Recommendations from friends, family and volunteer fans may be how people learn about you, but how do they actually decide to join?
Recent models of volunteer motivation argue that the decision to volunteer is both a function of the individual’s situation (life experience, social networks, etc.) and their evaluation of themselves (values, skills, time available, etc.). How do prospective volunteers find out whether their self-evaluation matches up with what your organization has to offer?
They research, and that research most likely includes the internet and your website.
Your agency’s website, community partner websites, social media mentions and likes, charity rating sites, and postings on volunteer recruitment websites are all fodder to form an opinion. What is found online can determine an impression before a prospective volunteer ever speaks to you.
Interestingly, after years of dominance, the power of offline word-of-mouth appears to be waning. Eighty-nine percent of consumers use internet search engines to research products and services before buying. Online opinions and recommendations have now eclipsed offline relationships as the leading influencer of consumer purchasing decisions. (Note: For more data on this topic, see the 2012 Digital Influence Index.)
So, what does that mean for volunteer organizations? For one thing, how and what your website communicates about your volunteer opportunities really matters. Yet, often it’s the last thing to be considered.
Volunteer Recruitment: Web Optimization Checklist
Basic improvements to your website can make a huge difference in how many visitors actually inquire about volunteering. Volunteers need to find you, and once they do, make the most of their visit to your website. Make sure your site offers them the critical information they need in a user-friendly format.
Below are a few basic tips. None of these require a lot of technical expertise, nor are they expensive. So, try them!
- Include a Volunteering Tab on Your Main Menu Bar – Donate Now! buttons are everywhere, but you’d be surprised how infrequently volunteering is highlighted on agency home pages, or anywhere else for that matter. While you may not be able to compete with the donation call to action, include volunteering in the menu bar. That way it’ll appear on every page throughout your website.
- Stop Using Indirect Language – Phrases like “get involved,” “ways to give,” and “how to help” are too vague. The call for volunteers needs to be explicit. No one has time to figure out what you are trying to say, so be bold and direct!
- If You Must Use Acronyms, Explain Them – Acronyms abound in nonprofits, but they will confuse most website visitors. If you use them, include what they stand for (at least the first time they are used). Ask someone on the “outside” to review your page to be sure it can be understood by someone with little or no experience in your field.
- Create a Volunteer Recruitment Landing Page – Include friendly language, a photo or short (less than two minute) video testimonial from one volunteer or one service beneficiary who has benefited directly from the help of a volunteer. Let the person tell their own story; edit if they ramble.
Answer the following:
- What community issue does the organization or program solve?
- Why are volunteers needed?
- What role(s) do volunteers play?
- Have volunteers been effective in the past? How?
- What steps are taken to get involved?
- How do I get started?
- Embed Social Sharing Buttons – Your web page probably has a Facebook Like button and a way to join your Twitter feed, but what about sharing with others? Every page related to volunteering should be equipped with sharing buttons for Email, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn at least. Help your visitors easily send info to their family and friends.
- Answer Common Volunteer Objections on Your Webpage – In general, there are 5-6 common objections for every solicitation. An objection doesn’t necessarily mean a “no,” however. Here’s an exhaustive list of common objections. Although they are often heard in the business environment, see if any might relate to your volunteer call to action.
- Keep Important Info Above the Fold – This means the link to your volunteer application (hopefully not too long and available as an online fillable form) should be at the top of the page. You might also include it again at the bottom, but the reader needs to see it right away.
- Keep It Simple, Link to Deeper Info –Use subheads and bullet points to break up text and make it easy to digest. Hyperlinks like this also help highlight important text. Your reader should be able to quickly understand your story by reading your subheads only. Most people skim text. Only a small percentage of people will want to dig deeper (in fact, some of you are only reading my subheads right now and have missed this). Offer links to your annual report, photos of your events, your volunteer training courses, etc. that readers can click on for deeper research. Resist the urge to cram it on one page.
- Test Changes Before You Finalize Them – Use a tool like Optimizely or one of these ten A/B testing tools to segment your users and compare two variations of your website. Be sure to test only one change at a time (e.g., test a color change separately from a text change on your Volunteer Today! button). That way you know exactly you what caused the bump in clicks or traffic.
- Link to a Human Being – The contact person’s, name, email and phone number should be listed (as opposed to firstname.lastname@example.org). Add a smiling photo to make it even more welcoming. In addition, inquiries should be answered within one business day, so plans need to be made to cover that inbox when the contact person is away.
Try a few of these and see if they have an impact on your volunteer recruitment. If they do, we’d love to hear what you did and how it helped.
Two Great Resources (for You or Your Web Developer)
- Steve Krug, Don’t Make Me, Think Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web and Mobile Usability (3rd edition) (New Riders, 2014) – a classic that’s now been updated to include mobile technology; super easy read, but packed with wisdom
- Goward, Chris, You Should Test That: Conversion Optimization for More Leads, Sales and Profit or The Art and Science of Optimized Marketing (Sybex, 2013) – a more in-depth look at developing and testing hypotheses about user behavior so that website improvements are made based on real data, not guesses
What Are Your Tips?
What web tips would you add to our basic list? Add them to the comments below.