In May 2020 it was reported that 1 in 5 adults in the UK were volunteering to support their communities during the first lockdown, and that a quarter of all furloughed employees had taken part in some kind of volunteering role.
Much of this activity involved traditional roles such as delivering supplies to vulnerable neighbours and helping at foodbanks. But many non-profits suddenly had to get creative and pivot their services online, relying heavily on virtual volunteers.
Three lockdowns and 10 months later those first ‘Blitz-spirited, communities-together-in-crisis’ days feel like a lifetime ago. But charities still need volunteers, and there still are more ways to help others than most people realise.
Ongoing social distancing restrictions mean that opportunities to volunteer in-person in more traditional roles remain few and far between. We’ve found that most of the current opportunities on Social Good Connect’s digital volunteering platform are for virtual volunteering such as befriending the elderly, isolated and unwell, or lending professional skills to under-resourced charities such as website help, accounting or building admin systems online.
If you’ve recently pivoted your services online, or you are finding yourself overwhelmed by the task of managing multiple virtual volunteers, here are some of our top tips to make life a little easier!
1. Make sure you’re organised when managing virtual volunteers
This might sound obvious, but set yourself up for success by getting organised with your volunteer management systems.
Before you commit to bringing on a virtual volunteer, be clear on what you need their support with and what you hope to achieve by working with them. Ensure you have the relevant processes and resources in place before taking anyone on. An onboarding checklist, for example, or a system for creating, approving, and scheduling content for social media. If you are used to carrying out tasks by yourself, it pays to take a bit of time to think through your process and lay it out.
If you need your volunteers to undertake any online training before starting, make sure they know what’s expected of them and by when. Be on hand to answer questions and offer regular reminders to keep up the good work or celebrate progress with them!
Some tools we recommend are:
- Zoom – either the free version or the affordable entry level subscription can be a great tool to help you get to know your virtual volunteers a little better
- Slack – foster community and connections between your volunteers by creating relevant channels and encouraging them to contact you here for quick, more urgent messages
- Email – ideal for managing multiple virtual volunteers. Create a separate inbox folder for each one for quick access to updates correspondence
- ClickUp or Trello – using a shared board to assign tasks and track progress is a great way to keep everyone on track and see what each of your volunteers ais working on at a glance.
- Lucid Chart – creating a visual process flow to map out how you will organise you volunteers can be a really helpful activity. Failing that, we recommend a big old sheet of paper and some coloured pens!
2. Collaborate with your volunteers
Virtual volunteering is a valuable way to work with skilled volunteers who have the expertise and understanding to help you take on new projects.
As well as sharing a list of tasks that you expect them to complete, give space for creativity and listen to their fresh perspectives – who knows where it will take you!
You’ve recruited them for their specialist skills and know-how, so listen well and be open to honest feedback.
Working with volunteers also means being courteous, respectful of their time, and flexible. Remember that they are giving their own time for your cause despite often busy lives and plenty of commitments outside of supporting your charity.
Make life easier for everyone by thinking ahead and giving volunteers plenty of time to complete their tasks. Ask how many hours they’re able to commit to volunteering each week and be respectful of this. Try not to overwhelm with an unattainable list of requests.
Volunteering should be a mutually beneficial arrangement, and your volunteers have their own reasons for getting involved. When recruiting virtual volunteers, ask them what they’re hoping to gain from the role. If it’s gaining experience in a certain area, or developing specific skills, make sure you provide plenty of opportunities for this when managing their workloads.
3. When managing volunteers online – be human!
At the end of the day, whether you’re an employer, a volunteer, or a highly qualified and respected specialist – we are all just people, let’s remember that!
If your main correspondence with your virtual volunteers is through email, avoid simply relaying orders and asking for progress reports. It’s ok to let your personality shine through and be a little less formal from time to time.
At Social Good Connect, we love using our social Slack channel (which we named staff-kitchen), to share personal news, chat about the weather, and overload each other with silly gifs. We also include our volunteers on our occasional social Zoom catch ups.
Get to know your volunteers on a more human level and don’t be afraid to invite suggestions for improvement – it fosters a positive team culture and will definitely build trust and loyalty.
Pick up the phone and check in with your virtual volunteers on a monthly basis. It keeps the connection alive and active and helps volunteers feel fulfilled, supported, and happy in their role.
This could be something that you do as their direct line manager, or you could even ask one of your colleagues to take responsibility for touching base with them. They might feel more comfortable talking about role or workload issues with someone else.
Finally, and most importantly, celebrate with your volunteers whenever they achieve something (like completing a level of training or receiving positive feedback from a beneficiary), and always remember to thank them for their time. Small personal messages and gestures acknowledging someone’s hard work and effort can go a long way to making them feel appreciated and included, and it might just mean that they stay with you for longer!
If your charity needs more help and is looking for a free, easy way to recruit volunteers, please get in touch with our charity relationship manager, Megan, to chat about how we can support your goals and help find your perfect candidate.
Written by Betty Henderson