7 Ways to Improve Volunteer Communication

Sneezing, the sniffles, a persistent cough…these are all symptoms of an underlying infection.  Coming in late, not being able to answer a visitor’s questions, chatting with a friend instead of helping people find a seat…these are all symptoms of something as well.  In my experience as a volunteer and as a volunteer leader, these symptoms usually mean that there’s a need for more (or better) communication.  People who volunteer typically want to do a great job.  However, without consistent and clear communication they may not have the information they need to be successful.

Here are a few tips to improving communication with your volunteer teams:

1.  Set expectations: When someone expresses interest in volunteering, let them know what kind of commitment you need from them.  How often?  How many hours?  What will they have to do?  Why is this volunteer role needed?  If they know what they’re signing up for, then they’re more likely to be committed and consistent in serving.

2.  Provide training: Once they’ve committed, conduct a training session.  This could be a classroom setting where you train several new volunteers or an on-the-job walk-through.  Either way can be very effective.  Just make sure you also provide written instructions and expectations.

3.  Be consistent: Depending on whether you’re a church with weekly services or an organization with special events, the frequency of communication will vary.  Just make sure that you establish a pattern of how often and through what medium you’re going to communicate important information to your teams.  This could be a weekly email, a monthly newsletter, text messages or a quick meeting before a service.

4.  Listen: Meet with your regular volunteers at least quarterly.  Ask them how things are going, ask for improvement suggestions, and invite them to share stories of how volunteering has impacted them.

5.  Appreciate:  Throw a Volunteer Appreciation Party and invite all of your volunteers.   It doesn’t have to be extravagant, but do something that gets them together to relax and have fun.  Share some of the great stories you’ve heard throughout the year of volunteers making an impact and changing lives.  They’ll walk away refreshed, encouraged and ready to go the extra mile.

6.  Mix it up: Use a variety of methods to communicate information.  A few options include email, Twitter, Facebook, phone calls, postcards, and team meetings.  Some people respond better to text messages than phone calls; others prefer to get announcements in a quick meeting.  You’ll need to use more than one of these methods to make sure you communicate in a way that works for your volunteers.

7.  Be dependable:  If you decide to send out a weekly email to all volunteers, then pick the same day to send it out each week.  If you post information on Twitter and send text messages, keep doing both until you announce that you’re changing methods.  Make sure your volunteers know what to expect and where to go for information.

Your volunteers want to serve and help you as you’re serving others.  Your commitment to consistent, clear communication just might be the missing piece to ensure success.