Volunteers play a key role at many nonprofit organizations but they sometimes get short shrift when it comes to internal communication. I think this is because they are often given less organizational status than employees because they are unpaid, often have higher turnover and put in fewer hours. At smaller nonprofits without a budget for a volunteer coordinator, volunteers can get overlooked. However, when it comes to volunteer retention and level of engagement, how and how much you communicate plays a role. Here are my five tips for better volunteer communication.
- A good beginning – Volunteers often approach an organization because something about its mission is appealing to them. Take the time to find out exactly what the appeal is and how much the potential volunteer knows about the organization. This helps in terms of finding out where he/she can fit in. Use your introduction as a way to start orienting the volunteer. Discuss not only on your mandate but also the culture of the organization and where volunteers fit.
- Volunteer manual – A handbook specifically tailored to volunteers is a great way to ensure that volunteers have the information they need about your organization, and their role in it, at their fingertips. Include task-related info as well as practical info such as bathroom and fire alarm locations. Whether online or in hard copy format, make sure that the content is well-organized and indexed. Although the volunteer may read the handbook cover to cover, it is more likely to be used as a reference so being able to quickly and easily find information is important.
- Regular check-in – Just as you would for employees, have a regular check-in with volunteers. Find out how they are managing their role, whether they are having any difficulties, or if they would like to expand/deepen their involvement. Perhaps they have certain goals for themselves you can help them to acheive.
- Keep them in the loop – Many times, organizations forget to communicate key structural changes, challenges or developments to their volunteer contingent. Often, management’s focus is on keeping employees informed and volunteers are an afterthought. But to maintain the level of engagement and to make sure that everyone involved in the nonprofit remains informed of critical developments, make sure you consider volunteer communication. In some cases, it’s appropriate to invite volunteers to staff meetings or to include them in routine staff memos or e-mail correspondence.
- Customized communication – Depending on the number of volunteers and what type of unique roles they fill, it might make sense to develop tailored communication for volunteers such as an electronic newsletter, intranet space or even a social media platform such a Facebook page. You can use this tool not just for sharing information but also for developing a volunteer community with special recognition and unique stories that demonstrate the value of volunteer contributions.
Do these five tips seem basic? Common sense? They are, but it’s amazing how often volunteers get overlooked when it comes to internal communication. Having an organized program for volunteer communication will help to ensure that volunteers act and respond in ways that are appropriate to your nonprofit. It will also enhance their level of engagement and commitment.
Many times, volunteers drift away because they don’t feel they are really part of a team or sufficiently appreciated. When you formalize communication including volunteers it delivers the message that they are important and indeed part of the organization.
Now it’s your turn. How do you communicate with volunteers? Can you add some additional tips?
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