How to Build Stronger Staff and Volunteer Relationships | CharityHowTo

How to Build Stronger Staff and Volunteer Relationships for Little to No Cost!

Very rarely are nonprofit organizations one-person shows. They require plenty of teamwork to make the biggest impact possible. 

And that either means working with nonprofit staff or nonprofit volunteers. 

But there’s a difference between having people work with a nonprofit and getting them to love working with a nonprofit! 

That’s why building strong nonprofit staff and volunteer relationships are so important. When your organization works to create a positive experience for all staff and volunteers, you reap the benefits. 

And some of those benefits look like:

  • Having staff and volunteers who give their all when they’re on the clock
  • Reducing turnover, which cuts down on costs of recruiting and training new people

Read on for our 6 ways to boost staff and volunteer engagement and watch a free video training on how to do it: 


6 Ways to Build Stronger Nonprofit Staff and Volunteer Relationships

It’s clearly important to work on building stronger nonprofit staff and volunteer relationships. 

But how do you go about doing it, beyond the conventional, “Hey, how are you?” in the hallway? 

Here are 6 nonprofit staff and volunteer engagement ideas to help you strengthen those relationships: 


1. Give Them Real Responsibility in High Impact Roles

One of the best ways to increase staff and volunteer engagement is by giving your team members something valuable to work on. 

Most people don’t want to show up to a job and twiddle their thumbs all day. They want to provide value towards making the day a success for the organization. 

Those who apply for positions, whether it’s staff or volunteers, want to know their work is a core part of the nonprofit’s impact. 

Otherwise, they may not feel as if they’re doing anything to contribute to the cause! 

So make sure you’re offering up real responsibility. Allow staff and volunteers to do jobs and tasks that align with their skill levels and interests. Or even delegate your daily tasks that must get done. 


2. Acknowledge Their Commitment and Hard Work

Work, whether it’s from nonprofit volunteers or staff members, doesn’t fall under the “no news is good news” category.

Simply put, people like knowing they’re doing a great job at something. Without having the acknowledgment that their work is making a difference, they often get burned out or disgruntled in their role. 

But that can be avoided by letting them know you appreciate their hard work! Maybe that’s as simple as telling them, “great idea in the meeting!” 

Or maybe it’s by nominating a nonprofit volunteer for a “volunteer of the month” award. 

You could even show them how their work is contributing to the nonprofit organization. Did they help recruit a new record of volunteers? Did their work bring in new donors for the monthly giving program? 

Don’t wait too long before you start acknowledging their work efforts. They deserve to know if they’re doing a great job! 


3. Stay In Touch, Even When They’re Not Working 

When was the last time you spoke to that friend that only ever called when it was convenient for them? Or when they needed something? 

The same goes for the people who work with your nonprofit organization. This is especially true for your nonprofit volunteers! 

If you’re looking to build stronger volunteer relationships, then spend time nurturing that relationship. 

For example, maybe you have a volunteer who comes in every single Tuesday and Friday. They’ve been coming for a while, maybe the last year or so. 

But, they’ve told you, “I can’t come in for the next two or three months.” 

More than likely, you can understand that! But you know you need to fill that spot up so the work can get done. A new volunteer steps in and takes over those roles. 

And you go on about your business as usual. 

The only problem with that is your original volunteer may feel like they’re not appreciated. They may feel as though they’re only good for one thing – coming in and working. 

Don’t forget, these volunteers are valuable. But they’re also human! And they want to be treated as such. 

So, if building better volunteer relationships is on top of your radar, be sure to reach out to them even when they can’t offer their time for a while. 

Send them personalized emails or even letters in the mail. If you have a relationship that allows you to text them, send them one to check in. Ask them how they’re doing, or if they need any help. 

Going that extra mile is a fabulous way to continue nurturing your relationships with your volunteers! 

When you do nurture those relationships, you’re sure to reduce the turnover rate when it comes to your volunteers. They’ll feel more appreciated, and they’ll want to continue contributing to the organization! 


4. Keep Them Well-Fed While On the Clock! 

What’s that old saying? The way to someone’s heart is through their stomach? Something like that. 

Well, that might be the case for your staff and volunteers! And if you’re looking for more staff and volunteer engagement ideas – try this one out.

Everybody’s got to eat, right? Why not make it a community or nonprofit culture affair? Either have a potluck, where everyone brings a dish and then shares, or cater into the office. 

No matter what you choose, having a sense of community with your nonprofit team members goes a long way toward nurturing those staff and volunteer relationships. 

You can also use that time to get to know them more personally. Find out what their interests are? Ask them what their goals are? 

Those are great ways to open up new doors of responsibility and opportunity for them, too! 


5. Say Thank You…Every Time!

A simple thank you? Goes a long way. Because without your nonprofit team members, whether they’re volunteers or staff, creating the impact your organization dreams of making is so much more challenging. 

So be sure to express your gratitude. And there are many ways to do that! The best way, if it’s possible, is to make it personalized. Try to steer clear of mass emails, as that can make your staff and nonprofit volunteers feel like they’re “just another number.” 

But personalizing your thank yous, either with handwritten notes or even an email, makes them feel like they’re truly creating an impact in the organization. 


6. Set Your Nonprofit Staff and Nonprofit Volunteers Up for Success! 

Lastly, start your nonprofit staff and volunteer relationships off on the right foot by setting them up for success from the beginning! 

And that starts with onboarding and virtual training. When it comes to raising staff and volunteer engagement, you need to educate them on what you expect from them. 



People can get overwhelmed and frustrated quickly when they don’t understand what to do or how to do it. 

But don’t worry! Building out an onboarding process that includes virtual training is an excellent way to boost those staff and volunteer relationships! 

And we’ve got a free training on how to do it! Check out the webinar below:


How to Build Connection with Staff & Volunteers through Virtual Training for Little to No Cost!


Hi, everyone. I'm so excited to be joining you today to talk about how to Build Connection with Staff and Volunteers through virtual training for little to no cost. And, as Marcella said, my name is Anne Marie.


I am the Training Director for Casa Child Advocates of Montgomery County. We are north of Houston in Texas. I'm also the owner of Mustard Seed Communications, where I do trauma-informed training and curriculum development. I have expertise in building volunteer engagement in non-profits of all sizes, and I have expertise in building engaging learning strategies that work for all generations.


So boomers to Gen Z, And I'm also qualified to teach this volunteer webinar because I've been training in the nonprofit sector for over 20 years.


I'm not a tech person, and I'm not a kindergarten teacher.


And both of those things are some of that, anyway, as helps when you're doing virtual volunteer training.


So if I can put together a virtual training that's engaging at low cost, you can, too, and I'm going to teach you how to do it.


Near it during Covid. I transformed our organization's training nearly overnight, as I'm sure many of you did. And so we all gained a whole lot of skills in a short period of time.  I have a passion for nonprofits. And so I'm so excited to be with you today and to share some effective volunteer strategies to engage your learners. Were all tired of boring, Zoom presentations. We're tired of boring Zoom meetings. So, I'm excited to share some strategies with you today that you can utilize this afternoon if you want to prepare your volunteers.


So, just take a minute in the chatbox if you would just tell me where you're from and what organization you're joining us from today, helps me to know a little bit about you.


We have Laura up, scrolling fast fast fast.


I see we have Colleen from Calgary, YMCA, Toney, and Tanya from a small Private School in Iowa.


We have Maddison from Salem, Massachusetts.


Surely from.


Let's see.


I lost you there.


Lots and lots of people, all. It looks like you're from all different parts of the country. So, Michael, from Florida, we have Jennifer from New Jersey.


Lots of youth organizations, that's where my heart is, so thanks so much for checking in and telling me where, where you're from. I see we have someone from Manitoba.


And we have Jesse ... from Bogota, Colombia.


We have Nikky from Indian Affairs. So, glad to have all of you with us today and looking forward to sharing some strategies with you.


OK, so what we're gonna cover today, we're going to talk about how to use innovative engagement strategies to build connections with staff and volunteers, we're going to talk about how to make an online volunteer training course fun at little to no cost, and yes, it can be done and if nonprofits were struggling with having resources before Covid, we all know that. Our budgets have gotten cut even more. So, little to no cost is exactly our price range. How to use online tools and resources to keep your volunteer training new and engaging. You kinda always have to keep pulling new rabbits out of your hat to keep your learners engaged and you can make your online training superior to your in-person training. That's right, I said it, you can. And I'm going to teach you some strategies for how to do that.


The question is, what can we do better in this virtual environment than we do in face-to-face training? And that's what we're going to talk about today. So, to start we're going to talk about how to use innovative engagement strategies to build connections. So we are all connections starved and we probably were to some degree before Cove it. But, even now after covert, people are even more hungry for real authentic connections with people. We're all over Zoom, calls, or Zoom training, where the speaker speaks, and everybody else, it's there, and, you know, doesn't interact, we've all had enough of those. And so the first step is really to connect before content.


When you connect with people, you are telling them why they should care. Why should I care that this trait?


Painter or that this topic is being presented. The time that you spend connecting will be paid back to you by increased attention and increased willingness to learn. So sometimes it seems like, can I really spend five minutes at the beginning of my training, or 10 minutes at the beginning of my training? I'm doing these strategies, and you can, and it's time well-spent because you're engaging your audience, Another thing to keep in mind is your energy, and your enthusiasm should be about 2 to 3 times. What it is, when you're presenting. Normally, It takes a lot of energy to train over Zoom, and I'm sure you've all found that, but you really have to be mindful of being more animated, more engaging, and more energetic than you might be in your in-person training.


OK, so, another strategy is to look directly into the camera. I don't know if you have been on training you probably have, where somebody's looking at the monitor over here, and so you're looking at the side of their face the whole time. If you are looking directly at the camera, people feel like you're looking at them, and you're making eye contact just like you would be.


If you were in an actual, physical training space, and that's much more engaging for people if you can build short, engaging videos into your presentations, that helps a lot. Little, cute ones that you can find on YouTube are great. I like kid presidents. They're very cute, very funny. If you can find something that ties into your content or just something that is from the News that is sillier, funny, it really helps to engage people, and helps to build that connection.


Even more than, when you're doing in-person training and virtual training, your slides need to be interesting. They need to have color. They need to have graphics.


They need photos built-in and not just any photo. So, if you look at the photo on the right, you know this, I'm talking about photos, so that's why I pulled this in, but this isn't your typical picture. And so, if you can pull in artistic or interesting pictures on, that really help people visually to get engaged in your training, funny cartoons, or memes are great.


And Splash is the, is the website that I like to use for pictures. They're all publicly available that you can download into your presentations. And they are all free. And they have some gorgeous and very interesting pictures on there. So un splash is the resource that I like for that.


So plan for an unofficial start.


So I fairly type A And so it seems as though, you know if the training just started 11, we should start at 11, but what happens is, you have people trickling in, right? Some of whom are muted, some of whom aren't. And. So as the trainer, you have people's faces that continue to pop up on the screen. And so that's distracting for you, but it's also distracting for the other participants. And so plan for an unofficial start in that 2 to 5 minutes.


Pass the published start time. Make sure that you are engaging your audience and planning something. I am not a great small talker, and to me, there is nothing more painful than trying to make small talk with a whole group of people before a class begins. So if you have a planned activity or a question, you can talk through it with them, or something, some topic connected to the training. You know, what is your experience with working with children who've been abused or whatever it is, to actually have some structure to that content so that your audience is actually beginning to engage before you even start the content. And by having that unofficial start, it actually helps. Helps your audience to be more focused.


So, how do we make training fun? one of the ways is, I'd love to use Would you rather questions? And What's so nice about would you rather questions? Is you can use them in a group of five people, and you can use them in a group of one thousand people, depending on how you want to use it.


And so these are these are some fun ones that I like to use. You can go on Pinterest and or Google. And just type in would you rather questions and you will find all sorts of them. And would you rather questions are fun. They're engaging.


they're quick, but there are also low intimacy. So I'm not asking you to reveal too much about yourself. Just some silly little facts and so most people are willing to participate in that.


If you have a small group people can unmute themselves. They can use the text box or we can make a poll and and I'm going to show you this. So some of the Would you rather questions that I like.


Are you know would you rather be a kangaroo or a horse?


Would you rather be fabulously famous and poor or unknown and rich?


Would you rather live on a Houseboat or in an RV?


Would you rather be completely invisible for one day or able to fly for one day? Just a way to engage people and to get them connecting with you.


So, we're going to practice now, so I'm, I have one of my favorite. Would you rather questions? Would you rather have a unicorn horn or a squirrel tail? This is one of my favorites and we're going to do this as a poll question.


So you should be able to see it.


So if you would all, just quickly pick, if you would rather have a unicorn horn or a squirrel tail.


And so you can do this as part of your presentations real quick two choices, right? And let's see, we're kind of neck and neck.


We're 52% unicorn horn, 48% squirrel tail.


It looks like, we still have people voting, but it's a quick way to engage your audience. It's kinda silly. It's kind of fun.


It's low risk and people will know, we'll be having fun and we'll be engaging with you. So it looks like we're at about 54% unicorn horn 46% squirrel tail and I would have to agree with that. I would rather have a unicorn horn than a squirrel tail, so great job, everyone.


OK, mmm hmm.


So then the other way that we can do this is, you can do this through a chat box question. So we're going to use the questions box.


And would you rather go to the beach in the summer Or go skiing in the winter.


And so we can use a chat box, this works well with a little bit bigger groups, but it also, you can use it with smaller groups, ends up, let's see, your screen is stuck on the poll.


Let me close that, mmm hmm.


Thank you for that. So, would you rather go to the beach in the summer or skiing in the winter.


As you can see, I put kind of two interesting graphics on the screen, so you can do that, too, helps people to, to get engaged. It looks like we've got a lot of beach people. Sam is a beach person, and Madison's of each person and suze of each person, lots and lots of beach people.


So, up erinn wants to go skiing in the winter.


Love that.


Somebody asked, Who, do I use for polls?


You can use just via Zoom, you can build them into your presentations, real easy to do, and They work great. Lots of beach people today, it looks like.


Great, Thanks for participating.


So just another way to engage your audience, Um, Another way to engage your audience is with what I like to call it. Kind of How are you questions? So these are a little bit more intimate and they take a little bit more time to to do.


And you can either have participants unmute themselves, or you can have them use the chat box either way, And so, you know, what's your favorite game as it? What was your favorite game as a child, and why? If you could be an animal, what kind would you be and why?


If you were a vehicle today, what would you be and why? And these may seem really silly, but when you're trying to connect with people, you know, if I came up to you, and I said, so, how are you today? You would say, fine, right? And if I asked that in a virtual way, right? I'm talking to a screen, you're probably muted, I get no response, you don't feel engaged to me.


I did this in one of our one training that I did on Friday and I did. if you could be an animal, what kind would you be and why.


And I got a whole bunch of sloths and dogs are sleeping in the sun and other, or hibernating bears. And so, people would not have told me, this has been a really hard week and I am exhausted.


But they would tell me through the animal question. And so it's kind of a low risk way for people to engage with you, and tell you what's going on.


That question, if you were a vehicle today, what would you be, and why?


I was doing a foster parent training once, and, you know, I talked to everybody, as they're coming into the room, and, know, everybody's fine. Everybody's doing fine.


And this foster mother said, if I could be a vehicle today, I would, would be one of those big conversion bands, driving down the highway at 90 miles an hour with the doors ripped out, off with everything flying out as I went down the highway.


OK, so that Foster Mom is feeling pretty overwhelmed, right, And she may not have shared that with me otherwise. So it's a way to engage people. It doesn't cost anything, and it's actually superior to doing it in person, because you can do it so easily through the computer.


Mmm hmm.


Coven questions are good right now. What's one thing that you are secretly pleased about that? You don't have to do, now that you're socially distant. All of us have a few of those, right? And also, what expectations of normal have you let go of? So those are all common volunteering experiences. So even if you're training people from diverse backgrounds, you can use these questions because it applies to everybody when I'm doing training around children. I like that favorite game as a child because it gets the participants into their mind, they're childlike mind. So that's one of the reasons that I like that.


OK, and then I have got to know your questions. And I use these in my training to this. These really don't lend themselves to chat boxes, or to polls. So these really work best with a smaller group. I've done, I'm probably, with up to 15, to 20 people. And have it work well. You have to allow time for that. But it really does build connection, just like you would do if you were training in person. And so it builds connection between the presenter and the audience, but also the audience members and each other. And so these are some of the questions. What's the most adventurous thing you've ever done?


What do you have on your refrigerator door right now?


What are you most passionate about right now? And these are from some great resources, and I'm going to share them at the end.


But there, these are called we connect cards.


Um, and those have some of the quotes on them, and they also have these are a little bit different.


But these are, we engage cards, and they have pictures and so you could do that too with pictures where people pick a picture of how they're feeling Or some answer to a question, but also the we connect cards. So, this is a great way to have people connect Instead of just saying, So how are things going right now? You know, what's one thing that life's teaching you right now? Covert is teaching us all things, right? So it helps to build that connection between your audience, You want to ask powerful questions, so that people can build connection, because we are hungry for connection.


OK, since we all kinda learn Zoom together, I think, are a lot of us did. You may not know about breakout rooms. So zuma has breakout rooms that you can use. So, you can take a big group, and you can pre assign them into breakout rooms. And so, it, literally, you set it up, and it sucks the people out of the main room into the breakout rooms. You can have an activity or a case study that they work on over there, or maybe it's some getting to know you type questions. And then you can bring them back. You can set a timer and it pulls them back into the main training. And so it works really slick.


Zoom also has a whiteboard feature that can be used for presentations.


So, people can mark on a map where they're from, or no engage in something else. You can also do whiteboard presentations using Zoom. So, those are some different tools that are available to you.


On the Zoom feature.


Cahoot is another great one. So this is a free website. You can use it. It's used a lot, actually, by elementary schools and middle schools and high schools.


But it works great for training with staff and volunteers, because it's fun, and so you build the quiz, or the question, or the game, and you can use it in some different ways.


So you could do it to see where your audience's knowledge base is at baseline, so before your presentation starts, or you could sprinkle them in throughout the presentation. You could divide up into teams, you could divide your group up into teams and have them compete against each other.


Another great tool is if you have staff that are coming together and they were all supposed to have done something, read an article or read a book or watched a video, you can start your training with a Surprise, Kahoot! With 3 or 4 questions on whatever the content was. And so they're immediately engaged. So this is a very fun tool. It's free, easy to use, and so that's a really fun thing to bring into training.


... is another website, and what I like most about this is that they will give you can sort, if you look on the bottom of my screen there, where it says displaying 23 activities, You can sort the activities by virtual.


So you can pick an icebreaker or you can pick, you know, other categories of activities for your audience, But you can do it virtually, and they have all sorts of different ones on here. There is part of its subscription, but much of it is free and just great out-of-the-box, training ideas to engage your audience and pull them in.


OK, so Another tool that we can use to make our online training superior to in-person training is the Environment. So the thing that you have in common now is everybody's in their natural environment, right? And so the picture that I have here to the left is something that's hanging by my desk. And so those are three things that I really like.


But you could give everybody NaN to go grab something from the room there. And that tells something about them.


You could give people advance notice and say, I want you to have a favorite picture or a souvenir from a trip available to show. And you can do that where they just show it up to the camera or you could unmute people and let them, you know, tell what it is. But that's a really fun thing and that's a way that we can engage that we can't do when we are actually in face-to-face training.


Here's another favorite picture on your phone from the last month. They just pull it up on their phone and they show it to the screen. You can unmute or that people can just be showing, but allows the personal connection. So, this is, I went to the beach in the last month, and this is my son who runs cross country. So, it's a training opportunity for me to share with you, but also for your participants to share with each other. So, that's a great low-cost way to build connections.


You can also have people, these are pictures, but actually, bring them, bring their animal, bring their pet up to the screen.


Great way to build no relationship between people, and that's another thing that you can't do in the office. And when I've done this in training, it takes a little bit of time, but people absolutely love it. We love to show off our animals, and people love to see other people's animals.


Another strategy is to go on a virtual field trip.


And so this is another example of something that you can't do when you're in in person training, or at least not easily, but you can do in virtual training. So you can go on a virtual field trip somewhere fun. So, you could do your training, where you, as the trainer, are in an interesting place.


So, we had one where you're in an interesting place, or you could have someone from an interesting place, join your Zoom call, and take you on a tour.


You can also do this to engage with community partners, You know, this is a food bank that's in our community. I wanted to show you around where maybe you can't take your staff of 50 people. But you could do it that way. We did this for one of our training where we had a local Lama Farm come on and tell us a little bit about their non-profit and what they do for animals.


And, you know, brought the llamas straight up to the camera, and everybody had a really good time. So, that's another thing. Doesn't have to be something fancy, could be a local firm. Lots and lots of fun ideas.


This is another tool that's used a lot in elementary schools, but also works great with kids. are great with adults, as it does with kids. There is a website called Go Noodle, and you can pull that into your training for a dance break. So if you are training more than about 50 minutes, 5 0, you should do a 10 minute break every 15 minutes, even more important now during this virtual training because people are multitasking their attention is getting pulled away so if we can get them moving, we can get them more engaged. And this is something that kind of catches people off guard and it's fun.


You could also do it just by put playing a song during your training and have everybody, you know, do a dance, but Go Noodle is really fun.


If you like competitions, scavenger hunts are great. So this can be done either as teams. So you can break your group in it into two teams or however many teams or you can do it as individuals. But, you know, I'm gonna give you five minutes to look around your house and find all of these different things, and the person who, you know, comes back with it first gets a Starbucks gift card, or whatever it is. It takes five minutes of your meeting time, but it really will be fun. It's a competition which is really engaging, gets people out of their chairs, and by building that connection by getting people moving, they're going to be more engaged in your trainings.


So these are some of the resources I talked about today: Kahoot, go noodle, claim EO. We and me are the Connect cards, Google Classroom. So if you're doing virtual training, Google Classroom is a great tool. A lot of our kids are using it now, but it also works great for training and if you have different classes that you're doing, you can set up separate Google classrooms and put all of your training materials in there. So you aren't sending a whole bunch of e-mails. Because I know that that gets difficult. And then un splash has free, beautiful pictures and you can pull those into your, into your trainings real easily.


So, I have my contact information here. I'm just going to take a minute and see what there are for questions.


Let's see.


Let's see, What if participants are participating by phone?


You, so, if they're participating by phone, they should still be able to use the chatbox feature on Zoom, I believe.


Um, so I, I would explore that. I mean, of course, also, if you don't have a lot of people that are participating by phone, those individuals could mute themselves.


But otherwise, they should really be able to participate pictionary. Yes, you can do pictionary using that whiteboard feature on Zoom.


That would work well for that.


How have you addressed older audiences that are tech savvy? Well, I don't know, are not tech savvy. I don't know that you need to be super tech savvy as long as the presenter is so and I'm really not very techie. Everything that I've showed you is very easy, very low cost, and can really be done with just adding an extra PowerPoints or extra slides, your PowerPoint, so.


That is great! Let's see.


Any learning management platforms that are user friendly, I, we do not have a learning management platform. I am the learning management platform and so I don't really have any information on that, but.


Let's hear your welcome for the resources.


Yeah, thanks for joining me today. I'm gonna just slip forward a slide, and if you have some questions, I'll continue to look at it.


But if you would take a moment and complete the survey, that's great. I never do the same training twice. I'm always improving, So I appreciate your feedback.


And I'll continue to watch the box here for questions.


Thanks, Jeanette. I'm glad you found it helpful. Thank you, Tessa.


So can I, can I jump in just super quickly? Yes, absolutely.


So since people are typing in their questions, I'm gonna put a link into the questions box to a place where you can submit a short video testimonial about your learning experience with CharityHowTo if you wanted to take advantage of the opportunity, just know that if you decide to submit a video testimonial, we will gift to you with a free premium webinar of your choice. You just let us know the name of the webinar, and the date you would like to attend, and we will be happy to register you for free. If you want to submit that video, plus, you get a chance when a $500 Amazon gift card, and a Silver membership subscription with charity. Have to, For those of you who don't know where the silver membership into entails, just note that it will grant. your access to any and all of our premium recorded webinars. And you can share that membership with, for more, if you're a non-profit, colleagues. So, there you go. Click on that link, save it to market, and get back to it if you want to take advantage of the opportunity. So, back to you and Marie. Let's see if you have any other questions.


I think we're, I think that's all the, all the questions that I'm seeing, OK, wow, well, thank you, everybody, so much for joining, and you know, please feel free to reach out if you have more questions after. We're done here. I love training sessions. I love working with non-profits, so if I can be of any help now or in the future, please let me know Happy to engage with you.


Thanks, everyone. Have a wonderful rest of your day, stay safe and healthy, and we hope to see you soon on another Charity Heritage Webinar.



Topics: volunteer training