Keeping Your Volunteers Engaged Over the Summer

Ah, sweet summertime. A time of lazy days by the pool, staying out late and of course, lots and lots of ice cream. But for many nonprofit organizations, summertime can actually be a bit more challenging. After all, school is out, which means college students aren’t in town any more as potential volunteers. More people take vacations over the summer, their schedules book up with weddings, camps and other activities, and soon enough, the volunteer list starts shrinking.

Summertime is a busy time, and for some nonprofit organizations, it means volunteers simply don’t have the time to commit to serving anymore. This can be a frustrating predicament, as summer is also one of the best times of the year to host events, drives and fundraisers for your nonprofit, which all require volunteers to be available. Fortunately, there are ways your nonprofit can keep volunteers inspired throughout the entire summer. Here are six of them.

1. Match volunteers with the right roles.

When you work a job, if you don’t love what you do, chances are you will not want to continue. The same exact thing goes for volunteering. You might be surprised how many volunteers stop working with a nonprofit because they didn’t enjoy the role they were put in. Instead, you are much more likely to have a happy and fulfilled volunteer who will be engaged throughout the entire summer if they’re matched with a role they enjoy.

Identify the skills, personality and strengths of volunteers, see what needs lie within the NPO and match the two up. Try including a personality test as part of the volunteer orientation in order to place them in the right role which they would enjoy over the summer.

2. Provide orientations and trainings.

What process does your nonprofit have in place to orient and train its new volunteers? How about any habitual trainings for residual volunteers to grow their skills? From dog walkers to donation collectors, every volunteer should know exactly what the nonprofit expects of them. They should have a clear idea of the nonprofit’s mission and how their individual service helps move the mission forward.

Depending on the role they fill in the NPO, volunteer training could be a half-hour session or more. Scale the orientation and training process based on the role and level of commitment the volunteer position requires. By providing orientations and trainings early-on, you establish clear expectations. And when volunteers know exactly what’s expected of them, they will feel more engaged throughout the season.

3. Create leadership opportunities.

If you have habitual volunteers consistently giving their time to the organization, chances are they start to feel a little tired of being told what to do. When you are constantly told what to do, when to do it and how to do it, any task or project—no matter how much you love it—starts to feel more like a job and less like contributing to a cause you care about. Instead of simply assigning menial tasks to volunteers, put them in charge of the task.

Better yet, put them in charge of a team to accomplish the task. Make room for new leaders to step up within the nonprofit organization and take accountability for the results they produce. When you give volunteers autonomy through leadership opportunities, it makes them feel inherently valuable to the NPO and keeps them engaged through a more personal relationship.

4. Ask for—and implement—feedback.

Many volunteers will end their involvement with an organization because they didn’t like the volunteering process, felt procedures were disorganized or even were concerned about a change in direction. All of these things are issues your NPO can actively combat and avoid through one key word: communication. Keep in touch with volunteers on a regular basis. Check in on them, ask how things are and actually listen for a response. Ask for critiques to improve the nonprofit, then—here’s the key part—implement the feedback.

Many organizations ask for volunteers’ opinions, then do nothing with the results they receive. Instead, take feedback seriously and see how you can implement it to better improve the volunteer process. If nothing can change, take an active step toward communicating with the volunteers why it can’t or if something different could be done. If volunteers feel they have a real voice in the NPO, they will be inclined to thoroughly commit to the mission.

5. Inspire with the cause, not the organization.

Speaking of mission, another critical component to keeping volunteers engaged over the summer is to inspire them with the cause, not just the organization. Remember: people care about the why, not the what. Don’t simply ask volunteers to get involved with the nonprofit; show them how their efforts actually make a difference in the community. Inspire them with real stories of people they will help and true challenges their work will address. When volunteers see, hear and feel how their work has an impact, they will be inspired to support the cause by being more involved with the nonprofit.

6. Say thank you.

Finally, the last step is the simplest step: say thank you. No matter who volunteered, what they did or for how long, commit to telling volunteers thank you. Highlight their success and recognize their hard work that contributed to the nonprofit’s mission. Whether you send out personalized, handwritten notes, an email or give goody bags, true volunteer engagement lies in the thank-you. When volunteers feel appreciated and recognized for their contributions, they will want to keep coming back and supporting the mission they care so much about.

Keeping volunteers engaged over the summer months can be a challenging task. With such a busy season, volunteering can sometimes be the last thing on anyone’s mind. Implement these six ideas in your nonprofit’s volunteer process in order to keep volunteers excited, involved and engaged throughout the entire summer.

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