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5 Ways Volunteer Programs Can Stay the Course During Uncertain Times

We may not know what volunteerism will look like in the future, but it’s clear that our communities will continue to rely on the services of nonprofits and the volunteers who serve them. In uncertain times, it’s important that volunteer programs strive for resilience, while maintaining focus on their core missions and the impact they can have on their local community.

Here are five steps you can take to keep your volunteer program moving forward while responding to the challenges of COVID-19:

1. Evaluate Your Tools and Processes

Checking-in is always a great idea. But formally evaluating your current processes and tools can help reduce your program’s vulnerability now and in the future. We have compiled some questions below to help you evaluate the current state of your volunteer management tools and processes. 

  • What communication tools (i.e. email, video conference, texting) have been most effective during this crisis? 
  • What new communication strategies will we keep in place? 
  • Which volunteer recruitment and engagement tools (i.e. newsletter, social media, virtual volunteering) are currently working? 
  • Are we currently leveraging technology, like volunteer management software, to manage our volunteers and safely respond to community needs? 
  • Do we need to improve our technology based on our ability to cope with unforeseen circumstances like a pandemic? 
  • Do we have the data and technology necessary to report on our impact and apply for recovery aid or grants?
  • Following COVID-19, do we have the tools we need to effectively carry out our programming and our volunteer recruitment and engagement efforts?

2. Stay on Top of Your Budget 

COVID-19 has caused major concerns about the economic impact on nonprofits and volunteer programs across the country. Your core mission and services are still as critical as ever, so it’s important to stay on top of your program’s budget. Here are a few ways you can plan ahead to better advocate for your volunteer program and its funding:

  • Gather and review volunteer program expense reports. What changes in expenditures have occurred over the course of the pandemic? What did you budget for that you no longer need? Do you need to make room in your budget for additional resources to support virtual volunteer management? What is not currently in your budget that you need to plan for? Do you anticipate further changes to your budget?
  • Track volunteer hours and impact. Keep a record of volunteer participation during lockdown and each phase of recovery. For example, did your volunteers log more hours when you introduced virtual volunteering? Were you able to maintain new volunteer registration despite social distancing orders?
  • Continue to log all incoming funds from fundraisers, donors and grants. 

An awareness of your expenditures and budget requirements can prepare you if you need to make the case for your volunteer program’s funding. Your attention to the budget may also encourage your organization as a whole to devote deserved attention to the success of your volunteer program. If your organization has paused volunteerism, you can still stay ahead of the game by planning your budget and other resources you’ll need upon reopening. 

3. Keep Your Volunteers Engaged 

Even if your volunteer program is paused, you can still keep your volunteers engaged with your organization. Alternatively, if your volunteer program is open, volunteer engagement is key to maintaining momentum. 

Continue Your Volunteer Newsletter

Maintain that connection with your volunteers by way of a monthly volunteer newsletter. What can volunteers look forward to in the near future? If your volunteer program is “closed,” can you guide your volunteers toward other causes and programs in your community? Or, highlight a volunteer story to inspire others. 

Go Virtual

Volunteers feel especially connected with your organization when they are given the additional opportunity to develop interpersonal connections. To maintain these connections, host an online team building session, or assign a virtual mentor to support new volunteers. Or, simply check-in with your volunteers using a video chat platform and let them know you’re eager to welcome them back. A little human connection goes a long way. Take your virtual volunteer management a step further by offering virtual volunteer opportunities.

Learn more about recruiting virtual volunteers >>

Update Your Website

Keep your website fresh and updated. Your supporters will head to your website for program updates and COVID-19-related information. Highlight your virtual volunteer opportunities on your website, and let your volunteers and community know that you’re eager to move forward. 

Capture Future Interest

Regardless of whether your programs are running, you can still capture your volunteers’ interest in future and seasonal opportunities. Allow volunteers to sign up for these activities, and pass along online training and onboarding materials. Your volunteers will feel eager and prepared upon reopening. 

Learn more about how one organization is keeping its volunteers engaged and active during COVID-19. 

4. Boost Your Funding 

The past few months have proven just how vital nonprofits are to the wellbeing of our communities. But with so much pressure on nonprofits to respond, competition for funding is higher than ever. To make matters more challenging, many organizations have had to cancel their most profitable in-person galas and fundraisers. Without this much-needed revenue, it can seem nearly impossible for volunteer programs to stay afloat. 

It’s time to get a little creative and a lot organized. Here are some ways you and your team can inspire donations and win grants (with further resources for more insight):

5. Revisit Your Mission

You may have been tasked with making temporary changes to your programming to address the immediate needs of your community during the COVID-19 crisis. This can mean redirecting resources and shifting your program’s mission. So, it’s important to review your program’s purpose regularly and recenter your program when appropriate to avoid long term mission creep

Assess and Anticipate Community Needs

Assess the current needs of your organization and anticipate the needs of your community in recovery. Consider those your organization serves and how their needs may have changed. How will you choose to respond in the future? How will you continue to leverage your strengths, partnerships and resources? Are we keeping our beneficiaries at the center of our decision making?  

Evaluate Your Program’s Purpose

If your program was forced to shift during COVID-19 response, you will need to consider how and when you will return to your original purpose and mission. Gather your team to revisit your mission. Has your mission and purpose changed? Are you ready to refocus on your original mission? How can we reestablish a connection between your community’s needs and your program’s mission? How will you reinspire your volunteers and remind them of your enduring mission? 

By employing these five steps, your volunteer program can stay the course and boost resilience, even in the face of uncertainty. Be sure to visit the resources on managing your volunteer program during COVID-19. 

More Nonprofit Resources to Check Out:

How to Recruit and Promote Volunteering From Home: A Guide to Engaging Virtual Volunteers

Responding to COVID-19: Actionable Steps for Volunteer Managers 

COVID-19 Recovery: Preparing Your Organization and Volunteer Program8 Steps Your Nonprofit Can Take for Safe Volunteering

8 Steps Your Nonprofit Can Take for Safe Volunteering