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5 Tips to Recruit & Increase Volunteer Retention

Advocacy campaigns offer nonprofits a variety of benefits. Along with furthering your mission through political action, advocacy campaigns are an opportunity to strengthen your ties with your community and expand your supporter network. In addition to donors, your nonprofit can find new, passionate volunteers to help support your advocacy campaigns. 

Successful advocacy campaigns rely on a number of factors, including the right advocacy software, strong organizational leadership, and strategic fundraising and canvassing methods. Among these factors, dedicated volunteers are one of the most important components of an advocacy campaign. Attracting volunteers should be one of your nonprofit’s top priorities. 

To help your nonprofit grow your supporter network and attain more volunteers, this guide will walk through five tips for attracting volunteers and expanding your advocacy efforts, including how to:

  1. Create an engaging message. 
  2. Leverage peer-to-peer campaigns. 
  3. Offer multiple volunteer opportunities. 
  4. Reach out to volunteers on multiple platforms. 
  5. Focus on volunteer retention. 

Before recruiting volunteers, make sure to consider the size of your advocacy campaign and the necessary skills you’ll be looking for in volunteers. For example, a nationwide advocacy campaign would likely be open to recruiting a wide spectrum of volunteers to work remotely, while a local grassroots movement might prioritize reaching out to volunteers based in their community. 

1. Create an engaging message. 

Your nonprofit’s mission statement reflects your organization’s overall goals. Your advocacy campaign messages should help advance your nonprofit towards that goal, but aim to achieve smaller, more specific goals. 

For example, an environmental group might have a broad mission statement that confirms their commitment to habitat restoration. However, that same group’s advocacy campaign’s mission statement might target a specific piece of legislation related to invasive species. The campaign’s message gives potential volunteers a specific, measurable goal they can latch onto when they envision the campaign’s future success. 

Consider your nonprofit’s various stakeholders when you create your campaign messages. Engaging messages tend to evoke emotions but also back themselves up with facts and practical action plans to account for a wide range of potential volunteers. 

2. Leverage peer-to-peer campaigns. 

Why is your supporter network such a valuable resource for your nonprofit? Your supporters donate to and volunteer with your organization, and they also can spread the word about your nonprofit to their own personal networks, increasing your overall reach. 

The word-of-mouth marketing provided by supporters is often more persuasive than even well-crafted cold outreach messages. This doesn’t mean that your nonprofit should stop investing in digital and traditional marketing. Instead, you should supplement it with peer-to-peer campaigns.

Peer-to-peer campaigns empower your supporters to advocate on your nonprofit’s behalf to their friends, family, coworkers, and social media followers. These campaigns leverage your supporters’ personal networks to bring in additional donations and volunteers who your nonprofit likely hasn’t reached out to before. 

Keep in mind that peer-to-peer campaigns have several moving parts, and your nonprofit will need to invest in the proper software to stay organized during your campaign. Resources like Grassroots Unwired’s peer-to-peer fundraising software guide can serve as a jumping off point for researching potential peer-to-peer solutions. 

As you research solutions, first make a list of your nonprofit’s must-have features and price range. Then, compile a list of popular software options and write down whether or not they fit your criteria. From there, reach out to the providers to request a demo and ask specific questions related to your nonprofit’s needs. 

3. Offer multiple volunteer opportunities. 

Your volunteers are a diverse group with a wide range of interests, expertises, and professional goals. This means that while your nonprofit may have one or two primary volunteer roles you need filled, you should stay open to what your volunteers want to do. 

Doing so can help you attract volunteers in increased numbers by providing them with experiences that match their interests and skill sets. Here are a few volunteer opportunities you might offer for your advocacy campaigns’ supporters:

  • Door-to-Door or Virtual Canvassing. Traditional door-to-door and street canvassing are best suited for friendly, active individuals who don’t mind spending a long time on their feet. Additionally, canvassing campaigns find greater success when their volunteers are members of the community they are canvassing. This doesn’t mean your non-community members can’t participate, however. With virtual canvassing, your supporters have the opportunity to advocate on your behalf from the comfort of their own homes. 
  • Event assistance. Both in-person and virtual gatherings often need a few volunteers to help check in guests. At in-person events, volunteers can help set up the venue, while volunteers at virtual events might be in charge of keeping your tech setup running smoothly. 
  • Online and social media outreach. Digital advocacy allows your volunteers to spread the word about your campaign and reach out to elected officials through online methods, such as social media. While all of your volunteers should receive training about how to represent your nonprofit before getting to work, consider providing your online outreach volunteers with additional brand and messaging guidelines so they’ll have templates and example messages to work with. 

Your recruitment messages should provide details about each of your volunteer opportunities. Double the Donation’s volunteer management guide specifically advises nonprofits to “Draw in recruits by crafting clear, compelling volunteer job descriptions. Explain the parameters and responsibilities for the role, but don’t forget to express how this role contributes to your nonprofit’s overall mission.”

Make sure to communicate the responsibilities expected of each role clearly, and pay attention to your volunteers’ preferences once they get to work. You may discover that some of them are better suited for other opportunities at your nonprofit than the one they initially signed up for. 

4. Reach out to volunteers on multiple platforms. 

Few people will sign up to become volunteers after seeing a single message from your nonprofit. Most supporters will become interested in your organization after you slowly build up brand recognition with them through multiple touchpoints. You can accomplish this by reaching out to them on a variety of channels, including:

  • Your website. Your website is the home of your advocacy campaign. Create a page dedicated to your advocacy efforts to inform new supporters about your cause and provide current supporters with updates. Also, make sure to have a clear way for supporters to get involved, such as a brightly colored “Volunteer Now” button. 
  • Email. Email is one of the most popular nonprofit outreach methods due to its customizaibility and ability to communicate long-form messages. Add an eye-catching headline to your emails to entice supporters into opening them. 
  • Text. Text messages have a high open rate, making them a way to get a condensed version of your message out fast. 
  • Social media. Social media has a low investment cost and a massive potential audience. However, social media can also become a time sink, especially if your nonprofit is creating unique content for each of your accounts. Learn the rules for success on each platform you use, and adapt your content accordingly. 
  • Direct mail. Traditional mail still has its place in outreach campaigns. Supplement your digital strategy with physical letters, giving your supporters a tangible reminder of your nonprofit to hold on to as they consider joining your campaign. 

Monitor the engagement rates of each communication channel you use. While creating multiple touchpoints helps strengthen overall brand awareness, you might discover some of your communication channels have far higher response rates than others. If this is the case you may need to reassess your approach on channels with lower response rates, or prioritize the channels with the highest chances of successfully reaching new volunteers. 

5. Focus on volunteer retention strategies. 

Volunteer retention comes with a number of benefits, including already trained supporters, potential volunteer grant opportunities, and a reliable base of individuals who can step in to fill holes in your volunteer work schedule. 

Additionally, a high volunteer retention rate makes it easier for you to grow your supporter network. Retaining volunteers you already have allows you to focus on filling new roles and expanding, rather than replacing existing roles. Plus, volunteers who have a positive experience working at your nonprofit are more likely to promote your cause to friends and family, providing word-of-mouth marketing. 

You can improve your volunteer retention rate through the following methods:

  • Hosting volunteer appreciation events. Whether it’s a small get-together for lunch or a gala planned months in advance, volunteer appreciation events and activities help build a connection between your nonprofit and your volunteers. Plus, gatherings, both in-person and online, help build a sense of community between your volunteers, which can encourage them to stay with your nonprofit and even recruit their friends. 
  • Incorporating volunteer feedback into your campaign. Make it a point to ask volunteers about their experience working for your advocacy campaign. Surveys, informal check-ins, and structured interviews are all opportunities to let your volunteers share their opinions about your campaign. You don’t need to incorporate every suggestion you receive, but giving volunteers the opportunity to voice their ideas lets them feel like they have a hand in the direction of your campaign. Plus, you might discover a few great ideas. 
  • Giving out extra merchandise as gifts. T-shirts, water bottles, hats, and other branded merchandise make excellent gifts for a campaign that’s finishing up. If you printed merchandise for a specific campaign that’s unlikely to be relevant in the near future, you can reduce your inventory and provide your volunteers with a memorable gift at the same time. 

Strong outreach campaigns can and do attract volunteers  who are brand new to your cause. However, many people are more likely to take the initiative, research your nonprofit, and make a donation if someone they know and trust makes a recommendation. By creating a positive volunteer experience, your volunteers can become one of your greatest marketing assets for expanding your supporter network as they discuss your campaign with friends, family, co-workers, and online followers. 

Attracting and maintaining volunteers is an ongoing process. However, your advocacy campaigns are worth the effort. With the right message, software solutions, and marketing strategies, your nonprofit should be able to bring in and retain a dedicated group of passionate volunteers.

Guest Author: Russ Oster

Russ’ first experience in the world of grassroots organizing came when he was an infant and his mother pushed him in a stroller door to door to collect signatures for the Impeach Nixon movement. Eighteen years later he embarked on his college career in Washington, DC and during that time developed a passion for campaigns and elections that started with an internship on the campaign of the first woman ever elected to Congress from the State of Virginia. 

For the next 15 years Russ lived and breathed campaigns, running field operations in a wide range of races and for a number of coordinated campaign efforts. When it became obvious to Russ that the technology existed to make field efforts drastically more efficient and accountable but the solutions did not, he launched Grassroots Unwired and has worked every day since to keep GU on the cutting edge, pushing new features and enhancements to meet the needs of every evolving grassroots organizing efforts.