Engaging volunteers on your site | npENGAGE

Engaging volunteers on your site

By on Aug 26, 2008


A few weeks ago, I posted about my lackluster search for volunteer opportunities on the web and promised to follow up with a guide to great volunteer sections. So, without further ado – please enjoy…

The problem that I’ve seen with so many non-profit volunteer sections is that they try to pack too much information onto one page. Maybe it’s that engaging volunteers is really a secondary goal to engaging donors, so you don’t want to spend too much time planning content for this area. Or, maybe you think that volunteers want the information all in one place. Well, I’m proposing more of a step-by-step approach since that’s typically how a volunteer program works.

Step One. Find out what volunteering for your organization is all about and make sure I’ve come to the right place. (I, being the volunteer)
Step Two. Browse your volunteer opportunities. This step can be as simple as looking at a list of a few different types of volunteer opportunities or as complex as selecting from a set of menus to narrow down numerous options until I find the right one.
Step Three. Complete an application. Again, depending on your organization, this step varies. You may require that I sign up for an orientation online, complete an online application, or schedule a phone screen. This is the step where I’ve determined I’m interested and am committed to moving forward. Your main goal here should be to capture my contact information so you can keep in touch with me since I’m a potential volunteer.

Connecticut Humane Society does a great job of following the step-by-step approach in their volunteer section.

Users can link to each step directly from this box to get started in becoming a volunteer. Also, there are additional pathways for users to access the steps – via the left navigation and promotional call-outs in the right column – which is great for repeat visitors that may not want to go through all three steps.

DePelchin Children’s Center isn’t as explicit with the step-by-step approach, but all three steps are clearly defined. Also, the site makes step two – finding a volunteer opportunity – very easy, especially considering the wide variety of options they offer. They start off by asking the user to select which group they fall into, Individual, Group or Youth, then they list out all of the options available for each segment. The user can then click to register for Volunteer Orientation, which is step three for DePelchin. Another thing this site does well is that it includes a Donate button throughout the Volunteer section (and throughout the site as well). Often times, your volunteers are your most loyal visitors, so giving them a quick opportunity to donate is definitely a good strategy.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation also takes a less explicit approach to the three steps of becoming a volunteer. They have the challenge of covering a wider geographical area so they’ve taken the approach of using an events calendar to display their specific opportunities. Before listing the specifics, they group their different types of opportunities by Hands-on, Outreach and Education, and Advocacy so that users can easily identify with one group. Once the user has identified which opportunities they may be interested in, Chesapeake Bay has a step three of completing an online sign-up, which is a necessary component of any great volunteer section. While your users are engaged and reading about your volunteer options, why not collect their contact information so you can begin an online relationship with them?

So, in summary, some quick rules of thumb…

  1. Your volunteer section should guide users through the three steps of becoming a volunteer and should keep the process very simple.
  2. Since there are essentially three steps to becoming a volunteer, your volunteer section should not include more than three pages: a landing page describing the process and what it’s like to be a volunteer, a page listing specific volunteer opportunities, and an application page or page for users to register as volunteers. There are exceptions to this rule depending on your organization, but this is a good starting point.
  3. Consider providing a quick way for users to donate within your volunteer section.
  4. Be sure you’re collecting your users’ contact information in your volunteer section so you can get in touch with them and stay in touch.

Have I missed anything? Are there features or content that you’ve seen on other volunteer sections or on your own that you’d like to share? If so, please do so in the comments. 


Lacey Kruger, principal information architect for Blackbaud, designs online properties for nonprofits that delight and inspire. Whether a full scale website, a campaign site or a peer to peer fundraising site, Lacey guides clients through a research-based and user-centered approach to design. In her 15+ years at Blackbaud, she has developed a deep understanding of nonprofit web presences. That knowledge, along with her years of experience in information design, have established her as an industry expert.

Lacey has written a Blackbaud eBook, “A Guide to the Nonprofit Web Design Process” and her article, “Designing Nonprofit Experiences: Building a UX Toolkit” was published in User Experience magazine. She has presented at industry conferences including bbcon, IA Summit and BIG Design.

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