How to Engage Your Volunteers During This Uncertain Time

By Abby Weber, consultant at The Curtis Group

As we have shared with you the ways that you should be building donor relationships, even in times of uncertainty, engaging your board and volunteers is equally important. But just how can you do that when you aren’t sitting across the table from them or working alongside them? Check out these six best practices for engaging your volunteers today.

1. Keep them informed

Are things moving a mile a minute at your organization? It’s important to provide frequent updates (changes in operations, staffing, specific needs, new funding initiatives, etc.) to your board and volunteers, so they continue to be engaged, AND are using cohesive messaging as your advocates in the community.

2. Identify connections

Last month, my colleague Victoria Dietz wrote about using this time to analyze key reports. Now put those reports to use. Review your donor lists and ask volunteers to identify any relationships they have. In addition to your top donors, consider your loyal mid-level donors, lapsed annual donors, and key consistency groups (members, alumni, past board members, etc.). Document these connections to help with outreach now and in the future when we’re able to meet in-person again.

3. Ask for assistance with donor outreach

It is ALWAYS a good time for donor stewardship. A personal phone call or video chat to your donors with an update on how your organization is uniquely responding to CV-19 is more impactful than mass emails. Our clients are finding that these conversations most often result in a donor asking to help, so be sure your volunteers are prepared with responses based on your current needs. Beyond your needs today, these calls are critical in maintaining donor relationships for future sustainability.

4. Leverage their expertise

Many nonprofits are entering uncharted territories facing difficult decisions about the future of their organizations. Seek the advice of board members and volunteers with experience in relevant fields. Even consider forming a task force focused on your CV-19 response. This group serves several purposes: keeping your volunteers engaged with your mission and helping with needs such as analyzing budget gaps, developing short- and long-term operational and funding plans, and updating or creating any necessary policies as you adapt your work.

5. Maintain regular board/committee meeting schedule

While it might be tempting to cancel meetings, it’s important to keep the full board involved. As everyone is getting more comfortable with video conferences, our clients are seeing the benefits of virtual board meetings. We’re even finding that volunteers who previously had little engagement and struggled to attend in-person meetings are now more available and willing to help.

6. Support each other

You’re not in this alone. Be transparent about what is helpful at this time and engage your board chair in communicating this with their fellow board members. Several years ago, my colleague Wendy McGrady wrote about the importance of transparency during times of crisis. Her words are even more relevant today. As you are being transparent, encourage your volunteers to be candid too. While we are seeing many board members step up to provide additional support, it’s also important to understand what your volunteers can/can’t offer right now.

Again, you are not in this alone. We are here to help. We can share ideas, experiences and provide suggestions for fundraising in uncertain times. Email me with your questions. Check out our resources on fundraising. Follow us on Facebook for the latest information on upcoming webinars and the impact of legislation.

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