Online communication in volunteering – A guide

Blog header, online communication in volunteer work

This blog article is based on a webinar recording. You are welcome to watch the webinar or read the content as part of the blog article. Just learn how it suits you best.

As part of our “Volunteering in the home office” series of topics, we want to bring you closer to the topics of digital communication, digital cooperation, digital events and digital team building in four blog posts. Are you wondering how to work together successfully online with the right theory, technique and experience? Then you’ve come to the right place with this series of topics.

This blog post deals with the topic of online communication in voluntary work – the basis for all other topics. What are the challenges and practical tips? What does successful online communication mean? What do we have to think about?

Four building blocks for successful digital collaboration

The three communication types in online volunteering

There are three different types of communication – the speakers, the observers and the readers. But what defines these different types of communication?

Speakers like to speak and learn by listening. They particularly like telephone calls and video conferences. They speak to communicate. Tools that require them to read or write require a lot of effort and are therefore less popular.

Observers learn through video materials and texts. Telephone calls are often too much for them and are avoided if possible.

Readers like to read texts, concentrate more on what is written than on what is said in conferences and like to write long texts themselves. They are usually reserved in video conferences and must be actively approached to participate.

However, the subdivision into these three types is not set in stone. There are mixtures that can change depending on the shape of the day. For online communication, it is important to use as many different channels as possible in order to reach these different types in groups in a meaningful way. Since this can involve a lot of effort, it is essential to decide how important the issue that needs to be communicated is.

Note: Does the information need to reach all members? Then you should use all possible channels with this information. Does the information only have to reach one person? Then you should use the path that is best for this person individually.

Information, support, motivation and ideas – the idea of a team

A team made up of very different people has very different needs. How can I meet these needs of my team? Related to online communication: Where do I share which information?

The perception of what successful communication is can vary. There is no right or wrong here, because needs are different. Prohibitions or rules about what can be communicated where and how do not work in online work, because people want to exchange ideas. What used to be the cafeteria or the hallway in offline work needs a new framework online.
Ask yourself what needs there are in your team and what tools you can use to meet those needs. In summary, there are four needs in volunteering:

Information – information must be passed on (meetings, next decision-making processes, etc.)
Support – communication with problems and difficult tasks, support through communication, who can I contact with what?
Motivation – How can I motivate? How can I be motivated? How can I feel part of the team (= spirit of club work)?
Ideas – How can I generate ideas? How can I save ideas? How can I turn ideas into reality?

The most important tools for communication in online volunteering and how to use them

Problems in virtual collaboration are rarely due to the communication tools – nevertheless, they play an important role in online volunteering.
Were there communication problems in your team even before digitization? Have you changed tools several times, but the problems persist? These are indications that your communication problems are not due to the tools.

Our tip: Explain to everyone how the tools used work properly. Host onboardings and trainings to get everyone on the same page!

But what tools are there for online communication?


In order to use e-mails usefully, you should introduce folder structures. This is important so that these are not lost. Important information is saved, unimportant e-mails are deleted and sorted out. Creates different groupings through different distributors. Sets clear markers in the subject line. In square brackets you can communicate what kind of mail it is. Is it an informational email? A newsletter? Is an action desired? Does the email have a deadline? You can use the subject line to activate people without them opening their emails first.

E-mail as a means of communication in online volunteering

E-mails are particularly suitable for information that should be available for a long time. Ideas can be saved here, but they also quickly gather dust in the mailbox. E-mails are not particularly motivating and problem solving should not be done via e-mail.

Note: The most important information of an e-mail must be in the subject and it must be made clear which reaction is desired. A clear structure and a polite tone are a must, because the written word often sounds harder than the spoken word – so always write in a particularly polite manner!

Does an organization’s own e-mail address make sense?
An organization’s own e-mail address ensures a professional appearance. You are in control of data, privacy and software solutions. However, there is a risk that these emails will not be read by your members. If it’s a small volunteer job where you don’t constantly work on the computer and check your e-mails, these e-mails can quickly go under. If there is only little mail traffic, it sometimes makes sense to let this run via the private addresses. This way you can be sure that these mails will also be read.

Possible providers for the organization’s own email address are GSuites or Microsoft Office.

Phone call

A phone call allows you screen-free time – even in online communication. Direct feedback and the opportunity for discussions with direct reactions make the phone call particularly attractive. No IT knowledge is required and problems can be solved quickly, directly and easily. At the same time, this direct interaction can have a particularly motivating effect, since time is actively taken for the individual.

Note: Active listening is particularly important here because with a telephone there is full concentration on the spoken word.

The telephone as a means of communication in online volunteering

The disadvantage of a phone call, however, is that you only have limited control over the other person’s setup because the phone tempts you to make calls on the go. Where is this person at the moment? Do I have your full concentration?
The phone call is also not suitable for passing on information. Since in most cases no log is kept during a telephone call, there is no backup of the results. You can counteract this by sending a follow-up email after the call, in which you record everything important.

There are also helpful tools for telephone calls. You can use offers like TeamViewer to provide technical support during a phone call, or providers like Toolani and Skype to make free calls to members abroad.


They are firmly anchored in our everyday lives. Fast communication channels, group chats, different formats such as audio, video and photo make communication particularly easy. The association can be integrated into the everyday life of the members – the team can be connected as a result. They offer a great source of motivation, but can also quickly become “too much”.
When using messengers, it is essential to separate private and professional (or in our case voluntary) work. Messages can only be saved to a very limited extent. Important information must never only be sent via chat, but must always be supported by an e-mail, for example. Decision-making processes and discussions must not take place via Messenger.

Messenger as a means of communication in online volunteering

Note: The messengers used should also be used in the everyday life of the members! Apps that are only used for voluntary communication are given less attention and information can be lost.

Our tip: Form extra groups for different interests (sub-working groups, exchange of everyday life, exchange of pictures).

Possible providers for a well-suited messenger are Signal or Slack.

Video conferencing

Video conferencing is a beautiful way to work together. They offer a space for discussion and exchange. With video conferences, it is important to write minutes or record a result to secure the results. Here we recommend the log, as hardly anyone looks at two hours of recording afterwards.

The means of communication video conference in online volunteering

Video conferencing runs the risk of “fatigue” when it fills the entire day. There is also a risk of confusion with offline events

Note: offline cannot simply be converted to online. Other structures and methods are needed!

Our tip: Take the time to prepare and follow up on a video conference. Prepare something for the eye, set an agenda and goals and plan a 10-minute break after 50 minutes of content.

Possible providers are Zoom and Senfcall.

Communication guidelines for a strategy in online communication in voluntary work

The needs and tools described in this post are the basis for your communication guidelines. The organization must determine what good communication means and match the needs of those involved with the tools available. A mix of technologies can manage to satisfy all needs. The information has to get through, there should be room for discussion and the development of ideas, and support for volunteer work online.
To ensure this, you must establish guidelines. These should be flexible, because the online world and the team are changing quickly.
To formulate these guidelines, think about what needs you have in your team. What are the challenges? What tools can you use to satisfy these demands?

Note: It is better to establish a few sensible guidelines than many that are not followed.

Our tip: You can find our worksheet for creating communication guidelines here

Scroll to Top