Volunteer Engagement Strategies

Guest post by Carla Lehn

Volunteers are an asset to the library not just because they help to expand or enhance services, but because they naturally turn into community ambassadors for the library. During and after the pandemic they have and will help us get our message out. Research done by the state library’s Get Involved initiative shows that 87% of volunteers who come through it have never volunteered for a library before, and that they help us spread the word: 50 – 75% tell friends and co-workers what the library has to offer, and 25 – 50% introduce friends to library volunteer opportunities. 

Get Involved: Powered by Your Library is an LSTA funded project of the California State Library designed to expand the visibility and contributions of volunteers in public libraries, increase the number of library volunteers and the skilled roles that volunteers play and is currently focused on helping libraries rebuild their volunteer engagement programs during and after the pandemic. 

New training and resources are added regularly to the Get Involved Clearinghouse — a searchable database of volunteer handbooks, policies, job descriptions and training materials including archived webinars. The Clearinghouse also maintains a list of free upcoming webinars and events offered for volunteer engagement professionals. 

Volunteer engagement strategies in the spotlight during COVID include:  

Skilled volunteers – Tapping volunteers with special talents such as public relations, graphic design, or technical expertise expands library volunteer engagement beyond traditional roles while reaching out to a potentially new volunteer audience. (Get Involved statistics reveal that 75 – 85% of volunteers recruited through the project have never volunteered in a library before.) 

Virtual (or remote) volunteers – engaging volunteers through virtual means keeps volunteer opportunities alive while the library is closed. These include previous volunteer roles such as tutor or homework helper and creates new roles like Social Media Ambassador and Closed Captioning Volunteer. After the pandemic, virtual roles will continue to be of interest to potential volunteers.

Both strategies require: 

Meaningful Volunteer Job Descriptions – a clear definition of the role plus an impact statement – what difference will I make if I take this on? Also include qualifications and time and training required. (Search sample volunteer job descriptions by keyword)

Targeted Recruitment – requires seeking out the right person for a specific job, not just offering the job to anyone or waiting for the perfect person with the appropriate skills to find you. (See Targeted Reruitment plan

Adding Online Recruitment to your recruitment mix – A great way to reach out to people you wouldn’t otherwise have access to and increases the pool for potential virtual volunteers because they don’t need to live in your community if they are interested and have the required skills. California libraries are lucky to have VolunteerMatch Member accounts available paid for by the state library’s Get Involved grant. (More info on this and/or to be added to our listserv? Carla Lehn – clehn@califa.org)

Resources: 
Get Involved Clearinghouse 
VolunteerMatch.org 
Designing Virtual Opportunities, Managing Remote Volunteers (archived webinar) 
A-Z Volunteer Management Library 
Bibliography on Volunteer Engagement