Virtual Volunteering: Tips to Engage Volunteers Remotely

Amy Thomasson
October 29, 2020

Volunteering is the act of providing services for the greater good without expectation or receipt of compensation. While the definition of volunteering hasn’t changed much over the years, the methods through which volunteers donate their time must evolve, especially during COVID-19. Volunteering is the single best way keep members engaged. But how to we foster a sense of community when our members are physically and socially distanced? As remote work continues to be prevalent for much of the working population, how can our associations make virtual volunteering as ubiquitous as remote work? Here are three key ways your association can create opportunities for virtual volunteers to make a real-world impact.

Provide ‘Micro’ Opportunities to Serve
Micro volunteering, also known as ad hoc volunteering or episodic volunteering allows potential volunteers to devote time and provide services in shorter, more convenient timeframes. As any association professional who has worked with volunteers can attest, the greatest obstacle securing committed volunteers is a lack of discretionary time. Micro volunteering solves for this barrier by creating smaller, more palatable opportunities that have plenty of inherent flexibility.

When building micro volunteering offerings, think about simple, one-time tasks that can serve as an introduction to your organization. For example, the alumni association of my former university offers individually based micro volunteering opportunities, including the quick task of writing congratulatory letters to newly admitted students in my hometown. While I would love to one day volunteer with my regional alumni chapter, the letter writing opportunity allows me to get started right away on a simple act of kindness that builds affinity between me, prospective students, and the alumni association.

Create an Online Ambassador Program
Every member of your organization is a marketer, regardless of his or her job title. From Amazon reviews to Twitter posts, to how you show up in your latest Zoom meeting, each of us is communicating and making statements every second of the day. People are 90% more likely to trust and purchase from a brand recommended by a friend, colleague, or peer. Whether we like it or not, our members are signaling the value of our organizations. That’s why it’s critical that we create opportunities for our members to serve as brand ambassadors of our organization, and the programs, products, and services we offer.

At a previous association, I partnered with a member of the Board of Directors to create an online ambassador program. The purpose of the program was to help build our leadership pipeline and increase awareness of the organization through peer to peer communication. Ambassadors were provided with monthly lists of new members in their local geographies along with an email template that could be customized for one-to-one outreach. They were also encouraged to engage with and share social media posts and share their own volunteer journeys with new and prospective members.

Solicit Member Expertise
From member value surveys, to association management software, to regular check-ins with your committees and task forces, there is no reason that associations can’t get to know their members. Organizations that truly understand the benefits of volunteering know there’s no substitute for personal outreach and connection. From highly engaged volunteers to first-time members, ask questions about what excites your members, why they connect to the mission of the organization, and what their career goals are. Find ways to connect these individuals with projects or people that align with their skills and goals.

Skilled-based volunteering involves taking a skill used every day in a job and applying it towards volunteer efforts. According to the Taproot Foundation, 68% of nonprofit professionals do not have the resources needed to successfully complete their work. Your existing network of members and volunteers likely possess many of those skills, but it’s up to your organization to identify them through personalized outreach and utilize them by aligning abilities with opportunities. Examples of skill-based volunteer opportunities include copywriting, web design, online fundraising, and virtual mentoring.

While physical volunteers will once again be in demand in a post-pandemic world, the value of virtual volunteering as a benefit to both associations and the members we serve should not be overlooked. In times of difficulty and uncertainty, the value of volunteering to our associations, industries, economies, and personal sense of meaning is priceless.