Episode #034: Your Nonprofit Strategic Plan for Volunteers – What to Include

Welcome to the Volunteer Nation Podcast, bringing you practical tips and big ideas 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, membership, or movement, I made this podcast just for you.  

Well, welcome to the Volunteer Nation. I’m your host, Tobi Johnson, and I am so excited to welcome you to another episode where we’re going to talk about your non-profit strategic plan, specifically as it relates to volunteers.  

And I want to preface it by talking a little bit about VisionWeek. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to hear about what we’re doing with VisionWeek, or if you’ve had an opportunity to save your spot, but we are closely coming up on VisionWeek. 

And it will offer you the opportunity to build your non-profit strategic plan for volunteer engagement in just five days. So, here’s the deal: if you don’t know where you’re going, chances are you aren’t going to get there!  

So if you’re thinking about 2023 and what you’re going to do when it comes to volunteer engagement, now is the time to get your plan in order. And throughout VisionWeek, we’re going to have a series of trainings, some co-working sessions, an online community for you to interact with other volunteer management professionals. 

It’s going to be a lot of fun. So if you haven’t had a chance yet to check it out, go to volpro.net/vision, and grab all the details. I would love to see you there. I’d love to welcome you in the doors and get excited about planning for 2023.  

So in that vein, let me ask you a question. When you take a quick scan of the past year, how would you describe it in a word or two? So during 2022, what did it feel like? What did you achieve? What did you wish you would’ve achieved?  

Just think for a minute. How would you describe it in a word or two? If you are a mission-driven person like me, who sets high goals for yourself, you might have used the words disappointing, an uphill battle, confusing, chaotic, exhausting. 

Or you might have used words like inspired, mission-driven like I said, results-oriented, celebratory…might be a lot of things. Now imagine your best outcomes for 2023.  

For the year ahead, what words would you use to, at the end of this year, to describe what you might achieve at the end of next year? What would you have achieved?  

How would volunteers have been involved? How would you feel about your 2023? We’re talking December 2023, thinking into the future. What would you describe that like?  

You know, I’ve spent a lot of my non-profit career driven by my to-do list, which is often driven by other people’s to-do lists. So as you think about your 2023 and all of your big plans, I hope you don’t feel like me. I felt like I was on a gerbil wheel that I was unable to ever reach my destination.  

Sure I would complete projects and I’d get a breather, but my to-do list would only fill up again and again and again. And it was a little bit demotivating to be honest. And so I wasn’t really sure how my work was impacting my organization as a whole. 

I really felt siloed off, so I just kept my head down, kept doing my work, and I would say to myself, you just don’t have enough time to plan. So if you have big goals for 2023, I want you to consider whether or not you have developed a plan to get there. 

A roadmap, a blueprint, something that’s going to take you away from simply working through a to-do list all year, to actually making sure that every action you take has impact. 

So, later in my career, I got smart, right? I realized there was another way I could plan, I could get clear on the real impact I was making, and I could do it in less time than I thought.  

You know, I used to say to myself, I don’t have time to plan, but now I realize I don’t have time not to plan. So it’s really important that we think about strategic planning as part of our job.  

It’s working on our programs, not in our programs. There’s times when we need to work on our volunteer strategy. You know, when you don’t have a strategy or a plan, you end up wasting a lot of time working on tasks and projects, et cetera, focusing on things that aren’t going to get you to your goals. 

So it really becomes your North Star or your compass when you have a plan in place. So I thought in today’s episode I would walk you through some things I would suggest if I were building out a non-profit strategic plan for volunteers.  

So that’s what I want to talk about today, and I’m going to align it with our Volunteer Strategy Success Path. This is a five-stage framework that we use at VolunteerPro, both in our online courses, but also in our membership community to help focus our members and our students’ attention and energy on the things that are really going to get them traction.  

And so I thought I would go through each stage and just explain what it is, but then give you an opportunity to think about a couple of options you might include in your non-profit strategic plan as it relates to volunteer engagement. 

So that’s what we’re going to do. But before we get started, I want to talk about strategy versus tactics because there’s a difference, and those words often get misused.  

Most people working on a nonprofit strategic plan focus on tactics, but it’s the strategy that will get you further. The strategy is sort of what’s guiding your tactics. So let me explain the difference.  

Strategy is a focus on a wide lens. It’s the long view. It’s what is the organization trying to achieve as a whole. It answers the question, what will we achieve? So that’s strategies. Tactics are the interim activities we take in the short term to reach the goals that we’ve outlined in our strategy. 

So in our nonprofit strategic plan, we have big goals, big strategies, and then we have the smaller steps, the tactics that get us to that bigger strategy. The tactics answer the question, how will we achieve what we want to achieve? 

So strategy is about what will we achieve. Tactics are about how will we achieve it. Those are the differences. Strategy takes more thinking. We have to think about our context. We have to think about our goals.  

We have to think about what is the world we live in, where are volunteers at? What are our bigger organization’s goals? It’s really about being more strategic, right? Hence strategy, right? 

So we’re being more purposeful. Tactics are the nuts and bolts, the things that we do over and over and over again. You know, we may choose, strategically choose specific tactics that make sense to meet our strategy. When we have a big laundry list of tactics we could focus on, we focus on those that will help drive our strategy. 

So nonprofit leadership is really responsible for the formulation of strategy or strategic plans. And they use whatever needed resources for that process. It could be staff, it could be the board of directors or a committee on the board. It could be volunteers and volunteer leaders.  

I hope that at your organization, you pull volunteers into your strategic planning process. If you are a leader of volunteers, whether..if you’re the executive, then this is definitely part of your job.  

If you’re the leader of volunteers, strategy can be part of the job for volunteer involvement at your agency, and you can advise your organization on what the strategic plan should include when it comes to volunteers. 

Staff, and hopefully volunteer leadership and volunteers, then formulate tactics that help you reach those agency’s goals that are related, and that are outlined in your nonprofit strategic plan.  

And then those tactics also define how people will make those tactics work in a day-to-day. So basically, tactics translate the concepts of the strategy into reality. So what does this look like? 

When we return from break, I’m going to talk about how we can use our volunteer strategy success path as a framework for successful volunteer operations and how we might orient it with our non-profit strategic plan.  

Okay, so we’ll be right back. Let’s take a pause for a quick break from our discussion of what to include in your nonprofit strategic plan. After the break, I will be walking you through five possible strategies you might include in your plan.  

If you enjoyed 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 that you can ditch the overwhelm and confidently carry your vision forward.  

It is the only implementation of its kind that 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.  

Okay, we’re back with our discussion about what to include in your non-profit strategic plan, and I’m going to get specific about some things I would recommend that you include that are specific to volunteer engagement. And I’m going to use our volunteer Strategy Success Path as a framework to do that. 

So our Volunteer Strategy Success Path is really the framework we’ve developed. This comes from years and years of my work directly in nonprofits and also as a consultant, coach and trainer.  

It details out the topline actions volunteer-involving organizations should take to find success. And it really converts the “trivial many,” so all of the different tactics you could choose from, and converts them into the significant few that we believe will give you the best traction.  

And they help our students and members focus their efforts on the right things at the right time. So that’s really what the Volunteer Strategy Success Path is all about. And I’m going to apply it to developing a nonprofit strategic plan that’s related to volunteers.  

So let’s get started. We have five phases in our success. And I want to talk about each, talk about a strategy for each, and a tactic related to that strategy. Just to give you some specifics.  

So the first phase is envision, and we’re talking about envisioning the future. Creating a bold strategic vision for leveraging volunteer talent to meet your core agency’s needs. That’s really what phase one is all.  

A strategy that aligns really well with phase one is to ensure that the right people are in the right seats and equipped to make an impact. So that might be your volunteers being matched properly, but it’s also the personnel that are assigned to volunteer engagement. 

So one of the tactics that you might use to ensure that strategy of ensuring the right people are in the right seats might be assessing your current knowledge, skills, and abilities of the staff that are responsible for volunteer engagement and pinpointing gaps. So that might be a tactic that rolls up to that strategy. 

Now if you’ve decided that you don’t have enough staff or you need new staff, we have a fantastic episode. Episode 26, “Hiring? What to Include in Your Volunteer Coordinator Job Description.” We’ll post that in a link in the show notes.  

So if you want to check that episode out, just check out episode 26. So if that applies to you, that’s a great episode to listen to and think about what are the skills and abilities you’re looking for. 

Okay, so let’s move on to phase two, build the foundation. This is about developing the essential program elements to support long-term success in your volunteer efforts.  

So in this phase, one of the strategies you might include in your non-profit strategic plan is to optimize the volunteer life cycle to reduce turnover and boost retention rates. So that’s a fantastic strategy to think about.  

Just include, you know, really keeping volunteers engaged and active, because it’s much more difficult to recruit a new volunteer than it is to keep one.  

So we want to focus on making sure our volunteers are enjoying their service and that they’re making an impact.  

A tactic that would roll up to that strategy might be to pinpoint the informational and emotional needs at each step of the life cycle. Now, you may be wondering what do I mean by that?  

Well, in episode 19, I talk about how to use a journey map to improve the volunteer experience. So we will link to that in the show notes as well. And you might want to listen to episode 19 where I talk about exactly how to map the volunteer life cycle and improve it at each step of the way. So that’s phase two.  

Phase three is grow. Growing engagement. This is a phase that many organizations are very invested in and spend a lot of time and effort on. It’s modern recruitment strategies to attract a diverse fan base of support.  

So a strategy for growing might be to reengage lapsed volunteers, to reduce training time and deepen expertise. You know, your former volunteers, if they were working with you for any period of time, have actually developed a bit of intellectual capital.  

They understand your organization, they understand your policies, they understand how to do the work. So those volunteers don’t require as much training time as brand-new volunteers. So, it’s a fantastic idea to reengage those lapsed volunteers to reduce the pressure of onboarding.  

You know, it’s a lot of energy and time and money spent in onboarding volunteers, and if you need a volunteer workforce at the ready as quickly as possible, then reengaging former volunteers who already know, like, and trust you, might be a good strategy. 

Now a tactic to drive that strategy would be to develop a specific recruitment campaign aimed at former volunteers. So that would be a tactic of reengaging lapsed volunteers. And good news! Of course, I have a resource for you!  

Episode 21 of the Volunteer Nation Podcast. We talk about engaging volunteers with a win-back campaign, and I give you a step-by-step process. So again, we’ll post that in the show notes and you can listen to episode 21 to help you with phase three, growing engagement.  

Phase four is sustain. Sustain involvement. It’s improving the volunteer experience and retaining high impact volunteer talent. So this is all about retention.  

So your strategy might be deepening volunteer engagement and contributions by improving volunteer satisfaction. We know from the research that really strong correlations between volunteer satisfaction and volunteer retention.  

That shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody. So what do we do to increase and improve volunteer satisfaction? Well, one way might be to boost our gratitude efforts, right? 

So maybe writing individual thank you letters to each volunteer during a specific period of time, so maybe over, you know, 90 days, you make sure every single volunteer gets a handwritten note.  

So again, I have a great resource for you: episode six, “The Four-Part Power Thank You Letter for Volunteers.” I’ll link to it in the show notes as well.  

So if you want a framework or a formula for writing these letters, I have one at the ready, and it’s very easy to follow and your volunteers will absolutely feel the love when you write them each an individual thank-you letter.  

And then phase five, scale leadership. Phase five is all about purposeful leadership development and collaboration for sustainable impacts. So this is about not only boosting the capacity of your employees to support volunteers, but it’s also about building external partnerships.  

So one of the strategies for this phase that you might include in your non-profit strategic plan, might be to improve staff buy-in for volunteer involvement across the agency to make sure that every department is utilizing volunteers to the best of their ability. 

Now, the tactic to get there might be to train all staff on the value of volunteers and their role in supporting them regardless of their job title. In my mind, volunteerism is everyone’s job.  

No matter who you are, everyone should be welcoming volunteers, should be helping volunteers get where they need to be. Should be asking and inquiring about who they are and what inspires them to support your cause.  

There’s all kinds of relationship elements that I think every staff should be responsible for. And of course, I’ve got a resource for you: episode nine, “Helping Non-Profit Employees See the Value of Volunteers.” It is posted in the show notes. You’ll be able to check that out.  

So I’ve just gone through a series of five strategies and five associated tactics that you might use in your nonprofit strategic plan when it comes to volunteer engagement.  

I hope some of these resonated with you, maybe rang some bells, maybe gave you some ideas, maybe inspired you. If you want to build out a full plan, I really invite you to join us for VisionWeek.  

It’s just coming right around the corner. We’d love to have you. It’s a full week of short events every day, but the goal is that at the end of the week, you have a short, concise, doable, impact-focused strategic plan that’s related to volunteer engagement.  

So hope you’ll join us for Vision Week. It’s a fantastic opportunity. Just get ‘er done and dusted by the end of the year, and you can go find more at volpro.net/vision.  

So that’s the show for this week. I hope this episode has really helped you pinpoint some items to include in your non-profit strategic plan.  

And if you enjoyed this episode of Volunteer Nation, as always, I encourage you to share it with a friend or colleague who might need a little extra inspiration.  

And if you would please rate and review, it helps us reach more people.  

So I hope to see you next time on another episode of Volunteer Nation. We’ll be here next week, same time, same place. Take care everybody.  

Thanks for listening to this episode of the Volunteer Nation podcast. If you enjoyed it, please be sure to subscribe, rate, 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.