I’ve been thinking a lot about the volunteer lifecycle lately, and trying to come up with a simple way of explaining it. During a conversation I had with my bestie, Patty K, (who’s a marketing guru!) she told me about the “customer’s journey”. It’s the steps that a client or customer goes through in their experience with a company. While there are a bunch of different ways to represent it, the standard seems to be: Awareness > Consideration > Sale > Retention > Advocacy.
I think it was the word retention that caught my attention and made me think that this might be a good model to use to describe the volunteer lifecycle.
Let’s start with Awareness.
Long before someone decides to volunteer with you, they need to know you exist! That means getting out into your community and telling people about the impact that you’re making (or trying to make). Post on social media about issues relating to your cause. Encourage current volunteers to talk and post about what they do with you. Do public service announcements about successes that your organization has had. Hold community events like open houses to show people what you do. And so on. Get out there and be seen! It may seem like a lot of work, but it’s what will bring awareness to your organization – leading to people considering you as a place to volunteer.
Which takes us to Consideration.
There are a lot of ways that people can spend their time. Even if they decide to spend it volunteering, there’s no guarantee that they’ll volunteer with you. Getting them to consider you is your next step. Start with talking about the impact that you make in the community. What are the things that volunteers do with you that makes your world a better place? People are looking for purpose. Demonstrate that you can give them that. Show how much fun it is to be part of your team. Purpose and fun?? Who doesn’t want that? Finally, let them know about what they can gain from volunteering with you. It’s not all about what they can give; a volunteer relationship should be a two-way street. What benefits can you offer them?
It may not be a “sale”, but if you do the previous steps well, you can Sign Them Up!
Many organizations think that this is the point where the volunteer lifecycle starts (a few even think that this is where it ends!). As you can see, though, unless you do the first two steps, they won’t ever get to this point. But it’s not guaranteed even yet. The sign up process is important. Remember the old saying about first impressions. When someone reaches out, how you respond will give them a clearer idea of how your organization actually works than all the public relations that went before. Respond quickly and in a friendly, welcoming manner. Answer any questions openly and honestly, and help them overcome any barriers they might have. Learn enough about them that you can place them in a role that both helps the organization and satisfies their needs.
Retention is the next stage of the volunteer lifecycle.
This is the whole “customer service” piece. How you onboard, train, lead, and most of all appreciate volunteers is what will keep them around, or at least coming back regularly to help you. Or not! Streamlining the onboarding process helps make people feel welcome and shows that you value their time. Providing effective training allows volunteers to feel confident in their roles (everyone wants to know that they’re doing a good job!). Making it easy to sign up for shifts, providing the necessary resources to do the task well, and having someone there to remove any barriers they may face will let volunteers feel like they’re making a difference. Finally, provide lots and lots of appreciation! Knowing that they’re making a difference, and that you value their efforts are the two things that will keep volunteers enthusiastic about volunteering with you.
The last stage is Advocacy.
If they’re enthusiastic, they will tell others! Just as someone is more likely to try a new restaurant if a friend recommends it, people are more likely to want to volunteer with you if someone they know volunteers and is thrilled about it. Even if a person stops volunteering because of work or other outside influences, if they loved volunteering with you they can be an amazing ambassador. They are passionate about your cause and, with a bit of encouragement, will tell anyone who will listen.
And that, of course, takes us right back to Awareness!
Because the volunteer lifecycle is a cycle.
There isn’t a start and end point; done well, it loops back on itself continuously. If you find that volunteers in your program have a definite beginning and end, it means that something needs to be improved. Look through these stages and determine where your program could better support volunteers or potential volunteers. And keep the cycle going!