9 ways to engage and train your volunteer workforce

Major charities shared how they use digital platforms to keep their workforce engaged and inspired, at an exclusive charity breakfast – here are the findings.

Chloe Green | 1st Oct 19

This article is sponsored by Hive Learning. If you’d like to learn more about how you could increase the engagement of your volunteer workforce then get in touch with the Hive Learning team.

How do charities get the best out of large groups of volunteers, help them make the biggest difference and keep great people coming back again and again to offer their valued time and skills? We recently got the inside scoop from some of the UK’s biggest charities at an exclusive breakfast roundtable event, “How to engage and train a volunteer workforce at scale,” hosted by collaborative learning platform Hive Learning.

We’ve put together some of their (anonymous) insights below – we hope they will inspire other charities to think about how digital could work for their volunteers in new ways.

Hive Learning work with charities such as crisis support charity Shout and children’s mental health charity Place2Be, helping their volunteer workforce to share learning and best practice and to collaborate.

We heard from senior leaders from major charities including Macmillan, Oxfam, British Red Cross, WaterAid, Stroke Association and National Deaf Children’s Society as they shared how they keep their volunteers engaged and motivated, some of the biggest challenges they meet around this, and what does and doesn’t work for them.

Jamie Wilcock, Senior Learning Consultant at Hive says: “Volunteers are not paid staff, but they do go through training, sometimes face to face, sometimes paper based, and it’s quite time restricted.”

“The really important thing is that they can maintain a sense of connection to the organisation as a whole – the ability to feel as though they are part of the overall mission can’t be underestimated! One way of doing that may be inclusion into a digital space that connects volunteers and also the organisaton as a whole, creating a purposeful place for volunteers to go, but also that instant communication that’s so important.”


Here are the 9 key insights:


1 – Create a sense of belonging

Digital presents a powerful opportunity to enhance belonging. By creating one, purposeful place for volunteers to go, charities can easily reach them in real-time and keep them connected to their organisation’s values and mission and help them access new opportunities for them to support or volunteer in other ways.


2 – Keep communication simple

Charities risk overwhelming volunteers by asking them to take extra time out to complete additional training or compliance activities. Using digital could help solve that challenge, especially if they streamline all communications to come from one single system or newsletter.


3 – Keep it timely

If charities do choose to create a digital learning hub, it’s crucial to get the value proposition right, by maing sure the content in the community adds real value for volunteers in a timely way.


4 – Highlight their value

Where possible, within their digital platform charities should try and structure ‘extra curricular activities’ to solve a pain point and focus on what the value is for the sector, rather than why they want them to do it.


5 – Create a collaborative learning environment

Peer learning can be an effective way to scale our reach without adding significant cost or resource. Enabling volunteers to learn together and from each other in a bottom up way can increase the velocity of learning and reduce the burden on charities’ learning teams.


6 – Encourage community champions

In any volunteer workforce, there are always people who are naturally engaged than others. Charities should consider harnessing the power of these ‘uber volunteers’ to mobilise and inspire others.

Ask them to act as community champions or organise meet ups to keep others engaged and enhance belonging.


7 – Build long-term relationships

As well as volunteering, charities should think about using digital as a way to stay connected to ‘spontaneous volunteers’ – those who engage once and then disappear off into the ether.

These volunteers can be a neglected resource, but digital gives charities the opportunity to keep them coming back.


8 – Think local

Volunteer campaigning is changing and it looks ‘local’. If volunteers have easy access to the tools they need to mobilise when a cause they’re passionate about crops up, charities could unlock the power in their people to increase their reach.


9 – Reach out

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help when it comes to thinking about what tech looks like. Many organisations don’t have experience implementing new tech platforms in this area or know how to use them for maximum impact. Charities can seek out partners that offer support to help them get off the ground and even help them manage the solution long-term. The hardest bit is getting started!