How To Cultivate a Volunteer Community
A sense of community and connectedness is likely the strongest influencer in determining how long a volunteer remains with your organisation. A sense of a belonging, connecting with likeminded individuals and forming friendships will ultimately have a positive and long lasting impact on a volunteer’s experience. As leaders of volunteers, it is essential we provide opportunities where volunteers can connect with peers to form these bonds. Fostering these relationships will lead to positive outcomes for both the retention of your volunteers and the culture within your organisation.
Community of Learning and Support
Providing opportunities for volunteers to gain knowledge and skills alongside each other and staff can enhance their volunteer experience. During the recruitment phase, applicants may feel anxious and ‘on the outer’. Facilitating opportunities for new volunteers to connect with each other, their experienced peers and staff can be a powerful way to foster this community. Likewise; providing ongoing opportunities for volunteers to learn alongside each other and staff can reinforce their sense of belonging. Some recommendations to develop your volunteer’s sense of community while learning and supporting each other include:
- Recruitment: Invite experienced volunteers to attend information sessions, group interviews, and inductions. Experienced volunteers can share their volunteer experience with applicants and provide support to staff with specific tasks;
- Meetings: Include volunteers in team meetings to keep them informed and included;
- Training: Provide occasions for staff and volunteers to learn together in relevant training sessions;
- Peer support: Develop a peer support program where nominated volunteers are trained to provide support following an incident or personal matter impacting a fellow volunteer; and
- Mentoring: Match experienced volunteers with new volunteers to foster personal relationships whilst sharing information and expertise.
Shared Sense of Purpose
A shared sense of purpose can unite volunteers and staff and increase their engagement with each other. Involving volunteers or representative groups in decisions which may impact them can contribute to establishing a shared sense of purpose. Some further suggestions to nurture a shared sense of purpose include:
- Involving volunteers in working groups, problem solving, process improvements and planning sessions;
- Clearly linking volunteer roles to your organisation’s vision and objectives through their training and position descriptions;
- Quantifying and sharing the impact your volunteers contribute to your organisation in Annual Reporting;
- Host periodic joint volunteer and staff meetings with a focus on outcomes achieved, the sharing of data and stories as well as identifying the actions required for future objective achievement; and
- Profiling volunteers and staff in internal communication / newsletters.
Creating occasions for volunteers to socialise, share their volunteer experiences and form friendships will further aid the development of a meaningful community. Some suggestions to consider include:
- Social events: Support experienced volunteers in organising social events for their peers to connect and discuss topics relevant to their role;
- Recognition events: Bringing volunteers together to show your appreciation by highlighting contributions and success stories; and
- Social media: Create social media avenues for your volunteers with consideration given to developing guidelines to ensure appropriate behaviour.
A Community for Leaders of Volunteers
Thinking more broadly than within an individual organisation, supporting each other as leaders of volunteers can build an international community of practitioners driving our profession to new heights.
With the aspiration of sharing and discussing topics relevant to Volunteer Management, Flutterbye aspires to build a passionate community of Volunteer Management professionals. To that end, I am pleased to announce the launch of the Flutterbye Community.
To inspire readers and build an international community of volunteer management professionals, Flutterbye will be periodically profiling leaders of volunteers from January 2018. If you are interested in being profiled please contact Christine at firstname.lastname@example.org