Community involvement is the lifeblood of most nonprofit organizations. Ideally, your community should serve the organization as much as the organization serves the community. Unless you’re an international organization, you started your nonprofit in your community, to serve your community.
But is your community serving its nonprofit? If not, it’s time for your nonprofit to step up its game to get more community involvement going.
This is important:
You don’t want them to just come. You want them to come to serve. There’s a difference.
Why Community Involvement Is Important for Your Nonprofit
Your organization probably relies on volunteers, but there are many reasons why community involvement is so important. However, besides relying on volunteers, your organization is a part of the extended family that is a community.
Not only do you need people who will volunteer in your organization, but your organization itself needs to be a part of the community in which it does its work.
The community should feel as if the organization belongs to them.
- 23.5% of adults volunteer with an organization
- These adults make up 8.7 billion volunteer hours per year
- Private donations make up 13.3% of nonprofit revenue
Volunteering helps people be healthier and happier
Here is a little-known fact: Volunteering helps individuals and groups as much as it helps nonprofits. Furthermore, some could argue that it helps volunteers almost equally.
Here are some of the health benefits of volunteering.
- Reduces the body’s stress
- Releases endorphins (the brain’s all-natural painkillers)
- 95% of people feel good after doing volunteer work
- Volunteers 10X more likely to be in good health than people who don’t volunteer
- Increased self-esteem
- Decreased depression
- Stronger sense of purpose
- Volunteers are more likely to go into helping professions like social work, nursing, and education
Also, research by Dr. Allen Luks and Dr. Stephen Post revealed the following statistics about the benefits of volunteering.
- 96% say volunteering makes them happier
- 68% say volunteering makes them healthier
- 73% say volunteering makes them feel less stress
- 58% say volunteering helps improve sleep
Watch this short video from Dr. Allan Luks, one of the premier experts on volunteerism.
Here is a TED talk by Dr. Stephen Post, another expert on volunteerism, explaining all of the extensive health benefits of volunteerism.
24 Ways to Increase Community Involvement
Recruiting volunteers and fostering community involvement isn’t easy, but there are definitely some best practices that can help.
1. Make it fun and interesting
Anything you can do to make your community involvement campaign stand out and get noticed will go a long way to helping you meet your volunteer goals.
Check out this video on how one agency got creative to recruit real-life “superheroes.”
2. Tap the resources!
Don’t leave out those most eager of volunteers: young people.
First of all, you’ll find scores of volunteers at your local high school. And if you’re lucky enough to live near a college campus, you’ll strike gold.
On top of that:
Appeal to students by reminding them how great volunteer work looks on their resumes. Also, this demographic is very interested in the impact they’re making.
However, keep in mind that young adults and teens live very active lives. Therefore, you’ll need to work hard to keep them engaged.
55% of youth age 12-18 volunteer. (NationalService.gov)
3. Recruit volunteers from high schools and universities to increase community involvement
Inside every learning institution are little micro-institutions. Think about clubs. Also, associations, sororities, and fraternities.
If you can get these groups involved in your nonprofit, you’ll never run out of volunteers. Here’s why: A new crop comes in with every school year.
4. Harness the power of visuals
Get some high-quality brochures and handouts. You’ll probably be able to get a discount from a local printer for good quality handouts. However, even if you don’t, they’re affordable enough.
You need to be well-stocked on these items. Keep them with you wherever you go, and ask your staff to do the same.
Because the truth is, you never know when you’ll have an opportunity to talk about your organization.
Also, be sure you have business cards.
5. Participate in local events to increase community involvement
Participating in local events is one of the most important things you can do as a nonprofit. Think of festivals, holiday celebrations, career fairs, and more. Anything that goes on in your community, you need to be involved.
If it’s an event that offers booths, be sure to reserve one for yourself. Have lots of handouts on your table, and a free giveaway like candy.
Nothing draws people to your booth or table as much as candy. And make it good candy!
If you have an office in the community, there are likely times you’re not using it, such as when the office is closed. One thing you can do is allow other groups to use your space to have meetings, small parties, and other events.
This will raise awareness of your organization and raise your profile in the community.
7. Leverage social media
If you have a budget for advertising and recruiting, some of it would be put to good use for Facebook advertising. Since most people are on Facebook, you can target your ads to reach very specific groups of people.
Moreover, Facebook recommends that nonprofits use ads to:
- Recruit volunteers
- Engage their strongest supporters
- Follow up to express thanks and celebrate the work of volunteers and the people you serve
8. Provide high value and community involvement will increase organically
If you have a solid training program and robust volunteer program, you are providing value to the community that goes beyond whatever your nonprofit’s mission is. For example, if you’re working with young people, you can put extra focus into developing them as leaders who are respected and recognized in the community. This will serve them well in all areas of their lives.
Also, don’t discount the benefit and value of making people feel that they’re needed.
9. Meet your for-profit neighbors
As you forge relationships in the community, you’ll have the opportunity to ask business leaders to get their employees involved.
Most businesses have an official charity or nonprofit they support. Try to find one (or more!) that will make your organization their favorite.
10. Work with churches
Most churches partner directly with nonprofits in their community. Regardless of religion or domination, try to get with all of your area churches to see how you can work together to provide services to the community.
11. Be strategic with social media
To effectively use social media to drive community involvement and volunteerism in your nonprofit, you need to strategize. You can’t just go and post a random meme on Facebook or re-tweet public figures. You need a solid social media marketing plan and strategy.
Your strategy doesn’t have to be extensive. Simple is fine. But make sure it looks professional.
“Your traditional fundraising, marketing, and outreach materials cannot just be cut and pasted into these channels. Social media content needs to be carefully, creatively crafted for the specific channel, ALWAYS with the audience in mind.”
-Julia C. Campbell, author and nation speaker with a passion for nonprofit digital storytelling and social media (@JuliaCSocial)
In the 21st century, social media will drive your community involvement and volunteer program.
12 social media stats for non-profits
Here are some stats that should convince you of the importance of social media.
- In peer-to-peer fundraising, 15% to 18% of all donations come directly from Facebook.
- More than 80% of Facebook users like to share to show their support for a nonprofit or cause, highlighting issues that are important to them.
- On Giving Tuesday in 2017, Facebook referred 29.4% of the traffic that went to donation pages, thanks to the #GivingTuesday hashtag.
- On Giving Tuesday, $45 million dollars were raised by nonprofits via Facebook.
- 77% of Twitter users tend to feel more positive towards a brand if their tweet has received a reply from the company/organization they mention.
- Twitter sent 700% more visitors on Giving Tuesday than they normally do on any given day, thanks to the #GivingTuesday hashtag.
- Six in ten adults only aged 18 to 29 use Instagram.
- 75% of all Instagram users take some sort of action, such as visiting a website, after they see a post.
- The average income of 31% of Instagram users is more than $75,000 per year.
- Instagram engagement rates are more than 20 times higher than engagement on Twitter and more than 15 times higher than engagement on Facebook.
- Users on Instagram are 70% more likely to make purchases via mobile.
- 65% of social traffic going to nonprofit websites comes from Facebook.
There’s just no getting around using social media for community involvement. Furthermore, why would you want to?
12. Leverage automation tools
Set up your Facebook and Instagram to auto-post to Twitter. While you may not be on Twitter every day, if you’ve got Facebook and Instagram set up to auto-post, you’ll maintain a great Twitter presence. However, don’t ignore Twitter. Check in a couple of times per week to follow people and organizations who follow you, “like” mentions, etc…
Twitter may not be your most active social media network, but you want to be sure you’re using it. It’s extremely useful for things like Twitter chats, which we’ll cover below.
When using Twitter, tag relevant people and always tag your volunteers. Everyone loves to be mentioned.
Tweet at least once per day. Make sure your tweet has some multimedia with it, like video or photo.
13. Use Twitter hashtags smartly
Be sure to use hashtags. Hashtags are a remarkable thing. Here’s a video explaining how they work.
Research shows that tweets with one or two (not more) hashtags have increased engagement of up to 200%, and are more likely to be retweeted.
“If you want to grow and retain your audience online you need to determine what they are looking for, find the right keywords that will attract their attention and use them within your social media posts as hashtags.”
Tracey Ehman, host of Women Speakers Associations and socia media strategist (@partnerinbiz)
Here are some effective hashtags.
- #(your organization’s name here)
- #YourCity (or neighborhood)
What works well for Twitter may not be a great hashtag for Instagram. Do some homework on how to use hashtags effectively on both platforms.
14. Participate in Twitter Chats
There’s an awesome activity on Twitter that’s not commonly known: Twitter chats. Twitter chats are typically scheduled for a specific time and date, usually recurring. However, because of the nature of hashtags and Twitter, you can check in at any time to see what’s going on.
In Twitter chats, you can participate with people of like mind and interest. Even better, you can start your own. For example, your Twitter chat could be called #VolunteerNYC (with your city).
Here’s why creating a Twitter chat can be so effective for community involvement:
Young people primarily use Twitter and Instagram.
So a Twitter chat would potentially draw in some young volunteers.
If you do a Twitter chat, you need to highly publicize it, or you’ll find yourself alone for the chat. Create an event on your Facebook page, send out a newsletter, or a mass email. Be sure to ask everyone to share the info.
Here’s a great video about Twitter chats.
15. Optimize your Facebook Page for community involvement
Your Facebook page is a valuable tool in your community involvement toolkit. Make sure it’s professional looking and reflects your mission.
Fill out all of the following sections of your Facebook page:
- About section, including phone number, website, physical address, and hours of operation
- Subscribe (with a link to your newsletter subscription page)
- Profile photo (which should be your logo)
- Relevant cover image or clipart
Post at least one post per day to your nonprofit’s Facebook page, and up to three times. Multimedia (video, photos) do best.
Here’s an excellent Facebook marketing plan template.
16. Schedule Facebook Events
You can also use your Facebook page to schedule events.
Schedule an event for anything you have going on. This can include:
- Volunteer of the month events
- Community events you’ll be attending
- Volunteer orientation and training
- Activities at your nonprofit
- Birthday parties
- Holiday parties
Be sure to tag LOTS of people when you create your events. Also, add all the photos you take at events and tag the folks who are in them.
17. Give before asking
When targeting influencers and leaders who work on the ground, give first before asking for anything. Once people know you’re there to help and do good, you’ll have some valuable allies in your community.
You’re looking for volunteers and community involvement, but consider volunteering yourself. Showing that you’re involved will make people more inclined to help you.
18. Utilize Facebook’s fundraising tools
Facebook has some great built-in fundraising tools, and they make it really easy for you to set up your fundraiser and start collecting donations.
However, besides donations, connecting with Facebook users in your area will increase your community involvement and potentially recruit volunteers.
Check out Facebook Fundraising Tools for more information. Here is a great video explaining all that Facebook Fundraising has to offer.
19. Forge relationships
Getting out there and getting to know the people in your community will help you increase community involvement.
While you need to have relationships with stakeholders, please understand that this means stakeholders of all walks of life and demographics.
Your relationship with a company’s CEO will help you get donations and bring on business groups for volunteering. However, your relationship with the secretary at your local church will give you equally valuable benefits.
20. Join relevant Facebook Groups to grow community involvement
In Facebook groups, you’ll find lots of local groups. These include:
- Local political groups
- Neighborhood watch groups
- Storm groups
- For sale and online yard sale groups
- Church groups
- And more
Find all of your local groups and join the ones that are relevant to you.
You can also create a group for your nonprofit organization and add its stakeholders, staff, and volunteers. This is a highly effective way to communicate info to everyone quickly. Make sure you add everyone who is involved in your nonprofit in any way.
21. Recruit ambassadors
One of the most effective things you can do to increase community involvement is to pull together a group of dedicated and energized individuals who can go out as ambassadors to get people engaged.
This group can consist of your existing volunteers. However, it’s more effective if you have the ambassador group in addition to your core group.
- College students
- Influencers at local schools (teachers and student leaders, for example)
22. Use Instagram marketing as a community involvement tool
For photos, Instagram is your go-to social tool. Upload the same photos you use on Facebook to your nonprofit’s Instagram account.
Be sure to use hashtags.
Use lots of hashtags. Instagram allows up to 30 per post, but research shows that engagement decreases after 11 hashtags, so we suggest staying below that.
As we mentioned for Twitter hashtags, Instagram hashtags may be different. Don’t assume that what works for one platform will also work for others. You can create your own hashtags or use some that are already out there.
- #CommunityWithinYour Town
- #YourEvent (example: #feedNYC)
Put the hashtags in the first comment to your post, NOT your actual post. You’ll still show up in tag searches but will seem less “spammy.”
23. Go viral and watch your community involvement soar
If any social media platform makes nonprofit social media efforts seem daunting, it’s YouTube. Many people hate getting on camera, and unless you’re a semi-pro video maker, you can feel awkward. Believe me, I’ve been there.
However, this is where you can recruit some of your young volunteers to help you. Young volunteers are tech-savvy, and most don’t mind being in front of the camera.
Only 28% of nonprofits are on YouTube. However, here are some stats you should know.
- Six billion videos by nonprofits were viewed in 2016
- 68% of people who watched nonprofit videos watched similar videos within 30 days
- Millennials account for 2/3 of videos watched across all devices
- The most viewed videos are between 31-60 seconds long
- About 40% of YouTube watchers are on mobile devices
So are you building your YouTube channel yet? Check out the YouTube Nonprofit Program overview.
24. Use these 21 catchy campaign slogans in your campaigns and your social media
Have you done your homework on how to market to potential volunteers?
When you’re pulling together your volunteer campaign recruiting materials, ask yourself this question: If Coca-Cola were recruiting volunteers, what would they say in their ads?
Because make no mistake about it. When you recruit volunteers, you are marketing.
Here are some ingenious volunteer campaign slogans.
- What you do makes a difference. Act as if it does.
- The richest people in the world aren’t millionaires. They’re volunteers.
- It’s up to you to make your community better.
- Pay it forward. Volunteer today.
- Hand in hand with (YOUR NONPROFITS NAME HERE) for a beautiful community.
- Help people, change lives.
- See someone without a smile? Give them one.
- Make a difference today, make a change in future generations.
- Don’t tell us. Show us.
- Preparedness + Opportunity = Success
- No one person can do everything, but every person can do one thing.
- Volunteering is the rent you pay for living on this earth.
- Get involved to get things solved.
- Volunteering: not a choice, but a responsibility.
- It’s your community. Volunteer.
- Volunteers get paid in six figures: S M I L E S
- Volunteers do the work to make it work.
- Make the world a better place, one volunteer at a time.
- Every person has something to give. What are you giving?
- No job is too big or small, volunteering helps us all.
- Whose life have you changed today?
- A lake is changed by one drop at a time.
How to Keep Your Community Engaged Once You Have Community Involvement
Once you get your posse of volunteers, the hard work (for you) begins: keeping them involved.
People actually love to volunteer. Moreover, most human beings instinctively want to help. So they sign up as a volunteer. They’re excited. Enthused. They come in hard and strong.
And then they stop.
Why does this happen? Well, we’ve already reviewed why people don’t volunteer, but here are some reasons they don’t stay engaged.
- Life happens. They’re busy.
- They feel disheartened for some reason.
- They feel unappreciated.
- Their volunteer contribution isn’t interesting enough to them.
7 ways to keep your volunteers active
Once you have those valuable volunteers, it’s time to focus on keeping them active.
1. Have volunteer appreciation lunches or breakfasts as often as possible
You can easily get a local restaurant to donate food. They want to do community involvement, too. Also, many local establishments and restaurants will even let you have your event there, especially if you schedule it after peak hours.
And make a REALLY big deal out of it. Make it complete with a framed certificate, signed by you and maybe the mayor. Add a special parking space or gift card. Any cool perk will make the recognition seem valuable and legitimately important.
Here are some ideas for your volunteer of the month program.
- Have an evening event with cookies and punch to celebrate the winner
- Take out an ad in the local newspaper
- Be consistent
- Do it every month, without fail
3. Ask your volunteers to perform specific, actionable tasks
What is your volunteer’s unique gift? That’s what they need to be doing. For example, if your volunteer is tech-savvy, don’t ask them to “help with tech issues.” Instead, ask them to run malware and antivirus scans on the computers every month.
Does your volunteer like to bake cupcakes? Don’t ask them to “bake when we need it.” Ask them for three dozen cupcakes for your volunteer appreciation event.
Be very specific with regards to what you want them to do for community involvement.
4. Communicate frequently
You need to be sending out monthly email updates if you’re not already doing that. It can be a newsletter, event notice, “volunteer of the month” announcement…whatever.
5. Inspire your volunteers with the cause you’re supporting, not your nonprofit organization
Volunteers don’t sign up to help your organization. They sign up to help people or to help their community. Keep this in mind in ALL of your communication with them, including:
- Training events
- Volunteer of the month events
- Email correspondence
- Every single thing they do for the organization
They probably don’t care as much about your organization as you think they do. They care about making a difference.
6. Highlight successes
At your volunteer events or in your emails (actually, both), communicate specifically the difference they’ve made.
- We fed 236 people Thanksgiving dinner (instead of “we hosted a Thanksgiving dinner”)
- 19 kids have new shoes for school (instead of “we provide new shoes for kids”)
- 48 kids have somewhere to go after school (instead of “we have an after-school program”)
7. Have a solid training program
We recommend having a training event at least once a month. It doesn’t have to be extremely long. However, it should be comprehensive and thorough.
Moreover, keep it structured. Serve snacks and have a presentation ready, along with a couple of handouts.
Without community involvement, your nonprofit probably won’t make it. Therefore, it’s crucial to get your community involved at every level.
Businesses, organizations, churches, school groups, and individuals all need to be involved.
You created your nonprofit organization to serve your community, and community involvement will serve your organization.
Featured image: Flickr, Rawpixel Ltd.: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)