Back in grade school, teachers would ask for volunteers and hands would shoot up around the room. Everyone wanted to do the teacher a special favor by running an errand down the hall or helping hand out pamphlets.
How eager we all were back then.
Most of us don’t have that same energy now, but volunteers are still an essential part of your organization, including your online community. Whether they moderate forums, post content, or provide you with valuable feedback, volunteer programs take some of the weight off you and your organization, and give your members opportunities to get involved.
Unfortunately, recruiting quality volunteers isn’t always easy, and keeping them may be even more challenging. The good news is that the key to both is to create a rewarding volunteer experience.
A positive volunteer experience includes several stages, including recruitment, motivation, and retention, each of which should take different approaches to nurturing volunteers. Here are a few best practices to make your online community’s volunteer program a success throughout the three major stages.
Best Practices for Creating a Positive Volunteer Experience
Stage 1) Recruiting Volunteers
The first stage of your volunteer program, recruitment, is where you identify and onboard new volunteers. This is an ongoing process, so you should consistently be on the lookout for community members who are interested in participating and lending you their expertise.
To make recruiting go smoothly and get members of your online community involved, consider some of the following techniques.
Headhunt Specific Community Members - Not every community member has the skills your organization needs. Comb through the ranks to find members with the appropriate experience and reputation, then persuade them to contribute by applying their knowledge and abilities to specific community tasks.
Accept Applications - Don’t just accept every volunteer who comes your way. Create an application process, even if it’s very simple, then encourage members to apply for volunteer positions. This tactic creates an exclusive program where only the best are selected, and makes chosen volunteers feel special, leading to higher participation and better retention.
Put It to a Vote - Your online community is built for engagement, so get members involved through voting. Create a democratic process and allow community members to nominate, vote for and elect their community volunteers. This empowers your community members and volunteers while also taking the pressure to find the best volunteers off of your organization.
Stage 2) Motivating Volunteers
When you've established a group of volunteers, don't leave them hanging! Motivation includes ongoing engagement so that your volunteers remain happy with their work. Here are a few ways to keep your volunteers motivated.
Create a Private Group - Your volunteers are important contributors, so treat them as such. Dedicate space in your community exclusively for volunteers where they can get to know each other, collaborate on best practices, and feel they're part of the big picture.
Provide Volunteers with Valuable Resources - Develop a welcome guide for new volunteers to onboard them to your volunteer program. If your volunteers coordinate events, make templates and help guides for their planning efforts. Anything to make their job a little easier!
Create Contests and Competitions - Nothing motivates like a little friendly rivalry! Keep track of who welcomes the highest number of new members or participates the most in the community over the course of the month and award small prizes to the winners.
Stage 3) Retaining Volunteers
Don't forget to recognize and acknowledge your volunteers for all their hard work! In order to encourage your volunteers to stick around and continue offering you their time and expertise you need to show them that their contributions are valued and appreciated. There are a few tactics you can take to recognize your volunteers and retain them.
Provide Program Benefits - Benefits are the reason why members join your online community, and they may be the reason some people become, and stay, volunteers, so create exclusive benefits just for this group. Some volunteer program benefits might include a volunteer badge, invitations to provide feedback, exclusive opportunities and sneak peeks, and the ability to moderate spaces in your community.
Highlight Progress - Direct recognition, either through private communication or in public, will help your volunteers feel appreciated. Consider highlighting progress and achievements from individual volunteers with spotlights and mailings to show how much you value volunteer contributions.
Create a Sense of Community - Your volunteers are a group in and of themselves, so create a community between them. This goes hand-in-hand with creating a private space for your volunteers to discuss best practices and network, but go a step farther and encourage them to discuss off-topic information and bond with one another.
Volunteer Program Takeaway
Managing an online community takes time, expertise, and dedication – all of which are extremely valuable. Your volunteers give you all of that for free, and make a huge contribution to your organization, so you should support them in every way you can. Make recruitment, motivation, and retention ongoing stages in your volunteer program, and ensure that participants feel special.
Be with your volunteers every step of the way, from when they’re first considering lending you their time to when they’ve become experienced leaders who know your online community inside and out. Take the time to recognize their skills and the time they’ve dedicated to your organization, and they’ll keep volunteering year after year.