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5 Ways to Engage Volunteers Through Membership Programs

5 Ways to Engage Volunteers Through Membership Programs

Volunteers and membership programs go hand in hand.

Think about it: membership programs are made up of dedicated constituents looking to make a difference in their communities through continued work alongside their favorite nonprofit organizations. Sound like another group of individuals we know and love?

Since these groups pair together so naturally, we thought we’d examine a few ways you can bolster volunteer engagement through your nonprofit membership program.

If you haven’t started a membership program at your nonprofit, it’s a great way to encourage more volunteer efforts as well as more comprehensive involvement in your organization overall.

And even if a membership program has long been a part of your organization, there’s no better time than the present to engage your members through volunteering!

In this article, we’ll talk through how to:

  1. Integrate your membership and volunteer management software.
  2. Focus your membership application on volunteer engagement.
  3. Build community at community service events.
  4. Form a member committee (or a few!).
  5. Stay connected to your volunteer base.

While volunteers and members both have their own unique challenges and needs, when you put them together, you can create an engagement program that’s pretty astounding (not to mention, rewarding).

With that in mind, let’s get going!

5 Ways to Engage Volunteers Through Membership Programs

1. Integrate your membership and volunteer management software

Why Does It Matter?

As a nonprofit, you likely already know the value of your CRM. When used effectively, software can help your organization streamline tasks, plan more valuable engagements, and even raise more money.

The best part of a nonprofit CRM is that it can put all of your constituent data in one centralized location. That means that not only will donor information be readily available, but volunteer and member data too—if all your platforms are in the same system, that is.

When your membership software and volunteer management software work with one another, you’ll be able to get a comprehensive view of all types of constituents in one platform.

That means that you’ll be able to plan engagements that appeal specifically to members who volunteer, volunteers who aren’t yet members, members who don’t regularly volunteer, and any other subsections of your constituent base.

By seeing a holistic picture of your supporters’ engagements (whether that’s as volunteers, members, or both), you’ll be able to gather deeper insights about your constituents and get a more well-rounded picture of your organization overall.

How Do You Do It?

There are a few ways you can go about making sure your software all works together, so let’s break them down.

  • Use a CRM with built-in membership and volunteer management tools. The only surefire way to trust that all your tools will work together is to use a truly comprehensive software solution. Check to see if your CRM vendor has available membership and volunteer management expansions (or shop around to find a new provider who can supply all three).
  • Integrate the platforms into your CRM. If you’re using a CRM that doesn’t have add-ons within the same software family, it might be time to look for a third-party solution that meets your needs. Just make sure that all your platforms are compatible.
  • Integrate a volunteer management platform with your membership management software. If you’re a membership organization who only relies on membership fees to raise money, you might not use a nonprofit CRM. But, if you still need a way to manage volunteer data, the best solution might be to integrate a compatible volunteer platform with your membership software.

When your CRM is the hub of every type of constituent data, you’ll be able to manage all of your efforts more efficiently.

5 Ways to Engage Volunteers Through Membership Programs

2. Focus your membership application on volunteer engagement

Why Does It Matter?

When it comes to adding value to your membership program, the membership application form might not be the first place you look. But here’s a secret: it should be!

If one of the goals of your membership program is to boost volunteer involvement, it’s important that your membership application reflects that.

When you take advantage of this form to gather valuable information about your new members, you can use that data down the line to perfectly tailor your communications and engagement strategies.

For example: if you ask a prospective member what their available volunteer days are, you can more accurately promote relevant volunteer opportunities that fit their schedules.

Or, if you already know that a member is interested in serving on an event-planning committee, you can reach out to them personally when your next fundraising event rolls around.

How Do You Do It?

To kickstart engagement and ensure long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with supporters, you’ll need to know how to design a membership application form that adds value to both the membership program and volunteer experience.

By implementing the following strategies, you can create a member application form that engages your volunteers from the get-go:

  • Ask the right questions. The good thing about membership forms is you can tailor them to fit your organization. Ask new recruits where their volunteer interests lie, what special skills they might have, and if they’d be interested in serving in leadership or committee positions.
  • Keep it simple. While a membership application can be as extensive as you’d like, a long, complicated application process will deter prospects before it engages them. You’ll want to keep required fields to a minimum and design your form so that it’s user-friendly and intuitive.
  • Don’t forget—follow up! The key to gaining value from your membership application? Actually use it throughout the member and volunteer experience! When the data from your form flows into your CRM, you’ll have all the information you need on file for reference later on.

Recruitment is about more than just acquiring members—it’s about keeping them! When you have volunteer engagement in mind at the very beginning, you’ll be able to design a more valuable membership program.

5 Ways to Engage Volunteers Through Membership Programs

3. Build community at community service events

Why Does It Matter?

One of the most unique benefits of membership programs is their innate ability to foster thriving, supportive communities of like-minded individuals.

While volunteer programs are also communal by nature (most volunteer opportunities connect people of all backgrounds with a similar interest in serving their community), community service activities are typically designed to help others, with little focus on the volunteers themselves.

That’s certainly not a bad thing, but when engagement with your nonprofit is by and large a solitary experience, supporters are less likely to stay committed long-term or develop a truly valuable relationship with the organization.

On the other hand, when volunteers are surrounded by a community of invested peers, all focused on furthering the cause, they’ll be empowered to go above and beyond for your nonprofit’s mission.

How Do You Do It?

If your nonprofit is lacking a focus on community, look to your membership program. (Or, if you don’t have a membership program, start one!)

When your membership program has engagement activities in place that prioritize community-building among member-volunteers, you’ll be able to facilitate the growth of a vibrant network of individuals.

One way to get your members interacting with one another at community service events is to arrange opportunities around members with similar skills or interests!

Remember that trusty member application data you’ve filed in your CRM? Put that information to good use by segmenting your member list to view those with specific volunteer interests, affinities, or skills.

When your members have a chance to get to know one another while volunteering together, they’ll establish connections that they can continue nurturing throughout their time in your membership program. (And they’ll do a lot of good for the community while they’re at it!)

5 Ways to Engage Volunteers Through Membership Programs

4. Form a member committee (or a few!)

Why Does It Matter?

Membership programs enable supporters to get involved at a high level with their organization of choice. That means that not only can they volunteer at events and community service projects; they can actually contribute to the nonprofit’s planning and operations, too.

Running a nonprofit takes a lot of work, but your most dedicated supporters can alleviate some of that by volunteering their time and unique skills to all your organizational efforts.

And since you’ll already be utilizing groups of volunteers who most likely specialize in one or two areas, it only makes sense to organize committees around different subsets of your cause.

When individuals combine forces to work toward a common goal, your nonprofit will reap the benefits of their commitment and collaboration.

How Do You Do It?

Member committees can be used for practically any aspect of your organization, from planning and executing your annual event to developing a new take on your nonprofit’s marketing strategy.

As you begin organizing member committees, keep the following strategies in mind:

  • Reach out to individuals. If you’re putting together a group of volunteers with specific skill sets, it’s important to reach out in a personal way. For instance, if you’re in need of a social media guru, find out which of your members have a public relations background and send them a personal email (hint: use your database for both!).
  • Devise a leadership plan. Either before or at your first meeting, you should come up with a clear leadership structure for your committee. Volunteers will be able to offer different levels of commitment (as well as various interests and skills), so make sure everyone’s role is commensurate with their own expectations.
  • Be specific with your needs. It might seem like enough to send out a blanketed message to gauge interest in serving on a committee, but most members are more likely to respond to a highly detailed request. For example, “We need 5 members to serve on our silent auction procurement committee. We plan to host an hourlong conference call every week. Committee members receive 2 free tickets to the auction!”

Once your committees are underway, keep in touch with them by having a point person on your staff supervise all meetings and serve as the liaison between organizational leadership and volunteers.

5 Ways to Engage Volunteers Through Membership Programs

5. Stay connected to your volunteer base

Why Does It Matter?

No matter how many wonderful volunteer and engagement opportunities you plan, nobody will know about them if you don’t know how to effectively communicate.

Open lines of communication are ultimately what sets a strong membership program apart from a weak one. When you and your members are on a two-way communication street, you'll be able to hear and understand their needs and effectively respond.

Likewise, when your members are engaged in volunteering, you'll want to communicate with them as the complete constituents that they are—not just members, not just volunteers, but as full contributors who offer their skills and services in a variety of ways.

More than anything, by prioritizing a connection to your members and volunteers, you’re proving to them that they are highly valued within your organization and membership program.

Supporters who feel valued are more likely to stick around longer and seek out ways to stay involved through volunteering, donating, and other means.

How Do You Do It?

Your membership management software or nonprofit CRM will be a major player when it comes to keeping up with your communication efforts.

For example, you can rely on your software to help you:

  • Automate communications. From follow-ups and thank-yous to newsletters and more, you can use your software to automatically send mass emails to all (or some) of your database. Segment your supporter list so you only send emails to volunteers, members, or both!
  • Send targeted volunteer opportunities. Your software can help you determine which volunteers would be the best fit for every opportunity you plan. Segment your database by skills, interests, or geographic location, and promote activities that are most likely to engage with those members.
  • Time renewal reminders right. Membership renewal reminders don’t have to be a hassle! Use your software to send appropriately timed renewal reminders so that members don’t get caught off guard when their next membership fee payment is due.

By staying on top of all communications, you’ll keep members connected to your cause and eager to continue their involvement.

Closing Thoughts

Membership programs are a natural way to add value to your volunteer engagement strategy.

With these strategies in mind, you’ll soon be one step closer to stronger engagement and higher retention rates at your organization!

5 Ways to Engage Volunteers Through Membership ProgramsAdam Weinger is the president of Double the Donation, the leading provider of tools to nonprofits to help them raise more money from corporate matching gift and volunteer grant programs. Connect with Adam via email or on LinkedIn.

Topics: Volunteers Membership Programs