Recruit & engage - 5 tips on how to build long-term support

The first interaction between Edna and the campaign happened via Facebook. She expressed support for our candidate on one of our posts and, as we did with many prospective volunteers or donors, I opened up dialogue and invited her to the campaign office to meet the candidate in person. 

Skip ahead two weeks and Edna, who I think was a freshman in high school at the time, shows up at our office with her mom along with hand-made campaign-branded pins for us to sell and give away. 

Slowly and by building a relationship with Edna we offered up opportunities for her to support the campaign in different ways. The more we allowed her to engage with us, the closer she felt to the campaign’s vision and the more support she gave us. When it was all said and done Edna was by far one of our all-star volunteers, and we had a solid group of them. 

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Edna, a young Latina leader showing the hand-made buttons she made as a show of support.

Now, this is a story from a political campaign but I’ve seen and helped implement volunteers programs within nonprofits and community groups that result in very similar stories. 

So what made the difference for Edna? What happened that motivated her to come back to the campaign office time after time, to recruit more volunteers on our behalf, to donate lunches and dinners, to help with prep and clean-up of events, to be an online ambassador for us? 

Let’s break it down.  

Create ways to participate. If you really want to build long-term relationships and a committed group of volunteers you will offer them the space to step up as leaders in different ways. Think of all the areas a volunteer can help your organization - filing admin work, cleaning up the office, fundraising on your behalf, pledging to donate, recruiting more volunteers, selling tickets to your next event, sharing your online content regularly. Think about it, talk to you team and make a list, then make it easy for your community to show some love by getting involved.  

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Voto Latino Power Summit Panel on building online support and influence. Here I am discussing paths of engagement and diversifying your "asks." 

Collect and share stories. Use personal stories to share the organization’s work and impact. Sit down with your volunteers on a 1-on-1 basis and have a discussion - learn about their background, what motivated them to get involved and how they hope their contribution helps your organization. Grow an ongoing library so that you can easily incorporate these stories in social media content, your website, printed materials, and more. 

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Group shot after a community hack-a-ton I helped organize, promote, and run for Teens Exploring Technology, a nonprofit that inspires young men of color to become tech leaders. 

Reward them for continuous involvement. Keep track of your supporters by knowing what they do, have done, and commit to doing for your organization. Develop a volunteer program around paths volunteers can take based on how and when they help out. Then, as they accomplish multitudes of tasks, reward them. This can be a simple hand written letter, inclusion on your website under a “super supporters” section, or featuring them and their impact on the organization’s social media.

Keep them accountable. Follow up with those who don’t show up or come through on what they committed to doing. You do not get to punish or be mean to them, but you can let them know how how not coming through impacts the organization, and more importantly those it  serves. 

Make it easy for them. Consider the volunteer’s experience - how will she or he accomplish what you aim for them to accomplish? Have detailed instructions printed, be ready for their arrival, ensure you have enough things for them to do so they don’t just sit around. If they are supporting your online efforts make sure your content is easy to share by passing along prewritten posts or tweets along with images. 

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Community event focused on participation in politics and access to technology. I helped run and organize this event as the Director of Digital for a grassroots mayoral campaign in Los Angeles. 

Now, armed with hopefully some new and useful information, I hope you grow and sustain a happy community of supporters. If you want to talk more about about the topics discussed on this post, other ways to improve your community organizing efforts, or the way NationBuilder can enhance your organizing efforts, contact me at jvasquez@nationbuilder.com or on Twitter at @JuanSVas.  

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