4 Tips to Better Engage Your Volunteers

Frank Mumford, CFRE
April 1, 2021 · 4 min read
4 Tips to Better Engage Your Volunteers

When someone volunteers, I always say they are giving something more valuable than any money they could provide, their time.  Time isn’t able to be recouped, you can’t give it back.

One of the best ways to steward your volunteers and keep them coming back is to properly utilize their time while they are volunteering.  Being organized, thoughtful, and ensuring there are activities ready when people arrive are key attributes of a well-run program.

Here are four ideas of better-utilizing volunteer’s time and supporting your organization’s stewardship efforts.

1) Thank you calls

When I worked at Minnesota 4-H Foundation, I would pull a donation report from the prior month’s gifts at every single board meeting.  From there, I would have people stick around after the meeting or during a break, and I would provide a presorted list to each person.  Each individual would make approximately ten calls, and with 25 board members, we would go through the entire list of donors.

Managing this calling campaign may seem simple, but there are some pitfalls, so here are my recommendations:

  1. Provide a script 

  2. Vett the list to have correct phone numbers 

  3. Provide small details about the donor, but not too much (people get bogged down reading too much)

  4. Give them a sample call

  5. Make the time to do it and have leadership buy-in

Beyond just using your board to do thank you calls, set up a regular volunteer shift that someone can “sign up for.”  People like to have consistency, and once you get volunteers in regularly, you will have a solid core of people.

Lastly, with thank-you calls, through proper coaching, you can train people to ask the right questions, gather information about the donors, and then even update your CRM.  One local nonprofit has their volunteers ask qualifying questions for the potential to be moved into a portfolio.

2) Thank you videos

Ask volunteers to record thank you videos to donors personally sharing their gratitude.  From grateful patients, clients who used your services, or board members, thank you videos provide very powerful insight.  This is a great way to also make wonderful use of people’s time.

Most organizations are still remote with volunteers, meaning you might have to send video requests.  Here are some ways to capture video:

  1. Send video requests in bulk to volunteers you already recruited to help you record. Similar to calling, provide some details, but not too much. 

  2. Give them access to Gratavid and have them record thank you videos to share 1:1 with the donors. This can be easily managed and set up ahead of time.

  3. Have your volunteer coordinator record videos of volunteers and provide a set of questions to ask. This is the last one and sometimes as staff, we forget that sometimes the best things to share are right there in your office.  I made it a habit to both volunteer in my organization and other organizations.  I would share my experience with donors, and it was really powerful.

3) Thank you notes

For many people, direct outreach either through phone or recording a video is not their thing.  As outlined in 5 Tips to Improve Your Thank You Note, the written word can be very powerful.  Here are ideas:

  1. Host a weekly card writing day and invite your volunteers to attend for a couple of hours and hand-address and write thank you notes.

  2. Ask alumni to write postcards to prospective students who live in the area to attend the school or university.

  3. Add a personal note on a receipt letter from a volunteer and hand address the outer envelope.

Throughout it all, customization and getting your content opened is important.  The better you can steward your donors, the better you increase retention rates, and ultimately those you serve will benefit.  Volunteers are an amazing underutilized resource.

4)  Skill-based volunteering

The United Way used to be well known for their loaned executive program where a corporate partner would lend one of their up-and-coming staff members to a local chapter.  These non-organization members would do anything and everything under the sun.  From running campaigns, filing, supporting stewardship efforts, and more.  

Beyond just time, this is where the talent portion comes to play. 

People are always looking for a purpose.  Some find it in their work, others in their family, and others want to go above and beyond to support something that calls to their heart. 

If you aren’t already asking on a volunteer application, ‘what other skill sets do you have,’ then please add it in there.  When projects come up where you need a specific skill, you can always start with your volunteers and move from there.

Final thought

The best way to steward your volunteers is through providing them with experiences that are enjoyable, gets them closer to the work, fits who they are, and uses their time wisely.  Don’t let this stand in your way; find areas where you need support and start recruiting volunteers!

Always be thanking!

Frank Mumford, CFRE
VP of Customer Success @ Gratavid
Frank serves as the VP of Customer Success with Gratavid. Previously he was a Senior Donor Advisor at The Greater Twin Cities United Way where he was first introduced to the opportunity Gratavid presented in connecting and engaging with donors through video. He holds a B.A. in entrepreneurship and a B.S. in economics from Northern Michigan University, where he got his start as a student telethon fundraiser. He has more than 13 years of fundraising, sales, and marketing experience across the higher education and social service sectors. Frank is a Board Member of AFP Minnesota Chapter and the NMU Alumni Association.
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