If you manage volunteers for a nonprofit organization, you are no stranger to the complexities and intricacies of recruiting, training, and retaining volunteers.

As a volunteer manager, it is your responsibility to:

  • Develop and manage outreach opportunities
  • Find effective ways to reach out to prospective volunteers
  • Train volunteers to fulfill their roles efficiently
  • Answer any questions your volunteers may have about their role
  • Schedule volunteers to help with organization events.
  • Help volunteers stay up-to-date on the ins and outs of your organization
  • Keep volunteers interested and engaged with your organization
  • Monitoring all volunteer hours so that you can send out accurate reports to donors
  • Address volunteer concerns

It can be tricky to stay on top of all of these duties among other tasks without letting anything fall through the cracks.

Applying a clear vision of the volunteer management cycle can strengthen your program as you identify the pieces where you shine, and hone in on the pieces you need to improve.  

When you know every step involved in the cycle and the best ways to make the cycle more productive and harmonious, it will be far easier for you to successfully manage your volunteers.

What is the volunteer management cycle?

The volunteer management cycle is a system that is made up of six steps:

  1. Recruitment
  2. Onboarding & Training
  3. Scheduling
  4. Engagement
  5. Retention and Post Engagement
  6. Reporting

Each of these steps is essential to guiding your volunteer management workflow. When you can do each of these steps well, you won’t have any trouble finding volunteers, keeping them up to speed, and encouraging them to serve with your organization for the long haul.

How can you optimize the volunteer management cycle?

Step one: Recruitment

Recruitment is the first step in the volunteer management cycle. After all, you can’t train or retain volunteers if they don’t start working with your organization in the first place.

The volunteer recruitment strategies you use to find volunteers is important because your nonprofit won’t be able to run without quality volunteers that are eager to serve and feel connected to your mission.

You can optimize your volunteer recruitment by:

  • Increasing your online presence, making it easy for prospective volunteers to see that your organization needs helpers
  • Being honest about your organization’s needs, allowing you to get volunteers who know what they signed up for and are willing and able to do the work required
  • Creating a detailed volunteer information page, helping those who visit your website to see the impact they’ll be making and receive the information they’ll need to get started
  • Utilizing a Volunteer Management App that allows volunteers to find your organization easily, check opportunities, and fill shifts. 

Step two: Onboarding & Training

Once you’ve recruited volunteers, you have to make sure they are prepared to step into the roles your organization needs them to fill.

This requires you to have a detailed onboarding and training process.

If your new volunteers are constantly wondering what their next steps are for getting started with their volunteer work, they will either 1.) miss a step along the way, or 2.) decide that volunteering for your organization is not worth the hassle.

Make sure that your onboarding process is clear, and that your volunteers know what they will be doing, how to get started with training, and who to contact if they have any questions or concerns.

After your volunteers have completed their onboarding, they will need to be trained. You can help training go smoothly by:

  • Setting clear guidelines and expectations upfront
  • Providing plenty of opportunities for volunteers to ask questions and seek clarification if they get confused, setting up webinars at various times for training is generally a good strategy, along with email reminders leading up to the webinar opportunities. 
  • Asking current volunteers for feedback about the training so that you can address any problems and make necessary tweaks

Step three: Scheduling

Volunteer scheduling is a balancing act. 

Shift sign-up, cancellation, switching, and filling can be fraught. It’s a major organizational puzzle that is made far harder without a streamlined system. You also have to overlap shifts so that volunteers aren’t leaving before their replacement is ready to start working. If there are any last minute changes, you have to be able to find coverage and communicate these changes at a moment’s notice.

You can take a lot of the stress out of volunteer scheduling by:

  • Using volunteer management software to create and share schedules and send instantaneous messages about schedule changes. 
  • Implementing a volunteer management software that alerts you when a shift has been filled or a volunteer has canceled so you act nimbly. 
  • Sending frequent scheduling reminders using various forms of communication
  • Implementing a smooth check-in and check-out process for events using a volunteer management software that allows admins to see who is on-site and who has yet to arrive. 

Step four: Engagement

If volunteers aren’t engaged with your organization, it will eventually suffer from being “out of sight, out of mind.”

Volunteers will be eager to sign up for shifts and otherwise support your organization if they feel like they are personally invested in your nonprofit and connected to your organization’s story. To build connection to the story of your organization you have to provide touch points that help volunteers understand the journey they are a part of. 

You can help foster this by:

  • Creating fun events and days of activities for your volunteers to help them connect with other volunteers and enjoy being involved with your nonprofit. 
  • Sending out newsletters and other updates so they can see their impact and keep up with your organization’s changes and accomplishments. 
  • Encouraging microdonations so they will feel like they have a stake in your nonprofit’s mission and vision and are contributing to goals you have set as a community. 

Step five: Retention and Post Engagement

Lifelong volunteers are the key to long term success for your nonprofit. 

You don’t want to lose your volunteers after they help with a single event, so your retention efforts and post-event engagement techniques are critical.

Volunteers want to feel respected, valued, and heard, and they want to know that they are doing meaningful work.

You can take steps toward creating lifelong volunteers by:

  • Sending thank you notes and other signs of appreciation to volunteers after they help with an event
  • Acknowledge and celebrate milestones that help them feel a part of something special. A volunteer management system that enables you to track key stats like hours served, days volunteered, and allows you to quantify the monetary value volunteers has contributed through their time is a great way to do this. 
  • Provide opportunities for volunteers to voice concerns or issues in real time so that you can address problems right away. Volunteer management platforms that have some kind of feedback forum can be incredibly helpful for keeping your finger on the pulse of volunteer sentiment. 

Step Six: Reporting

This final step is important because it helps increase your nonprofit’s number of donors, and it kickstarts the volunteer management cycle again. Check out this article to learn more about showcasing volunteer impact in reports. 

Donors want to know that their money is being put to good use and that their investments in your organization are strengthening its efforts. By reporting the number of volunteers working for your organization and the amount of hours they put into helping your nonprofit, you will increase monetary donations, help your donors feel valued, and even put your organization in the position to gain grant money.

Accurate reporting also helps attract new volunteers. When prospective volunteers see what your current volunteers are doing for your organization, they will be more likely to sign up to volunteer as well.

You can help encourage your volunteers to report their hours by:

  • Using volunteer management systems that make self-reporting easy
  • Sending reminders immediately after a volunteer heads to check-out after serving at an event
  • Providing incentives or using competitions to reward volunteers who track hours

As you can see, each one of these six steps in the volunteer management cycle is essential for helping your nonprofit organization run smoothly.

See how Civic Champs volunteer management solutions can help you streamline your volunteer management cycle by booking a short demo with us

About the Author:
Darcy Neureiter