What’s Behind the Why of Working with Volunteers

Guest post by Elisa Kosarin, Twenty Hats

This post was originally published on Twenty Hats.

When you nurture what’s best in your volunteers, you hold some powerful change agents in your hands.

What’s Behind the Why of Working with VolunteersHave you ever had a conversation so thought-provoking that you reflected on it for a good long while afterward? I felt that way last week when I held the first meeting of my Leadership Circle.

The Circle is a group of experienced and dedicated volunteer engagement professionals who are invested in their work and have chosen to meet each month to share advice, support one another, and refine their leadership skills.

We kicked off our first meeting by talking about why we work with volunteers in the first place.

What is it exactly about this work that we find so compelling and rewarding?

I thought the conversation might focus on what volunteers do for our nonprofits because that’s what we’re hired to do – help expand our organizations to meet their missions. And while that piece was acknowledged as essential, it’s not what these pros shared as their greatest satisfaction. This group receives their energy and inspiration from the transformation within the volunteer.

These were the comments I heard:

I love to teach volunteers about our cause and watch as they come to see our clients in a new light.

I enjoy watching volunteers master a skill they never knew they had.

I’m excited to see volunteers achieve a greater purpose in their lives.

One of the Circle members summed it all up in a very simple mission statement:

I show volunteers how they can help someone by doing very simple and easy things each day. The result is kindness in my corner of the world.

These responses tell me that we are the intermediaries between two important elements for social change; the nonprofits that exist to improve our communities – and the volunteers who effect that change.

We manage a resource that has a direct and often immediate positive impact on our clients – and we elevate community members to the role of change agents when they volunteer. On top of that, we educate those change agents about what’s possible for our clients. We offer a new perspective, open points of view, and inspire people to become their higher, better selves.

Our role in the nonprofit world is HUGE.

I sometimes wonder, even when we stumble into these positions because working with volunteers sounds like “a nice thing to do,” if we subconsciously realize that we are tapping into something that meets our desire for purpose-driven work in the most powerful way possible.

It turns out that our role is not just heart-centered, it’s ethical. If you take a look at the CCVA Ethics Statement, you will see that volunteer managers have a responsibility to “promote the understanding and actualization of mutual benefits inherent in any act of volunteer service.”

The next time you feel frustrated, marginalized, or just plain tired of your job, remember: our desire to nurture and cultivate what is best in others is essential to improving our communities. Trust your instincts, hone your professional skills, and watch what happens.

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About the author:
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.

How Volunteering with Sick Children Changed Sharon Reasonover’s Life

Sharon Reasonover

Sharon Reasonover, Ronald McDonald House Volunteer

Sharon Reasonover first started volunteering at the age of 16. It was the summer before her junior year of high school, and she hadn’t really understood the meaning behind doing something for others until that day.

Sharon was accompanying a church group to the Ronald McDonald House (RMH) in Dallas, Texas. RMH is a “home-away-from-home” for families so they can stay close by their hospitalized child at little or no cost.

Sharon recalls her first time walking into RMH — nervous and afraid of messing up or saying the wrong thing. After only 5 minutes, she began connecting with families. “That day, I played with kids, laughed with the adults, and heard countless stories — you name it!” says Sharon.

Now a 20-year-old student at the University of North Texas, Sharon has volunteered with RMH ever since. “I have met so many people there that have changed my life.”

Read the rest of Sharon’s story, including the stories of three of the kids she cared for at RMH, and how volunteering has helped Sharon grow into the person she’s always wanted to be.

If you’re a nonprofit looking for ways to effectively engage with younger generations, check out this Engaging Volunteers blog post on 5 ways you could inspire teenagers to take a step toward community service.

 

Why “Tough Love” Produces the Best Volunteers

Guest post by Mike Devaney

Why Tough Love Produces the Best Volunteers“Look, this has to work for you… what do you wanna get outta this experience?” she asked, squinting.

Katerina (Kat), the hospital’s volunteer coordinator, was quietly putting to bed everything I thought I knew about recruiting volunteers. For starters, she wasn’t pleading with me to join her program. Actually, quite the opposite. It felt like she was trying to dissuade me from applying!

She wasn’t, of course. But I still remember that conversation nine years later because it was so different from all my other volunteer program inquires. Based on those experiences, I had assumed coordinators were supposed to …

  • Gladly accept anyone
  • Downplay the demands of the onboarding process
  • Avoid probing questions about motives

While Kat’s program depended exclusively on volunteers, she wasn’t looking for just anybody. Why? Because visiting sick and dying patients on a weekly basis wasn’t for most people.

Motivation Drives Commitment

The first interview with applicants, Kat later told me, revealed a lot. She could predict, with a high certainty, who would follow through with the application process and who would drop out.

The program included 20 hours of classroom training, which Kat oversaw. Again, with high certainty, she could tell who would thrive as a volunteer in the hospital and who’d wash out. Discussing the big issues of life — pain, suffering, and death — reveal a lot about a person’s motivations.

Which brings me to this point: Motivation. It’s good to question an applicant bluntly, like Kat did to me, about his or her motivations. Applicants might not be fully cognizant of their driving motivation, but they should be able to articulate more than a pat answer. Why? Because it’s what’ll keep them committed and growing as volunteers.

[Grab a list of sample interview questions here.]

Now it should be said that a volunteer’s motivation may not always be altruistic. That’s fine as long as it doesn’t conflict with your organization’s mission. I stayed with Kat’s program for 4 ½ years. We became good friends and discussed a lot of things “off the record.” Some of those discussions, I’m sure, didn’t sound particularly gracious coming from a hospital volunteer, but they were authentic.

Business, Not Personal

In business, the companies who develop thoughtful, creative, even rigorous hiring processes win. The hiring process is a branding tool; word gets out quick among job applicants about the companies who do it right. From the company’s perspective, the better they screen applicants in the early stage, the more time they can devote to promising candidates in the later stages.

The same principle is true for nonprofit and charitable organizations. Put another way, cast a wide net for volunteers using vague and undefined language, and you’ll spend more time later eliminating unqualified applicants.

In my experience working with nonprofits, particularly smaller ones, I find resistance to using “callout” language when advertising for volunteers. Callout language says to the applicant “Come closer,” or “Stay Away.” It doesn’t do both. The fear is that an otherwise awesome candidate might not apply if the language is too restrictive.

That’s when I tell them about the Peace Corps. Four years after “The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love” slogan debuted, applicants outnumbered openings 10:1 and by 1991, 30 percent of Peace Corps volunteers were reached through this recruitment campaign.

If anything, the slogan proved that qualified volunteers respond to “tough love.” The question is, are you willing to go there?

About the author:
Mike Devaney is a freelance copywriter and marketing consultant who helps nonprofits recruit and retain promising volunteers. In addition to the hospital mentioned above, he’s also served as a volunteer at a nursing home and a church-sponsored meal program. Visit him at mikedevaney.com
to schedule a consultation.

How To Use Positivity To Attract New Volunteers

Guest post by Kayla Matthews

Finding qualified and capable volunteers for your organization isn’t always easy. Getting the word out is one challenge. Finding people willing to commit to the tasks at hand is another. Once volunteers are recruited, keeping them around and satisfied is a whole other effort.

A great way to make all of this happen is to focus on positivity. The message your organization conveys helps immensely. While these messages are often tailored for potential donors, they can be just as effective for prospective volunteers.

Here’s how to harness the power of positivity to attract new volunteers and keep effective ones around.

Highlight the Work Volunteers Do

How to Use Positivity to Attract New VolunteersTo recruit new volunteers and keep your current volunteers contented, highlight the great work they’re doing. Sharing volunteers’ unique roles, day-to-day tasks and what they like about volunteering go a long way in appealing to new volunteers. Using social media to thank long-time volunteers and welcome new ones is a good way to diversify your marketing efforts.

Highlighting this kind of work is also a great method for sharing the interesting ways volunteers have contributed. Take, for example, how Ford Mustang part dealer CJ Pony Parts teamed up with Make-A-Wish to restore a teen’s vintage Ford Mustang. That’s not an everyday occurrence, so it shows the different ways the volunteers might be able to help.

Sharing a story of a volunteer is a lot more effective than simply sharing a volunteer job description. By presenting volunteers in a positive light, you’ll appeal to both prospective volunteers and those who have no interest in volunteering. Simply posting a volunteer job description won’t get a lot of attention, but a compelling story coupled with a link to your organization’s volunteer page works on multiple levels.

Focus on the Outcomes

Volunteering is proven to be rewarding and satisfying, but maintaining positive messaging can be a challenge if your organization is dealing with grim subject matter. Organizations that oppose trafficking, domestic abuse, and other societal ills aren’t able to post the warm and happy images that other organizations might be able to.

That’s why you should focus on the positive outcomes your organization creates. People love a happy ending, and your organization can share those despite how difficult the path to that ending may have been.

It’s these positive outcomes that are especially motivating when the work is difficult, so share as many as you can.

Keep Positive Messages Simple

It’s important to highlight the varied work that your organization is doing, but be sure to focus on the key messaging. Distil all the work into a simple and compelling message that easily explains what your organization is all about. Potential volunteers are overloaded with distractions and often aren’t willing to dig through extensive messaging to see if the nonprofit is right for them.

Make Sharing Positivity Easy

Charity: Water, a nonprofit dedicated to providing access to clean water, has some of the best marketing in the nonprofit sector. They’re at the forefront of digital marketing trends, and their mission is easy to convey. What makes their marketing so effective is just how easy it is for supporters to share their personal experiences. This helps get the word out organically, as Charity: Water doesn’t have to pursue active outreach. The supporters do it for them.

Think of ways to encourage your volunteers and supporters to share their thoughts and feelings about your organization. Personal recommendations are far more useful than any form of advertising, so make it as easy as possible for existing volunteers to spread the word.

Positivity is a powerful tool, yet it’s most effective when you know exactly what your audience wants. Finding that balance between informative and positive can help you reach more potential volunteers.

To find what works best, fine-tune your messaging as needed and ask yourself important questions about demographics and communications channels. Following these steps will help you bring in new volunteers that can help fulfill your organization’s mission.

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About the author:
Kayla Matthews is a writer and blogger. Her work has appeared on Nonprofit Hub and The Caregiver Space, along with The Huffington Post.

Image credit: Kaboompics

How to Boost Your Local Volunteers’ Motivation

Guest post by David Grover

teamworkThe ability to motivate local volunteers is a vital but challenging task. Volunteer organizations are notoriously fluid, people come and go, and very often, those who are very enthusiastic at the start lose steam as time passes.

Here are 6 useful tips on successfully motivating local volunteers.

Tip 1: Acknowledge and praise

Acknowledgement and praise are keystones of volunteer motivation. Volunteers get paid in acknowledgement, not money. Even paid workers are motivated by more than just money, according to behavioral economist Dan Ariely. When people are not paid for their work, “abstract” rewards become ever more important, so make sure you create an environment that fosters them. For example, never pass up an opportunity to put a figurative gold star on the forehead of a volunteer.

Tip 2: Create a happy environment filled with fun

“Happiness research”, which has become all the rage in the past few years, indicates that happy people are more productive. And good social relationships improve people’s happiness. Encourage teamwork amongst volunteers, create community, and host frequent “get-to-know-you” activities. Play games together, eat together, and most importantly, have fun. Leaders of charitable organizations very often get caught up in the overwhelming needs of those whom they have to help. Take some distance and connect in fun ways with the volunteers who help you.

Tip 3: Match individual volunteers’ strengths to your needs

Don’t give the child care job to someone in IT who’s socially reticent and not particularly fond of children, and don’t give the computer network backup job to someone who’s technophobic yet loves children. This example is extreme, of course, but it illustrates the importance of getting to know your volunteers well enough to establish their passions and interests as soon as they join.

Tip 4: Provide training

Sometimes you are not going to get the IT volunteer you need, or the shy person who loves babies may not know how to change diapers. Where necessary, provide training to volunteers. If the required skills are not available in your organization, identify and approach knowledgeable members of the community to provide one-off training to members of your volunteer corps. Learning new skills will motivate most people to engage with an activity or your organization.

Tip 5: Give feedback

Have regular feedback sessions where you share the successes of the organization with your volunteers. Encourage people who have benefited from the organization’s work to share their stories first-hand. Create colourful PowerPoint or Prezi presentations in which you detail the number of meals served, or the number of terminal patients cared for, or the number of adults who’ve been taught to read. Also share future plans with volunteers so that they become aware of the strategic goals of your organization.

Tip 6: Be flexible

Understand that volunteers are not full-time employees. A sure-fire way to chase them away and demotivate them is to treat them as such. Adapt to the schedules of your volunteers; try to allow them to volunteer at times that are convenient for them and accommodate their lives. Explain the tasks that need to be done and allow them to indicate when they will be available.

In conclusion, volunteering is a two-way street. Volunteers give of their time and efforts to others; however, they also get something back: meaningful engagement with others, a sense of worth and worthiness, new challenges, personal development, skills training and a sense of community. An organization that manages to serve the community and serve its volunteers at the same time will be a successful one.

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About the author:
David Grover is a Communications Manager at Timeo, a useful tool for business in the UK. He’s also a freelance career coach, who’s always eager to share his experience. In his free time David enjoys traveling.