When the pandemic hit, this volunteer manager created volunteer roles that were a win-win for staff and volunteers
When the calendar turned to 2021, we all knew COVID-19 was not going to disappear. We are still living in the midst of a pandemic while trying to navigate engaging volunteers in a meaningful way. It’s not easy!
In a normal year, my core focus is on day-of-event volunteer recruitment for the National MS Society. In 2020, we were not hosting in-person events, our offices were closed (some still are) and most volunteer activity came to a complete halt.
It was time to dig deeper with volunteers to find out how they might be interested in engaging with us. I wanted to offer them new roles that they would embrace, while also increasing staff capacity.
In the past, I knew about the various committees for events but, due to my cold outreach and recruitment efforts, never had the bandwidth to support their recruitment. Now, since our 2021 spring events are not being held in person and our summer events do not need the same level of support due to COVID-19 regulations, I have had the time to expand volunteer opportunities.
I came up with a process for matching volunteers with capacity-building roles that was very successful. My efforts were simple, but impactful for various members of my organization. The process boiled down to four easy steps:
Step 1: Conduct an Assessment of Staff Needs
My first step was to identify staff needs. I met with the development teams to learn more about their committees and see where I could support them with additional volunteers. Both Walk MS and Bike MS teams determined that they would benefit from volunteer committee members. I worked closely with those teams to help build committee role descriptions for the various events.
Each event has a slightly different focus, leading to slightly different position descriptions. I was careful to define those roles in detail and included features such as: time commitment, expectations and benefits to the volunteer. As we know, having these elements outlined before onboarding is important and vital to success.
In addition, I made sure to ask staff about their expectations of a volunteer. For example, if your development team wants volunteers who are passionate about fundraising, your recruitment efforts should reflect that.
Step 2: Survey Your Volunteers
Don’t guess at what kind of engagement your inactive volunteers might enjoy: ask them directly. If you never ask, you will never know.
I surveyed volunteers by sending a short survey using Google Forms. The survey included just three question fields: a name field, an email address field, and a section with checkboxes where volunteers indicated which area(s) interested them. The options on the list ranged from receiving a monthly newsletter to learning more about upcoming programs. I also included some program ideas that had been on the backburner for a while.
I was surprised by some of the volunteers’ preferences. For example, I had a couple of volunteers who have served for 10+ years and were interested in joining a committee. Before conducting the survey, I had assumed that these veterans were only interested in day-of event opportunities.
Step 3: Put the “Meet” Back in Meetings
Based on the survey responses, I set up individual virtual meetings, or interviews, to learn more about their availability before matching them with an event committee. This process gave me a chance to better understand their story and their connection to our mission. The interviews also allowed me to build stronger connections with the volunteers.
After each call, I added the volunteer’s information to a running list of current, new and future opportunities (such as writing thank you cards, making phone calls, becoming an MS Ambassador, etc.) I then emailed the volunteer to let them know I would be in touch when a project came available.
Step 4: Put Your Volunteers In Action!
For each volunteer, I made a simple e-introduction to the supervising staff and let them pick up the relationship from there. Trust your co-workers to onboard the volunteers in their own way. For example, depending on the committee roles, I may need to run a background check on the volunteer, but it is the responsibility of the development team to prepare them for their committee experience.
Still, I made (and make) a point of checking in with the volunteers every once and awhile. I did regular check-ins with staff members, too! I wanted to ensure that the match was a great fit—and eliminate any potential lingering issues.
My biggest piece of advice is here in Step 4: do not overthink the “how” and the nitty gritty details. As long as there is some basic structure in place, the process should run smoothly. This pandemic is our time to experiment with how we engage volunteers. Do not be afraid to try something new! Taking the time to meet with volunteers virtually has given me an opportunity to get to know people on a deeper level and find a fit for them in area(s) they are interested in supporting. The bottom line: volunteers are giving staff the gift of time to accomplish more for our mission.
Brittany McGarry is a Volunteer Engagement Specialist with the National MS Society. She lives in Denver, CO and is originally from Louisville, KY. She serves on the Board of Directors of DOVIA Colorado as the Chair for the Colorado Conference on Volunteerism and is a volunteer mentor with Minds Matter of Colorado. Brittany enjoys getting to know new people and supporting other folks in this community, feel free to reach out to her at Brittany.firstname.lastname@example.org.