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Communicating with Volunteers

Need some help? We share 5 effective ways to communicate with volunteers below. Good communication is key when it comes to most things in life, and the same can be said when it comes to running a nonprofit and communicating with your volunteers. 
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But, for many nonprofits, communicating with volunteers is not done as frequently and as effectively as it could be. This can lead to volunteers not turning up for shifts and to staff and volunteer dissatisfaction. Importantly, it can also negatively impact the number of volunteers who stay on, and all the way to less new sign-ups due to negative word of mouth. Good, consistent and respectful communication leads to engaged, passionate and dedicated volunteers. 

So, how do you communicate with volunteers in a way that is both helpful and impactful? By having a volunteer communications strategy in place that aligns with your business goals, is easy to implement and easy to manage.  

Speak Their Language

The best way to communicate with impact is to ensure you’re speaking their language. We have mentioned in great detail the importance of getting to know your volunteers to ensure volunteer satisfaction and retention; getting to know them and to understand their motivations will make it much easier to communicate with them in a way they will positively respond to. 
In terms of language used, avoid jargon, and speak clearly and in a conversational tone. Slang may be used, but sparingly and only when appropriate for your nonprofit (remember, you’re communicating with volunteers of various demographics and skill levels). 
Don’t beat around the bush, or be too fluffy with regards to volunteer activities either; you want to be able to minimise the risk of confusion or intimidation, you want them to be able to understand what’s required of them and what they can expect from you, and for them to be aware of any challenges they might face while completing the task.

Communicate Via Multiple Channels

We have mentioned the importance of communicating with volunteers via multiple channels to ensure your message is being received. Here we will go into a little more detail about how to effectively use some of those channels. 
Social Media
If you’re effectively posting on social media, part of your volunteer communications strategy needs to be engaging and responding to your audience. Many people use social media as their first point of contact, and first impressions count. The best way to do this to put aside a block of time each day to respond to messages and comments. In some instances, comments may only need a “like” which will send the user a notification that alerts them that their comment has been seen. 
It’s best to develop a template or protocol for responses too, so that if you have multiple people responding, your responses are consistent and on brand. 
If you’re struggling to manage your social media, there are many tools such as Sprout Social & AgoraPulse that will allow you to schedule content as well as aggregate messages and comments in the one place, making them accessible to all users who require the access. 
You can also set up instant replies through Facebook Messenger to help with messages and communicate with your audiences when you are likely to respond in person, set up an automated question experience through Facebook Ads Manager, or set up a Facebook Messenger Chatbot via a third party (it’s easier than you might think).

If you’re asking yourself “How do I email a volunteer?” you’ve come to the right place. Emails play a very important role in communicating to volunteers. It’s one of the best ways to communicate blanket – and even customised – messages to a large number of people. 
But many people don’t maximise the options available to them or follow best practices. 
Here are some tactics we suggest you implement when sending out group emails:

  • Don’t send emails from a NoReply email address. A NoReply email address is an email address set up in your domain solely for the purpose of sending out emails without the ability to receive incoming mail to prevent your inbox being clogged up. While this might seem like a good idea in theory, it’s not good for digital marketing. You don’t want to make it difficult for your volunteers to respond; you want them to feel that there is an open line of communication.
  • Personalise the email greeting by using their name / preferred title within the body of the email. It’s good practice to use these in subject lines too when it’s a message you don’t want volunteers to miss as they’re more likely to open them. 
  • Conduct A/B tests with subject lines to see which generates the most opens. 
  • Outline what the email contains in the subject line / preview line.
  • Resend unopened emails at another time (within a day or two is optimal) with a new subject line.
  • Use your analytics. Identify who is not engaging and see if you can work out why, and attempt to re-engage. Track what is being clicked, and what’s not.
  • Give them something valuable. Important information, downloadable guides, tips and tricks; if they come to expect that your emails will provide them with something they value, they will continue to open them
  • Clean out old lists. If people no longer volunteering or engaging for some time are still receiving emails, consider sending a final ‘goodbye’ email to see if they’d like to stay on the list then remove them if they don’t respond. This will help to paint a clearer picture of who your audience is. 

Texts / SMS
Signing up for an automated text messaging service is a great way to remind volunteers of start times, locations and job requirements as well as any last minute changes close to the start of their volunteer activity. Here is a list of some of the best mass SMS platforms you can use that are on the market.  
Tip for Volaby users: In addition to being able to automate SMS via the platform, our capabilities have now extended to replies. This means reminders will be sent to volunteers rostered for an activity and allow them to reply with either Y or N to confirm their attendance. The SMS will be sent to each rostered Volunteer 24-48 hours before the activity begins.

Make it a Two Way Conversation 

How do you respect your volunteers when it comes to communication? Well, you need to ensure that it’s a two way conversation. 
Ways to do this we’ve mentioned above – including engaging with them via social media, and not sending emails from a NoReply email address. 
Other ways to do this include always asking for feedback and suggestions – via every channel you communicate through. This includes via any online portals you use to manage your volunteers, at the end of each of your emails, and in-person at the completion of each volunteer activity. 
Let them know they’ve been heard by implementing suggestions where practicable, and sharing that these changes have been made thanks to their help. Alternatively, if you cannot implement their feedback, make sure to address it with them in an announcement or meeting saying why this can’t be implemented. There is nothing more powerful and trust-building than being transparent to your teams – and on that note…

Be Transparent 

If there are structural changes or other major changes happening at your nonprofit, be transparent about it. Your volunteers are the backbone of your organisation, and should feel like an important part of your team – as much as your employees do. Not communicating with your volunteers about major changes or challenges can lead to volunteer dissatisfaction and attrition. One of the biggest pieces of feedback we get from volunteers is “we just want to know what is going on, and what is needed from us!”. 

Communicate In-Person & Over the Phone

It’s important to communicate with your volunteers in-person (where possible), as well as facilitate communication between volunteers. Organising group activities such as breakfasts, outings and workshops will help develop bonds and a sense of community. 
There’s nothing better than a smile, a chat, a call or a quick thank you – so make sure you go out of your way to speak to each and everyone of your volunteers as much as you can. This will inevitably build a positive culture with your volunteers (which has been proven as one of the strongest retention strategies for retaining great volunteers – a good culture!). 

Got Some More Questions About Communicating With Volunteers?

As you can see, communicating with volunteers effectively is vital in ensuring the success of your nonprofit. 
How you communicate, how frequently, and via which channels are all important things to consider and incorporate into your volunteer communications strategy. 
Test, try and constantly ask for feedback so that you can be sure that your volunteers are receiving your messages loud and clear. 
Need some more help when it comes to communicating with your volunteers? We can help – our online volunteer management system is backed by Google and takes a lot of the common challenges of out  communicating with your volunteers through a thorough on-boarding process that allows you to get to know your volunteers from the outset, to the ability to send out automated messages and notifications via the Volaby app, as well as text messages. 
Our platform is made by nonprofits, for nonprofits. We’ve made it easy-to-use and intuitive for all users. We invite you to get in touch and trial Volaby for free today, with no obligations.
We look forward to speaking with you soon. 

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