One of the most common challenges for volunteer managers is retention. When you can crack the code and identify what keeps volunteers coming back again and again, your nonprofit will benefit from reliable support for your mission. 

Consistent communication is one of the most important aspects of volunteer engagement and retention, especially over digital platforms like email. Working professionals check their emails an average of 15 times per day, making email an essential platform for ongoing communication. 

Your volunteer program’s regular email newsletter can be a useful tool for driving ongoing volunteer engagement. In this post, we’ll explore seven strategies to increase volunteer engagement by sending better email newsletters: 

  1. Segment your subscriber list
  2. Improve your CTAs 
  3. Write better subject lines 
  4. Ask for volunteers’ feedback
  5. Spotlight volunteer achievements
  6. Offer exclusive access to events and opportunities
  7. Ensure your newsletters are accessible and mobile-responsive

When you set aside time to plan your email newsletters strategically, you can better connect with volunteers on an ongoing basis and keep them engaged in your events and opportunities. 

1. Segment your subscriber list

Your volunteers have one primary trait in common: they all support your nonprofit by helping out with your projects and programs in their spare time. But beyond that, volunteers may have specific interests or characteristics that make them unique. 

By segmenting your volunteer newsletter subscriber list, you can send tailored messages to different volunteer groups that they’ll be more likely to engage with. 

Segmentation involves reviewing your volunteer profiles to identify commonalities across your supporter list, then grouping volunteers based on traits they share. For example, you might create groups of:

After creating these groups, you can send more personalized newsletters to each segment. You don’t need to write an individual newsletter for each group but rather adjust your main message slightly based on the intended recipient. 

For example, you might highlight different upcoming opportunities for each group. Younger volunteers may be interested in your upcoming social events, while older volunteers who are retired might want to hear about your weekday opportunities. Volunteers who also donate may be interested in learning more about upcoming fundraising events or campaigns. 

Use your volunteer management system to keep track of your segments and update them as you add new volunteers to your database. 

2. Improve your CTAs 

Calls to action (CTAs) are the buttons or links you include in your email newsletter that direct volunteers to important pages on your organization’s website. 

By incentivizing volunteers to click these links, you can maintain a higher email engagement rate and drive more support to your opportunities. Your CTAs should be: 

  • Short and snappy. Your buttons should include just a few words, like “Click here to register now!” or “View upcoming events.” 
  • Gateways to important pages. Essential pages for driving program engagement likely include your volunteer sign-up page or event calendar.
  • Easy to find. Your emails should only be a couple of hundred words at the most, and your CTA buttons should be easy to spot at the end of your message.

The ultimate goal of your email newsletter is to encourage volunteers to assess and sign up for opportunities. With clear, useful CTAs, you’ll make it easier for volunteers to connect with opportunities that interest them. 

3. Write better subject lines 

Research shows that 64% of email recipients decide whether to open an email based on the subject line. The subject line is your opportunity to catch supporters' attention and make your email newsletter stand out. 

Follow these guidelines when crafting your email subject lines: 

  • Keep them brief and specific. Since many recipients view their emails on their phones, it’s important to keep your subject line short enough to be read on a mobile screen. MailChimp recommends keeping your subject lines no longer than 9 words or 60 characters. 
  • Use emojis sparingly. Using an emoji in your subject line can catch subscribers’ attention, but don’t go overboard. Too many emojis can be confusing or distract from your main message. 
  • Personalize subject lines with volunteers’ names. Many email marketing platforms allow you to automatically personalize subject lines with recipients’ names. This is another great way to catch their eye and make your email stand out amongst other messages in their inboxes.

Most importantly, your email subject lines should entice volunteers to open them. For example, you might say something like “12 Summer Volunteer Opportunities You Won’t Want to Miss☀️” or “Ana, here are 3 upcoming opportunities hand-picked for you.” 

4. Ask for volunteers’ feedback

Volunteers can be your most valuable resource for gathering information that helps improve your program. Use your volunteer newsletter to collect regular feedback about your volunteers’ thoughts on your opportunities by including a survey link at the end of the newsletter. 

Bloomerang’s guide to volunteer surveys suggests asking questions like: 

  • How satisfied are you with the volunteer experience?
  • Do you have any suggestions for improving our volunteer program?
  • Would you recommend our opportunities to a friend or colleague?
  • Do you feel like a valued member of our nonprofit community? How can we do more to show our appreciation?
  • How likely are you to continue volunteering with our organization?

Make sure to provide closure by following up after you’ve reviewed all responses. Let volunteers know what your plan is to address their input and improve your program using their feedback. 

5. Spotlight volunteer achievements

Volunteers will appreciate seeing themselves in your content, whether through photos, videos or interviews. 

Use your email newsletter to highlight: 

  • Photos and recaps of volunteer events 
  • Volunteer spotlights, such as interviews with long-time or new volunteers
  • Volunteer awards, such as Volunteer of the Month or Year

Treat your volunteer newsletters as another opportunity to thank your volunteers for all of their hard work and show them you value them as equal partners in achieving your mission. 

6. Offer exclusive access to events and opportunities

Offering email subscribers exclusive or early access to sign-up for events and volunteer opportunities can make newsletter recipients feel special.

For example, you might send a pre-sale ticket link to your annual music festival event or give email subscribers the first pick of your new volunteer opportunities. 

These opportunities can incentivize volunteers to continue engaging with your emails to make sure they stay updated on your exclusive experiences. 

7. Ensure your newsletters are accessible and mobile-responsive

Your emails should be accessible to all audience members and readable on all devices, including mobile phones. Keep these tips in mind to improve your newsletter’s accessibility and mobile-friendliness: 

  • Use sufficient color contrast. Ensure there is sufficient contrast between your foreground and background colors as well as the text and color of your CTA buttons. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines recommend a contrast of at least 4.5:1. 
  • Ensure your text and buttons are large enough to be read/clicked. Text and buttons will appear smaller on mobile devices, so make sure your font sizes are large enough to be read and clicked on by mobile users. 
  • Check your newsletters in the mobile view before sending them. Complete a final review in the mobile format before sending your email newsletter. Make sure your text is readable and your buttons and links are functioning properly. 

There are plenty of free accessibility tools you can use to check your emails before sending them in addition to the tools available through your email marketing platform. These include WebAIM’s free Contrast Checker or Readable’s online test that checks the readability of your text. Take advantage of these tools to ensure your content is inclusive for all newsletter recipients.

With these tips, you can transform your volunteer email newsletter into a must-read message that helps supporters feel more connected to your cause and their fellow volunteers. 

Apply these tips to all volunteer email communications, not just your email newsletter. Optimize your volunteer thank-you emails, event reminders and other ongoing communications with quality CTAs, engaging subject lines and accessible content. Doing so allows you to create a well-rounded communication strategy that drives greater volunteer engagement and retention.

About the Author:
Jay Love

Co-Founder and current Chief Relationship Officer at Bloomerang

He has served this sector for 33 years and is considered the most well-known senior statesman whose advice is sought constantly.

Prior to Bloomerang, he was the CEO and Co-Founder of eTapestry for 11 years, which at the time was the leading SaaS technology company serving the charity sector. Jay and his team grew the company to more than 10,000 nonprofit clients, charting a decade of record growth.

He is a graduate of Butler University with a B.S. in Business Administration. Over the years, he has given more than 2,500 speeches around the world for the charity sector and is often the voice of new technology for fundraisers.