Managing Virtual Volunteers in a Post Covid World
Before the pandemic, managing volunteers could be tricky, but at least you could see the progress made in real time as you addressed questions. Coronavirus was the catalyst in a huge shift away from in-person work to remote work from home. Managing volunteers virtually seem overwhelming at first, but once you reframe your thinking a bit, it can be quite easy. In fact, there are project management tools available that can be of further help to you and your team. Some project management software is even free. In addition to these tools, there are other integrations available to support campaigns, including OutreachCircle, which makes it easy for volunteers to support their favorite cause!
Make Sure “Virtual” Works for You
Before you start, ensure that your campaign is suited to virtual volunteering. Factors that affect the level of suitability may include: volunteers’ access to phone/computer, internet connection, and level of technology. You’ll want to consider their availability and preferred method of communication as well, to ensure that the transition from in-person to remote work is as smooth as possible for them.
Plan and Be Specific
Outline what tasks you require help with in detail. Don’t assume that your volunteers will know what you mean if you say “virtual” or “remote,” as these words sometimes carry different meanings. Virtual volunteering usually involves communication via phone (mobile apps, calling, texting) or computers (internet, desktop apps). If you plan to invite your volunteers to participate in a group-wide video chat, for example, they’re going to want to know so they can prepare in advance (ie: make sure they’re not in pajamas). Remote volunteering covers a wide range of possible definitions as well, so ensure that you are specific to avoid confusion.
Another area that requires a great deal of specificity is in describing the project itself. Be very clear about expectations, including project deadlines and aspects of the project that may not be overtly obvious to the volunteer. Outline how many rounds of review and feedback the project will have. Anything you can do to make the project more straightforward will allow the volunteer to spend more time on the project and less time asking questions.
Know what kind of skills and strengths you need from the volunteer in order to do the job well. You may want to find someone who’s worked with remote teams before, or who is comfortable with video conferencing systems. Ensure you and your team have the same priorities going into it as far as must-have competencies and the ones that are nice to have. To streamline the interview process, ensure those skills are clearly outlined.
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Be sure to go over the project’s intended impact as well, which should include the audience (whether it be donors, volunteers, or client base) and how the work will be directed to clients (ie: if you’re asking a volunteer to write about their time with the organization, will that be a blog post, on social media, or sent via email newsletter?).
Ensure that you go over the method of evaluation also, as some are based on output and some are hours-based. Explain if it’s a standalone project or if it’s working toward a larger project goal. If you are asking for the volunteer to do a piece of a project that’s been started, they’ll benefit from seeing examples of what others have done. This is especially important if the project involves visuals, whether it be a font, typeface, or photograph. If you are using branding in the project, include access to your campaign’s logo and let them know what your preferred font and font size is.
Restate Expectations and Communicate
Once you’ve chosen a volunteer, go over the deadline and expected scope of the project again. Plan how often you will be in touch and what systems you will use to communicate. Plan to communicate more often than you think you should, since there will likely be follow-up questions from the volunteer once the project is started. It’s impossible to plan every detail of a project or every potential snag a volunteer may run into, so it’s important to check in early and often to ensure they are keeping to your project vision and the timeline. Consider several lines of communication, including phone calls, video calls, text-based chat, etc.
Be honest about feedback, and let your virtual volunteers know if you’d like them to re-work something or add a different spin on it. Feel free to use all of the feedback and review rounds you’ve planned for during the project. Again, we can’t stress the importance of communication enough. The more you communicate, the more comfortable your volunteers will be and the more willing they will be to volunteer in the future.
Volunteer Ideas for Campaigns
We’re sure you already have plenty of ideas for how to encourage volunteers to contribute via virtual volunteering, but just in case it’s not all coming together for you, we’ve listed some ideas below. Many of these are workarounds specifically for campaign volunteers, but we’ve also included some outside-the-box volunteer opportunities that could offer a more creative way to get the message out than conventional campaigning.
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Ideas that Require Postage
These may or may not be feasible, depending on how much postage you are willing to pay and how reliable your volunteers are. However, delegating these tasks to volunteers is a huge time-saver.
- Filling envelopes, addressing them, affixing stamps and sending them off
- Collating materials
- Sending out lawn signs to head volunteers throughout the area to redistribute
- Folding brochures
Ideas that Require Phone or Internet Service
Phone banking (also known as cold calling) - This has been a part of campaigns nearly as long as phones have been around.
- This provides the community with a helpful reminder how to vote, and volunteers can ask community members if they need help with filling out absentee ballots as well. This is a great way for candidates/causes to maintain the focus on the election.
- Another use of phone banking is to increase activism by shedding light on important issues and call for policy changes. This gives volunteers an idea of who is supportive of policy change and can increase visibility for you and/or your cause.
- Calling prospective donors and asking for donations is yet another utilization of phone banking that can bolster a campaign.
- Graphic design/web page development - If you have a volunteer who’s experienced in the area of graphic design, consider asking them to develop your brand signatures, including logo, etc. Since this is your prospective donors’ first impression of you (especially when lockdown measures are still in place), you will want to ensure you have a highly qualified individual for this task.
- Writing testimonials, press releases, grants, newsletter articles - These can be written online via Google Docs and then published via Wordpress as a blog, or, alternatively, put up on your website. Every one of these documents has a different skill set requirement, so if you can, find someone experienced in each of these areas.
- Absentee ballots - Consider posting an online tutorial of how to navigate the absentee voting process. Give them an idea of when to request the ballot for primaries, referendums, etc.
- Posting on social media - If you have an extremely reliable (read: high-level) volunteer, consider adding them to your social media account. Ensure that they can write in your voice and align with you on what the important issues are and how/whether to address critics, supporters, etc. This is a volunteer task that by no means should be entered flippantly, however. If you’d rather not entrust a volunteer with sensitive information, you can ask them to post regularly from their personal account in support of your cause instead. Perhaps you can get them to designate a certain day of the week as a reminder to your voters that you are running.
- Translation into another language - Many successful politicians have websites in English and Spanish. If you have a skillful translator, they could help you create another version of your website and other campaign materials to ensure the message is getting out to as many people as possible: not just native-English speakers.
- Set up donation campaigns - Giving Tuesday is a great way to refocus donors to your cause, but a donation campaign can be set up any time of the year! This can be as simple or complex as you want it to be, with guest speakers who support your cause as well as music, or just something as simple as giving a shout-out to donors as they offer support.
Celebrate Your Volunteers
No matter what project you choose to have your volunteers help with, it’s nice to thank them for their contribution. You can involve them in a team call or offer to write a letter of recommendation to a prospective employer, detailing the importance of their help in the project. Small gestures like these will go a long way in letting them know you appreciate them, and again, lead to a greater likelihood that they’ll assist you in the future. Grand gestures are appreciated as well - like VIP tickets to upcoming speakers, galas, or events. The more your volunteer does for you, the more opportunities you have to thank them, so be creative. There are several ideas on how to celebrate volunteers here, if you’re looking for some pointers.
Remember, planning and communication are essential. Be sure to check in early and often with your virtual volunteers, and clarify expectations to ensure everyone is on the same page. Volunteering in an increasingly virtual world requires some adaptation, but it doesn’t have to be a headache for you and your team. Plan ahead, and don’t forget to thank your wonderful volunteers for their help!