Over the course of the pandemic it’s become clear that virtual volunteers are essential to the sustainability of nonprofits. Even if your organization has welcomed volunteers back in person there are countless benefits of continuing to leverage virtual volunteerism.
Organizations are recognizing that specific populations of their volunteers are happy to stay active and engaged as long as they do so at a reduced risk, and often this means remotely. And with an array of user-friendly technology available, virtual volunteering is entirely achievable.
In this article you’ll learn:
The Benefits of Virtual Volunteering
Your organizations, volunteers, and community can all benefit from virtual volunteering. What’s more, with a few adaptations and a little creativity, virtual volunteering is achievable for most nonprofits.
How Nonprofits Benefit
We understand that recruiting volunteers is hard work at the best of times. However, by adapting to virtual volunteering now, you can bolster your volunteer program’s resilience and advance its mission, even as the pandemic continues to affect communities. Simply put, volunteering from home appeals to the many who want to support your cause safely.
Once you’ve established a framework for your virtual volunteer program, your strategy will be sustainable and relatively straightforward. You may even decide to maintain virtual volunteering in addition to traditional volunteering moving forward. This is called the “hybrid” or “virtual first” model.
How Communities Benefit
Our communities have relied more than ever on the essential services of nonprofits during the pandemic . Unprecedented circumstances have forced communities–and the nonprofits that serve them–to adapt quickly. Over the past two years, organizations like yours have met critical needs safely by adopting remote volunteerism. And communities can continue to reap the benefits of a more flexible way of volunteering, with more needs being met. In other words, virtual volunteering is just another way to help support resilient, healthy communities.
How Volunteers Benefit
Volunteers are eager to support your mission, but they don’t want to compromise the health and safety of others. Virtual volunteering is an effective solution: to have a positive impact when our communities need it most.
Many volunteers cite busy schedules as the largest barrier to volunteering. Volunteering from home offers busy people the flexibility to make a difference in their own time and in their own space. Plus, virtual volunteering is a creative way to engage tech-savvy kids and teens, especially during holiday breaks or after school! And, for homebound individuals, online volunteering offers additional inclusivity so that anyone can be a part of making an impact and feel valued.
How to Recruit and Engage Virtual Volunteers
Fortunately, many of the processes and tools you would use to recruit in-person volunteers will help you recruit virtual volunteers. So, if you’re already posting opportunities on your website or volunteer management platform, you’re well on your way to recruiting virtual volunteers!
Before you promote your virtual volunteering program, you’ll need to think about the technology and other systems needed to carry out virtual volunteering. With the right technology, you can continue to recruit new volunteers remotely.
Any of the normal procedures your organization would perform when taking on new volunteers will need to be adapted to exist online. For example, how will you collect information from interested virtual volunteers? How will you interview your virtual volunteers? How will your volunteers receive, sign, and submit documents? Will you encourage volunteers to call or email with questions? Having the right technology in place at the start will help you streamline volunteer recruitment and onboarding.
Here are some traditional processes you’ll need to adapt for virtual volunteers, plus our technology recommendations:
Collecting Volunteer Information
You will need a place for volunteers to enter their information virtually, in lieu of paper sign-up. Therefore, you’ll likely send volunteers to your website or web-based volunteer platform to sign up for virtual volunteer opportunities. Many companies will allow you to create an online form (linked to your email) that allows you to collect interested volunteers’ information, like name and contact information. Place the form wherever your virtual volunteer opportunities are listed on your website. Alternatively, many volunteer management software options offer customizable web-based volunteer sign-ups to ensure your organization is collecting all the information you need from volunteers.
Some nonprofits may choose to interview participants before clearing them to volunteer. While you would normally carry out the interview in person, your next best option is to interview volunteers via video chat. There are lots of free, easy to use video chat (also called “video conferencing”) options out there. The most popular for businesses are Zoom, Skype, and Microsoft Teams.
Distributing and Collecting Documents
Are your volunteers required to sign an agreement? Will you need to provide volunteers with instructions, handbooks, and other documents? Thanks to the internet, sharing documents is a breeze. In fact, many of your documents can be easily shared through email. Especially with your remote volunteers, email will likely become your main form of communication. If you need volunteers to sign documents virtually, like an agreement or volunteer liability waiver, you’ll need to add e-sign technology. This means volunteers can sign and return PDFs without having to print and scan. DocuSign is a popular paid tool. Some volunteer management platforms offer free e-sign capabilities, so volunteers can sign and store their documents directly through the system.
Note that the necessity of these adaptations will depend on the type of work your volunteers are doing. For example, if you’re asking volunteers to sew masks or knit blankets, you can likely skip more complicated steps like background checks and interviews to make it easier for your remote volunteers to get involved.
Remember, if your organization began virtual volunteerism at the start of the pandemic, it may be a good time to re-evaluate whether or not some of your tech solutions need an upgrade for continued virtual volunteering.
Make Your Virtual Volunteer Opportunities Easy to Find
Your website or volunteer management platform can take some of the work out of your “outbound” recruiting. In other words, prospective volunteers should be able to locate virtual opportunities on your website or platform easily. A clunky online experience can be frustrating and distracting, and may even discourage volunteers from signing up. Keep your virtual opportunities in a central, well-marked location on your website.
When listing your virtual opportunities, create clear volunteer opportunity descriptions about the role, technology and skills required for the task, and other organizational expectations (like suggested time commitment). Interested participants shouldn’t have to embark on a lengthy search for the information they need to sign up.
Promote Your Virtual Volunteer Opportunities
One of the best ways to boost your recruitment efforts is to compose a comprehensive nonprofit social media strategy. Let your fans and followers know about your exciting opportunities for virtual volunteers. Need some content inspiration? Try these posts:
- Announce your virtual volunteering program. Use a call to action like “Sign up today!” and provide a link to your virtual opportunities page.
- Feature new virtual opportunities and projects.
- Highlight your virtual volunteer superstars.
- Thank your supporters. Let your community know you’re thinking about them.
- Share your virtual program impact and successes.
Social media is most effective when you stick with it and keep posting quality material. Your fans and followers are more likely to notice the organizations with an active online presence.
We also recommend you use your nonprofit newsletter to highlight virtual volunteer opportunities and communicate the benefits of virtual volunteering. Don’t forget to invite readers to sign-up, and make sure to link to your virtual volunteer opportunities page.
A great way to set your virtual volunteers up for success is to implement online onboarding. Once you have created these materials, online onboarding is sustainable and effective. You can even use online onboarding for your traditional volunteers. To keep your volunteers engaged and actively learning, switch up the methods in which you deliver key information.
Creative Ways to Deliver Your Training:
- Video Chat
- Group Webinar
- Pre-Recorded Videos
- Uploaded PDFs and Documents
- Online Quizzes and Review
Keep all onboarding materials and steps in one location on your website. Email your volunteers a link to locate onboarding materials and write out steps to follow and instructions for accessing external resources.
Foster Real Connections
Traditional volunteering offers the opportunity to meet new people and develop meaningful connections with other volunteers, community members, and organization staff. And many people enjoy volunteering because of the friendships they develop. Traditional in-person volunteering allows for natural collaboration, and great ideas can come from this collaboration. While virtual volunteerism offers flexibility, volunteers can lose out on the benefits of in-person communication. But there are strategies you can adapt to encourage purposeful connection.
Here are a few ways you can encourage collaboration and interaction:
- Pair new virtual volunteers with a buddy, or mentor. Encourage regular check-ins and virtual “meet-ups.”
- Welcome volunteers by introducing yourself personally via email. If feasible, set up a video chat with new volunteers to get to know more about them in a relaxed setting.
- Host an online meet and greet for virtual volunteers. Invite staff to introduce themselves and speak about your organization. Play trivia, host an open discussion, or just have an informal chat.
For volunteer coordinators, outreach will become an essential component of your virtual volunteer program. Committed, long-term volunteers feel connected to the cause, your organization’s mission, and fellow volunteers. Simply checking in with your remote volunteers can make a real difference in getting new recruits on board and keeping them around.
Keep Your Virtual Volunteers Engaged
You’ve successfully accomplished the tricky part: recruiting volunteers. Now, your goal is to keep at-home volunteers committed to your organization. Successful volunteer programs not only develop a volunteer recruitment strategy, they also have a well-developed engagement strategy.
>>> Read more about how one organization has been engaging its volunteers during the pandemic.
Remote volunteers are more likely to feel disconnected from your cause over time. So, you may need to develop a virtual volunteer engagement strategy. You can use strategies like these to promote lasting engagement:
- Recognize your volunteers based on their contributions. Regardless of the task (whether your volunteers are making cards or distributing PPE), 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 success moving forward.
Get Creative [Virtual Volunteering Examples]
Many of your traditional volunteer opportunities may not translate directly to virtual volunteering. So, you’ll have to create opportunities that can easily be performed at home and online. Here are some volunteering at home ideas to inspire your program:
Virtual Volunteering Projects
- Data Entry (or other administrative tasks)
- Tutoring or Mentoring
- Graphic Design
- Managing Social Media Accounts
- Editing or Writing (like support with your blog posts or monthly newsletters!)
- Document Translation
Online Volunteering Projects for Youth Volunteers
- Card Making – Makes for a great craft project for children, and puts a smile on the faces of seniors or hospitalized individuals.
- Web or Phone Buddies – Pair children 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.
Offline Projects for Volunteering at Home
Some of your volunteers may not feel comfortable or have reliable access to a computer. This shouldn’t prevent your organization from engaging virtual volunteers. Offer a selection of at-home projects that don’t require a computer:
- Blanket Sewing
- Home Kits (i.e. art and discovery projects for kids)
- Safe Supply Gathering (school supplies, food)
- Phone-Based Fundraising
More Virtual Volunteering Inspiration:
- The Smithsonian is offering digital volunteer opportunities, in which volunteers can transcribe hand-written historical documents to make them more accessible to the public.
- TED is asking for bilingual or multilingual volunteers to help translate and subtitle TED Talks and other materials to “enable the inspiring ideas in them to crisscross languages and borders.”
- StoriiTime pairs children with seniors to read together virtually.
- Virtual volunteers of the Trevor Project help monitor their website to maintain a safe online community for members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
- Points of Light keeps an extensive list of virtual volunteering inspiration.
Keep volunteers engaged by offering virtual volunteer opportunities on an ongoing basis and enjoy the benefits of a more resilient program. This is a great chance to re-engage lapsed volunteers by offering them a safe alternative that fits their comfort level within the pandemic landscape.. And when it comes to recruiting virtual volunteers, coordinators are sure to find success with sustained outreach and user-friendly technology.