5 Tips for Keeping Your Virtual Event Volunteers Engaged

April 2021

When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic last March, charities around the world were faced with a terrifying prospect: the cancellation of fundraising events, a major source of revenue for many non-profits.  

Not surprisingly, the charitable sector has adapted to the pandemic with incredible creativity and determination.

While many non-profits have chosen to cancel or postpone their usual in-person events, 81 per cent of Canadian charities have indicated that they’ve hosted virtual events over the past year to keep their donor base engaged and replace lost revenue.

But while virtual events are getting a lot of attention these days for their outside-the-box approaches to fundraising and guest engagement, we’re not hearing a lot about one of the core backbones of any successful event: volunteers!

Engaged, enthusiastic volunteers – whether they’re serving on an event committee or contributing their skills in other ways – play a critical role in the planning and execution of non-profit events.

Unfortunately, in this age of Zoom fatigue and social distancing, many charities are finding volunteer engagement to be a challenge.

Here, we’ve put together five of our top tips for keeping your volunteers happy and engaged throughout the process of planning an amazing virtual event.

1. Host regular meetings – and make them fun

No one really needs more Zoom meetings in their lives these days, but it is important to connect regularly with your event volunteers to keep them motivated and engaged.

Why not consider finding ways to make regular check-ins something your volunteers – gasp – look forward to?

Your volunteers are probably busy people with a lot of other commitments on the go. Getting a little creative will help transform your volunteer meetings from just another task in the calendar to an opportunity for fun and relaxation.

Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Schedule volunteer check-ins for early in the morning or in the evening to avoid conflicts with work commitments during the day. Encourage volunteers to bring a cup of coffee or a glass of wine to create a casual atmosphere.
  • Let your volunteers know they’re not expected to show up looking their best. No one needs that kind of pressure during a pandemic!
  • Start each meeting with an ice breaker. Share something personal that’s happened to you since the last time you met to encourage meaningful conversation.
  • Celebrate their wins! Build time into each meeting to celebrate the progress that’s being made toward your planning goals because of your volunteers’ efforts.

In addition to making your regular volunteer meetings a welcome respite, make sure you’re still sticking to a tight schedule: create an agenda and don’t allow the meeting to run late.

As much as your volunteers will enjoy your meetings, they’ll also be grateful to know their time is being well spent and you’re committed to getting them back to their day.

2.Create a shared virtual workspace

Shared virtual workspaces have become commonplace for many organizations during the pandemic.

Allowing team members to easily access shared files, make real-time updates to documents and even chat with one another, these workspaces have revolutionized the way many of us communicate and collaborate with our colleagues.

Why not share the love with your event volunteers?

A shared workspace can be a great way to ensure your volunteers have access to everything they need to succeed in their roles and feel supported. This is especially true for committees that may need to regularly collaborate and provide updates on their tasks.

If your organization already has a virtual workspace that you could open up to your volunteers (limiting access to a specific set of folders if necessary), that may be an ideal option. But what if that’s not a possibility, or you’re looking for a solution that will be easy to learn and use?

We recommend considering one of these commonly used shared workspace platforms. The best part? They’re all totally free.

  • Google Drive: Best for file sharing and making real-time updates, Google Drive allows users to upload, create and organize folders and files. Access can be limited to certain users or opened up to anyone.
  • Slack: Slack is a popular virtual workspace that allows users to communicate directly with one another through a messaging service, share files and organize projects using “channels”. Slack offers three different subscription levels, including a free option that includes 5GB of file storage.
  • Airtable: Airtable is an incredibly versatile tool for sharing files, ideas, links and updates, in addition to organizing projects, creating workback schedules and so much more. With a wide range of customizable templates available, the possibilities are endless. Many people use Airtable in conjunction with another service, like Google Drive, to organize projects and link to shared documents.
  • Trello: Trello’s unique platform allows users to organize projects and communicate with one another using “cards”. Users can attach files, share links and notes and tag one another within each card, which can also be grouped under different themes.

None of these quite what you’re looking for? Check out this article from Genius Project for more collaborative workspace options.

3. Assign specific and measurable tasks

Your volunteers have signed up to support your event because they care about your mission and they’re excited to get others involved.

But too often, committee volunteers end up feeling unclear about how they’re supposed to help. When this happens, you risk dampening their initial enthusiasm and finding yourself with disengaged volunteers.

To avoid lack of clarity and make the most of that early energy, try to assign specific and measurable tasks and goals to each volunteer.

Start by speaking with each volunteer one-on-one to find out how they’re most interested in contributing and where they feel they can bring the most value. Then work with them to create a list of goals that they can regularly report back on.

It’s a win-win: The work will get done and your volunteers will feel engaged in their efforts to help plan an unforgettable event.

4. Create focus groups

Over a year into the pandemic, you may feel like you’re running out of creative ideas for virtual events.

Why not lean on the brain power of your volunteers to come up with some new ones?

Focus groups – or small sub-groups of your larger volunteer base – can be a great way to come up with outside-the-box solutions to problems of any kind. They also have the added benefit of helping your volunteers feel they’re contributing to your event in unique and meaningful ways.

Depending on the composition of your event committee or volunteer team, here a few ideas for focus groups you could create:

  • Visuals: If you have any design aficionados in your volunteer group, ask their advice on how to get creative with camera angles, videos and photos to make your event as visually engaging as possible.
  • Guest engagement: How can you help guests feel like they’re part of something truly special? Ask your most creative thinkers for ideas on guest engagement, like special packages that could be sent to their homes in advance of the event.
  • Fundraising: Instead of the typical fundraising ask, are there other ways you could encourage guests to make a donation during your event? Ask your volunteers if they have any ideas for making the ask more creative or incorporating technology in a unique way to get the momentum going.
  • 5. Ask them to contribute their skills and expertise

One of the most important ways you can help your volunteers feel engaged from a distance is to ask them to contribute their professional skills and expertise. This is also a great way to maximize the impact of your volunteer team on the event planning and execution process.  

Volunteers – especially committee volunteers – have so much more to offer than their networks and energy. Here are just a few of the potential skills you could identify and leverage from among your volunteer group:

  • Fundraisers: Any professional fundraisers on your committee? Lean on their expertise to make sure your approach to fundraising and sponsorship is on point.
  • Creatives: Do you have any designers, writers or videographers in your group? Ask if they’d be willing to pitch in their services – whether pro bono or for a reduced rate – to bring your event and mission to life!
  • Accountants: The accountants in the group could help keep an eye on your event budget and suggest solutions when it’s looking a bit stretched.

Above all else, let them know you’re grateful

However you go about helping your volunteers feel engaged in the virtual event planning process, make sure you’re doing the most important thing of all: thanking them.

Volunteers are the lifeblood of so many non-profit organizations. During this strange time of social distancing and virtual gatherings, they have a particularly powerful role to play in supporting the success of events – which continue to be a major source of revenue for charities.

Let them know how much their contributions mean to you; it’ll mean the world to them. For ideas on creative ways to thank your volunteers, check out Wild Apricot’s Ultimate Volunteer Appreciation Guide.

Do you have any other great ideas for keeping virtual event volunteers engaged? Drop us a line to let us know!