How to Forge Stronger Bonds with Remote & Hybrid Volunteers
Hybrid volunteers – or volunteers contribute time to nonprofits both online and in person – can be invaluable assets to a nonprofit.
They can bring special skills and talent to the table that a nonprofit might otherwise not have available or would need to pay a premium to acquire.
Hybrid volunteer roles can span the gamut from marketing and communications, to research, to clerical roles, to fundraising, and even direct service and volunteer management.
If a task involves the use of a computer with internet, it can be completed offsite and is a great choice for a hybrid volunteer role.
Remote volunteers can live in your local community, or outside it, making the world your oyster when it comes to recruiting and finding the right volunteer talent for your organization.
Planning to recruit virtual volunteers to join your marketing and communications team? Check out 3 Key Supports for Your Communications Team for a list of tools we recommend HERE >>
But managing remote volunteers is not without its challenges.
How do you ensure that volunteers feel supported and heard? How do you keep people on track? How do you establish a culture of volunteer accountability to commitments? How do you identify leadership talent and invite volunteers to take on increasingly complex roles as they grow with the organization?
All great questions, and certainly there are management tactics that can be used (see the resources listed throughout this post).
But, if you have limited time and want to set a strong foundation for success, there is a single strategy that will help you with all aspects of managing hybrid volunteers.
If you do this ONE THING well, everything else will fall into place.
That one thing is to focus on building a strong sense of community amongst your volunteers.
Helping them forget connections between themselves and your organization not only helps boost their commitment to your mission it also improves their satisfaction.
Most volunteers are social beings.
When they feel connected in mutually beneficial partnership with others, they naturally don’t want to let their team down. Moreover, better teamwork generates better outcomes, and through success volunteers build a stronger sense of confidence, self efficacy, and commitment.
Check out our 10 Competencies of an Effective Interdisciplinary Team for more tips on fostering volunteer teamwork HERE >>
So, the most important thing you can do is set the stage for social bonding to occur.
In other words, taking proactive steps toward building a greater sense of community.
Is this more difficult with hybrid volunteers? Yes and no.
In some respects, forming bonds is more challenging when you cannot see the other person face to face. You are not passing one another in the hall. You are not reading bond language in a meeting or training. You are not able to have a spontaneous one-on-one when you notice someone needs a little extra support.
No doubt these are barriers.
However, consider the upsides of virtual teams.
The Benefits of a Hybrid Volunteer Model
They don’t require that team members be in the same room at the same time to communicate. Both tools for asynchronous and live interaction can be deployed for maximum flexibility, making virtual volunteer opportunities more available to more people.
What’s more, when working online, volunteers can have access to a wider network of supportive peers and staff through online communities. All communication does not need to be always routed directly though the supervisor, thus reducing bottlenecks.
Inside online communities, volunteers can learn from one another through rich conversations hosted inside a private network. Leaders of volunteers can follow activity and get a quick sense of the community’s mood, issues, and current level of engagement.
In addition, well-designed online resource portals and learning hubs can help volunteers access learning and resources right when they need them, rather than waiting to come down to the office or ask a co-worker.
Humans love to learn and transform themselves through journeys of self-discovery. So, if volunteers are able to track their progress through learning modules, they build confidence and build a greater sense of achievement, a relevant skill set, and deeper identification with the organization.
Finally, the availability of virtual-only volunteering options can also make it safe for any volunteer to contribute regardless of vaccination status or willingness to comply with safety protocols. If the volunteer will not be visiting the office at any time in person, those requirements become less essential.
While we may think of hybrid volunteering as a less-than-ideal necessity, we suggest you reconsider that take.
Can hybrid volunteering actually be a BETTER alternative or a VALUABLE addition to your volunteer engagement model?
And, if so, what do you need to do to make it work smoothly?
Wondering what goes into managing volunteers from afar? Check out our Weekly Plan for Managing Virtual & Remote Volunteers HERE >>
How to Build a Strong Sense of Community for Hybrid Volunteers
As mentioned above, the single most important thing you can do to support and engage an effective hybrid volunteer team is to create a strong sense of community.
Below are several concrete things you can do to foster greater connections and build stronger bonds.
Create a “There” There
Community is built in shared space where conversations can occur and norms built.
At your building, there are likely spaces that volunteers congregate – meeting rooms, break room, offices, etc.
The same supports are needed for hybrid volunteers.
There needs to be a virtual space where they can congregate, a place they can “own” and call home.
The best type of online environment for this to occur is an online community or collaborative workspace. This might be through a free platform (e.g., Facebook or LinkedIn group) Or a paid tool (e.g., Notion, Circle.so, Mobilize.io, or Mighty Networks).
You can also link to your brick-and-mortar work by include maps and information about the physical spaces that volunteers might visit if they are working in a truly hybrid manner (both online and I-person).
Know What Your Community Goals Are
While “volunteer engagement” is a great goal, it’s too general an aim to evaluate success.
You’ll need to be clear on what your online volunteer community is meant to DO. What is its purpose?
In general, there are three main types of communities:
- Networking & Support
- Learning & Development
- Common Interests
Which do you most lean towards? Is your community for volunteers to engage with one another? Is it for them to complete your learning modules? Or is it a general community for anyone interested in your cause or people involved in a specific volunteer role?
Knowing the purpose of your community can help you choose the right platform features and set the right goals.
You also need to understand your goals.
Is it to help volunteers feel less isolated? Is it to prepare them for their role in a safe space? Is it to boost satisfaction or retention rates? Is it to develop leaders?
Whatever your goal is, it should be easy to track with concrete metrics.
And once you begin to track, what questions will you ask to help improve?
Create a Community Engagement Strategy
Decide what activities and elements are most likely to help you reach your goals.
To get started, ask yourself – Why should volunteers engage with you and each other online? What’s in it for them?
Choose 1-3 activities that will resonate with your volunteers. Also. Consider how volunteers can help create and manage these.
Here are some ideas:
- Live online trainings via live streaming
- Live drop-in office hours
- Cohort-based online training for groups of volunteers to learn at the same time
- Resource libraries with downloads
- Town halls where leadership shares what’s coming up and gathers input from volunteers
- Demo days for software tools
- Collaborative projects
- Social happy hours
- Outreach to individual volunteers
- Advocacy kits for volunteers to spread the word about your organization
- Quarterly group strategic planning sessions
- Established cadence for community forum posts (weekly wins, Monday motivation, resource of the week)
- Challenges or contests
- Live co-working sessions online
The activities you chose should directly contribute to your ultimate goals.
Experiment to find which are most popular with your volunteers.
For more on online volunteers, see 22 Simple Tips for Managing Virtual Volunteers with Ease HERE >>
Design for Purposeful Onboarding
Because not all volunteers will be familiar with the platform or tools you are using, and they likely won’t know many on your team personally, it helps to pay special attention to the early steps in their journey.
The goal is that your new volunteers feel welcomed and don’t get lost in the shuffle.
During the onboarding process:
- Remind them why they joined in the first place
- Make them feel comfortable to ask questions
- Answer the question “now what?” at each step so they know what the next expected action is
- Involve them as soon as possible in making a difference (even if they haven’t yet completed all of your required training)
- Reach out to them directly via an email, Zoom chat, or phone call
Conduct a Live Welcome Celebration
While traditional new volunteer orientations can often be dry and boring, they need not be.
In fact, in a virtual space it’s even more important that you make a great first impression. You will want to leave volunteers with a sense of excitement and anticipation about the impact they will be making, so plan an engaging agenda, not just a presentation.
Here’s a simple, fund agenda for a virtual welcome celebration:
- Welcome everyone and give them a brief overview of the call
- Ask volunteers to introduce themselves (use Zoom meetings and ask folks to have their cameras enabled) and why they are interested in your cause
- Show them around the space, paying particular attention to places where people get stuck
- Answer any questions that come up (and share where they can get support later)
- Note any upcoming key dates on the calendar
- Close with gratitude, their next steps (e.g., we will be reaching out for a personal phone call), and what they can expect from their participation
Don’t Forget Your Volunteer Recognition and Appreciation Too!
Whether volunteers are working in-person or online, they should be recognized for their time and talent.
Find ways to acknowledge and appreciate volunteers in both formal (group) and informal (individual) ways. A good mix of group recognition and individual touches will go a long way in maintaining connections and keeping your community humming.
Also, asking for feedback is a kind of recognition.
So, survey your volunteers to find out what they are interested in taking part in and solicit their suggestions on how to improve your volunteer support, events, and activities.
Ready to celebrate your hybrid volunteers? See our 5 Ideas for Virtual Volunteer Appreciation Events HERE >>
Tap the Power of Psychology to Improve Volunteer Follow Through Online and On Land
Working with teams can sometimes feel like herding cats – you want them to zig and then they zag!
It also can feel like you are spinning your wheels and wasting time.
But there is a better way.
You can save time, and boost team productivity by employing leadership tactics that inspire volunteers to a specific outcome, rather than constantly nagging them to follow through and get things done.
More productive volunteers = more productive you!
If a focused and energetic volunteer team is the goal, it helps to know something about human behavior.
Luckily, we have a mini course to get you started!
FREE Mini Course – The Art & Science of Volunteer Accountability
Inspire Positive Volunteer Team Outcomes with Our Free Course
When you complete the course, you will receive a completion confirmation via email.
In this short course, you will learn how to …
- Address three fixed mindsets that may be holding you back
- Use the psychology of trust to deepen volunteer commitment and follow-through
- Four Supervisory foundations that will be the key to your success
- Build a culture of commitment using our simple four-part formula
You’ll also get these free downloads …
- [Worksheet] The Miracle Mindset
- [Cheat Sheet] Five Common Myths & Mindsets About Volunteers