Creating a dedicated volunteer program for your organization is a popular way to mobilize supporters and even meet new ones. And with a global pandemic keeping people inside and avoiding face-to-face contact, these programs are a valuable way to centralize your efforts and maximize volunteer impact. Volunteer programs enable leaders like you to add structure to the opportunities you offer, how you engage with volunteers and how hours and impact are reported.
However, starting a volunteer program is more than just recruiting a couple of supporters to help out with miscellaneous tasks. In fact, it requires long-term planning, coordination and investment in top-notch, quality tools. Especially as your volunteer base grows and the types of opportunities you offer expand, ensuring that all components are in place and processes are being followed correctly becomes even more essential.
Whether you’re preparing to create a volunteer program for the first time or you’re looking to make the most of your current one, figuring out the best way to stay organized will require some thoughtful planning.
If you’re able to answer the following questions, it’s easier to keep your program organized and focused on your ultimate mission:
- What is your program’s mission statement?
- What are your volunteer program’s goals?
- What is your volunteer program’s strategic plan?
- How do you manage your volunteer program participants?
The questions above should help you guide your volunteer program and keep your decisions grounded. Ready to begin? Let’s start.
1. What Is Your Program’s Mission Statement?
All successful volunteer programs should have a concrete and actionable mission statement. The mission statement acts as a guide to ensure your program is always moving forward to your end goal. After all, your volunteer program won’t accomplish much without you and your participants fully understanding the cause at hand and how your program will tackle it.
This doesn’t mean you just copy your organization’s main mission statement. While your program’s mission should relate to your overarching one, it should be more specific to the actual actions that you need your volunteers to take. With many programs turned upside down due to COVID-19 and other external factors, your program’s mission, if anything, should support your main one and help maintain your organization’s identity during this crisis.
So what is your volunteer program’s purpose? Understanding what that is should help you create the best mission statement possible. You and your team should get together and brainstorm what you hope your volunteer program will accomplish, what you want your volunteers to do and the program name you might choose for it.
Once you have the above in mind, it’s time to put together an inspiring mission statement. In general, a successful mission statement should have these essential components:
- The mission statement addresses an unmet problem or need. You likely want to start a volunteer program because you’ve already identified a gap within the community. Make sure to state this clearly within your mission statement so that volunteers, as well as other organizations or businesses, understand exactly what your program is addressing.
- The mission statement is focused and succinct. As you address this need, you also have to focus your program and organization in a broader social context. Why is this need important? Communicate your purpose and importance concisely, in no more than one or two sentences.
- The mission statement shows value to stakeholders. Not only does a mission statement guide the planning process and help you make meaningful decisions, but it’s also a key factor in winning volunteer grants. When other businesses or organizations can see your program’s mission in an easily digestible format, they’re more inclined to be inspired and even support you financially.
Let’s take a look at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ mission statement: “As the nation’s cultural center, and a living memorial to President John F. Kennedy, we are a leader for the arts across America and around the world, reaching and connecting with artists, inspiring and educating communities. We welcome all to create, experience, learn about and engage with the arts.”
The need is connecting art and culture to all communities, and it is succinctly described in two sentences. This also shows value to stakeholders, as they immediately know that this organization is a “leader for the arts,” and they might be inspired to support this cause.
2. What Are Your Volunteer Program’s Goals?
Along with your mission statement, your volunteer program needs to have specific goals in place. After all, how else are you going to determine whether or not you’re making a genuine impact on the cause at hand?
A tried-and-true method of setting goals is with the SMART acronym. A SMART goal should be:
- Specific. Your goals shouldn’t be vague or general statements. Use actual numbers and specific actions when describing a goal.
- Measurable. Goals are hard to track when you can’t measure them. For instance, it’s easier to measure a goal of “making 100 phone calls” a day as opposed to just “complete phone banking.”
- Attainable. While it’s good to reach for the stars, your goals shouldn’t be wildly overambitious. Make sure you can achieve the goals with the resources available.
- Relevant. Of course, your goals should be relevant to your program’s mission. If it doesn’t align with your mission and lead to beneficial outcomes for your cause, then it’s not at all relevant as a goal.
- Time-based. Your goals should have a deadline. Without one, there’s no clear path to motivate your staff and your volunteers. As you jot down each goal, have a date or date range for when this should be completed to ensure your program is on track!
Once you have your goals laid out, it’s time to consider the types of actions you and your volunteers will take to achieve them. Along with each goal, make sure to specify what your staff members or volunteers need to do to get the goal done.
When you assign these goals and activities right off the bat, you not only focus your efforts but also make it easier to keep track of whether the goals are consistently met. If they are, that’s a good indicator of a successful program, and you can show that impact to your volunteers. If they aren’t—well, you might need to refine your current goals.
3. What is your volunteer program’s strategic plan?
After having a clear focus for your volunteer program with a mission statement and concrete goals, it’s time to lay out your strategic plan. This means outlining all of the key components, including resources, tools and staff time, you’ll need to pull your program off.
In general, your strategic plan should outline and dive deep into the following questions:
- What resources are already available to your organization? Consider funding for program expenses, staffing budgets and any other administrative help you might need, the type of training your volunteers need, and the technology you’ll use to coordinate volunteers and keep track of the necessary information effectively.
- How are you going to find viable volunteers? This part of your plan should outline how you will advertise volunteer opportunities, manage volunteer registration and screen new prospects. Volunteer management software can help streamline this process and leave more time for you to creatively market your program to supporters.
- Are your volunteers happy and motivated in this program? Your program should only foster a positive experience for your supporters. Make sure you match volunteers to opportunities they’re genuinely interested in, welcome all new volunteers with the necessary information and materials, as well as thank each participant for their hard work.
- How will your program staff or other volunteer leaders communicate with volunteers? Make sure your strategic plan lays out how you’ll be sharing information and event details with your volunteers in an efficient manner. This goes both ways, too, so make sure you also have a set process for how your own team will respond to any volunteer questions.
- How do you show appreciation for all of your volunteers’ hard work? Whether it’s a thank-you email or a larger volunteer appreciation event, it’s crucial that your passionate supporters understand the value they bring to your organization and overall mission.
Due to current social distancing guidelines, it’s a good chance that your program has to take place entirely online for the time being. This means that you’ll likely be heavily relying on technology and tools to help with volunteer management and engagement, which we’ll touch more on in this next section.
4. How Do You Manage Your Volunteer Program Participants?
As you can see, there are a lot of components and factors to consider when creating your volunteer program. Now, it’s time to flesh out exactly how you’ll be managing and engaging with these volunteer program participants.
The best volunteer program is structured — this means both staff and volunteers understand how to participate in opportunities, track hours, check-in/out of events and more. Without a clear structure in place for all of these actions, you risk your volunteers feeling lost and your staff members unsure of how to pick up the pieces.
With a global pandemic affecting almost all aspects of daily life, many volunteer leaders have turned to software solutions to organize volunteers, the opportunities they offer and the data they collect. Software solutions are also beneficial if you don’t have the resources to hire a full team to manually coordinate volunteers and activities for them.
The volunteer management tools that you use should help with the following:
- Organizing volunteers and their data with comprehensive volunteer profiles. This data can also be used to help create more personalized experiences for your volunteers.
- Tracking volunteer hours effectively, whether that’s with an on-site kiosk, through a mobile app or online after the experience.
- Communicating with program participants, thanks to automation capabilities. These are emails or texts sent out based on an action trigger, like completing volunteer registration. This way, you can welcome new volunteers, send surveys or prompt a volunteer check-in without having to do the manual work.
- Recruiting volunteers and promoting opportunities to them. Your management tools should help you highlight exciting events, promote valuable opportunities to the relevant volunteer and help increase attendance with customized landing pages.
- Creating volunteer opportunities with event management capabilities. If you’re stuck on viable virtual ideas to try, consider how you might pivot traditional in-person events to the online space. This might require additional livestreaming tools and other video conferencing platforms.
Remember, streamlining the volunteer process can both encourage deeper engagement and reduce tedious work for your own team members. Plus, investing in dedicated tools and solutions isn’t just great for a pandemic world. This technology will only help you in the coming years as you continue to work on and expand your volunteer program, or even as you create new ones.
A dedicated volunteer program can do wonders for your organization and help maximize volunteer impact. However, it can’t meet its full potential if you don’t have an organized structure and concrete plan to guide you. Use the questions above to ensure that your own volunteer program isn’t missing any of the fundamentals. Good luck!