Keeping Nonprofit Volunteers Engaged During COVID-19

Volunteers are the lifeblood of the social sector — this is why we celebrate them this time every year. This week is National Volunteer Week and when issuing the national proclamation, the president said, “We have never needed the volunteerism of America more than we do today. The coronavirus poses an unprecedented risk to the health, well-being and prosperity of our nation. True to form, in the midst of these turbulent times, Americans are unifying with unprecedented compassion, courage and strength, bringing help and hope to those who need it most. Countless Americans have found unique and innovative ways to spread joy and meet the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of others, despite the need to adhere to social-distancing measures.” In true American style, we have seen many individuals step up to help nonprofits on the frontlines in addition to helping behind the scenes, making masks at home, launching food drives in communities and assisting with virtual outreach to vulnerable populations.

We all have a lot on our plate, so we wanted to put together some helpful tips to retain, redeploy and recruit volunteers for your needs today and tomorrow.

Show Your Volunteers Love — First, if you haven’t already, show that you care by posting on social media and/or emailing newsletters today and tomorrow. Consider doing a video message from your CEO or a slideshow of pictures with thank you messages. Or, at your next virtual happy hour or meeting, do a toast to your volunteers and snap a picture. Here is a sample post to get you started:

As we wrap up #NationalVolunteerWeek, we give a heartfelt shout-out to AGENCY volunteers who helped us A and B. In one WEEK/MONTH alone, nearly X volunteers gave Y hours of service! We are honored by your service and commitment to our mission. #bettertogether #NVW #volunteersrock #bethechange

Be sure to tag your key volunteers to thank them personally, too! A little bit of love goes a long way.

Redeploy Your Volunteers as Storytellers and Historians — People volunteer for charities because they have a special connection. Every volunteer has a story of why they love your organization. Use this downtime to get them to document their story (feel free to use our storytelling templates to help them get started: Exercise #1, Exercise #2, Exercise #3) in writing or on video about why they are passionate about your cause. As a bonus, use these videos or stories as a driving force for the upcoming Giving Days happening across the country. Some will go viral and encourage their friends and family members to learn more about your great work! In addition, use this downtime to document and upgrade your volunteer policies and procedures, so when nonprofits are back in business it will be even easier to onboard volunteers.

Find New Volunteer Talent — Finally, people are itching to make a difference now and want to give back. Some even need to fill their resume with activities while furloughed or looking for work. Some want to make this time at home count and use their professional skills. Consider leveraging these talents for your backburner projects. Check out your local volunteer databases and add some of your longtime needs (e.g., murals, database entry, online learning assistance). Or, go to national databases, such as Volunteer Match’s special COVID-19 database or Catchafire.

We know that one of the best cures for isolation is “to lose yourself in the service of others.” Keep your volunteers close to your mission even if they cannot directly impact it — it will help them as much as helping you. We would love to hear all you are doing to engage and celebrate your volunteers during COVID-19. We are #bettertogether.

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