The Geometry of Community: Creating More Volunteer Engagement Opportunities

People Processes: Clarity & Consistency
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by | Aug 2, 2018 | Blog | 0 comments

We’ve all been there… an AMAZING volunteer walks through the front door offering their support. Maybe they’re a professional videographer, or they have a PhD in your issue area, or they’re a marketing expert. So naturally they spend the next day licking envelopes – and then they stop answering your calls, never to return.

Managing volunteers is hard, especially when our organizations only offer a limited number of roles for high-skill volunteers. Vantage Point’s Knowledge Philanthropy approach opens the door to project-based contributions from subject matter experts who guide the work.

Some roles are more defined, with a standard repeatable workflow. The last thing we want to do is create new roles on the fly because that never results in a strategic outcome. So join me in drawing some diagrams!

Modeling Your Engagement Pyramid

Before you can start creating new roles it’s helpful to map your current community, both internal and external, onto an engagement pyramid. I think the pyramid is useful because it shows the common reality that not everyone is contributing in the same way, and that the most engaged members are taking on bigger tasks. We need to ensure that each role identifies people who want to get more involved so that we can help them climb to the top of the pyramid!

Don’t overthink the exercise. Here’s a really rough diagram of my network of #Tech4Good meetup event organizers.

Looking at the model, you quickly see that there’s a huge gap from event attendees (10,000) to people who have expressed interest (315). I bet there’s lots of people in that gap who would be open to contributing, but aren’t ready to host a meetup. What if we started asking the attendees to share their expertise by writing for our blog? Even if just 1% say yes, that’s 100 new bloggers!

I modified my NetSquared engagement pyramid to show these new potential opportunities in green.

If you sketch out a diagram of your own community and the approximate size of each level you’re definitely going to find gaps where you’re leaving potential volunteers behind. This exercise can be applied to any organization that engages with the public. Here I’m modeling some roles for the imaginary Faketown Theatre, the scrappiest little amateur theatre in all Faketown.

Once I completed the model I started imagining some actions that could help members of the theatre family move to a deeper level of engagement (in red). Attendees could start tweeting and social sharing after each show, volunteers could help identify silent auction items, and board members could host fundraising dinners.

How to Create more Engagement Opportunities for Volunteers

To use this engagement approach effectively, it’s important to create recurring programs, not one-off projects. You’ll want to be ready with fresh opportunities when a supporter is ready to get more involved.

Tips for Creating your New Roles:

  • Document the volunteer job and schedule regular recruitment intakes
  • Assign responsibility. Ensure someone is in charge of each role and put it into their
  • job description or nothing will get done.
  • Plan! Make sure each role is clearly connected to your organization’s goals
  • Set goals on conversion. What percentage of members do you want to move up the pyramid each year?

Expanding the variety of standardized volunteer roles in your organization means you’ll be able to attract and retain more high-skill volunteers. By modeling your volunteer jobs by commitment level you’ll also be able to deliberately move more volunteers up the pyramid to ensure everyone is giving at their maximum capacity.

Now’s the time to prepare so that next time a super volunteer walks through your door you’re ready with a role that fits and keeps them engaged.


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Elijah Van Der Giessen

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