Over the last two weeks we’ve been sharing advice provided by Dr. Sarah Petschonek at our recent “Get On Board” workshop hosted by cityCURRENT and The Assisi Foundation of Memphis, Inc. Petschonek is founder and Executive Director of Volunteer Odyssey, an organization that serves as a volunteer hub for the Mid-South, working to make the whole process of volunteerism easy, engaging, and effective. We’ve covered culture and creative ways to reward volunteers, so now let’s conclude this three-week series discussing what it takes to create a meaningful volunteer experience.
As Sarah notes: “Volunteers can be the deciding factor in whether a nonprofit is thriving or just surviving. Volunteers feed our hungry, comfort our children, and shelter our homeless. Providing a quality, thoughtful volunteer experience benefits the volunteer, the people they serve, and ultimately our entire community.” In other words, volunteers are integral to the mission of nonprofits; and, as a result, every organization should include their volunteer program in their strategic plan and work to implement strategies that make the best use of this invaluable resource.
So, creating meaningful and impactful volunteer experiences start with strategy and preparation. Put thought into constructing a one sheet or a list of volunteer opportunities that help fulfill your mission and offer some flexibility and diversity, in terms of skillsets, time needed and activity levels. The more you can align the work with your mission, the more your volunteers will feel their efforts are meaningful and impactful.
Once you have your list of opportunities and are recruiting volunteers, spend time getting to know them and preparing them for the experience. It’s a good idea to connect ahead of time with details, like your address, where to check in, what to wear and bring, and what they can expect. Have someone on your team greet the volunteers when they arrive, thank them before they leave, and manage the whole experience in between.
It’s a good idea to have volunteers sign in and complete release forms that also include media coverage, and to ask for social media handles, like for Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. That way, you can take pictures and get interviews and video footage of the volunteers in action; and tag them and thank them appropriately later in your social media posts. Then, after the volunteer experience is over, follow up for feedback or with a survey for continuous improvement. Ask the volunteers to grade you on a scale of 1 to 5 or 1 to 10 on various parts of the experience with the last question being something like, “How likely are you to come back and volunteer again?” If you’ve done a good job with preparation, aligning the work with the mission, and engaging the volunteer while on site, they’ll happily give you a “10” and be back again soon to help you fulfill your mission!