Hello, Volunteers, Are You Still There? Understanding Unresponsive Volunteers | Track It Forward

Hello, Volunteers, Are You Still There? Understanding Unresponsive Volunteers

Last updated by James McBryan on 03/17/2021

You have an exciting update for your volunteers, and you want to get their feedback. You’ve crafted it with enthusiasm and action and you’re confident you’ll get responses streaming in. Yet only a few responses trickle in.

So you follow up. Once. Twice. Three times.

Still, no response.

Sound familiar? Do they really not check their emails? Are they intentionally ignoring you? Careful there, that’s a slippery slope to go down, and we’ve all been there. It’s never helpful to make those assumptions. There is probably a very legitimate reason why they’re not responding.

It’s a delicate balance between getting your volunteers to act and being overbearing. Sometimes people need that push to get things done, but too much pushing can lead to email fatigue in volunteering that is hard to recover from.

Our Customer Support Specialist, Melissa, has experienced the feelings of annoyance and defeat with unresponsive volunteers.

In her previous position, Melissa oversaw 15-20 volunteers. In this role, she coordinated training and service events. As a result of managing so many volunteers, she learned that there are numerous reasons why volunteers stop responding. After continually feeling frustrated by volunteers seemingly lack of communication, Melissa began to assume that the volunteers were not interested and just joined for the novelty of it. However, upon talking to the volunteers more, she learned that they actually were interested, but emailing just wasn’t really their thing.

We also reached out to our Facebook community where we asked what worked for them in dealing with unresponsive volunteers. The largest consensus was to not focus on those who aren’t interested. If you focus too heavily on the wrong people, you’ll end up just feeling more and more overwhelmed.

On the other side, when Sammy, our Junior Marketing Coordinator joined as a volunteer in a new organization, she was expecting to help the organization, but was unprepared for the 15 plus emails a day she received. As a volunteer coordinator herself, she understood that the volunteer coordinator was passionate and just wanted her volunteers to be as involved as she was. But what the volunteer coordinator was doing was creating email fatigue for her volunteers.

Sammy’s volunteer coordinator obviously just wanted her volunteers to be engaged and willing to work for their cause. But by sending constant emails, she ended up accidentally creating more work for Sammy and the other volunteers by flooding their inbox. The volunteers began getting frustrated that she kept bothering them, causing some volunteers to drop out.

So how exactly do you find a happy medium between communicating often enough, but not too often, with your volunteers?

Below are some ways you can actually get your volunteers moving. Without being annoying.

Reduce your expectations around mass emails

People get hundreds of emails a day. You can’t take it personally when someone doesn’t respond. And don’t send countless follow-up messages. It will annoy your volunteers and stress you out even more.

Importance of direct messages - and be reasonable about follow up

Personal emails will always be more impactful than a mass email. It can be time consuming, but adding a personal touch will inevitably get more responses. Think about it - if you get a personal email you’re much more likely to respond than if you’re part of an email chain. Melissa suggests using Mail Merge, which allows you to send personalized mass emails. The more personalized the email was, the more responses she got.

Giving them time to respond 

It’s also crucial that you give people a reasonable amount of time (2-3 days) to respond to your emails before sending a follow up. Some people might not have email on their phones and only check their mailboxes a couple times a week.

Target volunteers 

Unfortunately, sending out a generic email saying that you need help with X, Y and Z won’t get you responses. But by targeting volunteers, or finding volunteers to do work on things they have experience or knowledge of, you’re going to get more responses. Reaching out to them asking for their knowledge, makes volunteers feel more important and want to contribute to your cause.

One on one conversations

The best way to get volunteers to show up is to have weekly or monthly catch ups. You’ll learn more about each other, and learn what communication styles works best, and be able to observe if their communication styles change. By having a more personal relationship, your volunteers will be more likely to continually show up.

It can seem daunting to find the right way to communicate with your volunteers, and it’s easy to fall under the pattern of unfairly assuming things about your volunteers. By setting expectations around mass emails and establishing a more personal relationship, your volunteers will want to show.

If you found it helpful to think about how to deal with unresponsive volunteers, then sign up to our blog. We’re focusing on the real side of volunteer coordination that hardly gets talked about.