Activating Volunteers Through Social Media

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Following is a guest post from Sherry Heyl, Director of Sensei Project, in conjunction with May’s #SM4NP Twitter chat on the same topic. It originally appeared here on May 4th, 2015.
 Social Media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and others can be seen as large gathering places where people are showing up to discuss what they like and don’t like, want to experience and want to change, and who they are and who they want to be. With each status update, reply, like, favorite, and share, a potential new connection is being forged. People are finding opportunities to make their mark on the world.

1A nonprofit who would like to connect with like-minded individuals and get them involved can reach a much larger and more targeted group of people through these social media channels than through any other communication channel that has ever existed. However, social media channels are just the places where people gather, and just showing up will not help you achieve your goal. You have to show up with a compelling story, a vision that can be shared, and call to action, and a sense of community.


Tell a Story That Connects

A gift of time, expertise and labor. An investment made in exchange for making the world a better place. That is how volunteers see themselves when they sign up to work with their favorite cause.2

If volunteers are seen in any other way, such as “free labor,” or those people who just came to help out, it will affect the way you communicate with them. The way you communicate with your volunteers or those you would like to volunteer with you will impact the level of quality and commitment you receive from your volunteers.

Before deciding which social media channel(s) to use to recruit and connect with your volunteers, it is vital to consider who are the type of people who want to work with you and why they would want to work with you. Develop your story with your volunteers goals in mind, understanding what they want to get out of the experience, and then weave a story the tells how your mission aligns with your volunteers’ vision and how you can work together to achieve interconnected goals.

Provide Examples of What Volunteering is Like

Some of the most talented and caring people are standing and cheering for your cause from the sidelines. They want you to succeed. They talk about what you are doing and why your work is so important, but they are not getting involved.

The reason may be that they don’t know how they will fit in, or what the commitment level might be, or if they will get along with the other volunteers.4

Trying something new is scary for most people, and volunteering for the first time with an unknown organization can be intimidating.

To help your cheerleaders get comfortable with the idea of stepping away from the sidelines and getting involved in the trenches, craft content that shows what it is like to volunteer with your organization. Brainstorm every question a new volunteer may have and answer those questions with examples of the volunteer experience. In your call for volunteers describe what the experience will be like, what they will be doing, who they will be working with, and most importantly what they will accomplish.

Provide Easy Ways for Volunteers to Act

I have seen some great organizations push out great content for great causes and then place a roadblock up right at the point of where people will volunteer. The roadblock is in the form of asking volunteers to jump through hoops or go through a variety of tedious steps to sign up.

Examples include: asking people to email you to volunteer as opposed to providing a link they can click to fill in the necessary information. Asking people to print out a form to fill out and fax in.

Many social media channels have streamlined the process of getting people to act. Twitter cards enable people to simply click a button and all their information is immediately filled out for them and sent to you.

You can add a signup button to the top of your Facebook page that links right to a Google Form for people to express their interest. And when you post videos on Facebook, you can also include a Call-to-Action button.

Appreciate Your Volunteers

Every nonprofit I have been involved with has known the value of making sure their volunteers and donors feel appreciated, but they almost alwaysshow that appreciation in private or in personal communications. When appropriate, take the opportunity to shout your appreciation from the roof-top of your social media channels. Show the world that the people who volunteer with your organization are making a difference and that they are valued. Not only will doing this show your new an
future volunteers what it is like to volunteer, but the volunteers you are appreciating are likely to engage with and share your post with their network — thus enabling you to tap into a whole new group of people who may be willing to support your organization.

Give Your Volunteers Content to Share5

Hands-on volunteering takes time, a resource most people do not have an abundance of. What more and more people do have is an abundance of connections: Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and so forth. Help them help you make a difference by providing them with content

to share. Do not just expect that they are already following your social media profiles and will share what they feel compelled to share. Specifically plan out what you want your volunteers to share, write a few different options of a post, and send it to them asking them to share with their network. Be sure the content is compelling and that the volunteers understand the benefit of getting that content in front of people. For example, if you are partnering with a local restaurant for a fundraiser, you will want everyone in your network to tell their friends to eat at that restaurant on that specific date.

Social Media channels have made connecting with like minds and collaborating to reach common goals easier than ever. But the basic rules of relationship-building still apply. Those rules are focusing on common goals, setting and meeting expectations, and showing appreciation.


Want more?

Activate Volunteers Online to Boost Facebook Reach

The May #SM4NP: Activating Volunteers through Social Media

#SM4NP: The Twitter Chat for Social Media for Nonprofits


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