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Re-thinking volunteer engagement during a pandemic: Virtual volunteering

As COVID-19 has reached pandemic levels and physical distancing has become the best defence to stop the spread, many nonprofits have suspended volunteer recruitment efforts, modified frontline service delivery, or are searching for new ways to recruit or engage volunteers.

We all have a role to play in flattening the curve, and, while the process of modifying our programs and recruitment efforts may seem daunting, remember the same framework your organization uses to recruit and retain volunteers applies to remote opportunities.

What to consider if you’re moving to virtual volunteer engagement:

1. Don’t reinvent the wheel

The first step is taking stock of what already exists within the organization – screening processes, volunteer policies, and existing software and platforms. Chances are you already have a lot of the groundwork in place for remote engagement.

For screening, consider what aspects of the recruitment process can be postponed or done virtually:

  • Use an online application form to gather important you may need from prospective volunteers.
  • Meet with new volunteers online to get a feel for who they are as an individual and how they may fit within the organization. Many meeting platforms can support traditional interview processes.
  • Consider pairing up with your local volunteer centre or another nonprofit to offer online volunteer training for existing volunteers.

2. Get creative

Think outside the box – there are many ways to alter existing volunteer roles or offer programs and services while maintaining current health standards for physical distancing.

  • Look at existing volunteer roles and consider what tasks and responsibilities are suited to remote work
  • Talk to your existing volunteers – ask them how they want to be engaged and their ideas for how they can contribute during this time. Bonus: this fosters repeat engagement and supports volunteers in feeling valued.
  • Think of ways to engage your clients virtually through online programming or meeting spaces (e.g. drop-in programs for children or “adopt a senior” Facebook group)

The possibilities are endless!

3. Keep volunteers engaged

It’s important to keep volunteers engaged! When volunteers are involved, they will have a more positive volunteer experience, a stronger connection with the organization and its mission, and are more likely to stay committed.

While in-person relationships are important, we need to consider how to build online communities that are accessible and engaging.

  • Offer frequent updates: tell volunteers how the organization has adapted to COVID-19 and continues to meet its mission.
  • Share impact stories: share how volunteers make a difference in the community and the lives of your clients.
  • Offer online meeting spaces: create communities of practice amongst your volunteers and offer ways for them to connect with one another online (e.g. volunteer meet-ups on Skype).

4. If you can’t go remote, be safe

If you’re an organization that offers frontline services and must still provide in-person programs or services, ensure you take every precaution possible:

  • Regularly wash hands.
  • Respect the 2 metre rule.
  • Limit contact between the volunteer and client as much as possible.
  • Provide training for volunteers about COVID-19 processes and procedures.

When in doubt, defer to the advice of Alberta Health Services and the Government of Alberta’s recommendations. These websites are updated daily and have the most relevant information to keep volunteers and clients safe.

Traditional ways volunteering will always be around, but remote and micro-volunteering has changed the way we engage with volunteers. When the world returns to “normal” and physical distancing is something of a distant memory, remote engagement could open many doors you had not considered before.

For more resources related to volunteering, screening and recruitment, visit Volunteer Alberta or Volunteer Canada.

For more ideas on managing virtual volunteers, watch this webinar from IAVE.

To find or post a remote or micro-volunteering opportunity, visit VolunteerConnector.

Daniela Seiferling

Volunteer Alberta

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