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With the election year coming grassroots programs will start to launch and with every program the heart and soul of the grassroots program is volunteer so by creating a volunteer relations system you will be able to build and maintain a volunteer team that will be there for you from your first blitz day to your final GOTV.

Why should you have a volunteer retention system

Volunteers are the lifeblood or non-for profits, campaigns, and political parties, and while where and how you recruit them is important keeping motivated and involved not just through the campaign, but in between is important to make sure that you have the support to make the calls and knock the doors to win. Here at Digital Roots we have written about how to identify and manage volunteer, but we have never talked about how to build a system that will help you retain first-time volunteers and keep them through the winter and off cycle slumps.

The Case for a Program

When maintaining volunteers there are a number of challenges that every organization faces:

  1. Reducing ‘churn’
  2. Engaging or growing current volunteering
  3. Increasing loyalty to the organization

These issues are best faced with a loyalty program because there are a number of advantages over the average volunteers:

  1. Stay active over a long period of time
  2. More likely to suggest people volunteers
  3. Spend more time volunteering

How to Building the System

While each system will be different in a number of key ways there are some rules of thumbs to make sure that the program is successful. The key parts are broken down into the key element of every loyalty program and the mechanics that make the program function on a day to day basis.

Loyalty Levers


Rewards are the backbone of the system and can be the most difficult. The rewards can be done in a few ways, but they revolve around accumulating points so that you can receive an award. The points system can be a as simple as receiving the reward after you reach a certain number of points.

An example of this is Duncan Donuts were once you acquire 200 points you are automatically issued a coupon for a free drink. Or as complicated as the ones most hotel use where you can exchange points like cash for food drinks and discount rooms. Unlike Duncan Donuts these systems allow for greater choice for the user and create a more customized experience through the different services. The tradeoff for these systems is that changing the system can cause a friction point with your supporters making it harder to fix.


Recognition is what keeps people engaged in the program this is because it allows the individual to feel like they are making progress by reaching new levels or gathering badges.

Recognition though isn’t just a statics it also has to come with benefits that are more constant rather than one time. One of the most common examples is when loyalty program members get a preferred customer hotline. For some organization, it could be an extended early bird special for events and fundraisers.


Relevance is what will help you get new members to join the program. This is by far one of the most important parts of the program because using the program can quickly become irrelevant if you can’t gain and active members that will use your loyalty program.

The biggest friction points are the forms to sign-up are too long and ask for more information then need to start. The thing to remember is that you can always get more information from a member once they are active. The other fiction point of relevance is the rewards while it can be easy to avoid on simpler systems more complex ones will have to figure out what members what and what is relevant to the as their status and use of the program goes up.

Different Kinds of Loyalty

  • Mercenary - where they are only loyal because it is the best offer.

  • Inertia - were they stay in the program because they have already invested money or time(IE. money on a loyalty card)

  • True - were they believe in the organization and don’t need to be incentivized to support it.

Most volunteers will get involved because they fall under true loyalty, but because there are often multiple organizations that advocate for similar issues we need to create inertia loyalty to try to get volunteers to prioritize our efforts over those of allied organizations and give them a reason to stay on board after the first event (reduce churn).

Basic Part to a Program

There are 4 basic parts to every loyalty program, which are the currency, status, enrollment & activation, and partnerships. While most organizations have national, local, and state chapters the ability to do partnerships are limited because of the risk of sharing a volunteer list and the different laws. That is why it is best for an organization with multiple levels of organizations should run the program at the state level and allow local branches to join the statewide program directly rather than working in parallel.

  • Currency (Points) - This is the most significant decision in creating a loyalty program, and is the major supporter of the loyalty lever Reward. The two parts that need to be addressed is the member and organization side:

    • Decisions that effect Members:

      1. How can the currency be earned: It could be for social media activity or for canvassing and phone banking.

      2. How easy the process is to use them: Does the reward automatically trigger once reaching a certain value or does the person have to spend them.

      3. What is the value of the rewards?

    • Decisions that effect Organization:

    1. Breakage: ‘points’ earned by volunteers but are never used, typically stated as a percentage of the total.

    2. Administrative Cost: annual costs associated with maintaining, and growing the program.

    3. Reward Cost: financial value of any program award that a consumer receives and uses

  • Status - is the especially important element of a loyalty program because it creates value beyond the points system and supports the loyalty lever Recognition:

    • Statues have to mean something: That means the there should a desirable benefit for these “special volunteers”, and should be a continuing benefit, unlike currency benefits.
  • Enrollment & Activation - All programs start with enrolling (acquiring) and activating (on-boarding) a new member done well it will support the loyalty lever Relevance. The key points are:

    • Make the process simple

    • Minimize the information that is “required”

    • Enable enrollment to happen across many channels.

    • Tell them only what they need to get started

Tracking Key Performance Indicators (KPI)

The biggest difference between private business and non-for profits is the KPIs. In business, it is based on how much more a member spends. For non-for profits, they could use a program for donations, but it would be better at attracting retaining and mobilizing voters. So the KPIs should be based events, voter contact, and volunteer referred rather than a monetary value or social media engagement (IE. reviews and generated content).

Setting your KPIs to focus on volunteers will have a larger return because investing in a grassroots program can be a time consuming and labor intensive effort. With a loyalty system is well built you can reduce voluntary churn between election, allowing you to start more aggressively and spend more time growing from last year progress rather than rebuilding last year team.

First Posted 12-03-2016