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Thinking outside the box: Chapter 4- Maintaining the Ph(Philanthropic) balance:Volunteer Engagement

Welcome to this mini-series of 10 chapters, Thinking outside the box. This series is dedicated to looking beyond the fundraising field but become part of another industry to learn from a random article, non-relevant news, or an upcoming trend. And how do we do that? We draw parallels for the world of Philanthropy (and I am going to try not to divert towards data as always, but hey, no promises there!). Today's topic — Maintaining the Ph (Philanthropic) balance of an organization – Volunteer Engagement.

Thanks to Hasan Minhaj's Patriot Act on Netflix, I was recently introduced to the term – compassion fatigue. When you are aware (leave alone passion) of several pressing issues on the face of humanity, you could feel pulled in different directions all the time and at the same time. Australian wildfires killing little Koala bears, Middle East refugees facing starvation or Africa needing critical supplies of medicines for kids or India requiring a better judicial system because women's safety is still not a priority for anyone. The inability to change the reality on any of those world issues causes this compassion fatigue. All these issues and many more often call for simple solutions like making a financial gift or spending a few hours over the weekend in volunteering towards the cause. So, today, I am inspired to learn some strategies from the banking industry and draw parallels on engaging volunteers. Your volunteers are just as crucial as your donors in balancing the philanthropic scale. And, in return, your engaged volunteers can manage their compassion fatigue better.


After reading blogs and case studies on how the banking industry encourages more deposits from current customers, here is what I found:


Step 1: Assess your volunteer capacity


Your volunteers, just like your donors, should be assessed not only for their time but also for their affinity towards your organization's mission. Take stock of all the volunteers by the number of hours they give, their motivations, their philanthropic gifts to your organization, their volunteering for other organizations, etc. Once you have all such information, find the volunteers who have demonstrated a passion and devote time to volunteering. Please note that this data, if unavailable, can be collected easiest through a volunteer survey. From your assessment, the hours this subset of volunteers have available for giving to any philanthropic organization is called volunteer capacity.


Step 2: Segment your volunteers


Most organizations have a volunteer leadership committee that follows a governance structure. However, to engage every volunteer, you need to strategize beyond those set structures for granular levels of segmentation.

This segmentation can be as following:

- Regional — e.g., San Francisco has different volunteering priorities than Buffalo; geographic clustering where possible to increase signal.

- Behavioral/Performance — Reward certain types of behaviors: e.g., higher engagement with your programs, level of activity, etc.

- Relationship — Engage in broader roles, should a constituent is involved in multiple volunteer programs and donates financially.

- Channel engagement— In-person, phone, online, etc.


Step 3: Evolve volunteer engagement strategies


Now that you have segmented your volunteers and know their volunteer capacity, its time to take your volunteer engagement strategies up a notch. Every segment should have two broad groups of strategy – "inflow" and "outflow". "Inflow" would be those that attract your volunteers to give their time, learn about your programs, and engage more than expected. "Outflow" would be the ones where you regularly take feedback of your volunteers through 1-1 chats, group meetings, or short surveys so that you know if your volunteers are not feeling motivated enough to continue their commitment.


Step 4: Collect, innovate and adapt


So, you have a volunteer group, that is segmented strategically, you know its volunteer capacity and you have strategized around it. Should you stop here? Absolutely not. To be able to take better decisions, you need better data on your volunteers. So, start collecting all the points where your volunteer engages with your organization. Once you have quality data with time, you can innovate by using better analytics solutions in understanding your volunteers' behavior. Remember that volunteer to donor conversion is a great way to get new donors, mainly because as volunteers, their affinity has been established by then. Once you have used those analytics solutions, you can adapt and evolve as necessary.


Do not forget to write what you think of these strategies and what are your biggest challenges when it comes to engaging volunteers meaningfully.