Allison Reznick, PMP, is a principal at Advanced Interactions, LLC, in Rockville, Maryland.
Thanks in large part to technology, it's now possible to manage volunteers remotely. Here are strategies for managing your virtual volunteers and keeping them connected.
Contributions from virtual volunteers affect the breadth and depth of an association's programs and services. Virtual volunteers exist at most organizations, but associations may not necessarily label them with this term.
Your association's volunteer management operations should incorporate processes for managing volunteers who contribute remotely. But what are the best practices for managing virtual volunteers? How should you utilize their skill sets? And what are some strategies to keep virtual volunteers involved and connected?
Before committee members can participate virtually, the organization needs to take steps to set them up for success. Parameters, culture, and technology all need to be evaluated and in place before an assignment begins.
For ad hoc projects, involving virtual volunteers could have a significant impact on the volume of product or quality of service. In other words, an association can use volunteers to produce more things. Here are a few examples:
It's possible to enlist virtual volunteers for longer-term commitments, such as committee participation, but this option requires greater oversight. Before committee members can participate virtually, the organization needs to take steps to set them up for success. Parameters, culture, and technology all need to be evaluated and in place before an assignment begins. Here are a few recommendations to keep in mind:
Mike Stokes, general counsel at the American Optometric Association, uses several technology platforms to collaborate with his remote committee members, including Zoom for conference calls and Sharepoint or Basecamp for referencing documents. "These cloud-based systems are invaluable for engaging our volunteers because they make the material accessible from anywhere," he says. "It is a huge benefit because [our] volunteers travel extensively."
With virtual volunteers in particular, regular exchange between the staff liaison and volunteer help to ensure engagement. The liaison should encourage questions and be accessible. Don't just rely on technology. Schedule a conference call at appropriate times to check in or discuss topics that are best suited for an information exchange.
Ensure that volunteers receive training in the tools they will use, not only to confirm that the technology requirements are met on their operating system, but also to educate the volunteer in the nuances of the system so they can particulate fully. Stokes agrees that training is necessary but stresses that ease of use is critical. "The simpler and more intuitive the tool is, the better," he says. "What you want to avoid is introducing a new tool that no one will use because of a frustrating user experience."
Also, don't forget that in-person connections still result in greater bonding. For a long-term committee commitment, be sure to schedule a social gathering periodically. This can be an informal coffee meeting or a larger networking event with the entire committee. With his committees, Stokes says, "the rapport is there because volunteers see each other face to face at least twice a year."
Finally, be sure to address cultural issues that could be a barrier to success. Organizational leadership must set the example for embracing virtual volunteers. Everyone must have a voice at the table, whether physically or virtually present. Provide internal support by advocating for the necessary tools and technology.
Technology has made opportunities to tap into a growing virtual volunteer base almost limitless. Integrate these efforts into your organization's culture and volunteer management practices, so remote participation is the norm, rather than the exception.