This article was written by guest contributor Melissa Sherry, Volunteer Impact Coordinator at the Michigan Community Service Commission.
Let’s face it: remote work, remote shopping, remote meetings, and even remote volunteerism isn’t going away anytime soon. There, I’ve said it. But now how do we as volunteer leaders excel and build thriving, purpose-driven and engaged volunteer teams when they are remote?
If you are anything like me, you love a challenge. I think that’s what attracted me to volunteer management in the first place. I can take the organization’s biggest challenges and find innovative solutions at the least amount of cost to the organization. So, let’s do this together and we’ll slay remote volunteering until we’re as efficient as Amazon shopping to volunteer management!
What’s the most important skill a volunteer manager needs to be able to build a team of engaged volunteers? It’s the ability to create a sense of community. Volunteers naturally tend to be people who enjoy other people and what keeps them coming back is a sense of belonging. Here are some tips:
- Plan your “space.” Is it an online community platform (Mighty Networks), virtual meeting space (Zoom), or social media group (Facebook)?
- Understand the purpose and volunteers understand the purpose. For example, is it to create an online fundraising auction, is it to support new pet owners, or do these volunteers foster pets themselves?
- Decide what you plan to accomplish. Is it to share best practices, combat isolation, encourage others to help?
- Create an engagement plan! Decide how often you’ll meet, what you will present during these gatherings, and how you will build a sense of friendship and comradery among the volunteers. Most importantly, ask for volunteer feedback and ideas to make the time together most meaningful.
How do you decide what the volunteers will do for remote work? You may have an idea about how volunteers can help with taking animals into their homes, but what else? Here are some ideas:
- Ask your work partners, “If we had unlimited resources, what could we achieve?” Then translate their response into finding the talent to achieve those ideas.
- Think of your volunteers as ambassadors who can unlock doors to resources. Most organizations struggle with funding, but volunteers are great at raising funds, organizing events, and increasing awareness. How open is your organization to engaging volunteers in this type of meaningful skill-based service?
- Take note of the most pressing challenges your organization has and ask volunteers and staff how we use this opportunity to engage volunteers.
How do you recognize the contributions of remote volunteers? Here are some ideas that will keep you organized in supporting them as well as build deeper connections:
- Be specific about touch base points as they perform their work. For instance, schedule meetings in advance to discuss their work, plan for review times, give timely and constructive feedback.
- Make sure the volunteer understands the problem that is being addressed. Most of the time in a project should be spent in planning for success, not actually doing it.
- Once the project is complete, have the volunteer(s) involved see how its working so far, allow them to find adjustments, and hear their overall feedback.
- Before the project is done, engage them in another project!
- Honor volunteers in personal ways such as a handwritten note, a message of accomplishment to their employer, and recognition from leadership that the person’s time is valued and appreciated. You can also nominate them for recognition in our Michigan Heroes Campaign at miheroesproject.org.
Creating a sense of community means developing a purpose, creating an engagement plan, and finding ways to focus on the sense of belonging, giving a volunteer a chance to contribute and to learn themselves. These three key engagement strategies touch on the main drivers of volunteer satisfaction. As we learn to master these steps in our daily work, we can flex those skills to meet the incredible challenges ahead of nonprofit organizations.
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