Skip to content
Webinar: Responsible Service: Moving from Harmful Charity to Co-Dreaming | July 24th @ 1pm EST | Free Registration
High Contrast

Blog Home Volunteer Engagement: Strategies, Surveys, and Best Practices

Article

Volunteer Engagement: Strategies, Surveys, and Best Practices

Free volunteer survey templates

Consider this: A study by Huynh et al. (2014) found that volunteer emergency service workers who felt connected to their organization reported significantly higher happiness levels. 

This sense of connectedness was primarily fostered by the factors within an organization's control—support and training. A strategic engagement can boost not just a volunteer's productivity but their overall well-being as well.

In other words, it's the secret to keeping your volunteer network happy and activated.

However, engagement can also seem nebulous and challenging to measure, discouraging many organizations from implementing formal volunteer engagement strategies.

Why engagement? Businesses are realizing that they're powered by people, and motivated, passionate employees drive success. So, if engagement is essential to running successful companies, why can't community programs leverage similar strategies to boost volunteer engagement?

If your program is powered, even in part, by volunteers, you need to invest in strategic engagement.

Article Contents:

 

What is Volunteer Engagement?

The goal of volunteer engagement is to build better relationships with your volunteers so they become long-term supporters of your organization. Engagement helps to foster positive connections between volunteers and the organizations and communities they serve, ultimately resulting in positive outcomes for all stakeholders. 

To understand successful volunteer engagement, you'll need to discern what an engaged volunteer looks like. 

An engaged volunteer…

  • Demonstrates a sustained passion and commitment to your volunteer program
  • Feels emotionally connected to your mission and invested in your program’s success
  • Feels motivated by volunteering with your organization
  • Enjoys volunteering with your organization
  • Supports and contributes to a positive organizational culture

The reality is that every volunteer will feel only some of these things toward your organization all the time. However, if you're consistently cultivating positive associations with your organization, you're more likely to see success in other areas, too.

Volunteer Engagement- qualities of an engaged volunteer (1)

The Evolution of Volunteer Engagement

In examining the historical landscape of volunteer engagement, it becomes evident that the trajectory of volunteerism has followed a distinct pattern. 

Like the stages outlined in the organizational development cycle, volunteer engagement strategies have evolved, adapting to the changes. 

At the inception of organized volunteering efforts, pioneering individuals identified pressing societal needs often met with resistance and skepticism from established institutions. 

Like the early stages of organizational development, these visionaries operated on passion and conviction, leading the charge without significant financial backing.

As the recognition of these causes gained momentum, a shift occurred towards a more collective approach. Small groups of dedicated volunteers coalesced, providing mutual support and synergy as they worked to address societal challenges. 

This collaborative spirit marked a crucial turning point, paving the way for accepting volunteerism as a legitimate force for positive change.

A watershed moment arrived when organizations acknowledged the need for sustained efforts. The realization dawned that relying solely on volunteer-driven initiatives was exhausting and unsustainable.

Consequently, the strategic decision to secure funding and hire dedicated staff members marked a significant milestone. This transition allowed for expanding services and initiatives, albeit with the challenge of balancing the roles of volunteers and paid professionals.

Over time, a more refined understanding of volunteer engagement emerged, emphasizing the importance of continuous involvement over short-term, episodic contributions. This shift focused on creating meaningful and enduring partnerships between volunteers and organizations, transcending the traditional boundaries of assistance. 

Volunteers were no longer mere assistants to the staff but integral members of a dynamic think tank, exploring innovative ways to serve communities. 

In the present landscape, the pendulum has swung back towards recognizing the unique value that volunteers bring to the table. Organizations are beginning to appreciate volunteers' diverse roles in community relations, client friendships, and advocacy efforts. 

Embracing this newfound perspective requires consciously welcoming volunteers into the fold acknowledging their potential as social entrepreneurs and catalysts for change.

The evolution of volunteer engagement mirrors the cyclical nature of organizational development. 

By understanding and embracing this historical context, organizations can harness the transformative power of volunteerism, allowing it to shape the future of community service in innovative and impactful ways.

How to Increase Volunteer Engagement

How can you increase volunteer engagement, including virtual volunteer engagement? 

First, you must develop a thoughtful, consistent strategy encompassing in-person and online interactions.

A volunteer engagement strategy is an investment in your volunteer program. It's a planned approach to keeping the volunteers you already have happy, informed, and bought into your cause, whether they contribute onsite or from a distance.  

Embracing virtual volunteer engagement is particularly crucial as it expands your reach and inclusivity, allowing for a diverse range of participation. 

At the core of your strategy is fostering emotional connections and better experiences, which is just as crucial for virtual volunteers as for physically present people. 

There are many tactics for accomplishing this, but most activities will fall within the four main components of engagement:

  1. Volunteer Communications
  2. Volunteer Training
  3. Volunteer Feedback
  4. Volunteer Retention

Volunteer Engagement- how to increase volunteer engagement (2)

In this article, we’ll dive deeper into each of these components of the volunteer engagement process. But first, let’s outline the factors that make for successful volunteer engagement:

Factors of Success

What makes a volunteer engagement strategy successful? There are three critical factors for success when it comes to volunteer engagement (and overall management, for that matter):

1. Patience, Consistency, and Strategic Process

Think of volunteer engagement like tending a garden: it needs both the gardener's patient touch and a solid plan. Just as you'd map out where to plant each seed, your volunteer program requires a blueprint that's as thoughtful as your marketing campaigns or fundraising efforts. After all, your volunteers are the heartbeat of your mission. Shower your program with the same care and strategic thinking you give to other vital operations. Growth takes time, and steady nurturing pays off. 

2. Persistence

Chasing lapsed volunteers is part of the journey. Expect busy schedules and fluctuating interest levels to sometimes stand in the way. Yet, unless they've stepped away for good or no longer align with your organization's needs, these volunteers represent an opportunity for re-engagement. Keep the door open for their return.

3. People (Power)

You'll have plenty of opportunities to automate and streamline your volunteer management process. There's some excellent software to do the legwork, administrative tasks, schedule volunteers, and collect data (more on this later in the article). But for now, know that successful volunteer engagement relies on human-centric skills like relationship-building and communication—all you possess!

Volunteer Engagement- three factors for success (3)

The Benefits of an Effective Volunteer Engagement Strategy

Why invest in a volunteer strategy? Strategic volunteer engagement elevates your program to new heights. Here's how it can increase organizational return on investment by keeping volunteers engaged:

Increase Organizational Return on Investment

It's a common misconception that volunteers are free. Effective volunteer management requires time and resources, while you don't pay volunteers for their work. 

However, you can make a return on your investment. When applied intelligently, a robust volunteer strategy can yield a greater return. 

Here are three ways investing in volunteer engagement can increase your organization's overall return:

1. Engaged volunteers are more likely to donate to your organization.

Engaged volunteers are likely to donate to the same organization where they volunteer. In the UPS Global Volunteer Month, volunteers delivered $341,577 worth of volunteer services in just one month. These engaged volunteers donated their time and effort and actively contributed to the organization's mission.  

This demonstrates that investing in a volunteer strategy can substantially increase organizational funding through both time and monetary donations.

2. Engaged volunteers are more likely to recommend your organization to their network.

Recruitment is expensive, and many volunteer programs simply don’t have the resources for extensive marketing. That’s why smart organizations leverage word-of-mouth recruitment.

Word-of-mouth is a powerful and cost-effective marketing tactic that relies on your current support base to recruit for you.

When your current volunteers are happy with your organization, they're more likely to tell their family, friends, and colleagues about your organization, growing your volunteer network without the high cost of other recruitment tactics.

3. Boost retention rates.

High volunteer turnover is expensive. When you break down the time it takes to recruit new volunteers, onboard them, train, and place them, you're looking at a significant investment of your time.

Placing volunteers who are already trained and invested in your cause is more efficient than finding new ones. Therefore, programs focusing on engagement to boost retention are more cost-effective, resulting in a better ROI. 

Build Better Relationships with Your Volunteers

Engagement is a two-way conversation. You support your volunteers, and they're more willing to help you. You get to know them, and they get to know you.

Engaged volunteers help in a crunch, serve on your board, and mentor other volunteers. Intangible moments like these emerge from the simple yet powerful act of genuinely getting to know your volunteers.

Improve Program Outcomes

Ultimately, engaged volunteers perform better. Volunteers perform at a higher level when they are passionate about the work and understand its impact. Volunteers using their skills will feel like they are making a positive impact and are, therefore, more likely to volunteer with your organization again. 

A well-crafted volunteer strategy ensures that volunteers are engaged and aligned with the organization's goals, leading to improved outcomes for the program.

Volunteer Engagement- benefits of an effective volunteer engagement strategy (4)

Measurement and Analysis of Volunteer Engagement

Understanding volunteer engagement goes beyond merely tallying hours and tasks—it delves into the realms of emotions, thoughts, and actions about an organization's mission, vision, and values. 

A systematic approach is essential to measure volunteer engagement for strategic goals effectively. This involves defining clear, measurable objectives, collecting relevant data, rigorous analysis, and thoughtful communication. 

Let's delve into the steps necessary to quantify and comprehend the impact of volunteer engagement.

Defining Clear, Measurable Goals for Volunteer Engagement

The initial step in this process is defining what volunteer engagement signifies for the organization and aligning it with strategic objectives. This involves pinpointing specific outcomes and behaviors, such as increased retention, satisfaction, loyalty, advocacy, or skills enhancement. 

Clear indicators, both quantitative and qualitative, are crucial. Examples include attendance, completion rates, feedback, ratings, and referrals. These indicators serve as tangible engagement markers, allowing organizations to accurately gauge their volunteers' impact.

Conducting and Analyzing Volunteer Engagement Surveys

Once the goals and indicators are in place, the next step involves collecting pertinent data. Organizations can gather quantitative and qualitative insights by employing methods such as surveys, interviews, focus groups, and assessments. 

Existing data from volunteer management systems and external sources like website analytics provide additional layers of information. Ethical, reliable, and consistent data collection methods are imperative, ensuring the accuracy and validity of the results.

Utilizing Examples of Metrics from Successful Volunteer Programs

Drawing inspiration from successful volunteer programs can provide valuable insights into effective engagement metrics. Metrics such as volunteer satisfaction scores, engagement levels in various activities, and impact assessments can offer benchmarks for comparison. 

These examples serve as valuable references, allowing organizations to gauge the effectiveness of their engagement efforts against industry best practices.

Incorporating a diverse range of quantitative and qualitative metrics enables organizations to assess volunteer engagement comprehensively.

Leveraging these insights, organizations can refine their strategies, ensuring that their volunteers are participants and active contributors deeply aligned with the organization's mission and vision.

Volunteer Engagement- measurement and analysis (5)

Proven Tactics for Engaging Volunteers

Volunteer engagement typically consists of four main strategies: communications, training, feedback, and retention. Engagement is a process in that all of these elements should be ongoing and should continue throughout the volunteer lifecycle.

Let's take a look at the most essential volunteer engagement strategies:

Digital Communications: Your Engagement Powerhouse

Effective communication with volunteers is vital to active involvement in today's fast-paced world. 

While phone calls are valuable, many volunteers now prefer online interactions. To keep them engaged, it's essential to meet them where they are: online.

Employ these digital communication tools for deeper engagement:

Email

Email is widely accepted as the primary means of communication among organizations and their stakeholders. It's how many successful volunteer programs keep their volunteers engaged throughout the year.

We recommend that you email your volunteer network at least once per month. You can even implement a volunteer newsletter—a great way to keep in touch in a casual, friendly way (without feeling like you're asking too much).

Need some fresh email content ideas? Here are a few to include in your following volunteer email:

  • Featured upcoming volunteer opportunities and events
  • Organizational updates and reminders
  • Fundraising goals and progress
  • Volunteer stories and spotlights
  • Client stories
  • Personal thank yous
  • Calls to action to get involved

To learn more about employing email to boost volunteer engagement, check out this list of email marketing tactics for volunteer programs.

Volunteer Engagement- emailing your volunteers content ideas (6)

Social Media

Social media is more than just a recruitment tool. A healthy social media presence will keep your supporters thinking about your organization.

For social media to work, you'll need your volunteers to "follow" or subscribe to your channels, so include social media handles in your correspondence. You also need to post regularly, which typically requires a well-planned approach.

If you're not sure where to start, try focusing your efforts on one of two social media platforms:

  • Facebook is the most popular social media platform, great for events, sharing photos, and writing.
  • Instagram is well known for visual content, including photos, videos, and stories.
  • LinkedIn is essential for professional networking and great for high-quality group interactions, article sharing, and events.
  • Twitter encompasses short-form writing, great for activism, and quick, enticing calls to action.
  • Try TikTok if you want to engage the next generation of volunteers.

There’s plenty more to learn about engaging your supporters through social media. Our marketing expert compiled these achievable campaign ideas for a winning social media strategy.

Texting

While texting has been around for a while, it feels like a new frontier for many organizations. Text or "SMS" marketing is becoming an increasingly popular way of reaching customers, donors, and volunteers.

Whichever tool you choose to communicate with your volunteers, the name of the game is consistency. Consistent, thoughtful outreach will ensure your volunteers remain connected and engaged.

Gather Volunteer Feedback

If you want volunteers to remain engaged, they need to feel invested in your program's essential processes and outcomes. Successful volunteer engagement relies on open channels of communication.

Tracking feedback can empower your volunteers, improve their experience, and bolster retention.

There are plenty of ways to collect volunteer feedback. From roundtable discussions to volunteer engagement surveys, these activities signal that you're willing to listen.

After inviting feedback, it's essential to synthesize and use results to make decisions. This feedback loop is paramount to creating a volunteer culture that respects input from all stakeholders (not just board members).   

Support Your Volunteers Through Continued Training

Training is essential for recruits, providing them with vital skills and knowledge. However, volunteer training is not merely a requirement; it serves as a powerful engagement tool. Volunteers see their involvement as a chance to refine skills and acquire valuable knowledge. Embrace their eagerness to learn by offering ongoing training opportunities.

Consider Sarah, an enthusiastic volunteer who initially had basic community outreach knowledge. She gained expertise in effective communication and project management through our specialized training. Sarah transformed into a confident leader, driving impactful community initiatives.

Sarah's journey showcases the transformative power of continued training. It benefits recruits and empowers seasoned volunteers like Sarah to develop their skills further. Whether volunteers seek to enhance leadership, pursue new hobbies, or prepare for careers, we provide diverse training opportunities tailored to their interests.

For comprehensive volunteer training, from enhancing leadership skills to nurturing talents, explore our ultimate training guide. Discover how continuous training elevates volunteers' skills and amplifies their positive community impact.

Focus on Retention

Retention is a significant pain point for many volunteer programs. Retention is also a result of positive volunteer engagement.

Fortunately, there are plenty of resources available to help you boost retention rates, including these strategies for retaining volunteers:

Understand Why Volunteers Quit

The goal of retention is to reduce turnover. To reduce turnover, you'll need insight into what factors lead to volunteers quitting, mainly your newer volunteers.

These are the top reasons volunteers quit, according to volunteer managers:

  • Burnout
  • An unpleasant experience
  • Loss of interest
  • Busy schedules and life events
  • Feeling underappreciated or undervalued

With this information in mind, you can take the necessary precautions to counter volunteer turnover.

Match Volunteers to the Right Roles

Engaged volunteers want to know that their efforts are directly impacting a cause. One of the best ways to keep volunteers interested in your organization is to match them with opportunities they'll love–remember, positive experiences yield more excellent retention.

However, matching your volunteers with the opportunity that's right for them 

requires a system for collecting data on each volunteer's skills, strengths, and passions.

The best way to track volunteer skills and interests is to collect this information when the volunteer registers with your organization. Volunteer management software can streamline the collection and storage of this data.

Offer Flexible Programming

Like you, volunteers lead busy lives. And one of the primary reasons volunteers quit is because they can no longer fit volunteering into their schedules.

The solution here is simple: be flexible.

For example, if you want to appeal to working families, offer more evening, weekend, and school holiday shifts. Offer family-friendly opportunities or childcare solutions and create hour-long shifts (some volunteers simply cannot manage those longer 4-hour shifts).

Virtual volunteering is also a great way to keep volunteers active from home.

We have a lot more information on volunteer retention, so if your goal is to increase engagement and reduce turnover, check out our guide on volunteer retention.

Volunteer Engagement- volunteer retention strategies (7)

Create Consistently Positive Experiences

Happy volunteers show up time and again to serve their communities. Every volunteer should feel empowered by their choice to give their valuable time to your cause. Thus, forward-thinking volunteer managers must try to cultivate a satisfied volunteer workforce.

What are the secrets to delivering consistently positive experiences?

Let's focus on two main factors at play: culture and convenience.

First: culture. To engage volunteers, you need to create a culture of community and support.

Many enjoy the camaraderie they experience while volunteering. Fellow volunteers, staff, and clients provide meaningful connections that people look for in a community. Think about ways to foster these moments through group projects, social events, and communication networks (like group chats and forums).  

Next: convenience. How streamlined is the volunteer experience? Can volunteers get involved quickly? If they have to jump through lots of hoops to sign up, or their onsite check-in feels chaotic, they're less likely to have positive associations with your organization.

A volunteer management system can streamline the entire volunteer experience, from your website to onsite check-in. A robust option will even automate the hours logging process, removing unnecessary obstacles.

Engagement is about building relationships with people. However, many volunteer leaders are so bogged down by administrative tasks like scheduling and data entry that they need more time to focus on highly impactful activities that keep volunteers engaged. Volunteer management software can free up your time so you can focus on the most critical and impactful engagement measures.

Volunteer Engagement- culture of community and support (8)

More Creative Ways to Engage Volunteers

Here are a few more creative ideas to boost your engagement strategy:

The Power of a Fun Program Name

Next time you need to name a new volunteer program, event, or team, try these creative volunteer program names. You will not only catch the attention of recruits but also ensure your program is memorable for current volunteers.

Dabble in Enneagram

The Enneagram Personality Test is a trendy tool employers, team leaders, and individuals use to categorize personality types, hone interpersonal skills, and encourage introspection.

While the verdict is still out about the effectiveness of personality tests, inviting volunteers to take the Enneagram quiz can certainly be a unique, just-for-fun way to get to know their collaboration style and motivations a bit better. It may even help them identify the volunteer roles they’ll love best!

Inspire with Quotes

Sprinkle your regular communication with some inspiration and motivation. Quotes about volunteering make enticing social media content and add a special touch to your newsletter, website, and more.

Gamify Volunteerism

Increase engagement by incentivizing volunteerism. Encourage friendly competition by rewarding volunteers for logging hours or bringing friends along. You can learn more about leveraging gamification to encourage sustained participation in your program.

Integrating Technology

Incorporating digital tools and platforms into your volunteer management strategy can significantly enhance engagement. By embracing technology, organizations can streamline communication, improve accessibility, and create interactive experiences for volunteers. 

Think Beyond the Holidays

Many organizations see steep increases in engagement over the winter holidays, only to experience a lull in the new year. Engagement requires a year-round commitment. Here’s how you can keep volunteers engaged after the busy holiday season.

Strategic volunteer engagement is instrumental to the success of your organization. These volunteer engagement ideas will help you build a sustainable network of supporters and continuously deliver on your mission.

Engagement Impact Stories

In the heart of volunteerism, we discover stories that resonate with the transformative power of sustained engagement in individuals and entire communities.  

These narratives illustrate the profound impact of dedicated individuals who have embraced the spirit of giving back, leaving an indelible mark on the world around them.

Fostering Humility Through Volunteering

Joanna's journey during the pandemic epitomizes the essence of volunteering. With time on her hands, she found purpose in assisting her community through online platforms like "Nahno." 

Volunteering allowed her to make a tangible difference and transformed her perspective on life. Joanna emphasizes the significance of even the simplest acts, demonstrating that volunteering makes us humble and empowers us to be part of a positive societal change.

A Journey from Loss to Belonging

Anas, a Syrian refugee who faced adversity, found solace in volunteering. Through UNICEF's "Maharati" Program, he became an assistant trainer and immersed himself in community projects. 

Volunteering became his identity, offering him satisfaction and a sense of belonging. Anas's story is a testament to the resilience and determination that volunteering instills, helping individuals rediscover their worth and purpose.

Volunteering as an Investment in Self and Society

For Ammar, volunteering became a pathway to personal and professional growth. Through his involvement in the Nahno platform, he developed essential skills and found employment opportunities. 

He believes volunteering is an invaluable investment that brings peace of mind and happiness. His story illustrates how giving back to the community can also pave the way for personal fulfillment and professional success.

Embracing Responsibility for Community Welfare

Amer's commitment to social responsibility led him to volunteer during the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic. His involvement in the National Elak w Feed campaign showcased the profound impact of collective efforts. 

For Amer, volunteering is not just a responsibility; it's a source of happiness and encouragement from his community. His story highlights the sense of belonging that volunteering fosters, inspiring others to engage actively in community initiatives.

Planting Seeds of Change Through Online Volunteering

Nancy's volunteering journey, spanning over a decade, exemplifies the enduring impact of dedicated service. During the pandemic, she embraced online opportunities, connecting with fellow volunteers and starting her projects. 

Volunteering, for Nancy, is akin to planting a seed that grows into something beautiful over time. Her story underscores volunteers' resilience and adaptability, showcasing the power of virtual engagement in making a la

These engagement impact stories stand as testaments to the profound influence of sustained volunteerism. Each tale embodies the spirit of generosity, resilience, and community building, reminding us that through selfless efforts, individuals can create positive change that extends far beyond their immediate surroundings.

Empowering Change Through Continuous Volunteer Engagement

In social impact, volunteer engagement is a cornerstone, shaping the foundation upon which thriving communities are built. As we reflect on the inspiring narratives shared and the transformative power of sustained volunteer efforts, it becomes evident that our collective commitment to service goes far beyond a momentary act—a journey toward lasting change.

Like the remarkable individuals you've just read about, our volunteers embody the essence of selflessness and dedication. Their stories echo the resonance of meaningful connections, demonstrating the ripple effect that dedicated engagement can create. It's not just about the tasks completed or the hours volunteered; it's about the lives touched, the perspectives broadened, and the communities strengthened.

As we wrap up, I want to extend a heartfelt invitation for you to join us in this journey of creating lasting, positive change. Think of it not just as a one-off effort but as an ongoing pledge to make our world better, filled with understanding, care, and deliberate action.

Here's a practical first step for you:

Dive deep into the heart of your volunteer program. Our complimentary survey template is designed to give you real insights into how things are going. It's a way to truly listen to your volunteers, learn from their experiences, and fine-tune your approach. Your journey to making a bigger impact starts 

Trusted by thousands of amazing volunteer leaders.

Volunteer Management Solutions for Every Organization

Volunteer program tools for any organization, program size, and budget. Find your perfect solution today.

 

Find the Right SoftwareGet a Free Demo