Nonprofits that are always struggling to find volunteers often encounter a strange problem.

When people hear about the organization’s cause, they’re all about it. They’re eager to sign up for all sorts of opportunities, and you get excited. You send out all the things that your new volunteers need to know.

Then, you decide to host an orientation session for the group—and barely anyone comes.

That was the problem facing Massachusetts-based FairyDogparents (who we featured a few weeks ago for terrific email marketing). So, founder Marlo Manning decided to do something about it.

When volunteers are too busy to get oriented

Fairy Dogparents is an organization that helps families pay for their pet’s wellbeing, from medical costs to food bills.

When she started using the Constant Contact, Marlo was primarily using it to host fundraisers.

“When we were trying to raise money, that’s how we got the word out,” she says. “We just sent email invitations to our contact list after I set up the event homepage. It was really easy, and the events always turned out great.”

After that, Marlo decided to use the tool to host volunteer information sessions, too.

A lot people wanted to help Fairy Dogparents in any way they could, and when Marlo offered the information sessions, she got volunteers signing up left and right.

The problem?

None of those volunteers actually showed up on the day of the actual event.

Well, that’s an exaggeration. A few people would show up. But in some ways, that was worse.

“I’d host some events where literally two people came,” Marlo says. “That’s when I tried something else.”

The online orientation

The solution, Marlo decided, was to make the information sessions as low-commitment as possible. Most volunteers said that the reason they couldn’t make the events was due to time-constraints, so she ended up bringing the orientation sessions online.

Fairy DogParents now includes conference call information for event registration.

“I sent out invites with conference call information,” she says. “That way, I just met up with everyone virtually, and went over the materials with them online.”

That way, there was never an awkward event where ten people promised to show up, but only one actually did.

Better yet, Marlo found that bringing these sessions online actually boosted attendance.

“Going from in-person events to virtual ones made a huge difference,” she says. “About 50% more people attend the events now that I took them online. For every orientation we do via phone, we save enough money to sponsor a veterinary exam and basic vaccines for one sponsor dog.”

The tools for going virtual

Constant Contact recently integrated with MeetingBurner to help small businesses and organizations host webinars and other online events, so if you’re thinking about taking things online, that could be a good place to start.

The charm of virtual events, aside from a better chance of attendance, is that no one has to sacrifice a whole day to travel to an educational seminar, and costs are much lower— after all, you don’t have to rent a room, chairs, projector, food, or anything else.  You can just host the event from your office or at home, in your pajamas.

Have you recently brought any events online? Let us know below!