Skip to main content

How to Build an Effective Volunteer Management Plan in Six Steps

Author: Tatiana Morand
July 24, 2020
🕑 9 min read

Imagine being tasked with recruiting and managing volunteers for a medical trial — for an untested vaccine — during one of recent history’s worst pandemics.

For the nonprofit 1 Day Sooner, this monumental task became their reality as they worked to test vaccines for COVID-19.

The trial was a grassroots effort that brought together a passionate group of scientists and researchers, but like most grassroots efforts, it came along with volunteer recruitment and management anxieties related to ad hoc processes and a lack of interest.

And, given some of the risks of being infected with a vaccine for a new, still unknown virus, these fears were even more pressing. Even the co-founder of 1 Day Sooner, Josh Morrison, thought, “Would anyone actually do this?”

It turns out many people did — 31,000 volunteers worldwide, to be exact. 

While this trial is just getting underway, its initial success already has us in awe of their ability to recruit volunteers, and with 31,000 volunteers spread across the globe, we can’t help but wonder what their volunteer management plan will look like.

No matter the size of your nonprofit, volunteer management is a hot topic.

After all, it’s one of the most rewarding and challenging parts of any organization — but it’s also one of the areas that’s most likely to be pushed aside when other priorities come into play.

To help you keep volunteer management at the forefront no matter what kind of crisis you’re facing, we’ve put together a list of six steps for developing a volunteer management plan best suited for your nonprofit’s goals and needs.

Keep reading to learn:

Ready? Let’s dive in!

What is Volunteer Management?

Volunteer management is everything that happens after you’ve successfully recruited a volunteer.

It consists of scheduling volunteers, training volunteers, and empowering and motivating volunteers to do their jobs well and further a nonprofit’s mission.

Worried about how much time it’ll take? There are a wide variety of software tools out there, many of which are free or inexpensive, that can come in handy for scheduling and keeping track of volunteers so that you don’t have to do it all manually.

Click through to claim your 60-day trial of WildApricot to create effective QR codes that will speed up event check-in.

How to Manage Volunteers During a Crisis

No one knows better than you how state-mandated lockdowns and changing information about COVID-19 have forced nonprofits around the world to make concessions for their employees to work from home.

Plus, 81% of volunteers do it to make a difference in their community and to be social…so how do you recruit and manage volunteers at a time where everyone’s social lives are happening at a distance?

Here are some of our biggest recommendations for succeeding with volunteers at your side during and post-COVID:

  • Prioritize Your Biggest Volunteer Needs

    When it comes to recruiting and managing volunteers, a good first step is to examine the four types of volunteers you might need to succeed. You might also want to consider if you can shift some volunteers to different tasks based on your most urgent needs. Maybe event expert volunteers need a little extra support as they start to organize virtual events. And maybe you can start looking at different types of volunteers who have experience with technology to help take events into the digital realm.

  • Offer Diverse Volunteer Opportunities

    The good thing about change is it often opens doors for new opportunities. Take the example above where an event volunteer is now expected to organize virtual meet-ups. This is a great opportunity to revisit your volunteer pool and see if anyone is interested in things like social promotion or building web pages. Take advantage of your volunteers’ diverse talents and experiences (and here are a few more online volunteer opportunities to get you thinking).

  • Bring the Fun

    Making volunteer management fun can start small by encouraging volunteers to experiment with fun Zoom backgrounds during the next meeting or introducing a pet or child at the beginning of a meeting. And while video fatigue is certainly a thing, there are plenty of programs that make it easy to have fun with a team by setting up a virtual game of Pictionary as a member event or volunteer team-building exercise.

  • Celebrate and Appreciate Your Volunteers

    Volunteer appreciation planning is usually one of the most fun parts of volunteer management… but it’s also easy to get lost in the shuffle of nonprofit business. One of the best things you can do is prioritize volunteer appreciation in your monthly plans. Things like e-gift cards to popular stores and flower and meal delivery ensure that not even COVID can stop us from expressing our thanks and gratitude to volunteers.

Wondering about the steps to recruit volunteers online? We have a checklist to help you do it right!

Follow These Six Steps to Build a Strong Volunteer Management Plan

While a lot of the guidance about volunteer management planning during COVID-19 translates to normal seasons too, there are a few other steps you can take to build a strong foundation for your volunteer management program.

These six steps for developing a strong volunteer management plan can help you get started whether you’re starting from scratch or you’re wanting to start fresh.

Step 1: Set Your Goals

Setting goals is one of the first steps to any successful business and nonprofit venture. Your goal as a volunteer manager or coordinator is to come up with realistic, measurable goals for your volunteers and organization.

Here are some common goals you might want to set to measure the health and success of volunteer programs:

  • Increase volunteer acquisition and retention rates
  • Improve volunteer satisfaction
  • Improve the communication process between your organization and volunteers
  • Convert more donors and organizational stakeholders to volunteers

Another approach to developing your goals for your volunteer management plan is to start by asking your team questions about what you hope to accomplish with your volunteers. Questions like these can guide your discussion:

  • How can our organization meet our mission more effectively by engaging volunteers?
  • Where are our most critical program gaps?
  • What key milestones must we meet?
  • What is already working that we should double down on?
  • What’s something people are doing in other industries that might work for us, too?
  • What should we stop doing or eliminate because it’s wasting our time?
  • What is realistically doable for us right now?
  • What might be doable with more resources (time or money)?
  • Who is eager to help us be successful?

Step 2: Recruit Smarter

Once you have set the right goals for your volunteer management plan, the work of volunteer recruitment begins. There are tons of great resources and checklists that can offer a playbook to volunteer recruitment. Many of these guides cover similar approaches like knowing how you would like to use volunteers, how many volunteers you need, and what skills you need in your volunteers.

Where your organization can start recruiting smarter is by thinking like marketers and approaching volunteer recruitment the way innovative employers recruit their employees.

In the same way employers spend time creating personas to understand what motivates potential employees, their preferred work environment, their lifestyles, etc., volunteer managers should spend time doing the same. Then, they can write volunteer descriptions that speak to those profiles. Here’s a sample of a good volunteer description that explains the company mission, lists the responsibilities, explains the requirements, and clearly states how to apply:

volunteer description 1volunteer description 2

© 2013 Indiana Nonprofit Resource Network, 

The profiles should also include information about where these target volunteers get information, spend time online, and research opportunities. This is where the marketer mindset comes into play. If you can determine which volunteers spend most of their time scrolling through social media or enjoy attending networking events, you can start recruiting them wherever they’re at.

Step 3: Do This to Set Yourself Apart

Good training and education separate the well-organized nonprofit from the ad hoc nonprofit. Simply because, in order to provide good documentation and training to volunteers, an organization must have a process and system to teach.

To make volunteers feel welcome and prepared, develop training related to “housekeeping items”. Things like where to track hours, how to sign-up for shifts, and where to complete reports should be covered in a volunteer’s first couple of days of joining your nonprofit. While in-person training is common, there are now several online tools and document sharing services that make virtual training easy and effective.

Just as important as training, ongoing education related to your organization’s evolving leadership, goals, mission, and key events are vital to making volunteers feel involved and included. This education can come in the form of a monthly meeting or a volunteer newsletter like the one below from Louisiana Master Naturalist Greater New Orleans. 

volunteer newsletter lousiana

Step 4: Engagement is Key

While “engagement” might bring to mind initiatives like volunteer appreciation events and regular meetings, it really means giving people the opportunity to engage with you, other volunteers, and the wider company.

One way to do that is by implementing regular feedback loops between volunteers and a coordinator or manager — which can also help volunteers feel heard. These opportunities for feedback don’t have to be incredibly formal. Depending on your nonprofit and your volunteers, you could do a quick call, an email, or even a quick survey.

No matter what method of engagement you choose, follow-up is key. If your volunteers are taking the time to engage with you, it’s important to recognize their work and be open about changes being made based on their recommendations.

And, of course, doing things like building a strong volunteer community that make it easy for volunteers to connect with each other goes a long way to keeping volunteers engaged and leads to retention and even referrals.

Step 5: Create a Communications Plan

Communication should be the heartbeat of your nonprofit, especially for your volunteer management plan.

The good and bad news when it comes to modern communication is that there are so many channels to communicate with between email, phone calls, Facebook Messenger, Instagram direct messages, text messages, etc.

From the moment volunteer recruitment starts, there are plenty of tools out there that allow people to spread the word about new volunteer opportunities across every social platform, schedule automated emails with volunteer updates, and make video get-togethers easy.

And even better — many are free! Whichever way you choose to communicate, if you’re clear and consistent, volunteer management runs a lot more smoothly across the entire volunteer journey.

There are a lot of good resources that outline steps to creating a solid communication plan. Here are a few key items to consider as you communicate with your volunteers:

  • Establish goals and objectives of the communication campaign.
  • Determine the main audience of your communication (new volunteers or returning volunteers?).
  • Decide the best mode of delivery for your communication (email, text, carrier pigeon?).
  • Build a timeline that takes into account external factors like national holidays, seasonal opportunities, etc.
  • Speak the language of your audience by avoiding any jargon and choosing words that resonate with them.

Read More: How to Write a Volunteer Thank-You Letter That’s Actually Meaningful (+ Template)

Step 6: Report Your Success

While it seems like a good volunteer management plan would speak for itself, it’s important to capture important metrics, so you can report success to your wider organization through a volunteer impact report and spot areas of improvement.

The goals you set should determine which metrics you should track like the response rates of volunteer managers for new volunteer inquiries, volunteer satisfaction rates, and retention rates.

So much of good reporting is making sure your data is clean and can be easily shared. Oftentimes, this means choosing the right volunteer management platform and making sure it’s supported with the right processes and people in place. Gone are the days of tracking things in Excel sheets where it’s easy to duplicate or lose data with all the manual work that goes into maintaining massive sheets. Now, the options for volunteer management software solutions are plentiful, even free. 

Developing a volunteer management plan is a journey, and it looks different for every nonprofit, but we believe these tried-and-true steps can help any organization evolve its approach to volunteer management and enhance the experience of its volunteers and staff.

Read how WildApricot has helped organizations plan, manage, and execute their nonprofit goals and reach out to us to try it for free for 30 days.

The Membership Growth Report:

Benchmarks & Insights for Growing Revenue and Constituents

Get the report now!