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We are in new territory and for many organizations, volunteers are temporarily staying home. What can a volunteer manager do to keep volunteers engaged when we can’t sit down with them, hug them, hear their stories or laugh with them?

Right now, we can supplement our daily spontaneity with strategy. First, we need to plan the approach. Where do your volunteers see/hear/read/absorb information from you or your organization? Common ways are:

  • emails
  • phone calls
  • website
  • social media
  • meetings

Next, determine strategies for each information pipeline. Schedule communications (weekly, daily, bi-weekly) so volunteers look for regular updates from you. And, giving yourself a deadline helps keep you on track. Prepare your scheduled messages.

For those volunteers who only get information through phone or meetings, create a phone tree of volunteers to pass along information and also to encourage those volunteers to choose a tech method in which to stay informed. Not all will, but this is an opportune time to start funneling volunteers into more central avenues of communication such as your website. This is a time to create a new normal in which volunteers expect to learn, be informed, find educational offerings, meeting schedules, inspirational stories etc. from the tech site(s) you find most advantageous. (for example, you would like all volunteers to follow your Facebook page or you would like all volunteers to check your volunteer portal)

A few ideas for scheduled communications are:

  • provide helpful information on your website. Volunteers trust us, so be the site they go to for correct and factual information-if you give volunteers information, be sure to include the source, don’t re-word the information, quote accurately, don’t opinion-ate on facts.
  • set up a new hashtag for your volunteers specifically during this time ( example: #SpringhillVolsCov19 ) and share what your org and you, as their LoVols are doing during this time. (include your website address to funnel volunteers towards a central spot)
  • post testimonials from past clients, volunteers, etc to celebrate volunteer impact and for inspiration to keep engagement alive.
  • set up Facebook live events to speak directly to your volunteers. You are their anchor and seeing you is reassuring.
  • this is a great time to share the history of your organization. Share old photos, stories of how the mission was created, and the early struggles. If possible, interview your org’s pioneers; those who were there when it began. Connecting your volunteers to the birth of your mission strengthens their engagement.
  • issue a challenge-read a book, exercise, learn a skill. A challenge illustrates that you care about their well-being (which you do) and makes this time about them.
  • ask volunteers to email their favorite volunteering memory and share those memories with the volunteer team. You can also re-purpose the stories to use later as testimonials for recruitment and training purposes.
  • create a quiz. Quizzes are entertaining and can serve an educational purpose at the same time. Add a bit of humor to your multiple choices by making one answer funny.
  • survey your volunteers. What have you always wanted to know? Create a survey with multiple questions to help you plan forward.
  • ask volunteers to share their tips for surviving a shelter in place order and post those tips.
  • Netflix party with your volunteers (through Google Chrome). Pick a comedy, or classic or feel-good movie and watch together with volunteers. You can even chat during the movie.

This is a stressful time filled with chaos. Strategically planned communication with volunteers helps decrease our stress while continuing their engagement. The immediate future may be uncertain, but one thing has not changed. Volunteers appreciate information and connecting and we, volunteer managers are excellent at keeping our volunteers engaged.

Uncertainty is less stressful when a plan is in place. Plan your communications and use this time to invest in volunteers, funnel them into a centralized information hub and gather opinions and stories from them to be used now and later.

Be well. Be safe.