Virtual Volunteering: Crash Course for Nonprofits
As a volunteer management leader, this past year has probably thrown you for a loop. With a global pandemic keeping people indoors and most in-person group gatherings on pause, engaging and retaining your current volunteer base is more difficult than ever. No longer can you train your volunteers face-to-face or host exciting events that bring your volunteers together.
This is where virtual volunteering comes in. Virtual volunteering is a handy alternative that organizations of all shapes and sizes are leveraging more and more. And the best part of virtual volunteering is that people can do it from the safety of their own homes. All of the key engagement and interaction instead takes place online.
Whether you’re planning for a virtual giving day or just want to brush up on your own volunteer strategies, this guide can walk you through a crash course of virtual volunteering and how to best facilitate it.
We’ll be exploring the following questions:
- What is virtual volunteering?
- What are the benefits of virtual volunteering?
- What tools do you need for virtual volunteering?
- What are some virtual volunteering tips?
How you manage your volunteers, the opportunities you offer them, and the tools that you leverage. Ready to learn more? Let’s begin.
1. What is virtual volunteering?
Virtual volunteering involves engaging supporters to help your cause in non-financial ways using only digital means. You just need the right tools to facilitate these interactions and empower your virtual volunteers to take action. This can be done with devices such as a computer, telephone, smartphone, or personal digital assistant.
Offering virtual volunteer opportunities is more important now than ever. It’s a crucial way to continue online support for your organization while in a crisis. While you may not be able to pivot every traditional volunteer activity to the virtual space, there are a good number of forms that virtual volunteer engagements can take.
For instance, here are some examples of top virtual volunteer opportunities:
- Phone and text banking
- Website design or support
- Data entry
- Email marketing or management
- Social media promotion and management
- App development
- Volunteer tracking
- Copywriting, blogging, or editing
- Graphic design, photography
- Marketing or branding assistance
- Video creation
- Virtual assistance, staff support
Many of the above tasks are best completed by professionals willing to offer pro bono services, while others can be picked up and driven forward by anyone with internet access and a passion for your mission. Take a look at the list above and see if any of them could apply to your own mission. If anything, your volunteers can help free up some time for your actual staff. This way, you can spend more time furthering your mission instead of doing banal actions like data entry.
2. What are the benefits of virtual volunteering?
To better understand virtual volunteering and why it’s worth investing more time into, it’s important to explore its full benefits. After all, virtual volunteer opportunities were around long before COVID-19 struck the world. And, it’s likely that it’ll continue to be a popular engagement tool when things come “back to normal.”
For one thing, online tools and the internet are constantly evolving. The capabilities you have on the web today do not even compare to what users could do twenty years ago. This same thought applies to your supporters and volunteers. With the right equipment and the expansiveness of the online world, your volunteers can still do a lot for your mission while remaining socially distant.
Besides being COVID-19 friendly, here are some of the top benefits of virtual volunteering:
- Supporters can help from wherever they are. Your volunteers don’t have to leave the comforts of their own home to help your cause. Instead of a face-to-face event, volunteers can engage in the opportunity from wherever they’re most comfortable. Your supporters will love the convenience and ease as to how they can further your mission.
- You can expand your volunteer base all around the world. Because you’re not limited to a location where your volunteers meet, you can enlist supporters from all over the country or the world. Volunteers can register for opportunities no matter where they live. This ensures that your organization not only meets new volunteers but also connects with a wider network of potential donors.
- You can better keep track of data. To pull off a virtual volunteer opportunity, you’ll likely use a collection of tools and software solutions. After all, that’s where the engagement will likely occur. This also means that you have a greater resource of data. You can better keep track of who engages with who, when volunteers start an activity, and whether a task has been completed or not. The more data you have, the better you can make note of how past volunteer experiences have been successful, and areas for growth.
These benefits show that virtual volunteering can not only help your organization navigate the current pandemic and its effects. It can also bring many benefits to your larger mission, like expanding your volunteer base past what is locally achievable. That’s why it’s important to understand how to best facilitate virtual volunteerism— it’s here to stay for a while.
3. What tools do you need for virtual volunteering?
As you learned in the previous section, you’re going to need a couple of key tools to create and facilitate virtual volunteer experiences. On top of that, you’ll need solutions to help you manage your volunteers over the long run, especially when you can’t engage with them face-to-face. The reliance on new technologies is already a growing trend this year.
In summary, the best volunteer management software should give you the following capabilities:
- Easy event creation. This should be for both in-person and virtual experiences. Quickly create the volunteer opportunity page and customize the registration form for it.
- Automated communications. This allows you to send key messages to your virtual volunteers without having to take the actual time to do it. For instance, trigger certain communications based on volunteer actions. If someone registers for an event, automate sending a confirmation email. You can also automate scheduled communications, like pre-event messages and post-event surveys.
- Empower your most dedicated volunteers to host their own events. With event creation permissions, you can even let your own supporters lead a virtual event. Reach out to your most passionate and active volunteers in local chapters to see if any of them might be interested.
- Access to a network of volunteers. Some platforms have an active network of volunteers that they can reach out to, like Mobilize’s network of 3 million+ active supporters. These are people who know they want to support a cause by giving their time to it. This is also a great tool to recruit supporters for your virtual opportunities.
- Learn from past volunteer opportunities and improve. With comprehensive data reporting features, you can better see trends and common patterns within your volunteer opportunities and engagement. This can provide great insight into areas for improvement or where you are already successful.
Along with a capable volunteer management solution, you’ll likely need other tools to help you facilitate a virtual experience. While this depends on the type of organization you are, having a video conferencing tool or live streaming tool can be extremely helpful. This way you can still facilitate some sort of face-to-face engagement between volunteers. It also allows you to share what your organization or a specific volunteer is doing in real-time. This article can be extremely helpful if you want to learn more about live streaming for virtual engagements and its benefits.
4. What are some virtual volunteering tips?
Now that you know the basics of virtual volunteering and the tools you’ll need to pull off a successful online experience, let’s go over some top virtual volunteering tips.
Remember, since virtual volunteering lacks the genuine connection of meeting in person, you should brainstorm ways you can facilitate that same engagement, but online. Additionally, bring your virtual volunteer opportunities to your supporters— don’t just wait for them to look for an event and sign up. As social distancing guidelines continue shifting, your supporters might not even know that you are offering virtual volunteer alternatives.
We recommend following these best practices:
- Make it easy for supporters to find virtual volunteer opportunities. Create a dedicated page on your website for your virtual volunteer events and experiences. You should also send out emails advertising these exciting opportunities.
- Use a multichannel marketing strategy. When recruiting volunteers, use a multichannel marketing strategy. This means you use more than one channel to reach out to supporters, like using email and social media to drive more traffic and attention to a target location. These channels should work together in order to bring the prospect to your virtual volunteer opportunity page.
- Consistently engage with your volunteers. Just because you successfully recruit a volunteer, doesn’t mean your work is done. Taking advice from this Mobilize article, “As your organization grows, it’s a good idea to continually recruit volunteers and empower them with opportunities to stay involved.” This means continuing to send similar volunteer opportunities that they’d be interested in and even empowering your more consistent supporters to lead their own events.
- Show appreciation. Thanking your volunteers is even more crucial now. If your organization has gone through challenges this year, it’s likely that so have your volunteers. The fact that they’re taking their time to help your mission shows just how connected they are to your cause. For tips on how to thank your volunteers, this GiveGab article lists a variety of top ideas
These tips can set you on the right path when it comes to virtual volunteerism. Try to think of the whole experience from your virtual volunteers’ point of view and aim to make the process as easy and enjoyable as possible.
Facilitating virtual volunteer experiences is key to sustaining your organizational support during this time. COVID-19 has left many fundraising and volunteer leaders stumped and coming up with creative ways to combat its challenges.
Throughout it all, it’s important to have a dependable software solution and dedicated volunteer management and recruitment strategy. This is the best way to make the most of your volunteers’ support both in the short and long-term.
Meet the Author:
Alfred I. Johnson is Co-Founder and CEO of Mobilize the events management and supporter mobilization platform that connects mission-driven organizations and people. Prior to founding Mobilize, Alfred was Head of Sales and Head of People at Clara Lending, a venture-funded fintech company acquired by SoFi in 2018.
From 2009-2012, Alfred served in the Obama Administration as a Special Assistant to the White House Chief of Staff, Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary for Financial Markets at the US Treasury Department and Special Assistant to the Head of the Treasury’s Financial Crisis Response Team.
Alfred began his career as a Regional Field Director for Barack Obama in 2008. He holds a B.A. in political science from Stanford University and MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.