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National Volunteer Week: How To Go Virtual in 2021

Volunteer Week is an opportunity for community organizations to recognize volunteers for their selfless contributions and inspire new volunteers to get involved. 

But things look a bit different in 2021, and many programs are still operating according to COVID-19 restrictions. So we’ve compiled ideas for celebrating a virtual National Volunteer Week (and month)–without missing out on the good feelings and community engagement opportunities. 

Before we jump into our recommendations for a virtual Volunteer Week, let’s review what a “typical” volunteer month or week may look like for volunteer programs.

National Volunteer Week 2021: What You Need to Know

Here’s the lowdown on all things Volunteer Week and Volunteer Month.

What is National Volunteer Week?

National Volunteer Week is a time to celebrate volunteers, recognize their impact, and encourage volunteerism in our communities. 

National Volunteer Week was established in 1974 by the United States government. Today, the holiday is organized by Points of Light, the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service. Community-based organizations across the country celebrate National Volunteer Week as a way to recognize “the power of volunteers to tackle society’s greatest challenges.” 

National Volunteer Week can also be referred to as “Volunteer Appreciation Week” or “Volunteer Recognition Week.” 

When is National Volunteer Week?

National Volunteer Week occurs annually in the third week of April. National Volunteer Week 2021 is April 18 – April 24.

What is National Volunteer Month?

Some organizations choose to extend National Volunteer Week and instead prefer to celebrate National Volunteer Month. Like Volunteer Week, Volunteer Month is a time to recognize volunteers and encourage volunteerism. The extended schedule allows organizations to add more special events and opportunities for supporters to get involved. 

Some organizations may also choose to incorporate a Volunteer Appreciation Week during the month of April as part of National Volunteer Month. Volunteer Appreciation Week focuses strictly on recognizing and appreciating volunteers. (We’ll cover volunteer appreciation ideas below.)

Volunteer Month is also referred to as “Community Service Month,” “Volunteer Appreciation Month,” “Volunteer Recognition Month,” or “Volunteerism Month.” 

When is National Volunteer Month?

National Volunteer Month takes place throughout the month of April.

Why Should Organizations Celebrate National Volunteer Week?

According to the Urban Institute’s most recent data, Americans volunteer 8.8 billion hours annually. Volunteers help organizations like yours fill critical gaps in service for nearly every community in the U.S. Without our nation’s volunteers, we wouldn’t have some of the programs that many communities rely on today.

National Volunteer Week began as–and continues to be–a national holiday that formalizes the recognition of volunteers in our communities. Organizations of all scopes and sizes should take the time to thank our neighbors, strangers, friends, and family who selflessly give their time to help others. 

Some organizations find they see an increase in engagement during the week or month of April, and many organizations choose to ramp up their marketing efforts in the weeks prior. National Volunteer Month or Week is a great opportunity to draw attention to a particular volunteer project or event. It’s also a perfect time to highlight programs and community partners who help you accomplish great work.

How do Volunteer Programs Celebrate National Volunteer Week?

The main purpose of National Volunteer Week (or month) is to recognize volunteers for the incredible impact they have on your community. And volunteer programs are especially attuned to the benefits of volunteer recognition. Many volunteer programs dedicate the week or month to highlighting a special project or particular initiative to boost volunteer participation and community involvement. 

Here are some ways volunteer programs can appreciate volunteers and bolster engagement: 

National Volunteer Week Ideas

Kick-off the week or month by thanking your volunteers with these volunteer appreciation ideas. 

Volunteer Appreciation Ideas

  • Throw an appreciation party. While it can be tempting to host the typical volunteer banquet, formal volunteer dinners can seem a bit tired and impersonal. Instead, find a trendy venue like a local brewery or cafe. Add a few surprises and personal touches (like a performance from the local elementary school choir) and invite a guest speaker who knows your program to share a few words. 
  • Award your most dedicated volunteers. Volunteer Week is about recognizing all contributions large and small. But you also want to show the volunteers you rely on most how much they matter to your program. Track volunteer hours throughout the year and recognize the volunteer who gave the most time. In addition to the volunteer who logged the most hours, award the volunteer who showed up every week with a smile, or the family that helped out every weekend. It’s a nice way to show that every contribution matters!
  • Give the gift of a handwritten card. The most rewarding gifts are those that come from the heart. Invite clients and community members to make cards and write letters of thanks to volunteers (especially if your volunteers serve children or the elderly). Encourage personal anecdotes and a little creative freedom!

There are plenty of ways to thank your volunteers. Most importantly, your volunteer appreciation ideas don’t have to be expensive to be effective. Make your “thank yous” personal and sincere. 

More Ways to Celebrate National Volunteer Month

The holiday is also a great time to promote your program and exciting new volunteer projects. Here are some more ways to boost engagement with your organization. 

  • Host a volunteer fair. A volunteer fair is a great way to recruit new supporters and introduce them to your programs, projects, and community partners. Partner with a local campus, community center, or business and bring the projects to them! 
  • Highlight a community partner or project. It takes lots of voices to build a better community. Each week of April, spotlight a project or community partner that does especially great work. Use your digital platforms to introduce your network to the cause and let volunteers know how they can get involved.
  • Share your impact. Inspire stakeholders and other volunteers by sharing your program’s impact. Use a variety of media (from your website to your social media channels) to share data, tell stories of volunteers and clients, and remind stakeholders of your mission. Did you know you can use a volunteer management system to gather and share volunteer impact? Learn more here

Traditionally, National Volunteer Week relied on interacting with your volunteers in person. However, many communities across the country must continue to adhere to safety measures to stop the spread of COVID-19. But no need to cancel Volunteer Month just yet! Instead, with a few adaptations, you can continue to recognize and engage your volunteers virtually.

How to Celebrate National Volunteer Week Virtually

Moving national volunteer week (or month) online is about more than simply introducing a few virtual projects (but it’s a great place to start). You’ll also need to make some changes to the way you normally promote your projects, register volunteers, and recognize your supporters.

Is your organization ready to take on virtual Volunteer Week in 2021? 

We’ve got you covered with these adaptations for celebrating Volunteer Week virtually!

Brainstorm Virtual Volunteer Opportunities

To pull off a virtual volunteer week, you’ll need to reconsider your traditional Volunteer Week events and opportunities. Start by assessing the needs in your community, and brainstorm a list of projects that your volunteers can do from home. 

Virtual Projects for Children and Teens:

  • Web or Phone Buddies – Pair volunteers with seniors to help combat loneliness. 
  • Community Learning – Invite children and teens to learn about community issues at home, to engage and inspire the next generation of changemakers. 
  • Teen to Children Mentorship – Pair a teen mentor with a younger child for academic or other mentoring. 

Virtual Projects for Corporate Volunteers: 

  • Financial Planning – Work with businesses in your area to host a free financial planning webinar. Teach budgeting and money management basics, even free tax prep help for members of the community. 
  • Host a Virtual Job Fair – Pair a volunteer with high school and college students or residents of local shelters (you’ll need to consider how participants will safely access tech needed). Volunteers provide virtual one-on-one guidance on basic interview skills and resume composition. Create a contact-free drop-off for lightly worn business attire. 
  • Contact-free Tech Donation – Invite corporate partners to collect old or unused computers for community centers, the local library, shelters, and other public spaces. Designate contact-free donations drop-off and pick-up locations.

Family-Friendly Virtual Projects: 

  • Virtual Story-Time – Invite families to record themselves reading their favorite stories. Collect the videos and post them on Youtube. Work with schools, teachers, and other community partners to get virtual storytime in the hands of under-served children. Extra points for creativity! 
  • At-home 5K – The families that walk (or run) together, stay together! Take your annual 5K fundraiser online. Families can run together in their own time and record their experiences. Don’t forget to have a system in place for collecting donations online. 
  • Neighbor Care Packages – Families can bond over building care packages for elderly or home-bound community members.

There are lots of virtual volunteer opportunity ideas out there. Remember, any remote project can become more engaging when accomplished together. So, invite volunteers to connect with friends virtually while they work! If your volunteers love knitting blankets for the local NICU, why not organize a virtual knitting circle? It’s a simple modification that can make all the difference in helping volunteers feel connected to your organization–and each other!

Promote Your Virtual Volunteer Week Online

Your volunteers probably look forward to Volunteer Month or Week each year. Virtual Volunteer Week still has plenty to offer, but give it some time to gain traction. Fortunately, news travels fast online, so with a little planning, promoting your event may be simpler than you think. 

Here are three simple steps you can take to promote virtual Volunteer Month or Week: 

  1. Contact last year’s participants. Use your CRM or volunteer management software to segment your volunteers based on last year’s Volunteer Week participants. Send an email with a clear, compelling message and a call-to-action: “We’re going virtual this year! Sign-up for Volunteer Week here.
  2. Take to social media. If you already have a social media strategy, you’ll know how important it is to engage with your community online. Plan a post for each day leading up to and during volunteer week: announce a new virtual project, invite new participants to get involved with a catchy call-to-action, feature a superstar volunteer, or share your program’s volunteer impact! (Don’t forget to highlight the event on your website, too!)
  3. Reach out to community partners. Reach a wider audience by joining forces with community partners. Contact local businesses, organization leaders, and community groups with strong digital presence to take advantage of their virtual platforms. These content partnerships benefit both parties by helping to grow your respective networks. 

Get Groups Involved (Remotely)

Many people love the social benefits of volunteering, especially during a time that celebrates volunteer participation! Plus, organizations benefit from happier volunteers and more hands on deck! So, even if your volunteers are taking part remotely, think of creative ways to encourage group volunteerism

Here’s how to encourage group volunteerism for more hands on deck:

Make It Easy for Teams to Get Involved

Do you currently have a system for registering families, teams, and even large groups? If your online sign-up process gets a little messy when it comes to registering teams, you may need to rethink the tools you’re using. 

Other Considerations for Simple Team Registration:

  • Make sure prospects can easily locate group-friendly opportunities on your volunteer site. If your opportunities page has a search function, add a “team-friendly” filter so volunteer groups know exactly where to look! 
  • Ask for a team captain or point person. It’s much easier and more efficient to correspond with one person.
  • If you’re capping a shift’s attendance, make sure registration is live-updating so volunteers know how many team members they can invite along.
  • Track team impact. Teams love to know their collective impact. Don’t miss out tracking the hours of each participant. Share impact to each team captain at the end of the week or month.

Create Special Projects for Large Groups

Create a tailored volunteering experience for your corporate volunteers and university groups. Develop unique, private projects for large groups. Your volunteer management system may even allow you to create private access to and easy registration for opportunities specifically for groups. 

Pro Tip: Volunteer Week is a great time to welcome new volunteers. Take the opportunity to establish fresh corporate partnerships by reaching out to local businesses with employee volunteer programs. Work with the company to provide unique virtual opportunities just for employees. These partnerships lend well to long-term engagement because both parties benefit! 

Make Volunteer Week Family-Friendly 

During Volunteer Week, organizations may see increased interest from families who want to get involved together. Make sure to offer plenty of family-friendly volunteer projects (see our virtual family-friendly project ideas above). As with team-friendly activities, group your family-friendly projects together in one location on your site so they’re easy to find and register for.

Update Your Volunteer Management Processes

Paper sign-in sheets won’t cut it for virtual volunteer week. Now is the perfect time to update your management technology to embrace virtual volunteerism! Consider upgrading these management areas: 

Volunteer Recruitment and Registration

When volunteering goes virtual, you’ll need to make sure your online volunteer management processes are up to speed. And an outdated website will only slow you down. You also don’t want your volunteers to have to go searching for how to get involved with your virtual Volunteer Month or Week. A volunteer management system can help simplify the online volunteer recruitment and registration process. Especially during special events like Volunteer Month, you’ll want volunteers to locate projects, register online, and self-schedule with ease. 

Volunteer Communication

As you know, operating remotely means communication logistics become a bit more complicated. But keeping your volunteers informed doesn’t have to be time-consuming. If you use a CRM or volunteer management software, create a segment just for virtual volunteers so you can quickly target your communications. 

You may also consider text-messaging (or SMS). People tend to read and respond to text messages at high rates, making SMS a reliable way to get news out fast

Volunteer Attendance

Tracking volunteer attendance becomes much trickier without in-person check-in. But you don’t want to lose out on ever-important data that comes with tracking volunteer participation. So, you’ll need to provide volunteers with clear instructions on checking-in to their shift remotely and logging volunteer hours through an online system. 

If this sounds like nothing short of a nightmare, it may be time for a system upgrade. Look for a  a volunteer mobile app designed for tracking attendance, even when your volunteers are remote. 

Recognize Your Volunteers Virtually

We gave you plenty of volunteer appreciation ideas for your in-person Volunteer Week. But how can you recognize volunteers virtually? 

You may not be able to give your volunteers a gift in-person, but you can give them something equally-thoughtful, digitally. Send a digital gift card to a beloved local cafe or bakery. And just because your volunteers are virtual, doesn’t mean you should overlook “old-fashioned” snail mail. When we’re all feeling a bit isolated, receiving a hand-written card feels extra special. 

Another great way to honor your volunteers? Let them know their voice matters. Send a digital survey to your volunteers and invite them to share their feedback. What motivates your volunteers to participate? What changes to the program do they want to see for the future? Then, use their feedback to evaluate your current practices. You’ll show volunteers that you’re invested in their success in addition to your organization’s success.

Whether your program celebrates your volunteers in-person or virtually, thoughtful planning and a few adaptations are the keys to success. Happy National Volunteer Week, everyone!