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5 Key Lessons for Engaging Volunteers Online

Posted on 05/21/2014 by |AARP Executive Vice President | Comments

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Does your organization struggle to recruit volunteers for your cause? If so, you are not alone. There are countless groups competing for “share of heart” from folks who are willing to lend their time and energy for the social good.

Many nonprofits dream of expanding their volunteer ranks with individuals who bring decades of life and work experience — as well as commitment and passion. What those organizations may not realize is that these ideal candidates are out there… en masse!

Think about it. Our nation boasts nearly 75 million Baby Boomers, and more than 60 million Generation Xers — two cohorts that have lots of talent and experience. But the question is: how can you reach these people?

One key strategy may come as a surprise: Try social media. Yes, social media! Despite the prevailing myth that ‘older’ individuals aren’t tech users, more than two-thirds of Americans over the age of 40 use the internet (most of those do so daily), and many of those are also social media regulars. AARP’s new research: Use of Internet, Social Networking Sites and Mobile Technology for Volunteerism tells us that there is a real willingness among people 40+ to learn about volunteer opportunities (or even to volunteer virtually), through the Internet and social media.

Based on our research, here are some key findings and recommendations:

Start social

Target Gen X and Boomers who are currently online — including folks who are already volunteering in some way, and even those people who may not volunteer yet. According to the research, nearly 60 percent of 40+ Internet users are willing to engage in at least one volunteer-related activity through the Internet, social media or a mobile phone. Your best bet is to target social networking site users. Women are generally more willing to engage in this way than men, as are folks who are currently in the workforce.

Easy does it

Engage volunteers in your cause through small, enjoyable online actions to build the foundation for deeper commitment. The study found that 40+ Internet users are most likely to get involved by learning about volunteer opportunities online (32%), joining an online group or community dedicated to a cause they share (31%) and sharing information about their cause on a social networking site (30%).

Go mobile

Currently, about one-fifth of 40+ Internet users would be willing to download a mobile app to locate volunteer opportunities in their area, and to sign up for text alerts about volunteer opportunities. Given the growth of smartphone and tablet use, and the prevalence of mobile Internet use among Hispanics and African-Americans, that number is likely to explode over time. Take steps to incorporate mobile technology into your volunteer recruitment and retention strategy.

Target transitions

Nearly a quarter of 40+ Internet users are willing to participate in virtual volunteering. As volunteers leave their current positions, re-evaluate positions for potential virtual opportunities. The goal is not to replace traditional roles, but rather to provide a wider range of opportunities (including those that are episodic or short-term) in order to increase flexibility and expand your organization’s capacity. Please note: This is not about reducing your volunteer management responsibilities. Virtual volunteers require guidance and support, just as in-person volunteers do.

Pass the mic

Over time, volunteers have become increasingly mission-oriented. Encourage those who are Internet-savvy to speak about the benefits of their volunteer work — and its impact on the communities they serve — through their personal social media profiles. People are much more likely to value the opinions of other volunteers than ‘corporate voices.’

In sum, there is an incredible pool of 40+ volunteers (and volunteer prospects) whose experience and dedication could bring your organization to the next level. As you develop your recruitment strategy, remember to reach them where an increasing number “live:” on social media. It may take time, energy, trial and error — but the benefits are well worth it!

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