It’s hard to believe that just twenty years ago, the landscape of volunteering looked much different. If you were a volunteer manager during that time, your profession probably involved a much different kind of work. For starters, you likely spent a lot more time recruiting and training volunteers in person.


But now, you’re able to leverage a wealth of online tools at your disposal, and save yourself some time in the process.


The Internet, and the utilities it provides, has transformed the ways nonprofits engage their volunteers, and in many ways it’s enabled them to advance their mission even farther.

Let’s take a look at how.


Recruiting Volunteers

Obviously, the Internet plays a huge role in volunteer recruitment efforts. In the past, volunteer managers relied largely on word-of-mouth or in-person events to recruit volunteers; now, they can post position descriptions on their organization’s web site, VolunteerMatch or other relevant web sites. VolunteerMatch alone has connected 13.1 million volunteers to nonprofits since 1998. Its web site has over 117,000 registered nonprofits, and it receives 1.3 million monthly visits.  Furthermore, nonprofits who advertise positions there report that they are impressed by the quality and dedication of volunteers who find them through VolunteerMatch.


Accessing Virtual Volunteers

The Internet paved the way for a new sort of volunteering: virtual volunteering, also known as online volunteering. Virtual volunteers, who might never darken the door of the organization they serve, complete essential short-term or long-term projects, in fields such as graphic design, information technology, human resources, data entry, grant writing and more. No longer do nonprofits have to stretch staff thin or beg current volunteers to complete additional projects. Accessing virtual volunteers through national volunteerism web sites like VolunteerMatch or Catchafire links nonprofits to a treasure trove of additional volunteers, who are eager to leverage their skills for good and who can do so from a distance.


Enhancing Volunteer Training

In years past, volunteer managers faced the enormous and time-consuming task of training all volunteers in person. In many cases, this included providing refresher trainings as well. While in-person trainings haven’t completely gone away, and they are still beneficial in cultivating a sense of community, the Internet has provided a useful tool in easing the pressure on volunteer managers and ensuring that important information is disseminated to all. Volunteer managers can utilize email, social media and online conference calls to train volunteers, update them on new policies and procedures, provide refresher trainings for veteran volunteers, as well as train those virtual volunteers who might live hundreds of miles away.


Engaging Volunteers via Social Media

One reason volunteers continue volunteering for an organization is that they have a great sense of belonging. They feel like they are part of a community that is motivated by a common goal. Volunteer managers have found a way to cultivate this sense of community with social media tools. Figuring this out was imperative, as 77% of adults own a smartphone, 51% of Millennials use their smartphones to perform most tasks online, and the same generation uses social media to communicate. Reports show this isn’t about to stop or even slow. By maintaining active Facebook groups, Twitter feeds, Instagram accounts and more, volunteer managers can effectively carry on a conversation with their volunteers every single day of the week. Photos, videos and interesting statuses can prompt discussion among volunteers and nonprofit staff, building a relationship in the process.


Tracking Crucial Volunteer Data

Collating lengthy forms and populating spreadsheets used to be loathsome but important duties for volunteer managers. There was no way around the crucial task of tracking volunteer statistics, such as hours served, duties performed and an estimated dollar value of their work. But, with online tools, volunteer managers are able to collect, sort and analyze volunteer data like never before. Using a tool like MobileServe, volunteer managers can customize their central dashboard to view and analyze topics such as total volunteer hours, types of service activities, number of total volunteers, economic value of service hours and more. Volunteer managers can also see data from individual service events, share photos from events and view customizable infographics about volunteers’ work. Capabilities like these enable organizations not only to report data more efficiently, but they also allow them to identify areas in which their volunteer program can improve and advance the organization's mission more effectively.


There are probably some nay-sayers who regret the loss of some in-person interaction, and they might have a point. However, we can’t ignore the enormous strides we’ve taken in understanding and overseeing the volunteerism industry. And at the end of the day, when more people are volunteering, more organizations are getting help, and more lives and lands are improving as a result, isn’t it all worth it?


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