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8 Steps Your Organization Can Take to Promote Safe Volunteering

Is your volunteer program ready to resume usual operations? Many nonprofits need skilled volunteers now more than ever. But how can you continue to have an impact while keeping your volunteers and community safe? While you’re probably eager to make a difference in your community, it’s essential that your organization continues to protect vulnerable community members. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to continue working with volunteers while ensuring the wellbeing of your community.

Here are 8 steps organizations like yours can take to keep your community safe while resuming normal operations.

1. Continue to Follow CDC Guidelines

You’ve probably been checking with your local and state regulations throughout the COVID-19 shutdown. But continue with in-person volunteering, refer to these CDC Guidelines for safe gathering. Communities are in different stages of recovery; so it’s important to maintain communication with local and state authorities to understand their specific guidelines and recovery levels. It’s suggested that your volunteer program adheres to guidelines such as:

  • Maintain a 6-10 foot distance between individuals when possible.
  • Volunteers should avoid volunteering with others for 14 days if they have: (1) Been exposed to COVID-19 by an individual or community, (2) Attended an event with more than 250 people, (3) Traveled by cruise or airplane. 
  • Practice universal virus control precautions. Volunteers should wash hands before, during, and after participating in an activity. 
  • Provide the appropriate PPE (i.e. gloves and masks) for the volunteering activity.

You may be following these protocols already. But it’s important to stay up to date with local and national guidelines, even when preparing to resume normal activities. United Way of Lebanon County follows these guidelines to protect its volunteers and clients

2. Update Staff and Volunteer Training

After you’ve reached out to local authorities, you’ll want to update your staff and volunteer training to include changes in safety measures. New training for staff should include the following topics:

  • How to safely check-in volunteers
  • How to conduct specific work in accordance with CDC guidelines
  • How to operate newly implemented technology and online tools
  • How to identify possible symptoms of illness
  • How to protect vulnerable populations

In addition to educating staff on new procedures, provide your volunteers with guidelines for how to carry out their work safely. Then, integrate this information into your volunteer orientation and training process. New volunteer guidelines should include specific on handwashing procedures, PPE requirements, and directions for safe contact with other community members (like how to safely serve meals). 

Don’t forget to post signage! New procedures like these can be a lot to take in. Signage is an efficient way to remind staff and volunteers of the new safety protocol. Check out how United Way of Pierce County informs their volunteers with this “COVID-19 Guidelines” handout. Handouts and signage should be both straightforward and informative. You can share with your volunteers via a nonprofit newsletter, and post on location where volunteers participate in their in-person activities. 

Online Training
Can you carry out volunteer training online? Online training is a great way to move your program forward, while keeping your volunteers and staff safe. Get creative and post pre-recorded videos on your volunteer page. Or, host a live forum via Zoom. Provide a web page or central location online where volunteers can access these videos and other training resources. 

3. Schedule Smart

As organizations resume in-person volunteering, they may be required to reduce volunteer capacity to effectively maintain safe social distancing (this number is typically determined by local regulations). A volunteer management software system can allow you to cap registrations for opportunities and automatically inform volunteers if the opportunity reaches capacity. You can also create a wait list for those who want to participate should spots open. The right system can also recommend other opportunities according to the volunteer’s interests and skills, so you don’t have to turn away eager helpers. Remember to post attendance capacity with each opportunity or event listing (and update filled spaces live if you’re tracking manually).

4. Upload Waivers and Documents Online

The CDC recommends that organizations “consider temporarily limiting the sharing of frequently touched objects,” including pens, touchscreens, and paper documents. When possible, upload documents like waivers and training materials online, so that volunteers can read, sign, and return required documents from home. Remember, your goal is to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. Consider investing in a tool that allows for electronic signatures and online document storage for increased efficiency (hint: a volunteer management software will store these documents in a volunteer profile, so they’re easy to store, sign, and access!) 

5. Contact-Free Check-in

It’s not uncommon for volunteers to arrive at a shift in groups and congregate around your check-in station. To adhere to social distancing protocol and move through attendance efficiently, consider facilitating mobile check-in. This will allow volunteers to check-in to an opportunity and log their hours using a smartphone without having to wait in line or share sign-in materials. For those without access to a mobile device, have a staff member or volunteer take attendance–this way you have just one person touching the check-in kiosk or sign-in sheet. 

Some volunteer management systems offer a mobile volunteer app that prompts the volunteer to check-in to their opportunity and log their hours directly from their phones, reducing person-to-person contact.

6. Plan Safe Events

You want to host your volunteer event, but how can you do so safely? While some nonprofits have moved their events online (like virtual charity races), other community needs may require in-person attendance. From school supply drives to community gatherings, it’s essential to keep your volunteers and community members safe. Here are some ways you can plan a safe event:

  • Have attendees RSVP online.
  • Require a mask to attend the event. Post an alert on your event listing, informing attendees in advance. 
  • Set up hand washing and sanitizing stations.
  • Provide gloves if distributing materials, serving meals, or making contact with others.
  • Maintain social distance whenever possible. Measure and mark 6 feet for queueing, work stations, or gather stations.  
  • Stagger arrival or drop-off times. 
  • Use a smart check-in system. 

Refer to these national guidelines for safe gatherings and community events. Remember, your community may still have legislation in place that restricts gatherings of a certain number. You may have to reduce the number of attendees at your event to adhere to local guidelines and avoid overcrowding. It’s important to be flexible when easing back into in-person gatherings. 

7. Leverage Virtual Volunteer Opportunities 

Which adaptations will your organization keep in place? During stay-home orders, you may have introduced virtual volunteering to keep volunteers engaged. In fact, many organizations found their at-home initiatives remarkably successful; they offer flexibility for busy volunteers and engage your homebound supporters. So why not make virtual volunteering a part of your program moving forward?  

Hint: Make your virtual volunteer opportunities easy to find by grouping and highlighting the opportunities on your volunteer site’s homepage.

Virtual Volunteer Opportunities Examples

What kinds of virtual volunteering can you offer? Willamalane Park and Recreation integrated virtual volunteering into their programming to meet the needs of the community. They posted virtual activities like “Virtual Translator,” where bilingual volunteers can translate important organizational documentation for Spanish-speaking community members.

These kinds of administrative tasks make for flexible online volunteering. Creative projects are also great for families to help from home. Willamalane posted opportunities like “Creative Card Makers” and “Mask Makers.” Projects like sewing fabric masks for healthcare professionals can make a real difference while keeping your at-home volunteers engaged.

Learn more about how Willamalane continues to engage volunteers with virtual opportunities >>

8. Keep Volunteers Informed of Changes

Regular, efficient communication with your volunteers is more important than ever as circumstances continue to change. What channels do you use to communicate with your volunteers? Here are some communication tools that you can consider implementing into your program:

Email

Email is a reliable way to share information with your volunteers. In fact, there are many ways to keep in touch with your volunteer through email alone. Here are some ways you can optimize your email messaging:

  • Volunteer Newsletter – Many nonprofits choose to keep their volunteers informed with a monthly newsletter. The newsletter is a space to promote new opportunities like your virtual volunteering program or share need-to-know updates, like your COVID-19 Volunteering Guidelines. 
  • Filterable Email Lists – Many email platforms allow you to filter email recipients by segment, so that you can quickly build an email for specific groups of volunteers, such as your newsletter subscribers.
  • Automated Emails – If your platform has the capability, automated emails can save volunteer coordinators lots of time. Some platforms will send an automated email (or “confirmation” when a person registers with your organization, signs up for an opportunity, or even logs their hours. Edit your automated emails to include a call to action to review safety updates.

Learn more about utilizing email to communicate with your volunteers.

Text Messages

Did you know at least 97% of smartphone owners text regularly (Pew Research Center). Texting is a great way to reach volunteers quickly. Send last-minute updates to event volunteers, or reminders of an upcoming opportunity. Consider texting your volunteers to make sure they receive alerts or important short-form messages, such as, “Today’s the day to volunteer! Please remember to wear your mask and arrive 30 minutes prior to your shift.” Texting is most efficient when you can message recipients en masse. Learn more information about sending texts to your volunteers

We hope these 8 steps will help keep your community safe and active as your organization moves toward recovery. By adopting technology and online tools, and keeping your community updated on newly implemented safety practices, your organization can continue to have a positive impact. 

Other Safety Resources

Red Cross COVID-19 Safety

CDC Guidelines for Community Organizations

NYC Preventative Actions for Volunteers