Episode #065: Using Email to Improve Volunteer Retention – Part 2 

Hey, 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.

All right, everybody, welcome to another episode of the Inter Nation Podcast. I’m your host Tobi Johnson, and today we are going to get into part two. Part two of what? Part two of using email to improve volunteer retention. Last week we really talked about the pros and cons between email and social media and talked about when it might be a good time to use one or the other. And I talked about my preference if you were to choose between the two of email. But there are times that social media makes sense as well.

And so go ahead and check out that episode. If you haven’t, it’s in our archive at tobyjohnson.com. Just go to our podcast. Episode 64 using email to improve volunteer retention. Part one. Today we’re going to talk about part two, which is really an investigation of specifically how to use email. I think part one I really dedicated to understanding the differences between email and social media because I’m not sure everybody gets the subtleties and we often think because people are using it that it’s working, and I’m not sure it’s always working to the best effect. So be sure to check out part one.

But you don’t have to listen to part one before we talk about part two, which is really about email. So we’re going to focus on some different strategies for using email so that we can reduce turnover and improve satisfaction and thus improve retention. And one of the best ways to improve retention is to just solidify those connections we have with our volunteers and continue to make them over and over again. And those connections and those relationships are strengthened through communication. Now certainly face to face communication is probably the best communication, but we don’t always have the opportunity to see every one of our volunteers face to face. We often are busy in our offices and we can’t get out and do some management by walking around or MWA. Sometimes we just can’t do that. And so we’ve got to rely on technology to create touch points that have meaning.

And email does not have to be boring and it can have meaning for people. And so I want to talk about some specific ways to use email that actually will save you time and maybe even increase your retention and satisfaction of your volunteers. So without further ado, let’s summarize in a nutshell the difference between email and social media before we dive into email as a solution. So just remember, as I said in part one, email provides more direct and targeted communication, higher engagement rates, and a personalized approach, while social media offers wider reach, instant engagement, and viral potential. The choice between the two really depends on your goals, target audience, and nature of the content you hope to share. But of course you’re probably going to use a combination of both and use and leverage the strengths of each platform. So the strength of email is really about having multiple touch points. It’s not about one off broadcast emails anymore.

It’s really about a series of emails that tell a story. And so I want to talk about if we are going to improve volunteer retention, what are we going to do, what types of email campaigns are we going to put out there? What ways are we going to improve the volunteer experience by offering better communication, encouragement, information and acknowledgment of volunteers? So I’ve got about seven different campaigns that I think you might want to try. So let’s talk about if you’re hoping to improve retention rates, improving communications with volunteers can have an impact. So I want to talk about ways you can use email to improve your volunteer retention, but also just those connections. Okay, so here’s the first way. Now many of you do this already, but you might want to consider, is it really doing the job? Is it doing the job it’s supposed to be doing? So provide regular updates or a weekly newsletter to your volunteers. So keep volunteers informed about upcoming events, projects, organizational news, but don’t forget to share success stories, impact reports, and testimonials to demonstrate the difference their efforts are making. Regular updates help volunteers feel connected to the organization and motivated to continue their involvement.

And so I like weekly newsletters. I like them to be short. Some folks will do a quarterly newsletter and they’ll try to pack everything in there. And what happens is people open up the email, they realize that it’s huge and onerous and they wait and file it and say, I’ll read it later. You don’t really want that. You want people to know that your newsletters are short and punchy and offer value. So the best way to do that really is to send a weekly or maybe a bi weekly. So every other week you might do monthly, but I think every other week.

If you want to keep volunteers really engaged with your organization, just sharing quick tidbits every week is a good thing. And if you’ve never seen our volunteer pro newsletter, you might want to check out how we do this. We never include more than five items in our newsletter and they’re also often very short and we keep them very, very short and we put images in. If you go to volpro. Net v o lpro. Net and just go to the top of our home page, you can subscribe to our pro news newsletter and you can see what we do with that newsletter. We also have a welcome campaign that you’ll start to get when you get that newsletter and you can see what our welcome campaign looks like. So that’s the first thing, I think.

Regular updates. Second thing, you can create a Volunteer Application process email series. This is a series to keep your new volunteers, or your prospective volunteers at this point updated on each step of the process. And what’s next? Keeping the good vibes going with stories and fun tidbits and info about what they will be learning and doing and achieving with you. So we often spend a lot of time with individual emails going back and forth and reminding volunteers of what they’re required to do, what information they’re required to submit, where they need to be, when. And I think volunteer retention starts at the very first touch. Like commitment is a process, not a destination. I like to say that that volunteers are continually making a decision as to how much they’re going to commit and whether they’re going to commit.

So during the application process, why not? First of all, thank them, but second of all, share some stories about what the possibilities are for their involvement so they can start to imagine what it’s going to be like. And I think this is helpful to getting expectations set, but also just getting people inspired and excited. So if there’s an application process series, is there a series of emails you could send out while they’re going through the application process? Are there bits of information you might share that could help them get better prepared, but in small, small, small digestible chunks? So that’s another thing. Another way to use email to improve volunteer retention rates is to create a new volunteer welcome series. Now, this welcome series is similar to the series you are creating for applicants, but now you’re welcoming and onboarding with your emails and you can provide training and resources. You can support volunteers in their roles by offering training materials, guides, resources, downloads, videos, you name it, in very short chunks. And if you can make it entertaining and fun, all the better. And if you can continually include testimonials or quotes from your existing volunteers or clients who are impacted by their work, or employees that work alongside volunteers, if you can include any graphics, infographics, things that very quickly are organized but also very quickly give people an understanding of a single concept in that email, all the better.

You can start to prepare people. These don’t need to be long and involved and they can repeat some of the things you’re sharing elsewhere in your training. So the welcome series is all about logistics, but also it’s about resources, support guides, also useful tips, best practices and links to relevant articles or webinars. Equipping the volunteers with the necessary knowledge and tools can really enhance their experience and confidence. And it really is about confidence building at this point because volunteers are usually humble about what they think they can do and we want to really boost their confidence. All right, here is another way to improve volunteer retention through email and that is using Winback campaigns. I love winback campaigns. What a Winback campaign is, is it’s a communication with a lapsed follower or volunteer that encourages them to get back in it, right? And so you want to share volunteer opportunities, inform them about new and upcoming roles or opportunities within your organization.

Include details about specific roles, time, commitments, how their skills can make a difference, making it easy for them to express interest, or sign up directly from the email. So having a link to a sign up, if they’ve already been processed through your application process, then you don’t necessarily need to go through that again. You could also for some of those emails, do some P to P or Person to person outreach. So you could say hit Reply if you’re interested and we can have a chat. Or hit Reply if you’d like me to send you some additional information. Or hit Reply and just let me know you’re in, right? So you can just have a conversation back and forth with people, especially for lapsed volunteers, people who have it for some reason haven’t been coming in. Sometimes you can send as part of that series, a we miss you campaign and just do it all about not even sending opportunities, but just saying we miss you or wondering where you are. Hit reply and let us know.

These could be very short, maybe a series of three emails. And we send these out sometimes to our Volunteer Pro members and I will get responses from folks and they’ll let me know what’s going on with them and why they haven’t been in the community lately. So it’s nice to get that hit reply. All right, I’ve got a few more to add, but before we do that, I think we’ll take a break and we’ll take a quick break from our discussion of using email to improve volunteer retention. So don’t go anywhere. I’ll be right back. If you enjoyed this week’s episode of Volunteer Nation, we invite you to check out the Volunteer Pro Premium Membership. This community is the most comprehensive resource for attracting, engaging, and supporting dedicated, high impact volunteer talent for your good cause.

Volunteer Pro 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 how to use email to improve volunteer retention and satisfaction and improve the volunteer experience. Let’s talk about personal video emails. Now these are not prescheduled. However, they are or can be automated to a certain extent. So personal video emails are personal.

One on one could be one to many, but mostly used one on one to reach out to individual volunteers. And there’s a tool we like. It’s called Bonjoro, and I will put a link in the chat. The nice thing about Bonjoro is it can link to your email or your contact list. And when you have a new person that is given a specific tag like new volunteer in your email contact list and we’ll talk a little bit about this in a minute. But if they are tagged, then you can set it up so that Bonjoro will feed that person’s name and email into their Bonjoro system and they’ll let you know via email, hey, you have some new Bonjoros to do. And so you can just set aside time every week to just sit down and send video emails to people. And they can be very impactful.

And people feel very special when they get these individual emails. Now, you don’t have to necessarily even be the person sending them. It could be your volunteer welcome team. So there’s lots of people who can do this, but you can set it up to ping you when you have new subscribers to your email list. So it could be if it’s people who have submitted an application and maybe they have the application tag added to there, or their existing volunteer, or they’ve completed the process. So there’s different Bonjoros you can send to new applicants people who have completed your application process. And you can use these videos to express gratitude and recognition. They’re very short, less than a minute, usually no more than two minutes.

You can show appreciation for the volunteers time and effort. You can use them to express sincere gratitude for their contributions, highlight their achievements, and acknowledge their dedication to your cause. So they can also be used as just random acts of appreciation, right? So you can use them. And when people are in the application process, you can use these Bonjoro or video emails to remind people of next steps and let them know how excited you are to work with them and to encourage them. Now, if you are getting ghosted a lot from volunteers, these can definitely improve your show up rates. And then once people have completed the application process, you can send a Bonjoro that welcomes them as an appointed volunteer with you. And then at any time during the year, if you want to express particular gratitude for folks, it’s a nice way to say that. So that’s another way we can use email to improve volunteer retention.

Here’s another one celebrating milestones and anniversaries. So you can recognize and celebrate volunteer milestones, such as the number of hours volunteered, years of service, or significant contributions. Now, you can do that at any time manually, but you can also set up your email system if you have one. And again, we’ll talk about this in a minute. But if you set it up with their anniversary date, you can tag that. And you can set up an email to go out to them in 365 days as long as they have an Active Volunteer Tag. So it takes a couple of different tags to do this. One is that you can set up the email that says yes, if they have an Active Volunteer Tag, you’re going to send this email and you are going to send this email 365 days after they receive that Active Volunteer Tag.

You can also set these up at 30 day or 60 day or 90 day intervals as well. There’s some really interesting ways to set this up to set up a long series over a year. Maybe you set up the first 30 days and then you do 90 days, then you do six months, then you do a year. This could be one campaign that you’re just celebrating these milestones. You can also have people add in their birth date and month and you can have your system send them something on their birthday and month. So there’s a lot of different ways to set up your email system to reach out to people at certain times. Just takes a little bit of creativity. And volunteers I think like that.

And you can put some interesting graphics in there, keep it short, light hearted, encouraging, inspiring. Maybe even a download with a fun poster that they can put up that has an inspirational statement on it. Or maybe there’s a Kudos book, maybe you create an ebook that has pictures of people, of the people they serve and their gratitude from staff and people that the volunteers impact. There’s all kinds of little downloads you can do as well. So celebrating milestones and anniversaries, very cool. The other thing you can do is, and final thing I want to talk about is seeking feedback and input via email. So you can show volunteers that you value their opinions and suggestions by sending surveys or feedback forms to gather insights on their volunteering experiences, their ideas for improvement or their preferences for future opportunities. And you can act upon their feedback and communicate any changes or improvements based on the input they give you.

We do a lot of surveying at VolunteerPro. We survey every six months. We survey our members and our VolunteerPro community. We also obviously run the Volunteer Management Progress Report, which is our annual State of the Industry survey. So I’ve been studying and delivering and deploying and designing volunteer surveys and other types of surveys for a long time and I’ve learned a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t work and a few things to note about surveys for your volunteers. And by the way, if you are a current VolunteerPro member, shout out to our VolunteerPro members. In September, I’m doing a half day training for our VolunteerPro members. We’re doing a full half day.

We’re going to be developing and designing our surveys. We’re going to be talking about data analysis, how to analyze and act upon and communicate both your hard data and your open ended comments. And we’re going to talk about how to develop a full volunteer feedback system. So if you are a volunteer pro member, I hope you get that on your calendar. I think it’s already in the event calendar inside the community. And if you’re not a volunteer pro member yet and you want to get in on that, make sure you join and join before September because it’s going to be a great event. All right. But back to volunteer feedback.

You can go a couple of different ways. You can do it very casually and say hit reply and tell me one thing we can do better. You can have a poll. You can use a poll that’s just a few. And for social media, polls actually work really well. If you have online, for example, a Facebook group of your volunteers, you can do a poll online. But we’re talking email here. So you can link to a type form or a Zoho survey, or a SurveyMonkey and survey and have people complete it that way.

So there’s lots of different ways to deliver your surveys. You can put a QR code in your email and have people shoot that and take the survey from the email that way, although it’s just as easy to click on a link. Although if you’re asking for feedback in person, the QR code is really helpful. Just have it on a piece of paper or on the wall. Either on the table or on the wall, people can shoot it. You can survey folks right after they complete their training. You can survey volunteers after they complete their first shift. You can survey volunteers after they have their 1st 30 days.

And there are ways to automate this as well. So by use of tagging, you can do this. When volunteers get a tag, then this email gets sent. Or you can set it up ahead of time and say after X number of days of receiving the tag of active volunteer, they receive this email with this survey. So you could actually set up a full surveying process or volunteer feedback process and the only way they wouldn’t be sent, the emails wouldn’t be sent is if the active volunteer tag is not within that contact. I have to tell you, I love email. I think there’s great ways to communicate and build relationships with your audience via email. And we have a tool that we recommend so often we want to improve volunteer retention rates and we’ve got to make a little bit of investment into that.

The good news is it’s not very much an email system with the ability to tag subscribers and preset email campaigns when a tag is applied or removed automatically, usually not, or it could be manually. But if we can have something that we can preset all of these emails, if they’re written well and they’re engaging can happen behind the scenes while you’re sleeping. You don’t even need to worry about it. There’s email communication going on and you’re not even having to sit at your desk and keep sending emails out all day long, although you might be sending emails all day long for something else, but not for engaging your volunteers. And so people often ask us what is the tool that you recommend when we recommend and have been using ConvertKit. And ConvertKit is an email and customer relationship management system. It has been indispensable to our daily work at Volunteer Pro and we moved from a more complicated and expensive system to ConvertKit, which is more basic but also much more affordable. And we use it to deliver our freebies.

If you’ve ever downloaded any of our freebies or our Volunteer Management Progress report, you will see that it comes from Convert. Well, I’m not sure if you’ll see if it comes from ConvertKit, but it does go through ConvertKit. If you’re getting emails from us about our podcasts or you’re subscribed to our weekly newsletter, yes, that’s delivered via ConvertKit. So there’s a lot that it can do. The thing that I like about it most is that you can use what are called snippets and they are pre written. You write these up and then you can post them to any email that you’re or email series, emails in a series that you are writing. So you don’t have to rewrite content over and over and over again. So I find that super helpful.

So we love ConvertKit so much that we’ve become an affiliate for ConvertKit. So when folks join ConvertKit using our affiliate link, we make a little bit of commission. It’s about worth about a cup of coffee. But you know what, a little bit goes a long ways. And so if you’re interested and you want to build onboarding email sequences or welcome sequences, or want to send unique high value content to your board members, event volunteers or even internal staff, and you want to get away from spreadsheets and trying to do all of your volunteer communication from your inbox, this is a great tool for that. And it looks great, it works great and it’s very easy. The best news is it’s so inexpensive right now, it only costs about $9 a month for up to 300 subscribers. Now, as you build your subscriber list, the cost does go up, but it’s just not that expensive.

And the even better news is you can use a free version now. You can get access for 14 days for free, and I’ll tell you where to go to do that. But there’s a free version. Now, the free version, unfortunately, there’s no way to do it doesn’t have the functionality to do the preset email campaigns. It’s really just one off. But if you sign up for the 14 day trial, you can try out some of those. You could set up just a volunteer appreciation campaign, maybe four or five emails and just send them out to your list and see what happens, right? It’s a fantastic tool. I know a lot of people have volunteer management software systems.

Most software systems have the ability to set up one off emails that are triggered maybe by when an application is submitted, but I don’t know of any at this moment that have the ability to do more robust tagging and setting up of multiple email series that are initiated by tags and can be preset by you. Those don’t really exist in the volunteer management system. You just need another tool in your tech stack and there really isn’t for anybody, whether you’re a volunteer manager or an entrepreneur or a business owner or whoever that’s using technology for your organization or business, there really isn’t a one size fits all of everything. So you do need to invest in different types of tools for different purposes. So I hope that’s been helpful in our part one and now this part two of Using Email to Improve Volunteer retention. I think it is completely underused when it comes to communicating with our volunteers or it’s misused. We’re just doing e blasts and we’re not really being purposeful about how and why we’re using email. So I hope this has been helpful to you.

If you are interested in getting a 14 day free trial of ConvertKit, you can go to volpro.net/resources. Those are our affiliate relationships with different tools and another organization that provides training as well. And we would love you to participate. So if you’re interested, just go to volpro.net/resources and check out a free 14 day trial of ConvertKit. And you know what? Just set up an appreciation campaign and see how it goes. The tool is very easy to use, it doesn’t take long to learn how to do it and you will automatically begin to start strengthening those relationships.

So that’s my show for this week. I hope this episode has helped you pinpoint some new ways to use email to improve volunteer retention. And if you will and you liked it, please share it with a friend or colleague who might need a little extra inspiration and go ahead and subscribe if you haven’t. So I will show up every week, either by myself or with my absolutely high value fun guests, and we will see you same time, same place, next week on The Volunteer Nation. Thanks for joining me everybody. I appreciate you. 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.