Non-Profits, Volunteers, and Social Media

by Ken Mueller on May 17, 2012 · 10 comments

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 Non Profits, Volunteers, and Social Media

Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking to the members of the Lancaster Council of Volunteer Coordinators. This group represented a large number of local non-profits, and these are the people who work hard to recruit and manage the volunteer “staffs” at their organizations. This was a bit of a new angle for me, so I thought I’d share with you what I shared with them about how to use social media as part of your volunteer efforts.

First, a couple of truths about volunteers, to give context to my thoughts on this topic:

1. They save you money – Because you have volunteers, you don’t have to spend a lot of money on staff, and you are able to free up your resources for a variety of other activities. They also provide all sorts of valuable services.

2. Their importance has grown during this economic downturn – Money is tight. As a non-profit you are competing for a piece of a smaller financial pie. And since it’s getting harder to raise that money, volunteers can really fill in the gaps.

3. Volunteers might be more important than donors – Anyone can write a check and throw money at a non-profit. We all receive pleas to donate and it’s easy to write a check and feel we’ve done our part, whether we care about the non-profit cause or not. But volunteering takes a bit more dedication. We won’t volunteer to help an organization unless we are truly committed to their cause and believe in what they are doing.

4. Volunteers tend to be socially active online – In The Social Side of the Internet, researchers at the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that social media users tend be more active in groups and organizations than non-social media users. Flip that around and it means that those who volunteer with your organization are very likely to be active on social platforms.

5. Volunteers might be among your best brand ambassadors – Combine their online social activity with their passion for your organization, and you have a small army of deeply committed brand ambassadors.

6. Volunteers are a part of your story – In his book, The Non-Profit Narrative, Dan Portnoy talks about the importance of sharing the story of your non-profit, including the “why” of it; why you exist. And while every story has a hero, your organization has multiple heroes, including your volunteers. Your organization exists to change the world, and they are part of how you are accomplishing that mission.

Keeping these things in mind, how are you using social media to work with this incredible group of people? Here are ways you should be approaching social media with your volunteers in mind:

1. Recruit new volunteers – We use social media in our non-profits to solicit donations and tell others about our campaigns, so why not let our audience know about our volunteer needs? If someone connects with your organization on social channels, it shows a certain level of interest in what you’re doing. In marketing and sales lingo, they could be viewed as prospects or soft leads. By making your needs known, you can nurture them along to actually becoming involved as volunteers. Don’t miss out on this opportunity.

2. Manage and engage your volunteers – Despite their importance to your organization, we often treat volunteers as expendable. Remember, they are providing valuable services and are often on the front lines of your work. They may actually know more about what is going on than your executives holed up in offices. Create a private Facebook group that allows you and your volunteers to communicate and dialogue about what is going on at your organization. They are often “out of the loop,” but this shouldn’t be the case. Keep them informed via email, groups, and even occasional video chats on Skype or Google + Hangouts. And invite your staff and executives to join as well. It’s a great way to build community and keep everyone in the loop.

3. Mobilize your volunteers – Remember, the Field of Dreams “If you build it, they will come” philosophy doesn’t work. If you have a social presence, make sure your volunteers are connected with you. You have to tell them and encourage them. Inspire them to share your content on Facebook and Twitter. Encourage them to check-in on Facebook and Foursquare. You’d be surprised how many volunteers (and paid staff!) don’t even know what is happening on their organization’s social channels. They all have their own social graphs; tap into that and have them extend their volunteer influence beyond your four walls. If you’re using an online platform like Razoo to raise funds, get them involved in that process as well. Think of them as a core part of your street team.

4. Make them a part of your social team – Find the right volunteers who might be able to help you with your online presence, perhaps helping out with your Facebook or Twitter activity. Often, volunteers can feel like outsiders, but they are regularly on the front lines of what you do. Have them be on the look out for great stories that can be used as content on Facebook, in a blog, or on video. The only caution I would give is to choose wisely, the same as you would with choosing a paid staffer to help out. And make sure your volunteers are fully aware of, and covered by, your social media policy. You do have one, right?

5. Profile and reward your volunteers – As mentioned before, your volunteers are an important part of your story. They are heroes. Why not let them tell their stories on your blog or via video on YouTube or Facebook? Let them create blog content for you based on their experiences. In a simple video series, Water Street Ministries (client), is sharing how their work changes lives. Not just the lives of their clients, but of those who volunteer. I bet many of your volunteers feel the same way.

You already know that your volunteers are an important part of all that you do. Now’s the time to connect with them online, and give them the tools they need to tell their friends about you.

How are you using social media to grow, manage and mobilize your volunteer team?

 Non Profits, Volunteers, and Social Media

In my experience in managing volunteers I've found that the best way to bring people together is why you're doing something. The what doesn't matter so much. In order to add value to your community volunteers members please remember to always define and reinforce the why you're doing what you're doing. The best life is the volunteer life Shaun Apple @shaunapple 

Shonali 1 Like

You touched on this, but since you didn't say it explicitly: empower them. Make them feel part and parcel of what you do, and give them the power (with adequate training) to actually DO stuff. That will keep them excited, coming back, bringing others on, and helping you grow.

KenMueller moderator 1 Like

 @Shonali That was one of the things I really touched on yesterday, and yes, did touch on, but not too much, here. It is very easy for volunteers to feel "out of the loop". By connecting with them on social platforms, such as a Facebook group, we can keep them informed of everything going on in the organization. It's funny, when I brought up that issue, I realized that even paid employees within an organization can often feel out of the loop. I know I've worked in organizations where I'd see a news release and think, "Huh. We're doing that?" because no one had ever told me about the latest initiative because it wasn't in my department.


And, it gave me a chance to pimp @ginidietrich and @geoffliving 's new book, Marketing in the Round. I think the whole concept of tearing down silos needs to happen on a deeper level, not just for marketing. It's a shame how divided we become within our own organizations. there is no reason why everyone in a business or organization shouldn't be aware of all that is going on. 


 @KenMueller  I agree with @Shonali, and these are ways to keep them engaged. Like you said, it's easy for them to feel out of the loop--especially since they're busy with their PAID jobs. So a great way to empower them? Public shout-outs. Tag them in photos, mention them in Tweets, maybe even blog about them. Acknowledging their hard work is a way to empower them.


mdyoder 1 Like

Fantastic post, Ken. You really nailed it. Volunteers are the lifeblood of non profits, and they (the non profits) have a tremendous opportunity to engage with their volunteers and take advantage of volunteers' desire to be involved via social media.

It's tough to pick a favorite point from your post--they're all great. But, if I had to, I'd say #3 about mobilizing your volunteers is one of the most critical. I'll definitely be sharing your post with clients and other non profits with which I am involved.

Thanks, Ken!

KenMueller moderator 1 Like

 @mdyoder Thanks, Mike. It was great speaking to these people, because as the volunteer coordinators they understood the value of the volunteers. Quite often, thought, those who are higher up, cloistered in offices, are so focused on fundraising, that they don't understand. One statistic that was thrown out was that the average value of a volunteer's time contribution is something like $20.81 per hour. That adds up very quickly.

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