Engaging virtual volunteers

What is virtual volunteering?

Virtual volunteering is a form of volunteering where individuals contribute their time, skills, and expertise to support various causes and organizations through digital platforms and technology. It is sometimes also called online volunteering or remote volunteering.

Unlike traditional in-person volunteering, virtual volunteering allows individuals to participate and contribute from their own location, whether it’s their home, office, or any place with an internet connection. Often virtual volunteering is conducted on a flexible schedule, so participants can fit their volunteering activities around existing commitments.

Advancements in technology and the increased connectivity of our digital world have really accelerated virtual volunteering. It allows volunteers to make meaningful contributions without the constraints of geographical boundaries. This is especially beneficial for those who might not have the time or means to engage in traditional, location-based volunteering.

How to engage virtual volunteers

Focus on distributing tasks, not long-term roles

Virtual volunteers often have diverse schedules and commitments. Task-based management allows volunteers to choose tasks that fit their availability. This prevents certain volunteers from being overwhelmed while others have little to do, which can happen in a role-based scheduling approach.

When volunteers can choose tasks that resonate with their interests and abilities, they’re more likely to feel engaged and motivated. This approach gives them a sense of ownership and autonomy over their contributions.

That said, it’s essential to strike a balance. Some virtual volunteer teams may also benefit from a hybrid approach that combines elements of both task-based and role-based strategies. For example, you might have core roles that provide consistency and continuity, and also offer additional tasks that volunteers can choose based on their availability and skills.

Clear communication is extra effort

To support virtual volunteers, volunteer managers need to adapt their engagement strategies. They must provide more guidance, and build a sense of community through digital channels. 

When all instructions, expectations, and goals are communicated through virtual means, the communication needs to be extra clear. A detailed overview of tasks, timelines, and desired outcomes helps prevent misunderstandings and keeps volunteers on the right track. 

Writing thorough guidelines is one way to approach the challenge, but videos, drawings and other visual instructions can also be very helpful. 

Keep in mind that clarity does not equal complexity. Longer explanations are not better explanations. Polished and professional images are not always easier to understand than a graph from the back of a napkin. 

Appropriate digital tools go a long way

You may need to provide additional training or resources to ensure that volunteers can navigate digital platforms. Choose easy to use collaboration tools and communication channels – widespread corporate software may not be the best solution for a team of volunteers.

Volunteer teams have a more flexible and decentralized structure, with members contributing from various locations and backgrounds. Unlike corporate teams, you probably cannot afford a week-long training session on your tools and processes for every new recruit!

On the other hand, you may need less integration options with existing business processes. Not all volunteer teams need to synchronise with customer relationship management (CRM), and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems

In some cases additional access is certainly necessary, for example fundraising volunteers should be able to access the donor database; or data entry volunteers should have personal credentials to the content management system. These needs should be reviewed case by case to ensure proper data privacy and security.

Recognising virtual volunteers

Never underestimate the power of recognition and appreciation. Virtual volunteers may not have the tangible presence to see the impact of their work, making recognition all the more crucial. When volunteers feel valued and their contributions acknowledged, the motivation to continue making a difference skyrockets.

Regularly acknowledge their efforts through personalised thank-you messages, virtual certificates, or even spotlight features in newsletters. If you can incorporate gamified elements such as challenges, competitions, and leaderboards, the virtual volunteering experience will be even more interactive and engaging.

How we can help

When most volunteer database software is built around assigning roles and creating long-term schedules,  Zelos Team Management is a modern volunteer management app focused on task signup and gamification – a perfect combination for managing virtual volunteers.

Sign up for a free account on our website, or get in touch with our team for a free product demo.