This is an adaptation of a masterclass delivered recently to Volunteer Managers from across Ireland as part of Volunteer Ireland’s National Volunteer Management Conference.

How we make change is changing and how we reach and engage new and existing volunteers to join our causes is also changing. Since 2011, The Millennial Impact Report has consistently found that millennials learn about and donate to causes digitally, that their peers are a critical influence on their decision to take action, and that they are motivated by opportunities to use and develop their skills. The impact of this is being experienced by the voluntary sector globally. Those causes and organisations who are unable to adapt and respond to this ‘digital transformation’ is at risk of being left behind. Here are some of the ways that you can use digital platforms to recruit, mobilise and organise volunteers.

“Where do I begin?”

We’re glad you asked because this part is important. First, digital and social media needs to be given a seat at the top table. No longer can it be an afterthought or a half-baked effort. Unless you can recognise the benefits it has to offer, and allocate the resourcing it requires, you’ll fall at the first hurdle.

Now you can start starting drafting your digital strategy. What are your aims and objectives? Do you want to reach new volunteers? Mobilise existing ones? Or maybe you’re hoping to ensure more effective communications with your networks? Being clear on what your aims are will help you target your efforts more precisely. This will also assist with defining your target audiences and deciding which platforms to reach them on. Taking these steps at the outset will help inform what content and messages you need to engage your audiences.

How you frame your message / ask can determine a person’s decision to engage. Therefore it is important to :

  • articulate the issue in a compelling and authentic way
  • appeal to people’s values
  • show how things can improve
  • outline what a person can do to help achieve that, through volunteering with your cause.

Be clear with your ask

What is your call-to-action? Do you want people to sign-up to a volunteer mailing list? Do you want people to register for a certain event? Or do you want them to share your content on their own social media channels to their peers? Whatever the ask is, be explicit and clearly outline how a person can take action. It’s important also to provide a spectrum of ways that volunteers can get involved with your cause. Some people may just want to act as an ambassador on social media, while others might want to get involved with offline opportunities. Whatever way a volunteer wants to contribute – it’s your task to ensure that they’re able to do so.

Utilise Volunteer Skills

As we’ve already learned, people are motivated by opportunities to use and develop their skills. Explore ways and identify opportunities where you can utilise the skills of new and existing volunteers to help meet your goals. Perhaps you have some graphic design work, or a new report that need some proofreading – put a call out on social media and ask for volunteers to help! Volunteers can take action on behalf of your cause at a time and place that suits them and also in ways through which they can showcase and develop their skills.

The UN Online Volunteering hub aims to ‘change the world through online volunteering’ and allows organizations and volunteers to team up to address sustainable development challenges – anywhere in the world, from any device.

In Ireland, Dairygold has also recently launched an online micro-volunteering platform, believing that “by dividing big tasks into tiny online ones, volunteers can have a greater impact to worthy causes.” For example, one of the micro-volunteering opportunities is with Be My Eyes who connect blind and low vision people with sighted volunteers who can give them visual assistance through a live video call.

Build a volunteer community online

Facebook groups are a great way of organising your volunteers and keeping them up-to-date with the latest news, opportunities and events. Most importantly, it is likely that many of your volunteers will already be on Facebook, so you’re reaching people where they are. By proactively communicating with your volunteer network on a consistent basis, you can encourage and empower your most active volunteers to become ambassadors for your cause, sharing your content and promoting key messages on their own social media channels.

Show Your Appreciation

Volunteers get involved with causes because they may value the mission or they want to give back to society. Volunteering is done so freely and they don’t expect anything in return. But showing appreciation for their time and commitment demonstrates to them, and other potential volunteers, that you do value their contribution and it makes a difference to the work that you do. Social media provides an ideal platform to say thank you and to showcase all of the activities that your volunteers are involved in.

Whether you use it to convert observers to volunteers, to cultivate your community or to crowd-source volunteers online – there are ample opportunities to use digital and social media for effective volunteer management. Now it’s over to you to find what works for you and your cause.

Visit the ForaChange Resources section to find tools to help you to use, and get the most out of social media.

Read the Yes Equality Case Study to learn more about how digital and social media was used to communicate with and organise volunteers during the 2015 Marriage Equality referendum campaign in Ireland.