You are here:

4 Tips for Optimizing Your Volunteers' Experience

Posted Jul 08, 2021 06:00 PM
Volunteers are the face and the main workforce behind many nonprofits, making them a crucial demographic to invest in. The better experience your volunteers have, the more likely they are to return to give more of their time—and maybe even money—to your cause.

Providing volunteers with meaningful and rewarding experiences can go a long way in retaining those volunteers in the long term. This article will offer four actionable tips to help nonprofits deliver exceptional volunteer experiences that increase engagement and retention:

  1. Invest in the right management software
  2. Provide specific volunteer roles
  3. Communicate effectively from beginning to end
  4. Prioritize volunteer appreciation

There are many factors that contribute to great volunteer experiences, but the most important place to start is with understanding the motivations behind volunteerism. Here are a few of the most common motivations behind why a volunteer donates their time and skills:

  • Values – They are committed to the cause or mission of the organization
  • Community – They want to help contribute positively to their community
  • Connection – They are (or a person they care about is) connected to the cause or program
  • Network – They are looking to meet new people within the community
  • Development – They are looking to learn new skills and gain experience

The more you understand what drives your volunteers, the better the experience you can deliver them. Once you understand their motivations, you are in good shape to move on to optimizing the operational and administrative side of the volunteer experience. Let’s dive in!

1. Invest in the right management software

Managing your volunteer programs through multiple office software and free online tools can leave you and your volunteers confused and frustrated. Many nonprofits are so focused on delivering their programs that they often make do with poor technology, which causes more problems than solutions.

The right volunteer management software can make a big difference in providing a seamless volunteer experience for your supporters, and skimping on the technology you need can be one of the biggest mistakes that a nonprofit makes.

Look for a solution that can manage all your programs and events so everything is in one place. That way, your volunteers only need one account to sign up for programs and events.

Good volunteer management software allows you to manage the entire volunteer lifecycle, from recruitment and scheduling to communications and reporting. In doing so, the right solution offers a better experience for both your volunteers and your management team.

2. Provide specific volunteer roles

Nobody enjoys a surprise task or a new certification requirement when they show up to a volunteer shift. For volunteers to make the biggest impact, they need to know exactly what’s expected of them and how they should be carrying out their role.

Setting detailed expectations with volunteers before they arrive is essential for ensuring they have a good experience. Some important details to define in your volunteer role descriptions are:

  1. General Task Descriptions – This should give the volunteer a clear understanding of what they will be doing in this role.
  2. Skills and Qualifications – A list of all the skills and qualifications required to do the role.
  3. Certifications – A list of certification requirements, such as first aid training or food handlers card, required for the role.
  4. Physical Requirements – If the role requires physical skills or abilities, these should be listed.

Taking the time to build out detailed role descriptions in your volunteer management software ensures volunteers understand exactly what will be required of them. Setting clear work expectations is vital for keeping everyone on the same page from day one.

3. Communicate effectively from beginning to end

Arriving at a shift only to find that the date or location was changed is a fast way to lose a volunteer. Communication is one of the most important factors in delivering a great volunteer experience. Miscommunications can lead to high turnover and increased frustration. That's why it's so important to invest in personalized communications that keep everyone up-to-date on things that directly affect them.

Investing in a tool that will automatically remind a volunteer of upcoming shifts and notify them when changes are made can go a long way.

Consider the information you would want to know as a volunteer, such as shift updates and reminders, the impact of a program, or when new volunteer opportunities become available. Effective communication is a valuable way to deepen volunteer engagement as long as it is relevant to the person receiving it. You don’t want to overwhelm your volunteers with twenty emails a day on shift updates that aren’t relevant to them.

Communication segmentation and automation are great ways to ensure every volunteer receives the information they need to stay engaged and motivated.

4. Prioritize volunteer appreciation

Your volunteers provide significant value to your organization and cause. Make sure they understand the positive impact they are making on your mission. Incorporating volunteer appreciation efforts into your volunteer programs can help increase volunteer retention, motivation, and engagement levels. A simple "thank you" message after each shift or a monthly volunteer appreciation gathering makes your volunteers feel valued and appreciated.

It is also essential to share the impact each of your volunteer programs is making with those who participate. This can be a simple email newsletter with an impact story, statistics, and updates. The more connected your volunteers feel toward the overall impact, the more likely they are to increase their commitment in the long term.

About the Author

Cassandra Smallman is a passionate content creator dedicated to fostering positive impact through thought leadership in both the Nonprofit sector and live events industry. You can find her work at or on Linkedin and Twitter.