If you’ve ever answered a knock on your door and were met by someone with a clipboard asking you to support a cause, you’ve encountered canvassing. As nonprofits gather support for their cause, they might consider canvassing in order to meet people face-to-face and encourage support more directly. 

Instead of just having a representative from your nonprofit going door-to-door to spread awareness, passionate individuals who support your cause might volunteer to campaign for you. Advocacy campaign like these are dependent on volunteers to succeed. We’ll look at four ways to manage your volunteers as they prepare to go out and advocate for your nonprofit’s cause:

  1. Develop a Thorough Volunteer Onboarding Process
  2. Equip Your Team With the Right Tools
  3. Provide Clear Canvassing Calls to Action
  4. Recognize and Thank Volunteers

Since grassroots advocacy depends on your volunteers, it’s crucial that you set your volunteers up for success. After all, these people are likely passionate about your work, not canvassing. Read on to find out how you can give them the training and tools they need to gather support.

1. Develop a Thorough Volunteer Onboarding Process

You’ll set the tone for your volunteers when you begin to train them. The first impression you make will be mirrored in their first impressions on community members. To ensure you’re creating a positive environment that will be translated to potential supporters, teach your volunteers these things during onboarding:

  • Your organization’s mission and values
  • The advocacy campaign’s goals 
  • Other background information about the campaign
  • Canvassing tips and tricks

Pair up new volunteers with more experienced ones as they begin canvassing. This will give new volunteers a chance to see how canvassing works and get more familiar with it before jumping in themselves. 

2. Equip Your Team With the Right Tools

Specialized advocacy software makes it easier to connect with potential supporters and input data when canvassing. Since phones and tablets are such a normal part of our daily lives, using a digital tool when canvassing breaks the barrier of formality that being approached with a clipboard sometimes brings.

Digital tools can also help streamline campaign efforts and make it easier for your volunteers to gather information. They can put information directly into your nonprofit’s database, verify a donor’s contact information, and continue communication with new supporters after their initial introduction. Grassroots Unwired recommends looking for these preferred features in advocacy software:

  • Contact information management
  • Data collection and tracking
  • Secure donation processing
  • Offline capabilities
  • Virtual and in-person options

Not only can this software ease the process of gathering support, but it can also organize the volunteer management process. Find tools that will schedule and track volunteer hours, check them in before an event, and deal with other logistics. 

3. Provide Clear Canvassing Calls to Action

Your community can only support your cause if they have enough information about it. Supply your volunteers with the knowledge they’ll need to inform potential donors—levels of knowledge often directly correspond to levels of engagement. 

Your volunteers will receive varying responses to their efforts and should know how to handle each situation:

  • People who don’t know much about your organization: Volunteers should direct them to your website to learn more about what you do.
  • People who know a little and might get involved: Volunteers can provide information about events that they might be interested in attending, such as planned bike-a-thons or auctions that will raise money for your nonprofit. They might also share your nonprofit’s social media channels so potential supporters can follow your work and join the conversation about your cause.
  • People who are passionate about what you do: Volunteers could encourage them to donate or consider contacting representatives about your cause. Have them collect contact information and use it to send updates after their conversation.
  • If people aren’t responsive: Make sure your volunteers don’t get discouraged—not everyone will be on board, and that’s okay!

Equip your volunteers with the resources they’ll need to pass along to potential supporters. They should know how to answer common questions but also be aware of the resources they can redirect people to when they don’t know the answer. 

4. Recognize and Thank Volunteers

Your volunteers are putting in a lot of hard work to gather support. Canvassing can be draining, especially if community members aren’t super responsive. Make sure to show your volunteers how thankful you are for them and the work they’re doing to support your cause. Consider some of these recognition ideas:

  • Personalized letters: Consider writing volunteer thank-you letters that specifically mention the work each of them did and how that has contributed to your cause.
  • Appreciation events: Hosting an event to thank your volunteers will surround them with like-minded people and give them a sense of community—you’re all in this together!
  • Social media shoutouts: Highlighting volunteers on social media is a special way to single out your volunteers. This can make them feel noticed by your nonprofit and all your followers, as well as feeling proud of their work.
  • Annual report: As this document highlights all of your organization’s activities, projects, and initiatives for the year, it’s a great place to recognize volunteers by listing their names. Double the Donation recommends incorporating storytelling into your annual report, including pictures and stories of events and volunteer work that contributed to the year’s work.

When volunteers feel appreciated, they’re more likely to continue to help. Volunteer retention over time will give you consistent support from campaign to campaign.

Don’t just wait until the end of the campaign to thank your volunteers. The best way you can show your appreciation is by investing in them daily when you prepare them to make a difference. 

Your volunteers are doing a lot of work for your organization, so you should put in the work to prepare them for their roles. Not only will this make them more successful, but it will also make them feel like a big part of your work. 

About the Author:
Russ Oster from Grassroots Unwired

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 ever evolving grassroots organizing efforts.

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