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Three steps to volunteer-friendly comms

25 March 2015

Volunteering is in the DNA of the charitable sector, many charities were founded and built up by volunteers. Yet lack of access and exposure to volunteers can leave head office staff disconnected from the vital services volunteers carry out.

Volunteers remain a major and indispensable workforce for pretty much all charities; in many, they constitute 90 per cent or more of charity personnel. In other words, volunteers are precious — and this should be reflected in your communications.

1) Keep volunteers in the loop

Volunteers might only work for your charity one or two days a week and may have little or no formal connection with head office. You need to find ways to nurture a feeling of belonging and connectedness among often widely-dispersed teams or individuals — as well as to facilitate the practical task of getting information back and forth.

Of course, there are volunteers in head office too — but even these volunteers can lack access to team meetings, email, online internal media and mailing lists.

Check which of the communications channels you use are already reaching which volunteers and where access needs to be extended to more people. What kinds of messages are volunteers missing out on? Should you be tailoring some messages to suit a volunteer audience? Conversely, could any of your channels be streamlined to embrace staff and volunteers alike? Could you make more use of volunteer leaders to disseminate relevant information to harder-to-reach volunteer colleagues?

Where volunteers run local branches, groups, clubs, shops or other entities, head office should probably be communicating with them as regularly, and in many of the same ways, as it communicates with staff-run local offices.

2) Respect autonomy

Much like federated, independent charitable organisations, volunteer groups and individuals are under no obligation to take instructions from head office, or the comms department. So the onus is on the communicator to find ways of encouraging participation and engagement.

Training opportunities can offer an incentive, as volunteers may be keen to sharpen their skills. Visibility, in the form of a photo or byline, will also enhance motivation. But the key incentive is being taken seriously, listened to and acknowledged by staff in the organisation. In other words, being embraced as a part of the team.

3) Celebrate volunteer contributions

Include stories of and by volunteers in your regular internal media. You can personally ensure they appear in central communications that go out. It’s also a good idea to create platforms on which volunteers will want to share their own stories, comments and ideas, by including dedicated pages on the intranet, Facebook etc.

On top of this, some charities formally recognise volunteer contributions every year through commendations, awards and benefits – which should be communicated to volunteers and staff alike, all over the organisation.

For more advice on communicating effectively with volunteers, including charity case studies, download HQ and beyond, CharityComms’ free guide to effective internal communication for charities with branches, regions or local groups.

Kay Parris

freelance journalist and editor

Kay Parris is a freelance writer, journalist and editor working in the not-for-profit sector.