Best Practices to follow for Virtual Volunteers
Posted Wednesday, June 10th, 2020 by Sterling Volunteers Staff
Nearly everyone has had to shift the way they live and work in response to the global pandemic. More people are working remotely now, and it’s important for volunteer organizations to be prepared to engage and screen virtual volunteers – and set them up for success in new ways. In a recent webinar, which is now available on-demand, nonprofit expert Beth Steinhorn, President of VQ Volunteer Strategies, shared best practices for working with virtual volunteers.
Defining Virtual VolunteeringThe idea of virtual volunteering isn’t new. Organizations have engaged virtual volunteers for years, working from home with in-person check-ins, and other remote options. However, according to The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, by Jayne Cravens and Susan Ellis, ‘virtual volunteering’ is defined as activities completed in whole or in part, using the internet or internet-connected devices. It’s also worth noting that the terms ‘virtual volunteering’ and ‘remote volunteering’ are frequently used interchangeably, and it’s important to clarify for your volunteers what you mean. Engaging volunteers virtually can increase both capacity and impact. There are many ways virtual volunteer engagement can help your organization during this time of COVID-19 as well as beyond the scope of the pandemic. COVID-19 Pandemic – Many organizations have moved almost entirely to virtual volunteering, as they follow local stay-at-home orders – it can also be an opportunity for your organization to keep people connected to your mission while dealing with the consequences of the pandemic. Cost Savings – Engaging volunteers virtually can be a way to help steward financial resources more efficiently, depending on the nature of your organization. Increased Accessibility – Virtual volunteering also provides opportunities to more volunteers, such as those who are passionate about your mission, but have limitations preventing them from coming to volunteer in person. Diversified Workforce – Increased accessibility promotes a more diverse volunteer workforce.
Five Common Myths About Virtual VolunteeringMyth 1: Virtual volunteers don’t have time to volunteer. Any volunteer, no matter how much they volunteer, can contribute to your mission even if they’re working a full-time job from home right now. Myth 2: Virtual volunteers don’t ever volunteer in person. There are virtual volunteers who want to have a blended opportunity. Sometimes working remotely, and sometimes coming in, depending on timing and context. Myth 3: Virtual volunteers engage primarily in technology-related tasks. Virtual volunteers fill many rolls and perform a diverse array of tasks. Myth 4: Virtual volunteers are mostly young and affluent. Any volunteer van be a virtual volunteer, and the changes people have made in response to the pandemic underscore that. Myth 5: Virtual volunteers are not seeking a personal connection. This is not necessarily the case. Organizations need to be intentional and strategic in order to build virtual relationships the same way we would if our volunteers were sitting across the table from us.
Developing Virtual Volunteer RolesUse the following tips to establish and grow virtual volunteering opportunities at your organization: Assess Current Virtual Engagement It’s important to understand what work your volunteers are already completing remotely so you can build from there. Are your volunteers visiting clients in their homes? Do volunteers check in by phone or email? Do you have pro bono attorneys, etc.? Each of these is an example of a virtual volunteer. Be sure to assess how effective those roles are and how you can leverage these opportunities to expand.
Identify and Develop OpportunitiesConsider these four important steps to developing virtual volunteering opportunities for your organization.
- Identify Need
- Conduct a staff survey to discover needs and find out what tasks could be transferred to a virtual volunteer. Look at the wish list or make a new one.
- Department meetings can inform your decision-making, and help you understand how virtual volunteers can be of service.
- Perform a process analysis by looking at a single process within your organization, breaking it down into steps, and identifying virtual volunteer opportunities.
- Consider the “$20,000 Question” – if you found out that you got an anonymous $20,000 donation, but it was stipulated that you could only use that money to hire a part-time or temporary contract worker – who would you hire and why? Much of the time, a virtual volunteer can be engaged to do that work.
- Connect with your partners, particularly during COVID-19, to find out how they’re connecting with virtual volunteers.
- Assess Viability
- What tasks would be involved in this role?
- Is the work meaningful to a volunteer?
- Does it connect to your mission and priorities?
- Can the work be successfully completed offsite?
- When does the work have to be done?
- What resources are needed (technology, equipment, transportation reimbursement, etc.)?
- Do volunteers and staff need to be trained for the role to succeed?
- Does your organization have the capacity to support a volunteer in this role?
- Determine Format
What does the role look like?Ongoing – Many virtual volunteer opportunities are indefinite with no end date, such as data entry. Short-Term – Some virtual roles are project-based and have a definite end date or goal. Episodic – You can have one-time event volunteers, even in remote situations. These can include events such as hackathons or tasks such as social media tagging. On-Call – Similar to being on retainer, some virtual volunteers only help when called upon, such as copy editors. Micro-Volunteering – There are a number of very short-term volunteering opportunities that can be accomplished remotely including simple tasks like digitizing a document or sending an advocacy message about a cause.
- Develop Position Description
Ensure Buy-InFor virtual volunteering to succeed, you will need buy-in from everyone involved – not just the volunteers themselves, but members of your organization as well. Here are a few tips:
- Share stories of success
- Review the assessment you developed together
- Co-develop the position description with your team
- Align on screening criteria
- Give your team members a role in the selection process if appropriate