Using Facebook groups to support volunteers

Many volunteer managers are accustomed to connecting with their volunteers through traditional means like progress reports, phone calls, meetings, or even phone calls. Facebook can often be an overlooked resource for staying connected to volunteers.

Experienced volunteer managers know that the relationships that volunteers have with one another and with staff have a critical impact on sustained retention. Research on motivation indicates that a sense of belonging and social support within the group is key when considering what keeps volunteers engaged. Many of the traditional methods of supporting volunteers and building a community, include face-to-face efforts like support groups and coffee dates, are less popular given today’s shifting culture. While in-person approaches are still important, social media can be an effective way of providing an environment for volunteers to interact with one another and staff that operates independently of time or location.

Every day, more and more adults sign up for a social network. In fact, Pew Internet reports that nearly 67 percent of adults now belong to a social network – the most active of that group being adults 18- to 40-years-old. On the same note, a 2012 survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project indicated that nearly half of American adults own a smartphone, which is a cellular phone capable of accessing the internet and running mobile applications. Similarly, nearly 20 percent of American adults now own a tablet computer like an Apple or Android device. The great thing about social media, smartphones, and tablet devices is that they are portable and can be accessed from anywhere. Facebook is still the most popular social networking site – 92 percent of online adults use Facebook.

Michigan State University Extension suggests creating a Facebook group for volunteers in a program. Facebook provides instructions on their site for setting up a group. The group should be facilitated by the volunteer manager and possibly a few other experienced volunteers who play an active role in engaging volunteers in conversation. Volunteers can share pictures of their experiences, links to resources that might be of value to others, and offer feedback. Volunteer managers can use the group to remind everyone of upcoming events, notify them in case of changing timelines, and to provide ongoing encouragement.

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