Help your volunteers help your digital campaigning
At a glance...
For many organisations, their supporters are their biggest asset, but are not used to their full potential. Use your supporter's networks, skills and enthusiasm and give them the right to tools to become great ambassadors for your organisation and your cause.
Charities get volunteers to fundraise or attend events, but often forget that they can get involved in digital campaigning.
Why involve volunteers?
Supporters can be great ambassadors for the charity and the cause you support, as they will often have a very personal connection to the cause which means they may have a drive and passion
Collectively, your supporter base will have more time and resources than your organisation can hope to have. The power of projects such as SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and Fight AIDS at Home was that they utilised distributed computing: using millions of home PCs to process and return complex scientific data towards reaching the projects’ goals sooner.
Your supporters will have their own PCs, mobile phones, email and social media accounts which could potentially allow you to undertake a distributed campaigning model towards achieving your own goals.
Your supporters can paraphrase the messages your charity in their own way, which is often more trusted or perceived to be more genuine than the organisation’s own press releases & communications.
How to involve volunteers in campaigning
Tell personal stories
People often volunteer with charities because they’ve been personally affected by the issue. They may be living with or have survived through a debilitating condition or a traumatic situation and want to help support others going through the same thing, or they may want to honour the memory of a friend or family member by supporting a related cause.
Every person with a personal experience of your cause will have a story to tell, whether it’s a story of great personal tragedy or an inspirational story of hope. These personal stories can bring great benefits when used sensitively and appropriately, and can take a number of forms:
- a story and related discussions in an online forum
- a help & advice section on your website
- a personal blog or video blog
- interviews in a campaign video
- a personal plea from a beneficiary sent out in an email newsletter.
Remember that people care about people (or animals, or the environment), not faceless organisations. Personal stories help place your work in the context of their own lives. Highlight how you have helped your beneficiaries, how their lives are different now and why it’s important you continue your good work.
It Gets Better is project built purely around personal stories, helping LGBT youth imagine what it might be like to become openly gay adults and how their lives won’t always be as bad as they imagine it is now.
When thanking a donor, tell them how their money will be spent and the difference they’re making to someone’s life. Consider asking actual beneficiaries to write thank you letters detailing how the donation will make a personal difference to them or other people like them.
Make the best use of skills & specialisms
Make sure that you make the best use of your supporters’ skills and specialisms by using a skills auditing process.
Not everyone feels comfortable asking the public for money on a busy high street, so consider providing volunteering opportunities which make the best use of other skills. The United Nations Volunteers Online provides hundreds of opportunities across a range of themes, geographic regions and types of volunteering.
Many volunteers will be professionals, or will have quite specific skills honed through hobbies. Consider how you can use that specific knowledge to your advantage. Could professionals such as doctors, nurses, solicitors or teachers volunteer their time in an online Q&A, answer emails in their spare time or provide specialist guest blog posts?
Do you have anyone with writing skills? Many people maintain blogs - can they write articles for your website or guest blog posts? If they lack specific knowledge about the information your website is lacking, can you connect them with other volunteers who have that knowledge?
What other skills does your volunteer base have that you don't know about? How will you find out?
Utilise personal networks
Thanks to the Internet, people are better connected than ever. Many of your supporters and volunteers will be familiar with and regular users of social networks and will be spending a lot of time with friends on sites such as Facebook & Twitter. If supporters already discuss your cause with their friends and family, can you encourage them to campaign on behalf of your organisation and convince their friends to become supporters too?
Provide simple sharing buttons on your website to encourage supporters to tweet or to post links to your website to their Facebook feeds. JustGiving recently identified that a “Like” on Facebook is worth around £5 to a charity.
Sharing buttons are fairly easy to implement if you have access to your website’s code and you can find instructions for Facebook and Twitter. You can also add share buttons for multiple websites using services such as AddThis (see our buttons at the end of this page) or ShareThis (as used by BBC News).
Provide the right tools for the job
Make it easy to campaign on your behalf. Provide templates for letters & emails, or pre-populate a form so that as little effort is required to complete an action. Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are just two charities that offer specific tips on how to campaign online.
Many organisations use JustGiving to raise money on their behalf. Provide instructions on getting the best out of online tools and provide tips your supporters can use for fundraising on Facebook. You can also compare similar fundraising websites to see which one is right for you.
Provide sample tweets or Facebook statuses to help supporters further your cause, address myths or misinformation. You'll be helping supporters who may not be familiar with the medium and providing some easy asks for "slacktivists" who aren't ready for full-on volunteering yet.
Build trust with a small number of volunteers and reward them access to your social network presence. Consider giving supporters access to post to your Facebook & Twitter accounts using group management tools such as Hootsuite, but make them aware of your social media policy and guidelines.
Consider providing an online space for volunteers to socialise and self-organise without interference from the organisation. Perhaps a secure Facebook group, a forum or a password-protected part of your own website?
Publicise the difference your supporters are making. Newsletters are popular, don’t restrict news of your volunteers’ activity to your volunteer newsletter. How will you gain new volunteers otherwise? Celebrate your supporters’ achievements, like Oxfam do, on your website or blog as well as in general newsletters and on social networks.
With the proliferation of mobile phones and other digital devices, people are taking more photos and videos than ever before. Encourage supporters to share their videos & photos with others, or to contribute them to a pool of user-generated content. Encourage uploading to Flickr & tagging photos to get multiple experiences of the same event.
Gather your volunteers together outside the office for fun events. Many large, national organisations have small local groups which meet regularly, or organise and annual national event. How can you bring your supporters together in the real world and how can the Internet help promote and sustain those events?
An annual awards competition could be conducted online if your supporter base is widely-distributed or global. You could receive nominations or votes via email, Twitter, or online polling software such as Zoomerang or SurveyMonkey. This could be a useful way of testing an online voting system for your board elections.
How to get the best out of your volunteers
Make it easy to become a volunteer
Use your digital communications (website, email and social media) to remind supporters of the benefits of volunteering and how they can get involved. Make it clear what volunteering opportunities are available so that prospective volunteers can make an informed decision about what skills they can provide.
Provide an online form to allow prospective volunteers to express an interest in getting involved with your organisation. Consider whether you want a quick form which asks a couple of quick questions to record contact details for follow-up, or whether you want a more in-depth skills audit at the initial stage, and what the benefits and disadvantages are of either approach.
Make sure you have a robust volunteer management process in place. Enthusiasm and goodwill can quickly dissipate if you fail to reply to an expression of interest in volunteering, or match your supporters with inappropriate opportunities.
Have proper induction & training processes
Make new volunteers familiar with your mission statement & objectives.Make the information available online so that anyone interested in volunteering can self-assess whether they're aligned with the charity's vision.
Consider mentoring - partner new volunteers with more experienced volunteers or staff members, particular those familiar with communicating with specific demographic groups. Teach your writing guidelines or social media policy to anyone likely to be campaigning directly on behalf of the organisation.
Set short-term goals to help build confidence and trust with your volunteers, whether it's a certain number of tweets or Facebook messages sent, number of members joining an online group, or number of visitors sent to a campaigning website.
Most importantly of all - communicate with your volunteers and treat them with the respect you'd give any valuable member of your team.
Contact us for a free consultation to find out how you can use technology to help your volunteers help you.