Communication with volunteers

The literacy charity for which I am a trustee, ABC to read, was recently awarded the Investing in Volunteers quality mark. Like many organisations, we are only able to do the work we do, changing children’s lives, because of our amazing volunteers. So we were delighted to receive recognition for the support we offer them. The process to achieve the mark is long and involved, as is only right, so we know that we meet rigorous standards.

Communication with volunteers forms a large part of an organisation’s relationship with them. On the face of it, communicating with your volunteers should follow the same basic principles as the way you communicate with your employees. At a recent seminar I attended about the future of internal communication, the speaker, Internal Comms Manager at the RNLI Jess Noble, pointed out that the lines between internal and external communication are becoming increasingly blurred and that we should be looking to communicate with self-selecting communities of interest. This would allow both employees and volunteers to choose what most interests them about your organisation and what they feel most engaged by.

In my experience, the responsibility for communication with volunteers can sit in any one of a variety of departments, often depending on the size of the organisation. As with internal communication in its more general sense, I believe that there is no right or wrong place for this responsibility to sit, although there can be a difference in impact or focus.

For example, if volunteer communication sits within the wider comms department, possibly alongside employee comms, activity is generally more aligned, whereas if you have a separate volunteer comms team (or individual), communication with volunteers tends to also be more distant. In my view, the most important thing is that someone is thinking about how you communicate with and engage volunteers – and they should be considering it from a strategic point of view.

Two key areas to consider for effective volunteer communications are:
1. Why? What do you want to achieve with them?
All charities and voluntary organisations know that finding and retaining volunteers is crucial for their ability to do their work. Therefore a key reason for communicating is to keep your volunteers with you – this should influence not only what you tell them, but how and when, and how this makes them feel. They may be fully supportive of the work you do, but if your communication is rushed, rude or non-existent, don’t be surprised if they vote with their feet and go somewhere else. You may also want them to act as ambassadors, encourage others to volunteer or become reliable sources of information, for example.

2. Who? How well do you know your volunteers?
The profile of your typical volunteer is probably changing – with changes in the way we live our lives, how we choose to spend our time and the range of options now available to us. This may well mean your volunteers’ motivations and interests are changing. Organisations are also increasingly using volunteers for a wider range of roles. All these factors will have an influence on what and how you communicate with them. You need to understand your audience to communicate well and connect with them.

How does communication with volunteers work at your organisation? What do you find works well – I’d love to hear your stories. And if you need help with making your volunteer communication more effective, please get in touch.

Until next time

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