June 1, 2020

How to harness the power of online volunteers

With the majority of our workforce now remote, over 7.5 million Britons on furlough, and the nation on lock-down, the internet is more important than ever before. It’s connecting families, keeping companies running, and putting food on our tables.

In today’s climate, millions are looking to get some value out of their current situation by giving back to their communities. Thursday evenings are devoted to clapping for our NHS workers and a record 750,000 Britons have already signed up to volunteer for their local NHS. There has never been a better time to engage a captive audience to contribute to causes they’re passionate about, on either a long-term or one-off basis. For the UK’s thousands of charities and non-profits, there’s an incredible opportunity to capture this zeitgeist. How? Through building an army of online volunteers.

This article will help you recruit and manage online volunteers, so they can boost your fundraising efforts.

Why recruit online volunteers? 

With many people working from home or on furlough, now is the perfect time to form an online network of dedicated individuals. That’s one of the main benefits of online volunteers – a prominent organisation can recruit a huge number of volunteers from right across the globe. This is no new thing. Charities have been using the internet to drum up voluntary support for years. 

The term ‘virtual volunteer’ was first used in 1995 by Steve Glikbarg, co-founder of Impact Online, now known as VolunteerMatch. VolunteerMatch is one of several websites used by charities and NPOs for recruiting volunteers online. VolunteerMatch, as well as websites such as DoIt and PointsofLight, help to create a ‘global volunteer culture.’ Since then, the number of volunteering opportunities created by the internet has continued to grow. 

With many pitching in to help those dealing with the impact of coronavirus, the popularity of online volunteering is particularly evident in 2020. GoFundMe, for example, is hosting numerous crowdfunding campaigns to raise money for lost wages, living expenses, and emergency medical equipment. People simply make a one-off donation and then share on social media, in order to make a positive contribution. This is an example of ‘micro-volunteering’ and is popular online. A small action carried out by many people can make a significant difference. Promoting this kind of message when recruiting volunteers will ensure that your efforts have long-term value.

How to recruit online volunteers

The internet presents significant opportunities for online volunteering. A charity can galvanise people from all over the world to commit their time and resources towards a common cause. 

As well as this, once you receive the first wave of initial interest, your new recruits will share and promote your message online. This is sure to attract more and more like-minded people. The impact of sharing an inspirational message online can be far-reaching. The more your message is shared, the more it can inspire those who may be new to your organisation. Here are just a handful of ways organisations can recruit new volunteers online.

Volunteering websites

There are many websites dedicated to promoting volunteer opportunities. VolunteerMatch, Idealist and Create the Good are just a few examples. These websites usually require you to create a profile before posting vacancies. Be sure to publicise benefits to volunteers as well as your cause. How flexible are the hours? How do you invest in volunteers’ growth and development? You could even upload a short video, similar to a Kickstarter campaign, promoting your specific cause. You’ll also want to make it clear that it’s an online volunteer role and how long of a commitment is required. This is so you don’t draw people in only for them to learn they’re ineligible.

Social media

Social media is an ideal place to form a community of online volunteers. Consider posting on relevant Facebook groups to publicise your latest volunteering opportunities. We also recommend creating a ‘pinned’ post on your official Facebook or Twitter so that the first thing visitors see on your page is a call for recruits. Finally, social media is a two-way street, so be sure to maintain an active presence, engaging with other people’s content. This can be by showcasing your volunteers’ current efforts, as well as responding to queries that may come your way, and liking supporter comments and shares.

Email marketing

Previous donors may have consented to receive marketing emails. If so, you can send them new opportunities to contribute or volunteer. Bear in mind though that the average person receives over 120 emails a day, so even if people have signed up to receive emails, there’s still a limited window to capture their attention. 

Targeted messaging

If you’re looking to send out recruitment emails, there are a couple of ways to draw people in. Firstly, personalise these emails, thanking people for their interest in your organisation. Then bring them up to speed with your latest campaigns and initiatives. If something piques their interest, end with a clear and compelling call to action. 

Most people scan through emails to pick out relevant information. With that in mind, keep any written information brief. Try to condense key info into bullet points, accompanied by eye-catching visuals and subject titles. It was estimated in 2018 that 70% of people read emails using a mobile app, so make sure your email design and layout are mobile-friendly. To secure sign-ups, it should also be as easy as possible for people to register their interest in volunteering – so finish your email with a link to a simple sign-up form.

How do I make sure I recruit the right people? 

In theory, the internet allows you to reach pretty much anyone. But without a targeted outreach strategy, it can be difficult to recruit the right people. Start by asking any current volunteers how they learnt about a particular opportunity. Are there certain channels (such as social media or email marketing) or websites which drum up a high number of recruits? Concentrating your efforts on areas proven to work will save time and resources. On the flip-side of this, underperforming recruitment channels can be cut to save on resources. 

Multi-channel strategy

Your recruitment strategy should include ideas on how to recruit volunteers across all possible demographics. Paid digital channels, such as Facebook or Google, allow you to target prospective volunteers based on age, gender, and location. Making sure your ad is seen by the right people will make it much easier when building your team. 

There is a belief that online roles, whether paid or voluntary, are more likely to be taken up by younger people. However, according to the American Association of Retired Persons, 67% of survey respondents found volunteer opportunities online in 2014 – almost double the amount reported in 2006. Therefore, you should endeavour to recruit older volunteers. This is especially important considering that collectively, older people (aged 55-74) contribute 1.4 billion hours a year to volunteering.

If you’re skeptical about how many older people use social media, you may be surprised to know that 62% of internet users over 65 use Facebook, as well as 72% of people aged 50-64. Nevertheless, you may want to consider supporting your outreach with a small amount of print advertising – although you should make it clear that you’re specifically looking for online volunteers. Any print adverts should include clear and concise instructions on how to register. Once they’ve registered, you can correspond with volunteers to get them set up. 

Managing online volunteers 

There are many benefits to having a large and diverse online network of volunteers. That being said, remote volunteer management doesn’t come without its challenges. 

With many people working independently and in different locations (or time zones for that matter!), maintaining 100% visibility on their efforts and results can be tricky. The solution is open and consistent communication, which we will touch upon shortly. Communication is also important for morale. After all, one of the main draws of volunteering is joining a community of like-minded people. 

Whether online or offline, managing volunteers requires a comprehensive strategy. This ensures that their efforts are aligned with the needs of your organisation. Here are some of the key elements of a successful volunteer management strategy.

Induction and goal-setting

The importance of a great induction cannot be overstated. Despite this, according to a national survey on the volunteer experience conducted by NCVO, only 27% received an induction as well as ‘training on policies and procedures.’

An induction sets the volunteer’s expectations and mismanaging these expectations often leads to a high drop-off rate. When people are volunteering their time, they want to know what they’re doing and if they’re on the right track. 

Dedicate part of your induction to setting clear and measurable goals. Are you looking to raise a certain amount, or elicit a particular number of sign-ups for a petition or fundraising event? This will help you measure the long-term value of your online volunteers. Setting goals high is admirable and can help ensure your work has value. However, they must not be so unattainable that it discourages your team.

Assigning roles and responsibilities

Where possible, you should look to play to people’s unique strengths. Usually, people are willing and eager to help in any way they can. This can include social media promotions or small tasks such as data entry and contacting previous donors. However, many organisations enable volunteers to draw upon their existing skills and experience. For instance, do any of your volunteers have copywriting or design expertise? If so, they can help build your cause’s digital presence through social media or SEO content creation. Marketing is vital for charities but can suffer from a lack of internal resources, particularly in smaller charities. By encouraging volunteers to bring specific skills to the table, you’ll make them invaluable to the cause. This will keep them motivated and ensure your organisation gets real value from the experience.

Check-ins and progress updates 

Your strategy should detail exactly how you plan to manage volunteers. For instance, are they charting their own progress or meeting to discuss goals and targets? Whichever method you choose, it’s important to check in regularly with your team – especially if it’s a team of online volunteers. 

As we mentioned before, distance and timing can complicate the management of online volunteers. Communicating with volunteers about their progress keeps them motivated and working towards a shared goal. There are many solutions available to ensure open and consistent communication. For example, catch-ups can be arranged using Zoom or Google Meet, as well as project management tools like Slack or Trello. You may also want to create a ‘master’ Google Doc, which volunteers can use to chart their progress.

Rewards and recognition 

Managing volunteers may not be so different from running a team of employees. The critical difference is that these people have offered up their free time because they’re passionate and enthusiastic about their chosen cause. One way to show your appreciation is posting on social media, celebrating your volunteers’ hard work and achievements. You may also want to write a press release to be posted online. This can also be used to promote new volunteer opportunities, in case you want to expand your fantastic team! 

At GoodBox, we believe that technology unites people with like-minded goals, and this can be seen in the growth of online volunteering. By connecting with others, we can help more and more people raise funds and spread awareness for their chosen causes. 

Joining our community of charities and fundraisers entitles you to some great discounts on our contactless payment technology and the help and support of a network of over 1,500 charities. If you want to make the most of this opportunity, enquire today about GoodBox Membership (did we mention it’s also free?). 

whois: Andy White Freelance WordPress Developer London