Episode #021: Engage Volunteers with a Win-Back Campaign

Welcome to the Volunteer Nation Podcast, bringing you practical tips and advice on how to build, grow, and scale volunteer talent. I’m your host, Tobi Johnson. And if you rely on volunteers to fuel your charity, cause, or movement, stay tuned. I made this podcast just for you.

Well, hello there, my friends! Thanks for joining me today. If you’re new to the pod, welcome. If you’ve been listening to us for a while, thank you so much. I truly appreciate each and every one of you.

Today, I wanna talk about how to reengage volunteers with a win-back campaign. I’ve been hearing a lot in our membership community, in our courses, and just with folks I’m talking to, that you’re really struggling.

Many of you are really struggling to build back to capacity that you had before. And so I wanna give you a very simple strategy that I hope will start to reengage some of your former volunteers that just haven’t made it back to the fold.

So I’m gonna go by a step-by-step process using a win-back campaign, which is a type of email campaign. And I’m gonna give you step by step, how to think it through how to message it properly and how to write it step by step.

But before that, I just want you to think about a time when you maybe had a service experience, you were buying something, or you were experiencing something that you signed up for and it just didn’t follow through the way you wanted it to. You know, it just didn’t deliver what it was supposed to.

I remember a time when my husband signed us up, or reserved a room in a very fancy hotel in Nashville, which is about two and a half hours from us. We, we live in east Tennessee in Knoxville.

We drove all the way over there. Really excited. It was an anniversary weekend. And when we get there, our room isn’t ready and we wait and wait and wait and wait. And we’re sitting in a lobby for about an hour, and it’s way after check-in time.

By the time they found us a room, it was not the room that he had booked. He had booked like this deluxe fancy suite for us to enjoy our anniversary with, but this was a tiny little room on the sidewalk. And we could see people walking by and I’m like, Hmm, this isn’t very, uh, romantic.

So we, you know, complained. I’m not a big complainer, but when you’re not getting what you paid for, I think you oughta get what you paid for. So I went up to the front desk and I said, look, we need to get what we paid for, which is a deluxe king room.

And what happened was they finally got us in our room. And when we got in our room, they had a bucket of champagne. They had some candies. I mean, it was really nice.

So they basically did what we call a “service recovery” in the customer service business. It’s about giving back to your customer who has been inconvenienced, something better than they had before. We didn’t sign up for champagne. We didn’t sign up for chocolates, but they showed up and they were a part of our experience.

So in the end, we were able to get over our grumpiness. We were able to get over the difficulty we were having. And so I want you to think, when you think about your win-back campaign, certainly you’re not the cause of the inconveniences volunteers have gone through.

I mean, we’ve been through a global pandemic. It’s been really difficult for people, but I want you to think about how you can use this win-back strategy of doing more of going the extra mile.

How can you make volunteering better than it was before the pandemic? And I think if you can do that, you can start to win back those volunteers. We’re gonna think about that as we think about our messaging, as we think about our offers.

So just something to keep in the back of your mind. I know things are hard. It’s been a really difficult time. Folks are still struggling.

So I also wanna let you know that in October, we’re going to offer our volunteer management fundamental certificate course. Again, it’s a five-week cohort course. We’re just finishing up our summer school course, or our five-week course.

We’re in our final week here. We’ve gotten lots of great feedback from folks. Folks are having aha moments. Folks are asking questions, taking action, getting traction, doing all the things that we love to see when we’re offering this course.

So if you’re struggling still and you want a more in-depth strategy, just taking it step by step by step, think about joining us in the fall for this course. It’s gonna be a lot of fun.

We do five weeks of on-demand lessons that you actually have lifetime access to. So you can go back to again and again, and I’m doing live coaching calls every Friday so I can answer any questions that are coming up for you.

You can ask me anything about volunteer engagement, and I help you get over the hump, figure out new strategies and get moving. So, if you’re thinking about what you’re gonna do for the coming year, and you really wanna revamp where you’re at right now, I suggest you check it out.

So you can go to volpro.net/begin. Get on the wait list so that we can let you know when the doors are about to open. It may pass you by if you don’t see it, because we only open the doors for enrollment for about three weeks.

So we’ll let you know in late September, if you get on that wait list. So I hope to see you inside that course.

So let’s get to the real business of today, which is talking about how to engage volunteers with a win-back campaign. There’s basically five steps to this. First of all, strengthen your big why. You’re gonna strengthen your big why, and I’m gonna drill down into each of these.

The second step is you’re gonna clarify your COVID safety policies. I think still people are feeling unsafe. Safety is a core human need. So we have to address that.

Third step, get specific on your calls to action. Sometimes I think our calls to action are a little bit vague. So I want you to get really specific about what you want volunteers to.

Step four, remove any volunteer’s objections and doubts. You wanna help remove any doubt from the mind. I’m gonna give you a little quick exercise on how to do that.

And then step five, create and send a win-back email sequence. So we’re not talking about just a broadcast, spammy email that’s begging people to come back. We’re talking about an email sequence that builds trust, builds relationships and welcomes people back.

So I’m gonna. again, drill down into these deeper and if you’re a VolunteerPro member, I’ve gone into this in much more detail in a workshop I offered called “Rebuild From COVID: Plan Your Win-Back Campaign and Messaging.”

You can find it in the learning hub and get the downloads for that workshop. So if you’re a member right now, go ahead and go in the community in the main learning hub in Kajabi and you can find that in the video vault. Actually, if you search for “win back campaign,” you’ll find the replay recording sound.

Okay, so let’s get back to how to engage volunteers in five steps. So step one to engaging volunteers: strengthen your big why. So what you’re wanting to do here is to paint a renewed vision of hope. I think people are really starved for hope right now.

Hope and connection. People have a very cynical view of the future. And we’ve got to shore that up again. We’ve got to show people what’s possible. So, you know, if for volunteers to truly commit, they have to decide whether their values, beliefs, goals, et cetera, align with your organization.

So you’ve got to explain this. It’s almost like you’re going back to stage one. Your volunteers may know your organization already. We’re talking about former volunteers here, but you may need to remind them of this. You wanna help build an anticipation for future progress.

So this is not about nuts and bolts of your tasks, what you need volunteers to do. This is about your big vision. So what’s possible. I want you to think broadly. What are the current challenges for your organization and those you serve?

Doesn’t necessarily need to be direct service. Some of you work in direct service organizations, but others of you work in advocacy, you work in arts and culture organizations, so that doesn’t have to be direct service.

What is it that you are trying to transform in the world with your organization? Is it bringing people together? Is it sharing beauty and hope? It could be that with your arts and culture, right? It could be a lot of things. So think about what’s the bright future you envision for your community.

What’s the bright future you envision for your community? And what’s the better world that will come about because volunteers are supporting you? So this is very aspirational, and I think we’re not messaging enough around this idea of hope for the future, of coming together, of connecting.

You know, people are starving for connection. There’s no reason why you can’t tap that human need right now. And remind people that there is a place they can go to feel better about things and that’s your organization. So step one to engage volunteers is strengthening your big why.

Let’s move on to step two, which is clarifying your COVID safety policies. So step two to engage volunteers, clarify your COVID safety policies. So you will never reach a hundred percent agreement with the community of volunteers that have worked with you in the past around whether or not people should be vaccinated, whether or not people should wear masks, et cetera. It’s just impossible in today’s world.

We’re so divided in a lot of ways, people have different levels of assessment about safety for themselves and their families. They have different reasoning for that. You don’t need to get into that. But what you need to do is to be clear about the what and why of your organization’s COVID protocols.

You just need to be clear. What are your current COVID safety policies and protocols in simple terms? You want to be as inclusive as possible. But you also have to think about your own risk management. So whatever those are, just need to be clear about.

And how do those policies reflect your organization’s beliefs and values? I feel like people never communicate this. You know, it’s basically like, “Hey, you could wear a mask or not wear a mask. We’re okay with that, at your own discretion.” And that’s about all people say.

That’s kind of the most common right now, but how does your policy reflect your organization’s beliefs and values? That’s the way to build connection beyond just kind of telling people, you know, wear a mask, don’t wear a mask, et cetera.

This is another thing that I think is interesting to share with volunteers. What would need to change for you to change your current safety policies? So giving people a sense of how to predict the future, right? So if this were to happen, you know, if let’s say, if the CDC or whatever is your disease control agency in your country, if they decide X, Y, Z, then we will follow those guidelines or when transmission rates, or if transmission rates ever return to X, Y, Z, we will rethink the policy.

So just giving people a sense that you have a plan, that it’s not just random. I think it’s helpful for people to feel emotionally safe, you know, and you can frame these asks in very simple terms that are welcoming and gentle and compassionate. Like “we ask that…” and then you just put your expected behavior, insert your expected behavior, “so that…” and then insert your expected result.

So it’s really, you don’t have to be harsh about this. You can be compassionate but also firm about what your expectations are. So step two to engage volunteers is clarifying your COVID safety policies in today’s world.

You just, if you’re not, if you’re being vague about this, it’s not helpful to your volunteers who are deciding for themselves whether or not they wanna take a certain risk with your organization. And that is by showing up and risking potential disease transmission. We’ve gotta keep that in.

Okay. So those are step one and step two to engage volunteers. Let’s pause for a quick break. And after I’ll share more about how to engage volunteers who pause their involvement during COVID including exactly what to put in your emails.So don’t go away. I will be right back.

If you enjoy this week’s episode of Volunteer Nation, we invite you to check out the VolunteerPro Premium Membership. This community is the most comprehensive resource for attracting, engaging, and supporting dedicated high impact volunteer talent for your good cause.

VolunteerPro Premium Membership helps you build or renovate an effective what’s-working-now volunteer program with less stress and more joy, so you can ditch the overwhelm and confidently carry your vision forward.

It is the only implementation program of its kind and helps your organization build maturity across five phases of our proprietary system, The Volunteer Strategy Success Path. If you’re interested in learning more, visit volpro.net/join.

All righty, we are back! Before the break, I covered the first two steps to creating a win-back campaign to engage volunteers. Now I’ll continue with our final three steps and some of my hottest tips for getting your emails opened and read.

We write a lot of emails here at VolunteerPro and Tobi Johnson and Associates. So we’ve been working on digital marketing, you know, for years now and we’ve learned a few things that work. And so I’m gonna share those with you.

So let’s get to step three. Remember step one was to strengthen your big why. Step two was to clarify your COVID safety policies. Step three to engage volunteers is getting specific on your calls to action.

So, how do you want volunteers to reengage with your organization? Exactly what next steps should they take and why? It’s not just “join us.” That’s too vague, but “Hey, complete this interest forum by X, Y, Z date.” You’ve gotta have a little bit of sense of urgency or people will procrastinate.

This may be to participate in an activity. It may not necessarily yet be to sign up for a shift. For example, it’s may not, your call to action may be, “Hey, come join us for an update session.” Like an info session for existing volunteers or former volunteers, or “Come to this social event.” Might be something like that, where you’re warming up your volunteers for an ask for service.

It might be to sign up for a wait list for an upcoming volunteer opportunity. Just be clear on the direct actions you need volunteers to take and what are their options. But remember that if you offer too many options, it can lead to paralysis, you know, little analysis to paralysis.

So sometimes people will give people 10 different choices. I recommend give people three choices on what to do, or just one and keep it simple so people don’t procrastinate and sit there and mull it over and mull it over and mull it over and never take action.

So what are the concrete next steps for a volunteers? What is the journey progression of the steps you want to use to reconnect with your lapsed  volunteers? Sometimes it’s helpful to map that out before you write up your calls to action and your calls to action.

What a call to action is, is basically a request to do something right? What do you want volunteers to do first? Exactly step by step at each phase of the journey.

This helps you also phase out or phase in your calls to action. You may have different calls to action in different emails. That’s possible if you have a specific, more complex journey you want volunteers to take. So step three to engage volunteers, get specific on your calls to action.

Step four to engage volunteers, help remove volunteers’ objections and doubts. There are so many objections and doubts running through our brains as we think about coming back to volunteer naturally. Quite naturally, lapsed volunteers will have questions and concerns about returning. Will volunteering fit into my new lifestyle and schedule? Is it safe? Will I find friends there or will I be a stranger? You know, will my old friends be around or I will, will I be a stranger? Uh, what’s changed?

People may even doubt their ability to make a meaningful contribution. You know, I was reading a study yesterday that was some focus groups with volunteers about the impact of COVID and they were talking about how guilty they felt that they had not helped out during the pandemic.

So you don’t want your volunteers living in guilt. That’s not good. Guilt doesn’t work as a recruitment strategy. It doesn’t, it’s not, it might work in a short term. It doesn’t work in a long term, so we don’t wanna use guilt as our strategy.

So you wanna think through what are the top objections for your volunteers and be really ready to proactively address those objections. You wanna address them in your messaging, in your email messaging and your calls to action. The more confident you are, the more confident they will feel.

You wanna make sure you’ve thought this. So plan for the doubts that will crop up. Don’t wait for those doubts to crop up and either not address them or have to come up with a response later. That’s not smart.

Marketing, smart marketing says, “Okay, I know that my audience will have doubts.” Every time you ask people to make a behavior change in their lives, they have some sense of doubt. It may be a strong doubt, or it may be a very subtle doubt, but you need to address it up front.

I like to use a strategy called the five objections exercise. So you ask yourself what circumstances or thoughts might prevent lapsed volunteers from re-engaging. You wanna come up with five reasons why your volunteers might be hesitant or worried or doubtful about recommitting.

By the way, this strategy can also be used when you’re thinking about recruiting new. In this case, we’re talking about lapse volunteers, but you can also use it for your marketing for new volunteers. So you wanna come up with your five top reasons why people may be afraid, worried, doubtful, have barriers.

What’s keeping people from coming back? You want to analyze each concern with an open empathetic mind. You wanna really think through, you don’t wanna blame people for their. You wanna understand, because everybody has legitimate concerns. To them, it’s completely legitimate. So you’ve got to help them resolve it in their own mind.

So how can you validate these concerns, but also offer solutions, right? So one of the biggest concerns is I don’t have time. Well, you can validate and go, “Yeah, everybody is busy in today’s world. For those of you who want to make a difference and help others, we offer flexibility in our schedule. You can work as little as one hour a month or up to 20 hours a month.”

I’m just giving you an example. “You can work online or offline. You can work for one event or an ongoing opportunity.” Now you gotta have some flexibility in what you have to offer volunteers.

But in this case, I’m validating, I’m not only addressing and giving solutions, but I’m also validating. Yes, in today’s world people are busy. Yes, absolutely. And because we know that, this is what we do. This is how we help people solve for that.

For people who want to make a difference, you can see how I’ve addressed the objection, but I’ve also not beaten anybody up for it about it. Not made people feel small because of it, but I’ve also helped them solve it. So time is often for most volunteer organizations, time is gonna be one of those top.

Okay, let’s move on to step five, your final step to engage volunteers: create and send a win-back email sequence. So rather than bombarding your volunteers with a single call-to-action eblast – I’m not a fan of the term, not a fan of the strategy – why not cultivate thoughtful commitment through a series of email messages that build excitement and help you get to yes, without forcing the issue.

This is about a conversation you’re having via email and people will say, isn’t email really unresponsive to people? Doesn’t it feel cold? Doesn’t it feel inhuman? And I will say absolutely not. I don’t think our emails feel inhuman and cold.

In fact, when we’re sending out communications emails, sometimes I’ll get an email back. I’ll get a response from one person in our audience who’ll say, “Thank you so much. I really needed to hear this right now.”

So you can imbue and infuse your emails with so much compassion. Caring generosity, excitement, inspiration. You can put whatever you want in your emails, but it’s about how you write the copy.

So your email let’s talk about, and not only how you write the copy and I’ll give you some tips on that in a minute, but also the sequence of the emails. Okay. So your email sequence. Five emails. This is what I’m recommending: five emails.

So I’ve heard people talk about this first email. It’s about shaking things. You’ve got to sort of shock people out of complacence. Some people call it poking the bear, and some people I’ve had some of my audience say that doesn’t sound good to me.

So think of it for whatever way you wanna think of it, but it’s actually bringing people out of hibernation. So it has to be a little bit in your face, not super aggressive, but it has to be in your face.

You know, one of the ways you can do this is to say, is to talk about, well, here’s what’s been going on since you’ve been gone. So there’s a little bit of, you know, Hey, it’s time to get back to work, right? But you’re not being really intense about it, but you’ve got to challenge people. You’ve gotta wake people up.

So your first email has to be a little bit more intense. So what I mean by that is challenging people. Hey, a lot’s gone on, we’ve really been missing you and your contributions to our team. So here’s the things, here’s what’s been going on. Here’s what’s missing right now. Here’s what we’re challenged by. Those kinds of.

So that’s your first email, getting people’s attention. The next email is more about FOMO or fear of missing out. So here’s what our teams are doing. Here’s where we’d love to have you. Here’s the trainings that we’ve been, that have been going on here are the events that have been going on. Here’s how much fun we’ve been having.

So your second email. Your first email is like, look, stuff’s been happening and you’re not around like, not in a super guilt ridden way, but you know, a little bit of catching people’s attention. The second one is we’re having a lot of fun. And you’re missing out right now. You’re not using those words exactly, but the you’re getting the sense of what the email’s about.

The third email is about, look, here’s the road ahead and here’s the problem we’re gonna solve together through volunteering and through our working in community with one another. So it’s a vision of the future. Remember we talked about your big why in step one. You are bringing all the messaging from that big why into your third email.

Your fourth email is your call to action. Now, remember step three, we talked about defining your calls to action. Wanna make sure that you’re very specific on the steps you want your volunteer to take, so that invitation to act. So what specific behaviors, if you were to film them, what steps would people be taking? You wanna be that.

And then the fifth email is a kind reminder like, hey, by the way, here’s the call to action. Here’s what we’d like you to do. Here’s what we’re inviting you and welcoming you to do. And take part of now.

You wanna have five emails for a multiple reasons. One is that you’re building a story and you’re having a conversation through those emails, but you’re also reaching people. Not everybody opens every one of your emails. In fact, in nonprofits, it’s about 25%.

Now it may be a little bit higher in your volunteers, your active volunteers, but you’ve gotta be able to catch people. So in some of these emails, you also want to mention the previous email a little bit in the first sentence, like in our last email we shared blah, blah, blah and now we want to talk about X, Y, Z with you.

So your email sequence is poking the bear (or whatever other way you wanna talk about getting people’s attention), FOMO, the road ahead, invitation to act and kind reminders. That’s your email sequence of five.

Okay. Now I wanted to also offer just a few tips for turbo charging your email campaigns and boosting responses to your emails. Sometimes people are like, look, I send out emails. No one opens them. No one responds. So there’s a few things that I like to do.

First thing is to keep it very conversational and fun. I like to use a lot of gifs and just make it fun. You know, make it lighthearted. We like to joke around a lot, not at anybody’s expense, but if we can find a GIF that’s fun and that a lot of people will understand, we sometimes use that.

We use an email CRM. You’re better off using an email service provider, rather than just sending these from your own personal email account. You’re better off sending ’em from a service provider so that you can insert their first name in the salutation of the email.

And sometimes in the subject line, I wouldn’t do it in every subject line, but you know, “Here’s what you’ve been missing,” and then insert that person’s name. You wanna personalize when you can.

You wanna pay a lot of attention to those subject lines. We like Coschedule’s free subject line tester, and I’ll post in the show notes where you can use that, and find that email subject line tester, and you can keep updating your email. It will give you a score and let you know when you’ve reached a high score for your subject line and then use.

Tell short stories and anecdotes, just really quick short paragraph of something that happened, either something that has a moral to it that relates to what you’re talking about or something that actually happened at your nonprofit. Make sure you’re telling personal stories and anecdotes in your emails.

Now your emails don’t need to be super long, but it helps to give some flavor. To what you’re communicating. So if you’re telling stories of anybody using names, then you need to make sure that you’ve been given permission to do so then share volunteer and client testimonials as well.

Quotes from your volunteers, client service, beneficiaries, coworkers about how excited they are about the year ahead, how they’ve enjoyed their volunteer experience, et cetera. All kinds of things you can do there and then send.

You can, and I think this is very modern and effective right now, is sending personalized video messages. So send personalized video messages. You can use tools like Bonjoro, Videoform, Vidyard, BombBomb.

I’m gonna put links to these all in the show notes. You can go to our website, TobiJohnson.com, check out the podcast and you can find all the show notes there and all the links to these tools.

They are getting better and better. You’re now able to embed video into email. You don’t have to click the email and go to YouTube or another, or your website to watch the video. You can actually embed them in the email.

So that’s fantastic. You can do these individually even, or do them for, record them for a team. So that’s a way to really personalize and create personal connection with your readers.

So that’s what I’ve got for you today. How to engage volunteers with a win-back campaign in five steps. Let me recap those steps one more time. Strengthen your big why. Step one. Step two is clarify your COVID safety policies. Step three is get specific on your calls to action. Step four is help remove volunteers’ objections and doubts, and step five is create and send a win-back email sequence.

So that’s what I’ve got for you today. I hope that this helps you think through how am I going to specifically create connections with my former volunteers to remove any concerns.

They have to start a conversation about having them back. This can’t be a desperate appeal for help. You know, when you are desperate in your appeals, you only call into question whether or not your organization is worthy of support. It creates a type of negative social proof. So you don’t wanna do that.

You want to create a conversation and have people come to the obvious conclusion that supporting your organization is the absolute best choice. And so you can do that through these email campaigns being very clear in your messaging.

And of course, being super inspirational and showing people, you know, like that service recovery I talked about in the beginning of the podcast, that volunteering is better than ever. That you’re offering something even better when they return.

So that’s what I’ve got for the show this week. Thank you for joining us for this episode of the volunteer Nation podcast. I truly appreciate each and every one of you.

If you liked it, or you know someone who might appreciate the information I’m sharing, I hope you’d share this with them. And make sure you rate (five star rating would be super helpful)! But also subscribe so you don’t miss any of our upcoming shows.

So I hope to see you next time for another episode of Volunteer Nation, same time, same place. Have a fantastic rest of your week.

Thanks for listening to this episode of the Volunteer Nation podcast. If you enjoyed it, please be sure to subscribe, like, and review so we can reach people like you who want to improve the impact of their good cause.

For more tips and notes from the show, check us out at TobiJohnson.com. We’ll see you next week for another installment of Volunteer Nation.