Making your volunteer opportunities more inclusive requires careful planning to ensure you don’t leave anyone out. Every volunteer brings in a different background and perspective, and you may wonder how you can create opportunities that will give everyone an equal chance to participate.
After all, your volunteers are the foundation of your nonprofit organization, and it’s crucial to have a diverse team. Creating inclusive volunteer programs will help you reach and engage a wider array of talented volunteers.
To make your volunteer opportunities more inclusive, it’s important to start off by understanding what barriers your supporters may have and how to overcome them by offering alternatives.
Here are the top four strategies for making your volunteer program more inclusive:
- Diversify your recruitment strategy.
- Address your volunteers’ specific barriers to volunteering.
- Offer virtual and micro-volunteer opportunities.
- Create a buddy or mentor program.
The goal is to optimize your volunteers’ experience so that everyone can participate. InitLive’s guide to creating inclusive volunteer programs offers a full overview of how you can make your program more welcoming. In this article, we’ll review the highlights. Let’s get started!
1. Diversify your recruitment strategy.
As a volunteer manager, you may already know the importance of having a diverse team. Having a team consisting of individuals from different backgrounds helps organizations become more innovative, resilient, and creative. And when your volunteer team is diverse and accepting, your new volunteers will feel more comfortable joining because they’ll see themselves represented in your organization.
In order to attract a diverse group of people, it’s crucial to expand your recruitment strategy to reach new groups of people that you may not have connected with in the past.
There are plenty of sources you can explore to reach new volunteers and welcome them into your organization. These include:
- Local community groups and civic clubs
- Local businesses
- Your organization’s constituents (the people who benefit from your services)
- Nearby colleges and universities
Remember to craft your volunteer opportunity descriptions carefully to attract diverse candidates. The language you use in your descriptions makes all the difference. For example, avoid using phrases such as “looking for young volunteers” because you may exclude potentially talented and passionate volunteers.
A diversified recruitment strategy allows you to adopt an inclusive approach from the beginning of your volunteer management process.
2. Address your volunteers’ specific barriers to volunteering.
In order to make your volunteer opportunities more inclusive, it’s crucial to identify any specific barriers that your volunteers face to participation.
Get to know your organization’s volunteers on an individual level to address their personal barriers to participation. This ensures you aren’t taking a “one size fits all” approach to accessibility and inclusivity, but a truly well-rounded approach that’s most effective for your supporters.
Here are some examples of common barriers that volunteers may face include:
- Time restrictions: Many volunteers have full-time jobs or children to take care of and won’t have ample free time for volunteering. Consider giving an evening option for your volunteer opportunities and offer a variety of shift options for those who may have time restrictions.
- Physical barriers: Certain volunteers may also face physical barriers where they cannot stand for long periods of time. Others may use wheelchairs or other devices to assist with mobility. Keep these barriers in mind as you plan your in-person volunteer opportunities to ensure those with physical restrictions can participate.
- Language barriers: Your volunteers may not speak English as their first language and may face difficulty participating in your volunteer activities because of language barriers. You can take stock of your current staff and volunteer language capabilities and incorporate different languages into your program, such as in your training materials.
- Transportation barriers: Some volunteers may not have access to reliable transportation. Consider offering a shuttle service or carpool program to offer everyone a chance to participate.
To ensure you don’t leave any volunteers out, you can send out a survey to them to ask about their specific barriers to participation. This way, you have all the information you need from the start, and it also leaves a good first impression.
When your volunteers see that you’ve taken the time to think of solutions for any barriers that they face, they’ll feel greater goodwill toward your organization and be more likely to continue engaging with your opportunities.
3. Offer virtual and micro-volunteer opportunities.
Finding the free time to volunteer can often be a major barrier for supporters. If some of your volunteers have busy schedules, a great solution is offering virtual and micro-volunteer opportunities.
Virtual volunteer opportunities open your volunteer program up to those who may have transportation, time, or mobility restrictions. If your volunteers have restrictions regarding their schedules or health, this is a great way to allow them to still be a part of your organization’s activities. It also helps boost engagement since participants are volunteering within the comfort of their own homes.
And, since we are still experiencing the effects of the ongoing pandemic, virtual opportunities are a great way to maintain strong relationships with all your supporters while staying safe.
Another effective way to offer volunteers more flexibility is by scheduling short volunteer opportunities that still allow participants to leave a major impact. For instance, if you’re hosting a major event like a festival, you can offer one-hour shifts, so volunteers only have to take minimal time out of their days to participate. This allows volunteers to fit a quick volunteer shift into their daily activities.
4. Create a buddy or mentor program.
A mentor or buddy program can help new volunteers feel more comfortable, welcomed, and included in your program. This is also a great way for all your volunteers to connect and network with one another.
Pair up existing and new volunteers that share characteristics or career paths to provide some extra guidance to your new volunteers.
You can start your mentor program with an orientation process to train mentors on how they can welcome new volunteers and give them ideas for what to talk about, such as their positive experience or what motivated them to get involved. Consider providing icebreaker questions and games to help mentors get the conversation started with their mentorees.
Be sure to promote your mentor program throughout your new volunteer recruitment process. Include the option to sign up for the mentor program within your volunteer registration form so it’s front-of-mind for new participants.
Now that you’ve explored some of the ways you can make your volunteer opportunities more inclusive, it’s time to start the planning process. It all begins with an inclusive recruitment strategy to attract a large pool of applicants who have a variety of different skills and backgrounds. Assess what barriers your volunteers may face and overcome them by providing solutions.
After that, it’s all about motivating volunteers and providing ongoing support to build long-lasting relationships with your team. Good luck!