Social media tools have tremendous potential for building community around a project among participating volunteers. Once you get volunteers to your project the first time, online community building can help keep them coming back.

Using Social Media for Volunteer Recruitment

Start a Facebook fanpage and invite volunteers to “like” it.  Set up your project as a calendar event on Facebook and invite your volunteers to sign up – and to invite their friends as well. Remember to send a personal message to each volunteer that signs up through Facebook to introduce yourself, confirm their attendance and let them know you’re counting on them showing up.

Create a Twitter account for the project and ask volunteers to “follow” the account. Use Twitter to share #volunteer opportunities. (Using the #volunteer hashtag in the text of your tweet will launch your tweet into Twitter’s volunteer conversation.) You can also share last-minute project updates like changes in driving directions through Twitter. During the project, upload and tweet photos for those who couldn’t join that day to show them what they’re missing.

Create a video that makes a compelling case about why the project is important and asks people to get involved. Share the video through the project’s Facebook page and share it via Twitter.

Using Social Media for Volunteer Retention

Creating a blog can be a great way to build community around your volunteer project. A blog post is a great format for storytelling and can be a place for you to share stories such as: sharing the founding story of the agency or neighborhood partner; sharing stories of the kind of impact you’re having because the project exists; or recognizing a stellar volunteer by telling his or her story.

Invite your volunteers to contribute stories to your blog or to post stories on their own blogs – ask them to reflect on their participation, the difference it makes and why it matters.

(If you don’t have the time to maintain a traditional blog, consider using a microblogging platform like Tumblr where you and all your volunteers can share anything from photos, to stories, to short updates.)

Post project photos to the project’s Facebook page for your volunteers to enjoy and share. Invite volunteers to post their own – on your Facebook page or theirs.

Engage volunteers between volunteer projects by holding a photo or video contest.  Ask volunteers to post their best photo or video footage of the project on your Flickr group page or on your YouTube channel and ask your community of volunteers to vote for the best one.

Crowdsource ways to improve the project by asking volunteers connected to your project’s Facebook page to share their input and ideas. For example, each week after the project, consider posting questions on the project’s Facebook page like:

  • What went well at this week’s project?
  • What do you think could have been improved / what would you suggest we do differently?
  • What ideas do you have for…?”

Experiment with what kinds of content engages your volunteers most.  Do they want to engage online with content that is mostly positive and celebratory or would they rather grapple with ways to address the root causes of your community’s social challenges?

Using Social Media for Volunteer Recognition

Tell a phenomenal volunteer’s story through a blog post.

Enter your project on Foursquare and encourage your volunteers to “check in” when they attend.  Offer some kind of small reward to the volunteer who is the reigning “Mayor” of your project.

Interview your nonprofit partner or a beneficiary of the service project about why it matters to them and share the video with your volunteers online as a thank you message.

Post statistics about the impact your volunteers are making on your Facebook page.

Write a note of thanks on a volunteer’s Facebook wall.

Invite volunteers to help support your social media efforts. Volunteers can manage all of the ideas listed here – and more – as part of their volunteer commitment to your organization.

These are just a few of our starter ideas. What ideas do you have?

Today’s post is by Jessica Kirkwood, VP of Interactive Strategy at Points of Light Institute and HandsOn Network. It first appeared on VolunteerSpot’s Summer of Service blog series and has also appeared on the HandsOn blog.