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The New 3 Rs of Volunteer Engagement

Originally authored by Beth Steinhorn of  VQ Volunteer Strategies and shared by MAVA with permission. 

We have often encouraged leaders of volunteers to replace the traditional “3 Rs of volunteer management” (recruitment, retention, and recognition) with what we like to call the “3 Cs of volunteer engagement” (cultivation, collaboration, and communicating impact).

Now, following the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing organizations around the world ready to tackle a completely different “3 Rs” – namely:

  • Recovery
  • Reopening
  • Return

While we still face daily uncertainties, we can be sure of a few things:

  • Each organization is unique. Whether a cultural organization that shuttered its doors or a food pantry that expanded to meet increased demand for service, each organization deserves its own uniquely designed plan for return to normalized operations.
  • Most organizations will return in phases. Organizations will be normalizing operations over time and in stages. Aligning volunteer strategies with these phases can ensure that volunteers are involved safely and strategically, and that engagement is positioned as part of the reopening strategy – not the last step to reopening.
  • The way we do business will be forever changed. While we may use terms like “reopen” and “return,” the truth is that we will never go back to operating exactly as we had in 2019, nor should we. We have many lessons to apply from the past year that can serve us well in the future. Proactively planning how some practices will continue to help us achieve mission can only benefit our organizations into the future.

In the spirit of proactivity, we at VQ have developed a Volunteer Engagement Plan for COVID-19 Recovery, Reopening, and Return. Kudos to our colleague Lisa Porter at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, whose reopening plan inspired elements of this template.

We recommend approaching the plan in two sections. First is a background section on the organization, its mission, vision, strategic priorities, and phased reopening plan to serve as a foundation for the volunteer engagement plan. Second is the portion addressing the volunteer engagement strategy for each phase. The template includes a checklist of issues to consider for each stage so that you can clarify the activities and priorities for each, including relevant policies and procedures.

In honor of the tradition of “3 Rs” – we present this list of ten issues as the “10 Rs”:

  1. Roles: Which volunteer roles will be available onsite and virtually?
  2. Recruitment: How will you prioritize and monitor recruitment efforts?
  3. Retention: What are the realistic retention goals for the current conditions?
  4. Reorientation and Retraining: Do you need to orient and train volunteers differently given protocols and new procedures?
  5. Recognition: How will you acknowledge contributions by active volunteers and show appreciation to those who are inactive due to safety concerns?
  6. Release: What are the steps to help volunteers retire or exit honorably and respectfully?
  7. Risk Management: How are volunteers integrated into the organization’s risk management plans?
  8. Revisions to Policies: Which policies need to be updated to reflect current conditions?
  9. Resources: What financial, technological, space, and professional resources are needed to support the effort?
  10. Report: How will you measure and track volunteer involvement and impact and to whom will you communicate it?
Like this article?

Get more like it, plus access to exclusive reports, training, and networking events by joining MAVA's network of Volunteer Engagement Professionals.

Download the template today. Embrace your role as a leader by developing a plan proactively and advocating for volunteer engagement as an integral part of your organization’s recovery.

A volunteer engagement plan will demonstrate how engaging volunteers can be core to reopening (not just a side note) and a vital resource for return to more normalized operations. There is no better time than now to get started.

Visit VQ Volunteer Strategies website and The VQ Volunteer Strategies blog to gain tools and resources to help you increase your impact by leveraging volunteer talent.

  • Check out VQ Volunteer Strategies's dedicated page with COVID-19 resources for volunteer engagement.
  • Read the VQ blog for monthly updates on research, strategies, case studies, and tools.
  • Select from VQ Volunteer Strategies's list of upcoming and on-demand webinars to equip you for success.
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