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Use of Internet, Social Networking Sites, and Mobile Technology for Volunteerism: Implications for Volunteer Recruitment and Engagement

This report was undertaken in order to provide insight and guidance to AARP about the effective use of the Internet, social media and mobile tools for increasing and strengthening volunteer recruitment and engagement; and thereby maximize community impact.  This study involved a three-step research approach: 

  • A literature review to gain insight on overarching trends in the use of Internet, social media and mobile technology among U.S. adults, with added attention paid to the use of these technologies for volunteering purposes; 
  • A survey of adults age 40 and older, to assess the general willingness among this group to use the Internet, social networking sites and mobile technologies for volunteering purposes; and,
  • Findings from conversations with staff of AARP volunteer programs and with external organizations about their experiences using these technologies in their volunteer efforts, with the goal of identifying best practices and recommendations for the use of these technologies for volunteering purposes.

The following are best practice recommendations and findings derived from the three-step research process noted above.  Organizations should consider how these strategies can be used to bolster their volunteer recruitment and engagement efforts.

  • When thinking about ways to incorporate social media and mobile technology into volunteer recruitment and engagement strategies, focus on actively engaging volunteers who are already in the social media and mobile space.  These volunteers are more likely to engage actively on social media in a volunteer role than those who are less comfortable or familiar with the technology.  According to survey findings, the frequency of use of social networking sites was a key predictor of the willingness of adults, age 40 and older, to perform nearly all of the volunteer-related activities examined.  
  • Engage volunteers and non-volunteers through easy and enjoyable small actions to get them thinking about the issues important to the organization’s mission and, accordingly, build the foundation for potential deeper engagement.  Survey findings show the most popular activities that 40+ Internet users were willing to perform were fairly light forms of engagement, including going online to learn about volunteer opportunities (32% were willing); joining an online group or community that shares their commitment to a cause or issue that they care about (31%); and sharing information about a cause or issue they care about on a social networking site (30%).  
  • As smart phone and tablet prevalence continues to grow, and as mobile devices represent the primary way many younger adults, Hispanics and African Americans access the Internet, it is important that volunteer organizations explore incorporating mobile technology into their volunteer recruitment and engagement strategy, particularly when searching for potential ways to increase the diversity of their volunteer base.  Survey findings show about a fifth of 40+ Internet users were willing to download a mobile app to locate volunteer opportunities in their area (21%) and sign-up for text alerts about available volunteer opportunities (19%). 
  • As volunteers leave their current traditional positions, use this time to re-evaluate positions for potential virtual volunteering opportunities (i.e., volunteer positions that are carried out over the Internet) that are attractive to both traditional volunteers and contemporary volunteers looking for episodic or short-term opportunities.  Nearly a quarter of Internet users (24%) were willing to volunteer virtually, according to survey findings.   
  • Volunteers have increasingly become more mission-minded.  As such volunteers should be encouraged to speak about the benefits of their volunteer work—and its impact on the communities they serve--via their personal social media profiles.  Volunteers can be important advocates for volunteer programs as they can give a volunteer’s perspective of what it is like to serve as a volunteer for the program.

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