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6 tips to grow volunteer engagement at your virtual event

By Carl Diesing
March 8, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the way nonprofits conduct their operations. Many are making the most of virtual tools that allow organizations to continue to organize and retain volunteers. 

Volunteers are crucial for hosting a successful nonprofit event, whether it’s virtual or in-person. Not only do they help your team but they also provide a fresh, outside perspective on the event process. Plus, energized volunteers can become nonprofit supporters for life.

This year, your organization might be looking for volunteers to make up planning committees for events such as online charity galas, or you could be hosting an entirely online volunteer event such as a translation project or Wikipedia edit-a-thon. Either way, your organization can still benefit from increasing volunteer engagement this year.

At DNL OmniMedia, we offer nonprofit strategy consulting to help organizations navigate the world of nonprofit technology. We know that harnessing the power of tech tools is more important than ever now that most nonprofit activities have gone virtual. We’ve pulled together the following six tips to improve volunteer engagement at your next virtual event:

  1. Solidify your web presence
  2. Use customized and integrated software solutions
  3. Segment your supporter base for targeted outreach
  4. Streamline the sign-up process
  5. Offer additional ways to give back
  6. Express appreciation

The work done by volunteers for nonprofits is more valuable than ever during the COVID-era, as nonprofits have had to scale back in certain areas and are looking for additional support. Let’s take a closer look at each tip to help you engage more volunteers: 

Solidify your web presence

To increase volunteer sign-ups for your next virtual event, you first need to make sure supporters are aware of the opportunity to get involved.

Since most in-person activities are on hold, nonprofit supporters are interacting with organizations on the web at unparalleled rates. They’re turning to the internet to access information on nonprofits, build community, and make online donations. Because of this, the web is a crucial tool for engagement that your organization should use to its fullest extent.

We’re going to explore two tools to increase volunteer sign-ups with your web presence alone: your website and social media accounts. 

Website

Your website is often the first place potential volunteers look for upcoming opportunities to engage with your organization. It should be the most reliable digital presence for updated information on your work. It’s important that potential volunteers can easily find the updates and tools they’re looking for on your site.

Check out this rundown of top nonprofit websites for inspiration when designing your own site. Analyze them and take note of top features that they’ve used to get supporters involved, such as: 

  • Call-to-action (CTA) buttons. Include CTAs throughout your website, encouraging visitors to explore opportunities to get involved. 
  • A calendar widget. Include a calendar widget on your “Get Involved” page. Make sure you keep it up to date with the latest information so supporters can quickly and easily discover upcoming virtual events.
  • Embedded registration processes. Embed registration forms directly on your page, making the process as streamlined as possible.
  • Shareability. Embed social widgets to create pathways for volunteers to share event listings and spread the word from their personal profiles. When they sign up to volunteer, they can tell their friends and family and recruit more help.
  • Mobile-friendly design. Ensure your website is optimized for smaller mobile screens so smartphone users can access it just as easily as desktop users.

Figure out how you can incorporate these elements using your nonprofit’s specific voice and branding to create a compelling, eye-catching website that keeps supporters updated and informed. 

Social media

If your nonprofit has resisted fully embracing social media, it’s time to implement some changes. According to Nonprofits Source, 55 percent of people who engage with nonprofits on a social media platform take action, with 53 percent of that population doing so by volunteering.

Social media is a powerful tool to build excitement and rally volunteers to contribute their time at your next virtual event. Create a space for volunteers and other supporters to interact with before, during, and after your event by:

  • Sharing images and event information on social networks to build excitement.
  • Creating an event hashtag to connect all posts associated with the event under one umbrella.
  • Hosting an event page (like through Facebook Events) to provide quick updates to supporters who prefer social network interaction.
  • Maintaining a two-way conversation with supporters, showing them you appreciate their feedback and that volunteering is a collaborative process.

With the increased social media reach of your event, you might even be able to reach people all over the world with your message and greatly boost the impact of your volunteer event by widening your network.

Use customized and integrated software solutions

One of your nonprofit’s most powerful tools for connecting with your community and increasing volunteer engagement is one that’s also completely internally facing—your constituent relationship management (CRM) system. This system houses your most comprehensive supporter database, with records of each interaction your donors and volunteers have with your nonprofit.

The best way to increase volunteer involvement with events is to take a deliberate approach with your CRM, focusing on implementing integrations and functionality that address your volunteer program’s exact needs. For example:

  • Increased marketing abilities. Connect your CRM to your email marketing, social media, and website builder to use the information in your donor profiles for heightened and intentional outreach.
  • Segmentation and solicitation. Create segments specifically geared to targeted volunteer solicitation. Read more about this in the next section of this post.
  • Easier event management. Create a connection between your CRM and your event management tool to track various metrics associated with your volunteers such as sign-ups and actual event attendance.

With your CRM custom configured to improve volunteer engagement, you’ll be able to use a tool you already have to increase sign-ups at your next event. If you feel out of depth customizing your CRM, seeking nonprofit technology consulting is probably the best move.

Segment your supporter base for targeted outreach

Few things will deter potential supporters—including volunteers—more than clogging their email in-boxes with information that doesn’t apply to them. It could deter them from giving time to your organization in the future or cause them to tune out your communications, thinking they’re irrelevant, two things you definitely don’t want to happen.

To prevent volunteer apathy, segment your supporter base to target your event volunteer communications to those most likely to respond. 

DNL’s guide to supporter segmentation will tell you everything you need to know about how to segment donor and volunteer data in your nonprofit CRM, but here are a few tips for segmenting volunteers specifically. When recruiting volunteers for your next virtual event, the following segments tend to be helpful:

  • Demographics: Certain event volunteer positions will be better suited to supporters of different ages or other demographic markers. For example, you don’t want to send solicitations for virtual happy-hour fundraiser events to volunteers under the legal drinking age.
  • Engagement history: Not all of your donors are interested in volunteering, just as not every volunteer is a donor. Instead of sending event sign-ups to every supporter, only send them to those with an engagement history suggesting they would be interested.
  • Employer: Employment information is valuable both in predicting volunteer availability (if you’re thinking of hosting a mid-week event) and identifying volunteer grant opportunities.

You can take this targeted communication a step further by personalizing your communications for each potential volunteer. For example, you can customize your email outreach to include the reason you reached out to that specific volunteer (e.g., “As you previously volunteered at a similar event, we thought you might be interested in this opportunity!”), and even reference specific accomplishments achieved by the volunteer at previous events they attended. 

The bottom line? “Nonprofits have to be flexible,” says Candid. As volunteers’ personal situations might frequently change this year due to pandemic-related circumstances, it’s important for nonprofits to adapt to volunteer preferences and needs.

Streamline the sign-up process

Unsurprisingly, having an easy sign-up process is essential to increasing sign-ups for your next online event.

The most important thing is to get all of the volunteer information you need without making the process a hassle for the volunteers filling out the forms. Creating a simplified registration process (and embedding the registration form directly on your website) is a huge step to increase accessibility for supporters. The next step is to ask for the information you need—and nothing more.

No one wants to spend an entire afternoon filling out forms, especially if they’re discovering your registration processes through mobile means. On your registration form, only collect the essentials such as:

  • Name and age
  • Contact information, including emergency contact information, if there’s any risk of injury
  • Scheduling and availability information
  • Special certifications, skills, and interests relevant to the event
  • T-shirt size

If you want to collect additional information to continue building out your volunteer profiles, either ask volunteers additional questions on the registration confirmation page or offer one to two optional questions on the registration form.

There are a few tips and tricks beyond simplifying your form fields to make your sign-up process easier, including making the form tab-friendly and mobile responsive. Apply the same simplification and streamlining considerations to any other documentation required of your volunteers. For example, if your virtual event requires volunteers to sign any waivers (like a virtual run or walk), add them to your website for easy access.

Offer additional ways to give back

Supporters who are interested in volunteering with your organization, even in the middle of a pandemic, are doing so because they’re dedicated to your cause. One way to encourage them to sign up for your next virtual event is to show them that by doing so, they can contribute more than they ever imagined.

Through corporate philanthropy programs, businesses express their philanthropic nature by giving back to approved causes. Volunteer grant programs are a type of corporate philanthropy through which employers pledge to make financial donations to approved nonprofits that employees volunteer with for a certain number of hours.

Your nonprofit can use a tool like Double the Donation’s volunteer grant information database to find information on which companies offer volunteer grants. When you reach out to these supporters, invite them to research their own eligibility for volunteer grants by searching their employer in a dedicated database, and be sure to include educational information on how to secure such a grant in your outreach.

When supporters see that their employers will make a financial donation alongside their own gift of time, they’ll be more motivated to sign up for your event. Considering the growing conversation around self-interest and its positive impact on philanthropy, showing supporters that they, themselves, can have a greater impact is sure to be inspiring.

Express appreciation

Lastly, although your nonprofit might be swamped with what seems to be a million tasks, don’t overlook the importance of expressing appreciation for your volunteers. Thanking volunteers for their efforts shows them you value their time and effort and increases the likelihood that they’ll stay engaged with your organization in the future.

Even in the midst of pandemic challenges, there are still ways you can use your virtual platforms and systems to give back to volunteers. This Candid blog post on volunteer recognition during the COVID era offers a few great suggestions, including volunteer shout-outs on social media, sending free merchandise to supporters, and using your CRM database to craft personalized thank-you messages.

Enhancing your volunteer stewardship efforts will help secure the necessary ongoing support from volunteers during the pandemic and beyond. 

Closing thoughts

Volunteers are crucial for ensuring the success of your virtual events this year. Although you may be physically separated from them, these outside-of-your-organization team members still bring a fresh perspective, excitement for your virtual event, and helping hands. Use these tech tools to engage volunteers through a streamlined virtual experience this year.

Tags: Technology; Volunteers