, most sites can become mobile-friendly (with a web provider or developer). 

How to Make Your Website Mobile-Friendly

Ready your site for tomorrow by making it mobile-friendly today. Here are some ways: 

Check Your Website’s Performance

Before making any changes to your website, check its performance by entering the URL into Google’s Mobile Test tool. Don’t forget to test any newsletters, emails, videos, and downloads on a smartphone before sending (look for font changes, strange formatting, and slow download speeds). 

Update Your Donations Tool

Can your supporters donate to your organization on their phones? If not, it may be time for an upgrade. Look for a system that enables Apple Pay or another mobile-friendly payment system.

Get Texting

From disaster relief efforts to remote volunteer management, organizations find text messaging (also called SMS) increasingly important to mobilize volunteers efficiently and reliably. Your communications or volunteer management platform should enable mass texting (similar to how you’re currently using email segments) for quick circulation.

Embed Your Videos

Today, people consume more video content on their phones than ever before. And mobile video consumption increases by 100% each year. So, make sure smartphone users can view any videos on your site without a hitch. We recommend you upload videos to a video streaming site like Youtube or Vimeo, then embed the video into your webpage for smooth viewing. 

Review Your Web-Based Volunteer Management Software

Can volunteers search, register for, and check-in to opportunities on their phones? Can they log hours on their phones without hassle? Does your current volunteer management system offer a mobile app that improves the volunteer experience? If the answer is no to any of these questions, it may be time to upgrade your volunteer management software!

5. Strengthen Your Cyber Security

As cyber risks become more sophisticated, so do the safety measures in place to protect your website. Safeguard the future of your website’s data by bolstering your cybersecurity measures. 

Why is it important to address your organization’s cybersecurity?

If your organization’s website performs any of the following activities, you’ll want to review its cybersecurity measures:

  • Conduct e-commerce on your website, including processing donations made online. 
  • Store “personally identifiable information,” such as drivers’ licenses, social security numbers, medical information, and employee, client, or volunteer information. 
  • Collect data on the habits of newsletter subscribers, volunteers, donors, etc. 

If your website engages in any of these activities, you could put site users at risk if their personal information fell into the wrong hands (also referred to as a “data breach”). 

How to Strengthen Your Cyber Security

The National Council of Nonprofits outlines the following recommendations geared toward nonprofit organizations:

Take Inventory of Collected Data

Use this data inventory tool from the Nonprofit Technology Network to take stock of the types of information your website collects from its users. You’ll need to know (1) what data you collect from people, (2) what you do with the data, and (3) where it’s stored.

Understand Your Risk

Consider adopting the Cybersecurity Framework from the National Institute of Standards and Security. The framework will help you assess the likelihood of a security breach. 

Many volunteer organizations rely on third-party vendors, such as payroll service providers and IT consultants. If these third parties do not have adequate data protection measures in place, your organization is also at risk of a cyber event. You’ll want to work with each vendor to understand their strategies for data security. 

Learn How to Protect Personally Identifiable Information

Train staff and all website administrators on how to collect, store, and protect Personally Identifiable Information. Most states require organizations to inform people whose information is disclosed in a security breach. 

Familiarize yourself and staff with these steps from the National Council of Nonprofits to protect your data’s future. Many of these steps are simple preventative measures. 

Invest in Additional Security

In addition to heeding preventative measures, you may decide to invest in a few additional options to protect your organization and website users. If your team has determined that your organization is at risk of a security breach, you may want to consider cyber liability insurance. 

Before you panic-buy insurance, research what is and isn’t covered by cyber liability insurance. Your state’s association of nonprofits can help you identify a provider that makes sense for your organization. 

A simple and relatively cost-effective way to add security to your website is to purchase an SSL certificate. SSL (Transport Layer Security) encrypts data to help protect your website and online tools (such as your volunteer management software). 

Many websites and web-based tools now come standard with an SSL certificate. To check if your website has a valid SSL certificate, click the padlock in the URL address bar’s left-hand corner. You should be able to view the “valid” certification, issuer, and issue date. 

6. Convert Volunteers into Donors

One prediction we’re willing to put money on: that the need for community funding will likely continue into the future. But your program can prepare for many months to come by finding creative ways to boost fundraising efficiency (and, therefore, the return on your time). 

Efficient volunteer programs rely on a core group of volunteers who are also donors. Nearly 80% of volunteers donate to charity. Without an engagement strategy to convert volunteers to donors, organizations risk missing out on key revenue. 

Why focus on converting volunteers into donors? 

Volunteers make great donors. They’re already engaged with your cause, and they’re more likely to make recurring donations. The value of a volunteer who also donates to your program is about ten times greater than the value of donors–and that’s before you account for volunteers’ time! 

So in the same breath that you ask for volunteer time, it’s also worth plugging your next fundraiser. There’s a good chance your loyal base is already willing to contribute both their time and money. 

Strategies for Turning Volunteers into Donors 

Volunteers already demonstrate philanthropic behavior. More often than not, converting volunteers into donors is about asking thoughtfully. Follow these strategies for boosting donorship among your volunteers:

Foster Meaningful Experiences

If you want volunteers to continue to support your cause, you’ll need to create a positive experience for each volunteer. Offer more meaningful volunteering experiences with ideas like these: 

  • Make volunteering fun. Invite teams and families to participate and encourage socialization.
  • Send personalized communications like emails and notifications.
  • Create a tailored experience. Suggest volunteer opportunities based on their skills or interests.
  • Find ways to provide value to volunteering with your program. Offer opportunities for personal and professional development and invite volunteers to contribute their ideas. 
  • Survey volunteers to understand what motivates them to give.
  • Acknowledge and celebrate volunteer contributions and milestones.

Keep Supporters Engaged

Engagement doesn’t end after a person volunteers. Continue to nurture volunteer relationships by reaching out after they’ve served. Ask volunteers to stay up to date by joining your newsletter. Don’t forget to highlight your next fundraiser–include a call for donations. 

Make a Reasonable Ask

Many find that multiple, smaller donations are more meaningful than a large, one-time contribution. Provide individual supporters with a “subscription” option in which they can give smaller monthly sums. 

Know your volunteers and supporters and request a reasonable donation; ask too much, and you may deter prospects. In other words, we don’t recommend you send the same fundraising email to your volunteers and corporate partners.

Simplify the Donation Process

The next generation of volunteers is more likely to donate from their smartphones. Make giving quick and easy by adopting a mobile-friendly donation service. If you’ve ever donated through popular crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe, you’ll understand just how simple it is. 

Donation management tools have become experts at reducing barriers to giving. Choose an option that is mobile-friendly and simple to use. Leverage your newsletter, social media, and notifications by pointing directly to your donations page, and watch the gifts come in!

Use Technology That Integrates Management Processes

Meet volunteers where they are. Ensure your volunteer management platform or volunteer site also incorporates a donation capability. An integrated volunteer management and donations tool allows volunteers to sign-up for opportunities and donate in just a few clicks. You’ll also be able to identify which volunteers are contributing and target your communications accordingly.

7. Recenter Your Mission

A lot can change in just a few months. Community-based organizations are often asked to pivot quickly to address the changing needs of their clients. That’s why it’s essential to revisit your volunteer program’s mission and prepare for what’s next. 

How to Focus Your Program’s Mission for the Future

Review these steps for recentering your mission to ensure your program continuously meets community needs:

Reflect and Evaluate

Times change, and so do the needs of your community. That’s why it’s important to regularly reassess and reevaluate your mission. Assess how your mission shifted over the year and how you adapted your operations to change your community’s needs. 

Your assessment should answer some of the following questions:

  • Does the need that our program addresses still exist? 
  • Do supporters still understand our mission statement? 
  • Does our mission statement still inspire our supporters?
  • Are we focused on our original purpose? 
  • Are we still leveraging our strengths, partnerships, and available resources?
  • Are we maintaining a balance of interests between stakeholders?

Review Your Mission Statement

Your mission statement holds your organization together; it guides all organizational decision making and communicates desired outcomes to stakeholders. So make sure your mission statement still reflects your current work and your intentions for growth. 

Your mission statement should:

  • Remain focused. A mission statement should be specific, concise, and concrete.
  • Address unmet needs. The gaps in service in your community should remain the crux of the mission statement.
  • Inspire stakeholders. Like your donors and volunteers, stakeholders should feel connected with your mission and inspired to support your cause.   
  • Consider unique skills. Establish a compelling mission statement by considering your niche and leveraging the unique skills your nonprofit has to offer.
  • Forecast change. Your mission statement communicates specifically what your organization is doing to secure a better future for members of your community. Consider societal changes that will affect and steer the future direction of your mission. 

Keep Your Beneficiaries at the Forefront

Your nonprofit serves the members of your community using the unique skills and resources available to you. To stay mission-focused for the future, consider your programs’ beneficiaries or the community members receiving your services. Even when exciting opportunities come your way, you’ll want to weigh the impacts that this decision will have on those you serve. 

8. Stay Up to Date on Volunteer Management Technology

Futureproof your volunteer program by increasing operational efficiency. Become more efficient, and you can take on more volunteers and donors, save time and money, and affect more change. 

One of the most effective ways to increase efficiency and boost your return on investment is to adopt time-saving technology.  

Which technology should volunteer programs prioritize? 

Keep reading our take on the best technology to invest in for the future. 

Upgrading Your Volunteer Program’s Technology

These tools help simplify collaboration and management so that you spend less time on administrative tasks and more time developing relationships with the people that matter most to your organization.

Cloud Storage and File Sharing

Working remotely has taught many of us that the streamlined storing and sharing of digital materials is more important than ever—futureproof your program’s files by sourcing a cloud storage and file sharing solution. 

Cloud storage provides a place to store digital files in the “cloud” rather than on your hard drive. You’ll no longer have to worry about losing files to crashed computers or running out of storage space. 

Many of the cloud storage solutions also offer file sharing. File sharing enables users to send digital files like documents and videos to any device using the web. File sharing simplifies collaboration with coworkers, whether their desk is across the office or around the world. 

Fortunately, there are several secure, free cloud storage options available. Programs like Google Drive will integrate with your existing Google Workspace applications (like Gmail, Google Docs, and Google Calendar), making storing and sharing simple. 

Donations Manager

A donations management tool will help programs track donations and interactions with donors. An effective donation management system will help to improve the donations experience by streamlining the process for the donors and those who manage donations. 

Customer Relationship Management System (CRM)

CRM is a software that allows organizations and businesses to manage relationships and technologies. They tend to look a lot like an email platform, as most companies and nonprofits use email as their primary avenue of communication. 

A CRM system is handy for organizations with lots of contacts, from volunteers to donors to community partners. Fortunately, many CRM systems offer pricing tiers, so you’re only paying for what you need. 

Volunteer Management Software

For most volunteer programs, volunteer management software is a must. However, not all volunteer management systems are created equal. Your options vary in price and capability, ranging from a basic shift-scheduling tool to a robust multi-functional solution.

The best volunteer management software will fulfill many of your program’s technology needs. Not to mention, it should be easy to use for volunteers and their managers. 

Generally, we recommend you look for a web-based volunteer management software with integrated volunteer management, engagement, and communication features, including:

  • Shift scheduling
  • Volunteer registration
  • Volunteer hours tracking and reporting
  • Email, text, and automated notifications
  • Group and corporate engagement
  • Event management
  • Online donations

If you’re not sure where to start, make a list of your program’s must-haves. Use a comparison site to read real reviews and compare features. Many software companies offer free demonstrations so you can make an informed investment. 

Learn more about the trends that are driving volunteer programs into the future