1 September 2020 | 6 min read
Everything Volunteer Managers Need to Know to Have a Successful Remote Volunteer Team.
We’ve spent a lot of time talking about off-campus volunteering here at Volunteer U lately. From the rise of the virtual volunteer to virtual team building, we’ve been covering the basics of keeping an online workforce in peak performance. But a lot of you still had questions about distance volunteering, so today, we’re breaking down everything volunteer managers need to know to have a successful remote volunteer team. Ready to kick-off a stellar remote volunteer team? Download our free Remote Volunteer Team Launch Check-List PDF.
Recruiting is one of the five stages of volunteer management we regularly discuss here at Volunteer U. Volunteer managers have to be creative to come up with ways to reach their ideal volunteers. And with many organizations moving to rely heavily on online interactions, the recruitment game has changed.
Below are the three steps of recruitment.
Explain your needs.
Here’s where your salesmanship should come out. Spare no details. A flair for the dramatic is helpful here too. Even a monotonous, dirty task like cleaning the parking lot can sound exciting if you put the right spin on it! Serve your community, build friendships, and help keep our parking lot clean!
Prove why THEY are needed.
People want to know that they are needed. When you recruit, you need to make a case for why they are important. When we ask people to serve, everyone automatically believes someone better qualified will step in. We need to show volunteers that everyone is necessary and can contribute. It’s also essential to make people invest emotionally. Explain what you need and how their unique gifts and skills can make an impact.
Call them to action.
Our call to action should be simple and to the point. Ask for help with a specific project, or encourage people to come to your volunteer orientation. Give them a straightforward step that they can take right away.
Social media has made connecting with people with similar interests more accessible than ever. Since virtual volunteering doesn’t require proximity like previous volunteer roles, the opportunities are endless. Don’t limit yourself to finding volunteers locally. Expand your search to the global community and see who makes the best fit. Some ideas for connecting with potential volunteers are chat rooms, social media, forums, online clubs, schools and universities, Youtube, or blogs. Get online and start connecting with people. You never know where you’ll meet your next star volunteer.
Wherever you decide to recruit, make sure you have a strategy. Set a timeline up or calendar reminders. Make a plan to reach out to x amount of potential recruits per week. Sadly, although volunteer managers know the importance of recruitment, it is usually one of the very last tasks on their busy to-do list. Leaders don’t always realize that a little bit of strategizing and effort now can save a lot of stress later on. Having a solid recruitment plan in place will keep a steady flow of volunteers coming through the pipeline.
This article by Fast Company offers excellent insight into onboarding virtual team members. Their list includes great tips such as creating onboarding cohorts, making orientation reflective of your culture, pairing new members with current volunteers, and having one-on-one check-ins with managers.
One of the most important aspects of onboarding new volunteers is training. It’s no secret. We are fanatic about training here at Volunteer U. The reason is that we’ve seen so much success come from well trained (and well informed) teams. Volunteers who have been indoctrinated with their organization’s mission, vision, culture, and know what is expected of them just perform better. Trained teams are successful teams. Volunteers who have gone through their paces are ready to represent the organization and can share their passion in a way that advances the brand to its best advantage.
In 2014, Forbes reported that corporate training in the US has grown to over $70 billion (a 15% rise from the previous year). Why are companies investing additional learning opportunities for their staff?
Because training works.
Research shows that trained volunteers are more consistent, confident, and feel more valued. That’s one reason we’re so passionate here at Volunteer U about helping organizations train their teams. The best volunteers are ones who have been prepared and are confident in themselves and their organization. Team members must learn more about the organization’s history, culture, vision, and values, as well as their specific job roles, tasks, and other information necessary for the success of their mission.
There are two levels of volunteer training.
Level one volunteer training is for everyone and contains the basic information your team needs to serve the organization well. Level one training is where you discuss the important stuff like company culture, vision, mission, history, and heritage. It’s what baptizes a recruit in your business’s culture. And unfortunately, it’s what many organizations are currently missing. While orientations and new member training may seem pretty obvious, the best intentions don’t always equal reality. Some studies show that less than 75% of organizations with volunteers actually take the time to train their team members. And as few as 25% of responding organizations had adopted a strong training culture, even though they know such practices are tied to greater retention. For organizations training new virtual volunteers, the level-one training process can be as simple as a short pre-recorded video! Start the video off with a greeting from your organization’s leadership. Then, make sure to focus on your core values and why you’re so passionate about the work you do. Including the company’s vision, mission, history, and expectations are critical when indoctrinating your team.
The second level of training is more concentrated. This professional training consists of specific skills and tasks for a particular role (think CPR Certification, database management, or machine operation). This instruction level is necessary for many volunteer positions, but not all. For virtual volunteers, second-level training may involve the use of the company’s database or cloud-based systems. Creating short, easy to understand training videos will go a long way in helping new team members get up to speed quickly. You can also host live team training via video chat software like Zoom, Skype, Google Duo, or WhatsApp.
As more volunteers join organizations beyond the local community, training will become even more vital than ever before. Training is our favorite topic here at Volunteer U, and we’ve made it easier than ever to create a customized online training with our LAUNCH KIT.
Once you have a policy in place to recruit and onboard those new virtual volunteers, the final step is planning on how to keep them happy and effective in their roles. Other than recruitment, retention is one of the problems managers find the most overwhelming. After all the work of finding and training team members, it can be disheartening to see them drop out.
First, it’s important to know that a certain amount of volunteer turnover is expected. For example, the US volunteer retention rate tends to be between 52% – 75% (depending on the state) for a variety of reasons, ranging from moves to life changes, and family responsibilities. These things can’t be helped and are a normal part of the volunteer life-cycle. However, there are a variety of ways to keep current volunteers feeling fulfilled and supported. According to the Urban Institute, nonprofits interested in increasing retention should focus on recognizing volunteers, offering training, and professional development. At Volunteer U, we call the recognizing process encouragement. You can find strategies to support your team in our articles on virtual team building and encouraging your dream volunteer team.
In addition to recognizing your team’s efforts, a big part of the retention process is supporting your team with the tools they need to get the job done. Virtual volunteers will feel disconnected from your organizations at times. It’s just the nature of working remotely. So you need to create a system where they feel confident they can find a solution to their issue or get the aid they need, especially if you are a global organization with team members working in different time zones. There’s nothing more frustrating to a volunteer than facing an urgent problem and not getting a response for 12 hours. To properly equip your team, make sure they know the process to get in touch with you. Give them the tools they need to get the job done. And connect them with other team members, so they don’t feel isolated.