Creative, Fun and Easy Ways to Engage Skilled Volunteers

Our recent announcement of a new partnership to automatically post all skilled volunteer listings from the VolunteerMatch network to LinkedIn’s Volunteer Marketplace has shed a serious spotlight on the importance and potential of skilled volunteering. Check out this special series of posts exploring skilled volunteering as a category, a strategy, and, of course, an inspiration for greater impact.

Creative, Fun and Easy Ways to Engage Skilled VolunteersYou already know that your skilled volunteer listings will now be automatically posted to LinkedIn’s Volunteer Marketplace, giving your organization exposure to 300+ skilled professionals. And we’ve discussed the strategies for success when it comes to deepening impact via skilled volunteers.

So now the hard part: Whom should you recruit? How do you design killer skilled volunteer opportunities? What if you have no ideas for the types of skills you might need?

As is often the case, the best inspiration comes from the VolunteerMatch network itself. Check out these fun, creative and high-quality examples of skilled volunteer opportunities to guide you in your engagement odyssey:

Virtual Volunteer Engagement

Often the best way to engage busy, talented people is to let them do their volunteer work from home or from their desks. Thanks to the internet, many volunteer roles can now be fulfilled virtually, and communicating with online volunteers is easier than ever.

Pro Bono Volunteer Engagement

Many people passionate about your cause realize that they can have the most impact by contributing their professional skills. Design volunteer opportunities for people in specific fields who can easily solve problems that might take your staff much longer to figure out…

Engaging Unexpected Skills

When we say “skills,” we don’t just meet marketing or lawyering. Useful skills come in all shapes and sizes, depending on your organization’s needs, and this is a great opportunity to get creative with your volunteer positions.

Activating Social Networks

Who cares if someone has over 1,000 Facebook friends? You should! Because those popular folks could put their networks to good use – for your organization.

Ready to post some skilled volunteer opportunities for your organization? Head to VolunteerMatch.org now and post them up! It’s quick and easy.

How is your organization engaging skilled volunteers in fun and creative ways? Share your experience and ideas below!

Engaging Talent in Best Work

Guest post by Stephen Ristau

Engaging Talent in Best WorkToo often I hear from highly skilled and motivated people, “I just can’t seem to find a nonprofit organization that uses my professional talent well.” And despite the great strides that nonprofits have made in recent years to design volunteer or pro bono work experiences that require advanced expertise or training, I still see a disconnect between the available talent pool and the engagement opportunities nonprofits offer.

Do you find this to be true also? Has your organization stepped up the caliber of short-term, project-oriented work that taps into the motivations and expertise of volunteers? How can we assure effective volunteer matches that meet the mutual goal of “best work?”

I am interested in hearing about your experiences, cool ideas and best practices.

Here are some of mine:

  1. Do your homework - Engaging talent (paid or pro bono) is expensive but is well worth the time and effort to do it well. Done right, you are providing a pathway for the contribution of skills and expertise you otherwise may not be able to afford- you can ill afford to not prepare for this potential infusion of talent.
  2. Define what you need - Most of today’s volunteers want to know what impact they will have. Ask yourself “what will happen as a result of this project?” to get at the expected outcomes and deliverables, and then describe the resources and support you will make available to your volunteer to get the job done.
  3. Tailor opportunities to fit your volunteers - While many of us have used volunteers in the same roles for years, today’s volunteers (from Millennials to Boomers) want to use their skills to make a difference. Be prepared to customize short-term, high-yield engagements that may result in “repeat business” from volunteers who discover that your organization knows how to involve them best.
  4. Engage volunteers’ “eyes and ears” to determine new ways they can contribute - Be a progressive talent manager and engage volunteers in identifying organizational issues, challenges, and solutions they see. Collaborate on project plans, assess the strengths and interests of your volunteers, and support volunteers in the customizing of positions that meet your most pressing organizational gaps.
  5. Lead, follow, AND get out of the way - The best leaders and managers know how and when to do all of these: know how to provide direction, enable leadership and initiative, and clear the way for those with the talent and drive to get things done right the first time. Understand the capabilities and experience of your human resources, including volunteers, and allocate your time and supervision accordingly.

“Best work” organizations, nonprofit and for-profit, are those with human resources that champion innovation and learning, are accountable for outcomes, and are able to work in a coordinated team environment.

How are you maximizing opportunities for your nonprofit to achieve this “best work” standard? Let us know.

Stephen Ristau has been a nonprofit executive and social entrepreneur.  An innovator in the national encore movement, he has led Transforming Life After 50 and the SVP Portland Encore Fellows program.Contact Stephen at stephenristau@gmail.com and www.linkedin.com/pub/stephen-ristau/4/75/b28.

Why It’s Still Hard to Volunteer (and How Nonprofits Can Help)

This post was originally published on the New York Cares blog.

Guest post by Gary Bagley, New York Cares

New York Cares Volunteer Impact ProgramSince the report in February that volunteering numbers are down in the U.S., I have spent much of my time telling well-meaning people poised to make a call to service to please put down the bullhorn. A call to service is important, but a greater problem needs to be addressed first – improving the ability of nonprofits, schools, and community groups to engage volunteers strategically to drive impact.

At New York Cares, we think of volunteers as employees who get ‘paid’ with something other than money. That ‘something else’ may be different for each of us. Regardless, the same tenets that make for top-notch HR practices hold true for volunteer management. If a business mismanages its employees, it will lose them. New York Cares was founded in 1987, expressly because so many schools and nonprofits lack staff, money and know-how to involve volunteers effectively, if at all.

Our strategies are twofold:

  • We provide free volunteer management to our Community Partners, allowing them to outsource their volunteer needs to us, at no cost to them or their clients.We have fulltime staff who manage every program detail. They diagnose community partner needs, develop programs, create curricula, buy supplies, and recruit and train volunteers and volunteer leaders.
  • We also train Community Partners to grow programs by leveraging volunteers. In 2012, we launched our Volunteer Impact Program (VIP) to go beyond our outsourcing model. During the three-year pilot phase, we developed multi-year volunteer management plans with 15 Community Partners and provided ongoing training and staff support for achieving the goals. The results were dramatic. Our VIP participants from Year One had a 138% increase in the number of volunteer projects, compared to a 29% increase in non-participating Community Partners. We are committed to scaling up our VIP work by expanding to more nonprofits through a combination of training and consulting services with New York Cares. These VIP results reaffirm our belief that the question is not whether volunteers are willing and available, but rather, how to better prepare organizations to engage volunteers well.

By the way, the numbers may be down nationally, but this is not the case at New York Cares. We orient approximately 18,000 new volunteers annually, and this number is holding strong.

Thank you to all of New York Cares’ volunteers, current and future, who are committed to making NYC a better place to live for all New Yorkers.

Gary Bagley is Executive Director of New York Cares. He is responsible for more than tripling annual volunteer service delivery, filling more than 150,000 volunteer positions on 18,000 projects and serving over 1,300 nonprofit organizations and schools last year. If you would like to read more of his musings, go here or follow him on Twitter at @GBagley_NYCares.

People Make the Difference: Explore a Year of Impact

Everyone should have the chance to make a difference – wouldn’t you agree?

That’s why VolunteerMatch makes it easier for people to connect with the causes they care about.

Explore the 2013 VolunteerMatch Annual Impact Report

To take a look at how far we have come, it is a pleasure to share with you VolunteerMatch’s Annual Impact Report – a graphic look at people and causes, like your organization, who are making a difference.

Last year was an important time for us: we re-launched www.VolunteerMatch.org with a one-of-a-kind recommendations engine, overhauled our workplace group management services, ventured onto your mobile phone, and pushed our entire technical infrastructure into the cloud.

And it worked. The improvements helped us power almost a billion dollars’ worth of volunteer service in 2013. And together, we can do even more.

Don’t worry, we’ll dive into each of the sections of this awesome infographic in detail, but for now, enjoy exploring the impact we made together last year – and join in as we create impact in 2014 that exceeds all expectations.

Click here to explore the 2013 VolunteerMatch Annual Impact Report!

How to Deepen Your Impact by Engaging Skilled Volunteers

Our recent announcement of a new partnership to automatically post all skilled volunteer listings from the VolunteerMatch network to LinkedIn’s Volunteer Marketplace has shed a serious spotlight on the importance and potential of skilled volunteering. Check out this special series of posts exploring skilled volunteering as a category, a strategy, and, of course, an inspiration for greater impact.

How to deepen engagement by recruiting skilled volunteers for your nonprofitSo, with the help of VolunteerMatch and LinkedIn, you have a (free!) tool at your disposal for recruiting awesome skilled volunteers to support your nonprofit with important, high-impact projects.

But where do you start? What outcomes would be most valuable? How do you work out those nuts and bolts like screening, security, and accountability? Would something like this even be worthwhile for your organization to pursue?

Start by allowing yourself to think big for a minute. What could your organization achieve, if you had no funding and operational limits? What pain points have you grown so used to, that you’ve forgotten they could be different? What have you dreamed of doing but never thought possible? You’re doing good work, but couldn’t your impact be expanded?

Maybe your website does the job, but just barely. Or your logo and branding aren’t keeping up with the design-centric world we live in, and no longer gets the attention or respect you want for your nonprofit. There might be some really juicy data that you could share with potential donors, but can’t extract from your messy database. Perhaps you’ve tried your hand at social media marketing and PR, but nothing seems to work and you still only have a few followers. Or maybe you’ve been dreaming about that perfect fundraising event, but have no idea where to start…

As the wheels start turning, consider whether your organization could benefit from expertise in some of these areas:

  • Graphic and Web design
  • Accounting
  • Marketing
  • Social Media
  • Database management
  • Event planning
  • HR
  • Branding and messaging
  • IT
  • Market research
  • Strategic planning

The list goes on and on. Once you have your project in mind, and you’ve got some other members of your team on board with the idea of working with skilled volunteers, here are some things to think about as you get started.

Finding the Right Volunteer for the Job

It doesn’t hurt to cast a wide net. Post the opportunity on VolunteerMatch and select the desired skill set, and we’ll share the listing with 300 million skilled professionals on LinkedIn’s Volunteer Marketplace. Be sure to make your listing as clear and detailed as possible. The more volunteers know up front, the more likely they’ll be to seriously consider getting involved. Keep in mind that this is a professional relationship, and it should be approached in much the same way as hiring a paid staff person or service provider.

In addition to posting on VolunteerMatch, look at who you have in your existing team of volunteers. Do any of them have the skills you’re looking for? Spread the word in your volunteer newsletter about an exciting new way to get involved. You can also approach local businesses, universities, and professional groups. Many of these people will jump at the chance to hone their own professional skills for a good cause while expanding their network at the same time.

Screening Candidates

Are you wary of handing over your organization’s sensitive information for security reasons? Good! You should be! But that doesn’t mean there’s not a smart way to do it. Even if there isn’t any security risk associated with your project, you still want to screen candidates to make sure they’ll be reliable, trustworthy, and actually have the skills and experience to do a good job. Ask for resumes, conduct interviews, check their references, run background checks.

Remember that you don’t want just anyone. Engaging the wrong volunteer could result in wasted time and resources for everyone. If you don’t think someone is the best person for the role, tell them just that.

Defining the Project and Managing Expectations

When you’re engaging a volunteer to support you with a complex project or task, it’s important to lay everything out on the table. Put the desired outcomes down in writing, along with a proposed timeline and designated check-in points. Each party should sign a letter of agreement or memorandum of understanding (MoU). Everyone should be on the same page from the start about what a successful completion will look like. Then, you can take a step back and let everyone do what they do best.

Embarking on big projects with skilled volunteers can be daunting, especially if you’ve never engaged volunteers on this level before, or if you tried it once and things didn’t go so well. But professionals today have so much value to share with the nonprofit community, and when approached in the right way, skilled volunteering relationships can be rewarding for everyone involved–your organization, your volunteers, and those you serve.

Does your organization engage skilled volunteers to achieve greater impact? Tell us about it!