How Nonprofits Can Turn 25% into 62%

boy holding butterfly in his hand

Getty Images by Dina Marie

If you haven’t spent time exploring the latest “Volunteering and Civic Life in America” report, released by the Corporation for National and Community Service and National Conference on Citizenship, you should – it’s pretty fun.

You can see statistics about volunteering rates in 2013 based on geography, demographics, and even cause area. How does your state or city rank vs. some of the most active volunteering areas in the country? How is the new “Generation Z” starting to emerge when it comes to volunteering? There are even pretty graphs and charts to help ease your way through all that data.

Some of the statistics might not seem so fun, though. For example, it’s great that 62.6 million Americans reported volunteering in 2013, but when you do the math…that’s only about 25%. Not necessarily encouraging for us as nonprofits, who always seem to be looking for more folks to help out, right?

VolunteerMatch president Greg Baldwin recently took a deep dive into this stat, so we won’t spend a ton of time worrying about it. Instead, let’s take a look at another one: more than 138 million Americans engaged in what the report calls “informal volunteering” in 2013.

Huh? What is this…informal volunteering? The report explains that it includes helping neighbors with such tasks as watching each other’s children, helping with shopping, or house sitting. Basically, these folks spent at least a bit of time, every once in a while, doing something for someone else.

Well, we can work with that!

You see, this number is proof, for those nay-sayers who might be wringing their hands and lamenting the low volunteering rate, that people WANT to help out. They help each other all the time! So why aren’t they turning those altruistic urges into volunteer time for your nonprofit?

What we’ve realized at VolunteerMatch, from our many, many years working in the volunteering field, is that the limiting factor in the volunteer rate is NOT the amount of people willing to help out. It’s the ability of nonprofits to engage those folks effectively. (That’s why, in the rippling wake of this past recession, we’re now seeing a drop in volunteer rate. Nonprofits are feeling the squeeze, and it has impacted their ability to build strong volunteer programs.)

If you’re frustrated by an inability to engage volunteers as efficiently (and as often) as you wish, start with these two important steps:

1. Ask them. A lot of them.

People are busy, and the world is a noisy place these days. You have to cast your net pretty wide and shout pretty loudly to be noticed. Websites like VolunteerMatch can help you reach many more potential volunteers with your opportunities, so go ahead and spend 5 minutes posting a listing right now.

2. Learn what to do with them.

Chances are, you didn’t go to school for volunteer management – and that’s just fine! There are a number of great resources to help you learn on the job, so your program can be stronger at attracting, managing and keeping great volunteers. Check out the free webinars in the VolunteerMatch Learning Center.

Don’t be discouraged by some of the data you’re seeing about volunteering. Instead, be inspired! And know that whatever the numbers say, you can count on VolunteerMatch to be there to help you engage the volunteers you really need for your nonprofit.

How does your organization encourage your community members to move from “informal” to “formal” volunteering?

How to Have a Fun-Filled, Fullfilling #15NTC with VolunteerMatch

Gummi bears on fingers of hand.In less than one week, thousands of nonprofit nerds will be descending on Austin, Texas to learn, network and have fun at the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference. Hooray!

Whether you’re an NTC veteran or this will be your first time, VolunteerMatch has one thing that will guarantee to make your time in Austin stand out: candy.

Okay, that might have been a joke (not the candy part – we will have that), but finding VolunteerMatch at the conference is a great way to make sure you’re hitting the highlights.

For example, as you explore the wonders of the Science Fair,  stop by booth #726 for some sweet treats – and to learn all about how VolunteerMatch can help you inspire, educate and mobilize your volunteer supporters. For free.

Day of Service at #14NTC conference. Crowd of people standing holding coffee.And if you’re inspired yourself to make a difference, be sure to sign up for the Days of Service. This year it’s even easier to turn your time at the conference into real-life impact (there are even ways to help your favorite causes from the comfort of your hotel room!)

Learn more here and sign up now with a few clicks!

This is truly one of our favorite conferences of the year, so we hope to see you there. Look out for Adam Alley, Marlene Feil and Tessa Srebro.

Come by, meet the team, eat some candy and tell us your favorite volunteer-related story. We know you’ve got ‘em!

Top photo by Betsy Weber on Flickr.

Volunteer Training and Development Got You Down? Consider Going Online

Guest post by Alec Green

Whether your nonprofit engages just a handful of volunteers or several thousand across the country, getting them up to speed efficiently and offering ongoing professional development is a common challenge.

Student on computer in the grass.More and more, online training is becoming a popular solution to this challenge. That’s because it’s getting easier to do. Free e-learning resources such as NonprofitReady.org are available for nonprofits. (That particular open online learning site includes 200+ learning resources covering all the major job functions in the nonprofit sector!)

In addition to general professional development courses, many nonprofits need to provide training that is specific to their mission, organization, or the volunteer role.  For organizations looking to scale their volunteer management programs, the Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation launched the Impact Grant. The Impact Grant provides a two-year donation of Cornerstone OnDemand’s Learning Management System (LMS) and consulting services to enhance the training of a nonprofit’s volunteers, beneficiaries, and community partners.

Spark, a national nonprofit, recently leveraged the Cornerstone LMS to roll out its volunteer training program nationwide. The team at Spark partners with schools and workplaces to match middle-school students with career mentors in fields aligned with the students’ interests. Based on the feedback of their volunteer mentors, Spark is introducing a new structured curriculum which includes online training. The new online platform not only gives Spark the opportunity to expand its program; it opens up a variety of new ways to engage both their volunteer mentors and students.

How do you know if an online volunteer training and development strategy is right for your organization? Here are some ways to determine your readiness:

  • Think about what training is critical and what falls under the “nice-to-have” category. You can also talk with your most experienced volunteers to figure out what training they will need in the future.
  • Make sure your volunteers would be receptive to online training. If your volunteers are less computer-savvy, or have limited access to high-speed internet connections, then in-person training could be more effective for your organization.
  • Ensure you have executive-level support behind you. Whether you qualify for an Impact Grant or use one of the many free e-learning resources available to nonprofits, taking your training program online will require some commitment of time and resources.
  • Ask yourself if you’re ready for the time commitment. Remember that effective online learning is not as simple as uploading a PowerPoint or linking to a YouTube recording of a webinar or in-person training. But after the initial time investment, it will likely save you time in the long run.

So, do you think you’re ready to expand to online training and development with your volunteers?

Start by signing up for the free resource NonprofitReady.org, browse the course catalog, and see what they offer that would be of most value to your volunteers. In addition, the 2015 Impact Grant cycle is now open, and this recent webinar will help you determine if a full LMS is a fit for your organization. By adding some form of online training to your mix, you’ll be on your way to engaging, developing, and retaining your volunteer talent.

Alec Green is Chief Marketing Evangelist at Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation.  He is responsible for developing the overall marketing plan and strategy for the Foundation, executing all outbound communications, increasing visibility of the Foundation’s programs, and building engagement with our partners and beneficiaries.

5 Surprisingly Easy Ways to Lose Volunteers

Guest post by Isabel Wiliams

Three young professionals ripping paper.Recruiting volunteers is one thing – making sure that they continue to be interested in what you’re doing is another. That’s when many nonprofits struggle and start to lose their volunteers.

Here are 5 examples of how to quickly lose the support of even your most dedicated volunteers. It’s a cautionary tale…

1. Lack of clear organization

Imagine you’re a volunteer: you’re giving up your time for a higher cause, only to discover that the staff of the organization lacks clear structure. Team members are late, tools are missing or incomplete, and people around you are uncertain about their actions and strategies.

For some people, a level of disorganization is acceptable. But you can be sure that your high-capacity volunteers will get quickly discouraged from participating in your activities, feeling that their time could be spent more productively somewhere else.

2. No concrete goals

If your vision, strategy and mission are unclear, you’re in for trouble. The ‘why’ behind your cause is what motivates volunteers to spend their time helping you achieve your mission – if you cannot provide the ideological basis for your actions, volunteers won’t feel the drive and passion to share your goals.

3. Failing to recognize their contribution

Volunteers help you without being paid for it, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t appreciate some form of recognition. If you fail to reward them and rarely ever recognize the passion and enthusiasm they bring to your cause, you’re bound to quickly lose their attention. Remember that being recognized is what ultimately motivates people to go the extra mile in their work.

4. No strong leadership

Without a clear structure and a strong leader, your organization is doomed. No volunteer will be willing to waste their time on a nonprofit that has no clear leadership – it simply suggests lack of coherent strategy. You organization should be divided into various departments and teams, each with a leader who sets the tone and inspires others to help your cause.

5. Lack of training or investment

Another vital mistake that can cost you a lot of helping hands is failure to provide training or lack of investment in your volunteers. Both training and investment show that you value your volunteers and their work, and are willing to help them develop new skills and qualifications they can later include in their resumes, perhaps opening up new career doors.

Keeping volunteers motivated and engaged isn’t easy – but the effort is well worth it. It’s only through smart management of your human resources that you’ll be able to make your voice heard and your cause recognized in your communities.

Isabel Wiliams is an HR Specialist at BizDB.

Looking for a Magic Number

Guest post by Elisa Kosarin, Twenty Hats

Girl holding books, looking at math symbols.This post was originally published on Twenty Hats.

Last month, I wrote about volunteer orientations, and about how facilitating orientations is a critical and often overlooked part of the event’s success.

This month, as I debated moving on to another topic, I realized there is still more to say about orientations and why they are such a valuable practice within volunteer management.

That’s because your volunteer orientation is the gateway into your organization. It is there to inspire the ones you want to volunteer– and screen out the prospects who are not a great fit.

Don’t you wonder?

And if you run an effective orientation, it also begs the question: what is a reasonable return on an orientation? Should we expect everyone who attends to hand over a volunteer application?

I know the answer for the organization where I have recruited and trained volunteers – it’s 43%. For any given orientation, I can expect about 43% of the guests to submit an application. The reason I know 43% will apply is because I have tracked that figure month by month for seven years. It’s an amazingly reliable figure that has allowed me to forecast how many guests I need at an orientation to reach my target number of volunteers.

What’s interesting about that 43% is that other programs have reported a similar return. When I taught a course on recruitment planning a few months ago, I asked my students to track the percentage of guests at orientations who apply. Surprisingly, they also landed somewhere between 40% and 45%.

Getting Quantifiable

So is 43% a magic number? I doubt it. My course was small and probably too tiny a sampling to be statistically accurate.

And that makes me curious. What do other volunteer managers experience in their programs? Do you have a higher or lower rate of return on orientations?

If you have an answer…

If you already track this data, please email me and share your results. Perhaps we all hover around that 43% mark, or perhaps we can pinpoint the factors that shift that number up or down.

Or to track the answer…

And if you don’t track this data and want to start, let me know and I will send you a spreadsheet with this percentage calculations – already embedded in there.\

Twenty Hats is authored by Elisa Kosarin, CVA, a nonprofit professional with 15+ years of experience in nonprofit marketing, development, and volunteer management. She founded the site to help volunteer managers master the skills they need to make their jobs easier.