How to Use Volunteer Gamification 

One of the biggest challenges volunteer coordinators often face is keeping their supporters and volunteers engaged. Missed deadlines, lack of initiative, and decreasing project interest are some symptoms of low engagement. Does this sound familiar to you?

Gamification is the use of game elements such as point scoring, competition among peers, and awards in any area of activity (such as volunteering!). Gamificationb can help coordinators (like you) to combat this, by promoting participation, rewarding effort, and motivating people to give their best.

Gamification in Volunteer Communication

Volunteer gamification is rewarding

As weird as it may sound, games go beyond playing. Even simple game-like elements can inform everyone about what has been done and what needs to be completed. Abby Jarvis, nonprofit education manager for fundraising platform Qgiv, suggests tracking donation campaigns via visual thermometers that display the progress of both individuals and fundraising teams, as well as the overall funds raised. 

“A donor who is not especially invested in seeing your organization reach your overall goal may be more invested in helping their favorite participant reach their personal goal,” explains Jarvis.

You can use gamification to shape how volunteers feel about your overall mission, completion of projects, and accepting “dull” tasks (such as keeping the copy machine stocked and making welcome kits). 

Keep it visual and easy to understand, so the message is clear and inspires every volunteer. ClassCraft, a schooling gamification tool, explains how game elements work in the neurological level:

“Since our brains have a natural desire to feel progress and see growth, visual representations of advancement, like a progress bar or leaderboard, are incredibly motivating,” states its blog.

Using Gamification to Make More Impact

Volunteer helping in a garden

Use custom games to empower volunteers as leaders and help them to work directly with the community. In other words, turn your volunteers into game masters!

By doing so, they can occupy an active role from the start, help them figure out their duties as they go, and connect faster with the people they interact with. This is what Jason Tilley, founder of Ministry Accelerator, learned when he asked volunteers to play a game  with the children that attended a Sunday service.

“With the ability to give or take away points as they choose, the volunteers had no need for help or lectures. They connected and taught. It was great to see,” he writes.

Gamification can also improve results by scaling the efforts of the volunteer team. Jim Pugh, former web development director of the Democratic National Committee, launched a game through which supporters were encouraged to convince their friends to commit their votes before the 2010 American midterm elections. Users could track their score, earn points by asking others to participate, get virtual trophies, and see their ranking against their peers.

“The results were impressive; over 600,000 people committed to vote in the election, with more than 500,000 of them having been recruited by friends.” concludes Pugh.

How Gamification can Reward Volunteers

dogs playing a game

We all know money is no game. Derrick Pope, from Colorado State University Global, points out that creative games are helpful when there are limited funds geared towards recognizing outstanding performance. By considering the internal culture, group preferences, and organizational guidelines, Pope created an experience to thank his team.

“Instead of just verbally recognizing employees, we’ve created a special “Let’s Make a Deal” game show experience that makes recognition fun for everyone,” comments Pope.

If you feel that you are not creative enough to design a game, do not despair! Leadership consultancy Grow and Lead shared some guidelines to create gamified volunteer awards:

  • Make sure the rewards can be displayed or shown.
  • Every award should require some kind of effort to earn.
  • All gifts should be appropriate. 
  • They should encourage the community to participate.
  • Knowledge and time served should be specially recognized.

How to use Gamification to Educate

Volunteer onboarding and community training can be eased through gamified tools. John Hagerman, former marketer of the Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity chapter, described how the volunteer team—composed mostly by teenagers—learned about the housing concerns faced by the at-risk community they serve through a quiz game.“They were genuinely surprised to learn that having a safe, stable and affordable home could have such a profound impact on a family in the area of education. Realizations like these are exactly what the Build. Think. Act. program is designed to deliver. It takes the Habitat experience as a construction volunteer to a much deeper level,” states Hagerman.

In the case of community outreach, Bangalore-based nonprofit Quest Alliance used board games to outreach teenagers in vocational schools and educate them about career choices. The game included challenges and questions that could come up in their workplace and would be useful advancing their careers in the future.

Collaborative projects can also employ gamification to improve its management and scalability. A study published in BioMed’s Malaria Journal implemented two online games in which remote volunteers could help to identify malaria-infected samples. 

“Although the accuracy of a single player is not perfect, the combination of the responses of multiple casual gamers can achieve an accuracy that is within the range of the diagnostic accuracy made by a trained microscopist,” concludes the study.

In the past, implementing game elements in any organization usually required a lot of effort. Luckily now there are several smart solutions, such as Zelos Volunteer Management app, which can help you to quickly set up your gamified volunteer experience and get your team going.

As you can see, gamification has many benefits beyond being a fun bonding experience. Take some time to think about the needs of your volunteer team and brainstorm a fun way in which your organization can play together to do great things Let the games begin!