What Your Volunteer Program Really Needs: A Gourmet Salad Dressing

Editor’s note: In honor of VM Summit 16, which is all about corporate/ nonprofit collaboration, this series of volunteerism-related blog posts will take one topic and explain how it’s relevant to both groups. Today’s topic? Skills-based volunteering. Check out our other blog, Volunteering is CSR, for the same topic from the perspective of corporate volunteer program managers.

By Sasha Bechtler-Levin

This blog series aims to address aspects of volunteering from both a nonprofit and a corporate side. In trying to write these two posts, I was at first frustrated by how difficult it was to tease apart which pieces of skills-based volunteering I should highlight in which post. That challenge, however, is just a testament to the mutually beneficial nature of skills-based volunteering. Let’s unpack why!

Napoleon Dynomite agrees that skills are important.

That’s right, Napoleon! Skills are key.

Imagine this: Your neighbor is throwing a dinner party for some visiting family. She posts on your neighborhood bulletin that she needs to borrow some kitchen items, including a large salad bowl, three chairs, and a tablecloth. You like to be neighborly, and you have a large salad bowl, so you bring it over to her, have a quick chat, and wish her good luck with the party. That’s all fine and well–she got what she needed, you feel good for helping her, you’ve worked on your relationship– things are good!

Skilled Volunteering is Like... Salad Dressing?

Skilled volunteering is like… salad dressing?

But what if she knew that you make a delightful salad dressing? What if instead of lending her your salad bowl, you stop by to ask if she’d instead like you to prepare your signature salad dressing. She replies that she does need a salad dressing, and was going to buy one from the store (she doesn’t have time to find a good recipe, source the ingredients, and make a large enough batch). She needs a bowl too, but you’re really great at salad dressing, you like making it anyway, and the challenge of scaling up your recipe for a bigger group is an interesting new twist. You know that the dressing will be an important piece of the meal, so you spend more time than you normally would sourcing the freshest ingredients, and measuring, and mixing, and when you bring the dressing over, you’re proud of your product.

In the process, you build a closer connection with your neighbor, maybe she’ll start inviting you to her dinner parties in the future, and maybe you’ll meet some interesting people at those dinner parties. You’ve also learned to understand your recipe on a deeper level, and maybe even improved it in a way you didn’t think was possible before.

If you haven’t already figured it out, this isn’t really about salad dressing. Skills-based volunteering can be the “salad dressing” to your nonprofit’s volunteer program, AKA “dinner party”. While many people have a variety of skills to “bring to the table,” corporate volunteers can be an exceptional resource.

So why do corporate volunteers want to use their skills to volunteer in the first place?

We already know that volunteering can be, and usually is, very fulfilling. That’s sort of a baseline for us volunteers, and here at VolunteerMatch, we’re into going beyond that baseline to look at how to make the best of volunteering. In a city as vibrant as San Francisco, we’re surrounded by experts and innovators–people are doing a lot of things and many of them are very good at doing those things. Potential corporate volunteers dedicate their time and energy to careers that are also fulfilling and meaningful to them. So, using the skills of their craft/trade/profession/passion to help others is like doubling their fulfillment. Why not harness those existing skills to help those who could use that expertise–your nonprofit and its clients?

This is what skills-based volunteering looks like.

Skills-based volunteering can also have more lasting effects–when volunteering feels more like a meaningful extension of your job and less like a once-in-a-blue-moon class field trip, volunteerism becomes a more naturally integrated part of corporate life. When professionals are using their skills to complete a service project, they will likely feel more like they “own” it and less like a visitor lending a hand at something new. This kind of ownership can inspire all kinds of positive change.

Shifting towards a program that accommodates the skills-based volunteering, however, can be tricky. Even the adaptation itself can be beneficial for your organization, however, because it forces you to prioritize your needs and communicate them clearly. In the salad dressing example, the neighbor (you, the nonprofit) didn’t add “salad dressing” to the neighborhood bulletin posting because she didn’t know that anyone specialized in and was happy to provide that. The lesson here is that you must make sure to ask for a salad dressing specialist (ie: website builder, marketing genius, graphic designer extraordinaire) if that is what your dinner party (organization) needs to be a great one.

Shifting towards this kind of program requires you to know what you want, communicate that you want it, and have a conversation with companies that may have the interested and capable volunteers. These kinds of conversations mark the happy place of nonprofit and corporate collaboration that makes our collective spine here at VolunteerMatch tingle.


Author bio: Sasha is a summer volunteer for VolunteerMatch’s marketing team. She is also a rising senior at the University of Southern California, where she’s pursuing her bachelor’s degree in philosophy, politics, and law. When not volunteering, she spends her time trying to quit coffee, teaching herself to shoot film photography, and wandering San Francisco.

Don’t Say These 4 Things to an Angry Volunteer (and What You Should Say Instead)

Guest post by Marla Benson

Volunteers are often the eyes and ears of an organization—by giving time and expertise, they are personally invested—and their feedback is critical to our growth. Sometimes, that feedback may come in a form that is more emotionally charged than a volunteer program administrator would prefer. As a matter of fact, at times, that energy may look and feel like a personal dispute or be infused with anger.

When we listen carefully, the actual context of the volunteer’s message may be similar to what any customer might provide to an organization in the form of customer feedback. What every customer deserves when sharing feedback, is that they are met in a manner that is:

  • Safe: responses do not mirror any negative emotions.
  • Non-judgmental: listening openly without imposing personal bias.
  • Empathetic: putting ourselves in the other person’s ‘shoes’ to best understand the issue(s) at hand.

Here are some tips to support you in providing your volunteer with safe, non-judgmental and empathetic responses, while not (unintentionally) upsetting your volunteer further.

  1. Don’t Smile at an Angry Volunteer

Why you may want to:

We think that a smile will lighten the mood or show friendliness or openness.

Why it doesn’t work:

A smile to an angry volunteer sends a message that you may be condescending toward their issue or not take them seriously. A smile may come across as an attempt to sway them from being angry, but keep in mind that they may have a right to be angry—and for some, it’s how they’re used to getting their issue across.

What to do instead:

Your body language and vocal tone should be neutral, yet present, to encourage the person to continue until they feel heard and can move on to exploring solutions.

Use these body language, listening, and helpful tone techniques instead:

  • Eye contact (easy does it … not too intense, just be present).
  • Neutral face — not happy, nor sad.
  • Head nods (show that you’re listening by acknowledging what they’re saying).
  • Face the person directly (don’t turn away like you’re ready to run out of the room).
  • Open, unclenched body—no crossed arms, no clenched fists.
  • Use a quieter-than-normal vocal volume than you would during an average conversation.
  1. Don’t Tell an Angry Volunteer How They Feel

Why you may want to:

We think we are being empathetic when we use phrases like:

‘I can see that you are really angry…’

‘You are (unhappy, furious, upset, crushed) because…’

Why it doesn’t work:

It’s not unusual for an angry volunteer to experience an array of emotions. When you try to tag someone else’s emotions with words like unhappy, angry or upset, that can simply inflame the person further. Their reaction may be to deny the words you are using. Now, you have diverted the conversation into an argument.

What to do instead:

Use empathetic, neutral phrases to indicate that you are listening and doing your best to relate. These can be used without causing a negative reaction because you are not attempting to define the volunteer’s exact emotions. (Truth: they may not even know what they are feeling, so just be supportive and let their story flow).

‘I can appreciate that you appear to have strong feelings about this’.

‘I can hear the intensity in your voice’.

‘I can appreciate that you feel passionate about this…’.

  1. Don’t Push Your Solutions

Why you may want to:

We think we are providing enlightened, personal wisdom when we use phrases like:

‘Well, what you should do is…’

‘That’s an easy fix, all you have to say is…’

‘When that happened to me, I…’

Why it doesn’t work:

To provide an angry person with your solution may lead to a solution that doesn’t stick (because they are not in the right frame of mind to hear it), or that they now want to argue with you about.

What to do instead:

You’ll want to lead the person towards their own solutions by using gentle, supportive questions.

‘What do you think your options are?’

‘If you were advising someone else in your situation, what would you tell them?’

‘Are you asking for my advice?’

  1. Don’t Hijack the Conversation

Why you may want to:

We think we are being sympathetic when we tell our stories.

‘Your situation is just like the time when I was…’

‘I know exactly what that’s like, when I…’

‘You’re so lucky, when that happened to me…’

Why it’s doesn’t work:

When you attempt to sympathize by starting to share a story of your own, you can see the volunteer take a deep breath and sigh with the realization that they aren’t going to be able to complete their story. You’ve now hijacked the conversation to being about you.

What to do instead:

Use good listening questions:

‘Tell me more about how…’

‘When that happened, what did you do next?’

For the most part, your role with the angry volunteer isn’t to say much at all, but to encourage him/her to discuss the details of their issue. It’s the only way for them to express the information of the situation, and clearing a path that will allow solutions to come to fruition.

With your empathetic and supportive listening skills, the once-angry volunteer now feels heard and will be more open to exploring mutually beneficial solutions that are best for the volunteer, the organization and YOU!


Author Bio: Marla Benson, Founder of the Volunteer Conflict Management System℠, Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and Certified Mediator created the Volunteer Conflict Management System℠ out of sheer necessity (and a smidgen of desperation) while serving as an Executive with Girl Scouts and supporting tens of thousands of girls and volunteers. Her proactive, clear and final system addresses every kind of adult volunteer conflict scenario. Join the conversation with Marla at VolunteerRelations.com.

Is VM Summit 16 Right for You?

Should I attend VM Summit 16You may have already heard of VM Summit 16. This unique conference, brought to you by VolunteerMatch, brings companies and nonprofits together in one place to collaborate on how to create better, more impactful partnerships, while harnessing the power of corporate volunteering.

But you may still be wondering, “Is VM Summit 16 right for me?”

To answer that question, start by asking yourself this: “Am I responsible for any of the following at my company or nonprofit?”

  • Running my nonprofit’s volunteer program
  • Managing my nonprofit’s corporate partnerships.
  • Employee engagement and culture
  • Managing my company’s employee volunteer program

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, then it’s time to ask yourself one more question: “Am I interested in any of the following?”

  • Connecting with, and learning from, others who have similar responsibilities at their companies or organizations
  • Understanding what corporate volunteers can offer my nonprofit
  • Growing my nonprofit’s volunteer program to better accommodate corporate volunteers
  • Understanding what nonprofits actually want from my company’s corporate volunteer program
  • Increasing volunteerism at my company
  • Learning how to communicate and manage expectations during my present (or future) corporate-nonprofit partnerships to best meet both of our needs—and the needs of our communities!

If you answered “yes” again, then VM Summit 16 is absolutely right for you. Join over a hundred other professionals who would also answer “yes” to the above in Chicago, IL on October 25, 2016.

Get your ticket today.

Be Good to Each Other: 294 Volunteer Opportunities to Disarm Hate

By Basil Sadiq and Tess Srebrofriendship-1146331_1280

As the aftermath of this month’s shootings continue to unfold, many of us at VolunteerMatch are having a hard time keeping silent. We know it’s times like these where we can look to our community of nonprofits and volunteers, and find comfort in their unified message: helping one another. While we understand there are countless tragedies of violence also unfolding around the world, the focus of this blog post is to emphasize contributions we can make right here in the United States.

Our mission at VolunteerMatch is, “To make it easy for good people and good causes to connect,” a sentiment that has propelled us forward since our humble beginnings. Now, during times like these, our mission seems jeopardized—as though the definition of “good” were up for interpretation.

So, we began asking ourselves, “How can we bring ‘good’ back to its roots—and strip the word down to its true meaning?” Fortunately, our values haven’t been shaken: we still believe in universal “good”. And we believe the definition boils down to understanding empathy— an unselfish act, a willingness to put ourselves in others’ shoes, to lift each other up. It’s refusing to buy into stereotypes that pass judgment and threaten our peace.

Most importantly, it’s helping by volunteering, wherever, and whenever you can.

If you’re struggling to make sense of the chaos (like we are), we ask that you join us in overcoming fear and feelings of helplessness. We’ve curated a list of resources*, each with multiple volunteer opportunities where you can volunteer for a cause that’s working hard to fight hate and build stronger communities.

  • Volunteer to Serve as a Role Model in a Child’s Life
    “The children are our future” is cliche for a reason. Let’s set a positive example for the next generation. From promoting STEM and technology opportunities to underprivileged kids, to empowering young adults through mentorship and leadership development, we uncovered 10 organizations on VolunteerMatch where you can volunteer locally and/or virtually to make a difference:
Be A Mentor, Inc. Northeast STEM Starter Academy
City Startup Labs Pathways Within, Inc.
Minds Matter Los Angeles Tomorrow’s Black Men
National Youth Pride Services Youth Campaigns
Girl Scouts 826
  • Volunteer to Promote Peace through Cultural Understanding
    Help promote peace by promoting dialogue that spreads knowledge. We researched and found 180 opportunities that’ll help you do just that—from curating Black history encyclopedia entries to supporting cultural institutions around the country—we encourage you to volunteer for one of these opportunities to help increase cultural understanding.
African American Museum of Beginnings RSVP of South Texas
Black Past The Sanctuaries
Delaware Peace Club Uhuru Furniture and Collectibles
The Delaware Valley Fairness Project YWCA of Seattle
  • Volunteer to Support Emergency & Safety Efforts in Your Community
    Doing good is a two-way street. By supporting America’s emergency and safety efforts, you’ll help initiate open and honest two-way conversations. Check out these 8 organizations that feature opportunities to give back to America’s law enforcement programs .
American Armor Foundation, Inc. Lint Center for National Security Studies
Crime Stoppers of Minnesota Patriot Defenders Network, Inc.
Cyber Crime Response Agency Safe Halls’ Project, Inc.
Heroes in Action StayInformed

We hope these opportunities lay the groundwork for ways you can help disarm hate. Together, let’s volunteer to change the world. Together, let’s be good to each other.

*This is not a comprehensive list. If you do not see your organization on the list, feel free share in the comments below!

VolunteerMatch’s Guide to 17NTC Session Voting

VolunteerMatch’s Guide to 17NTC Session VotingIn case you missed it, the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) announced their 2017 Nonprofit Technology Conference (17NTC)—the nonprofit sector’s signature technology event. Held from March 23-March 25, 2017 in Washington, DC., the conference will house over 100 educational and collaborative sessions for nonprofit representatives and volunteer program managers.

The best part? NTEN is asking people—like you and me—to help determine the agenda for 17NTC by voting on topics for sessions you’d want to attend. What makes this news even better? You’re allowed to vote for as many sessions as you’d like! You can even search by keyword, for example, “volunteer”, to ensure volunteer engagement topics find their way to the agenda.

Out of over 500 proposals, Bree von Faith, Senior Marketing Manager, Tess Srebro, Marketing Manager, and Basil Sadiq, Marketing Associate at VolunteerMatch, hand-picked our 12 favorites, including 4 submitted by VolunteerMatch. We hope you’ll join us in voting for these sessions to ensure they make it into the agenda!

Can’t attend 17NTC? You should still vote! After the conference, you’ll be able to view session recordings, discussion and resources and collaborative notes from past sessions.

Bree’s Favorites | 17NTC Session Proposals

  1. [VOTE] Analytics Makes the Difference! | How to Use Data to Find Supporters
    Why Bree Likes It: What if you could predict how many volunteers were going to sign-up for your cause or how much money you would bring in through your largest fundraiser, with 99.95% accuracy? It’s possible: through data analytics; a combination of data, modeling and intuition.This session will teach you to think like a data scientist—without years of training—so you can glean insights from both your internal and external data that can then be applied to any marketing, fundraising or program challenge you’re facing. Techniques in this session have helped nonprofits determine the right donor levels for their fundraisers, the best way to market to potential volunteers, optimal pricing for program events, member renewal potential and more!
  2. [VOTE] Are You Techno-Stuck? How to Engage Pro Bono Volunteers to Get The Expertise You Need
    Why Bree Likes It: You just learned about technology options for your nonprofit, and you think “Great, I’m so excited to begin! But how can we start implementing within our current resources?” Engaging pro bono volunteers might be the right way to go.Here at VolunteerMatch, we’re aware of what it takes to host a technology platform built for success. And we understand, that many times, nonprofits aren’t able to perfect their vision due to constraints. This session plans to introduce a helpful outline for engaging pro bono volunteers to help with your organization’s technology needs. You’ll learn techniques for writing an effective pro bono job description, scaling your program, aligning current staff needs and more.
  3. [VOTE] Made Not Born: Women as Technology Leaders
    Why Bree Likes It: “I dedicate my free time to developing the potential of girls and women in our communities. Learning how to code and perform data analytics while being in master’s classes with more men than women highlighted the gap for me on a personal level.”Did you know women make up a small percentage of executives and computer engineers in both corporate technology companies and nonprofit IT departments? This sessions significance is unparalleled: it could help both men and women understand the challenges women face in technology leadership, and provide tips for overcoming them.
  4. [VOTE] Tech for Good Show and Tell: A Crowdsourced Session
    Why Bree Likes It: “I love the idea of bringing crowdsourcing to life at this conference. This session bridges the online and in-person narrative (i.e. bringing an online, technology-driven idea—“crowdsourcing”—through to an in-person, collaborative experience) while having the potential for some great takeaways.”Participants in this session will be given up to 5 minutes to share one tool they use that is valuable in their nonprofit life. Any 17NTC attendee will have the opportunity to share something they know well—something that has empowered their work—in exchange for first-hand insight and feedback from like-minded professionals.

Tess’ Favorites | 17NTC Session Proposals

  1. [VOTE] Amplify Your Mission with Volunteer Engagement
    Why Tess Likes It: It’s becoming increasingly important to tell the story of volunteer impact on social media. In fact, sharing your mission may be becoming more complex each day: social media algorithms, marketing buzzwords, pay-to-play digital ads, Google search changes—there’s a lot to keep tabs on!This session will highlight ways volunteers can amplify your message, helping your cause rise above the noise. You’ll have the opportunity to learn best practices in providing social proof to others looking to volunteer or donate to your organization and unleash the power of your social media followers by identifying your “volunteer ambassadors.”
  2. [VOTE] How to Learn to Stop Worrying and Love Social Media Collaboration
    Why Tess Likes It: “This is a topic I’ve seen organizations struggle with firsthand. It can also be relevant to volunteer managers who don’t ‘hold the keys’ to the social media accounts, but want to promote their program.”This session will help you delegate and empower others in your organization to take charge of content production and social sharing. You’ll hear stories on how others have succeeded when they let collaborators pitch in, and how to make the case for a more encompassing approach to social media at your nonprofit.
  3. [VOTE] Becoming Agile: How to Adapt the Agile Methodology for Your Nonprofit
    Why Tess Likes It: The “Agile” method helps organizations break down projects into smaller “stories”, prioritizing them, and then continuously delivering them to launch new initiatives faster than before. The VolunteerMatch Marketing team recently adopted this method as part of our strategy, and it’s been working incredibly well for us (so far).Tools acquired from attending this session will help you increase transparency, visibility and collaboration within your team, while learning the basics of the agile process to develop and implement programs and initiatives.
  4. [VOTE] The Changing World of Volunteer Engagement (And How You Can Keep Up!)
    Why Tess Likes It: Volunteer engagement is changing (and technology is playing a big role). Is your volunteer program taking advantage of new tools and trends in the space? In this session, you’ll learn how to “modernize” your volunteer program, and in turn, allow it to grow and thrive.By the end of this session, you would have discovered options for free (or affordable) volunteer management and volunteer recruitment technology systems, best practices to streamline volunteer interviews and onboarding techniques using technology for measuring and sharing your volunteers’ impact.

Basil’s Favorites | 17NTC Session Proposals

  1. [VIDEO] Driving Engagement Through Live Video
    Why I Like It: Did you know that people spend three times longer watching live video compared to video which is not live on Facebook? And video posts on Facebook—in general—have a 135% greater chance of reaching your audience, compared to posts with photos.This session will help attendees learn how to use new social media tools—such as Facebook Live or Periscope—to increase cause awareness and drive engagement. You’ll hear a diverse panel of nonprofit implementers explore the use of technologies like Facebook Live, through case studies, outlining best practices and lessons learned.
  2. [VOTE] How to Maximize Your Giving Tuesday Haul
    Why I Like It: Giving Tuesday is approaching fast, and this one day has the potential to help you raise the most money for your charity in under 24 hours. If current trends continue, organizations could see gains of 40% or more over 2016’s Giving Tuesday.By attending this session, you’ll learn how to build a coordinated, multi-channel digital campaign that leverages email, social media, web, display advertising and automated marketing to maximize engagement and revenue. Digital fundraising staff from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) will be present to help answer questions, and share tips and insights from EDF’s previous Giving Tuesday campaigns, including 2016 campaign.
  3. Virtual Volunteering: Novelty or Necessity?
    Why I Like It: NTC sessions are often technical in nature—they highlight topics that cover how nonprofits can utilize technology to accomplish their work. This workshop, however, centers around people—specifically volunteers who want to contribute to an organization by providing their services online.Virtual volunteering has gotten a good amount of attention, but there is still widespread skepticism. This session gives an overview of virtual volunteering, and provides tips for making IT-related volunteer roles more effective.
  4. [VOTE] Technology Project Management Crash Course
    Why I Like It: Project management might sound easy—until you try coordinating a project without understanding basic project management principles. The Project Management Institute offers certifications starting at $300.00, but this session helps provide a crash course on project management fundamentals for (almost) free.Leverage this opportunity to discuss approaches for measuring project success, and walk away with a free project charter template to use on your next project!

Is your favorite session not mentioned on our list? Share it with us in the comments below.