Organizational effectiveness/Learning center/Volunteer engagement
This is a page about a strategy included in the organizational effectiveness learning center.
Use this page as part of the organizational effectiveness tool.
Engaging online and offline volunteers
This strategy is about effectively engaging volunteers that work with your organization. Volunteers who work to contribute to the Wikimedia projects are considered separately, as part of another strategy.
Volunteers are people who do work with your organization without pay because they care about your organization's mission. Many organizations have volunteers who serve on their boards, who organize activities, or who do other specific jobs. Volunteers may have a relationship with your organization over time, from the time they are recruited or discover your organization, through years of training and service, to the time they end their service. Engagement in this case refers to the way your organization interacts with these volunteers at every stage of the relationship. Volunteers are not only important to your organization because of the work they do, but also because they are people who care deeply enough about your organization's work to give their time.
Please take another look at the section in your organization’s Organizational Effectiveness Questionnaire Report about engaging online and offline volunteers (Question 4 in your report). This section includes a chart that may indicate specific places where you have high scores (4 or 5) or low scores (1, 2 or 3). Below, we’ve listed a few questions you may want to think about before taking a closer look at these strategies and resources.
- Is this strategy a strength or a challenge for you? What are you good at, and what are you less good at?
- Does everyone in your group agree on your scores for this strategy? Is there variance (differences between your scores) or consensus (everyone has about the same score)?
- Are any of these scores unexpected? Does it seem like they accurately reflect your organization’s capacity in this area? Are there key strengths or challenges that the Questionnaire or your scores do not capture?
- Within this strategy, are there particular strengths or challenges that your scores reveal?
- How important is this strategy to your organization’s ability to achieve impact? Is it a key strategy for your organization, or an optional strategy?
- Is this an area where your organization is interested in prioritizing capacity building?
Recommendations for volunteer engagement
If your organization wants to get better at engaging online and offline volunteers, here are some concrete recommendations that may help your organization build capacity in this area. Some of these recommendations may be more or less applicable depending on your organization’s strengths and gaps in this area, and your organization's context. We realize many organizations are already using strategies like these.
Keep in mind that these strategies focus on engaging volunteers that work directly with your organization. There will be another set of strategies related to your organization’s work with online contributors.
Clarify roles in your organization
- Work with your organization’s leadership and volunteer community to better understand and articulate the roles of volunteers in your organization, so your organization can effectively prioritize volunteer engagement.
- Consider who at your organization (among leadership, volunteers, staff) has roles specifically about working with other volunteers. If no one is designated to work with volunteers, consider designating one or several people within your organization to be the lead on implementing some of the strategies here. Most of these strategies need consistent follow up over time.
- Make sure someone (such as a lead volunteer or staff person) understands what the different roles of your volunteers are in your organization and your project work, and make sure volunteers understand their roles. If practical, make sure the person or people responsible for volunteers at your organization also work together with volunteers on some tasks.
- For important jobs, make sure volunteers are supported by others who are prepared to fill in. *This will help prevent “single points of failure” and will also ease the burden on hardworking volunteers with the potential to burn out.
- Encourage volunteers to “own” their tasks (feel responsible for their tasks) and find an idea they are passionate about that they can express through work with your Wikimedia organization.
- If your organization has any staff or contractors, make sure staff roles are clearly defined and distinct from volunteer roles. Have your organization's board work together with volunteers and staff to make a clear plan for working together.
Recruit and welcome new volunteers
- Have a plan in place for recruiting new volunteers, including a plan for presenting your organization and its work to volunteers with the skills and interest that match your organization’s opportunities. Widely promote volunteer opportunities at your organization, and do targeted outreach to make sure volunteers with the needed skills have access to information about these opportunities. Involve your current volunteers in recruitment.
- Consider how volunteers are selected and matched with your organization. In some cases, and for some roles, it may make sense to meet with volunteers (in person or virtually) to discuss their skills and motivations before they formally join your organization. It may be a difficult decision, but not all volunteers are a good fit for every task. Consider that working volunteers costs your organization resources (in terms of time, supplies, and good will).
- Have an orientation plan for volunteers. Once this orientation plan is in place, ask recent volunteers for feedback on what would have made orienting easier. Consider creating a brief volunteer handbook to help newcomers, or consider organizing group or individual orientation meetings led by a more experienced volunteer or a staff person.
- Identify mentor volunteers within your organization’s membership or network, who are willing to guide a new volunteer in setting up and running a new project. Set up a “matchmaking” section of your organization’s website that will introduce those seeking support, with those willing to provide it.
Keep volunteers motivated and engaged
- Find relevant ways to recognize and appreciate volunteer contributions. This could be through emails, a written letter, an announcement at an offline event, or something else. This should be based on your organization’s social, cultural, environmental context, and most importantly, the specific ways your volunteers like to be recognized. Online volunteers may like recognition that happens online (such as a barnstar), or may also like opportunities for in-person interactions. Keep in mind that some volunteers may enjoy public recognition and others may not be comfortable with it. Consider tracking information on how volunteers like to be recognized and included.
- Ask your volunteers what motivates them and highlight low-cost incentives or things you are already providing for your volunteers (training or development opportunities, opportunities to socialize or build community, recognition, free cookies).
- Build community among your volunteers by creating opportunities for volunteers to socialize with one another and to share skills. Some volunteer tasks may be done as a group.
- Find ways to make sure volunteers feel connected to your larger mission, even when they may be engaged in specific tasks. Tell volunteers how they are making a difference in multiple ways.
- Have clear protocols in place for asking a volunteer to leave your organization, in cases when they are causing harm to your organization or costing your organization too many resources. This can be a difficult decision, but having a clear process will make it easier for your organization and the volunteer.
Understand what volunteers need
- Conduct a needs assessment, formal or informal, to better understand what your volunteers need to be more engaged or effective.
- Provide ways for volunteers to regularly give your organization feedback about their work is going, and to identify challenges and gaps in resources that they may need your help with.
- Ask volunteers what training they may need to do their jobs better. Work with specific volunteers to develop training plans. Connect volunteers with relevant training resources, or consider providing some training to your volunteers directly. Training should be focused on the professional development of volunteers based on their interests, as well as what your organization needs.
- Know the signs and dangers of volunteer “burnout.” Find ways for your volunteers to move laterally to new roles within the organization if they wish to do so. At the same time try not to ask volunteers who are passionate about one area, to do most of their work in something else.
Wikimedia organizations with expertise in volunteer engagement
If your organization has expertise in engaging online and offline volunteers, please list yourself here and briefly describe your expertise that others wanting to build capacity in this area can contact you:
- Wikimedia UK has a range of experience as regards working with volunteers and welcomes contributions from Wikimedians further afield to our discussions
- Please add your organization’s name here, with a description of your expertise.
Here are some learning patterns related to this strategy. Create your own learning pattern here, if you have learning to share in this area.
Ongoing challenges in the area of engaging online and offline volunteers
If your organization would like to share an ongoing challenge in this area, that is or is not addressed in these recommendations, please write it down here as a starting point. We can try to build resources in this area or help different Wikimedia Organizations connect to address the challenge together.
- Please add a description of your challenges in this area here.
Please add useful resources you know about, whether created by the Wikimedia movement or in another context.
- Idealist’s volunteer management resource center provides a good outline of the basics of volunteer management, although it is somewhat US-centric and targets staff-led rather than volunteer-led organizations.
- Volunteer management networks around the world (listed by location).
Create a capacity building plan for engaging online and offline volunteers
If your organization has decided to prioritize capacity building to improve your ability to engaging online and offline volunteers, please create a table like the one below. The steps in this table can be part of your organization’s master capacity building plan, as suggested in the User Guide.
If you would like to share your capacity building plan publicly on Meta, you can use this button to create your capacity building plan.