Creating a Great Volunteer Experience: 5 Questions to Ask
Posted Thursday, August 14th, 2014 by Sterling Volunteers Staff
Image by Richard Foster via Flickr
Today’s blog post is from one of our fantastic partner organizations. UBELONG is an international volunteering organization that helps to connect volunteers across the world by empowering them to serve abroad. Their global expertise makes them an excellent source of insight into creating a better volunteer experience. We hope you enjoy this special guest post.
Creating a Great Volunteer Experience: 5 Questions to Ask
Running a volunteer program that is sustainable and delivers on its social mission brings unique challenges. You have objectives to meet and limited resources with which to do it. Volunteers devote their time and energy to help your organization succeed, but it’s important to remember that the volunteer/nonprofit relationship is a two-way street.
If you consistently demonstrate to your volunteers that you value their involvement and care about their experience, it goes a long way toward helping this relationship to thrive. Here are five important questions to ask your organization and yourself when seeking to provide the best possible volunteer experience.
1. How are volunteers chosen?
No matter the skills or passions of your organization’s staff, you need excellent volunteers to reach your goals. As such, volunteers have to be selected and placed with careful thought. Consider your program requirements and make sure your volunteers are qualified. Do they have past experience in a related field? How much time are they willing to commit?
Create an application that evaluates new volunteers, but keep in mind that even applicants who look great on paper may require additional evaluation. Meeting with an applicant in person is a great way to further screen volunteers.
Screening volunteers with background checks is also a must. Not only do background checks weed out individuals who could pose potential threats to the safety of others, they also protect your organization’s reputation. At UBELONG, we rely on Sterling Volunteers’ online screening platform, enabling us to vet volunteers quickly and easily.
Bottom Line: Know your volunteers.
2. How are volunteers spending their time?
Volunteers give their time (and sometimes money) to further a cause, and a successful volunteer program should be held accountable to show where those resources went.
The more you communicate to volunteers how their time will be spent, the better. Create clear descriptions for each volunteer position, and make sure you have plenty of work for volunteers to do during their shift. Setting clear expectations and respecting a volunteer’s time will lead to a better experience and increase the likelihood of that volunteer returning to work with you again.
Bottom Line: Sharing clear and accurate information on how a volunteer’s money and time will be spent builds trust and shows that you value their contribution.
3. What do we want to accomplish as an organization?
The mission of an organization should always be clear and focused. For example, the UBELONG mission is simple: To bring people together across borders to share their humanity and take action for positive change.
Mission clarity will let your team navigate towards concrete, actionable goals, while communicating your mission to potential volunteers in a very simple manner that makes it easy for them to decide if their own goals are aligned with your organization.
Bottom Line: Keeping goals clear and defined keeps your organization focused and makes it easy for volunteers to see if they are aligned with your organization.
4. What do our volunteers want?
Volunteering is a unique experience, offering the opportunity to develop new skills, meet new people and enjoy the sense of satisfaction that comes from helping others. As such, volunteers are likely to apply with expectations. Ideally, these expectations will match your organization’s goals, but this is not always the case.
Some volunteers may show up at your door with unrealistic expectations about volunteering. Do your best to overcome these by being up-front about the type of work that will be involved as well as your organization’s policies and standards for volunteers. Volunteering isn’t always easy; it is a commitment that entails hard work and problem solving. The best volunteers are the ones who understand this, accept it, and embrace the challenge.
Bottom Line: Pay attention to what your volunteers want, but don’t let it cloud your organization’s mission. The best experiences happen when all parties involved see eye-to-eye.
5. What are our volunteers saying?
Often strapped for cash, many nonprofit organizations don’t have the option to run big marketing campaigns. Fortunately, one of the oldest marketing strategies is also one of the cheapest: word of mouth.
Current and former volunteers are extremely valuable resources for potential new recruits. Interested individuals are likely to search the web for past reviews to find out what they can expect if they serve with your organization. For this reason, it is important to maintain an open dialogue with volunteers before, during, and after their time serving with you, and to pay attention to what is being said. Positive reviews are clearly preferable, but even negative feedback has value in setting expectations and resolving potential problems for future volunteers.
Check in with volunteers often to ask for their feedback and to find out how you can make the volunteer experience even better. For volunteers that don’t return, see if you can find out why. Traditional surveys are one way to get feedback, and social media has made it easier than ever to connect with current and past volunteers online.
Bottom Line: Provide opportunities for volunteers to share feedback throughout their time serving with your organization, and listen to what they have to say so you can continually improve your program.
You rely on volunteers to help you accomplish your mission, and naturally you want to ensure they get something out of the experience too. Consider these five questions to see if there are areas where you can improve your volunteer program. Like any relationship, it takes time and hard work to develop a thriving, mutually beneficial partnership with your volunteers, but the end result is well worth the effort.
Kendall Dienno is a UBELONG alum fresh out of Morocco currently working as a Summer Associate in UBELONG’s European office in Lisbon, Portugal.