#GoodNews: Hashtags Can Help Your Volunteer Program

HashtagsFor many, Twitter is an overwhelming, almost scary digital universe. But once you manage to quash whatever basic fear you might be feeling, you’ll realize that Twitter presents exciting opportunities for nonprofit volunteer managers to help you promote, manage and develop your volunteer communities.

There is one tool in particular that can both make Twitter more usable and enhance your volunteer program’s presence in one fell swoop: hashtags. So below I’ll walk you through basic information about hashtags and some best practices.

What are Hashtags?

Hashtags are used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. They were actually created organically by Twitter users not long after Twitter began as a way to categorize messages.

The third party site hashtags.org has a good overview of popular hashtags. You can also see trends, look at some pretty graphs, and search to see if specific hashtags really exist.

Nonprofits use hashtags in all sorts of cool ways. We enthusiastically participate in the #FollowFriday tradition (variation: #FF), which is a way to spread the word about Twitter users you think other people should start following.

Hashtags have revolutionized the organizational challenges of disaster response – in fact, hashtags were first popularized in the wake of the San Diego wildfires in 2007. Hashtags are also used to increase engagement and organization during events, both online and off. For example, the #sm4np hashtag has been a major part of the Social Media for Nonprofits conference series over the past 6 months.

Finally, hashtags enable groups of people from all over to talk to each other remotely and at the same time – thus creating Twitter “chats.” #nptalk and #ttvolmgr (Thoughtful Thursdays for Volunteer Managers) are two of my personal favorites, and stay tuned in the New Year for an all new Twitter chat just for you volunteer managers.

How Should You Use Hashtags?

You can use hashtags to enhance several aspects of your role as a volunteer manager:

  • Recruitment
    There are thousands of people on Twitter looking to get involved in volunteering. Imagine if you could reach them with the needs of your organization. The right hashtag can help get you noticed by people who could become your next great volunteers. The #VolunTweet hashtag, which labels volunteer opportunities on Twitter, is a a great tool for this.
  • Coordination and management
    Running a big volunteer event? Create a hashtag and instruct your volunteers to follow it before and during the event. You can then use Twitter to talk to everyone at once, blasting out last minute changes and updates in seconds.You can also encourage your volunteers to Tweet during the event using the hashtag, automatically providing you with great first-person accounts and stories of impact to share later.
  • Professional development and news in the field
    Hashtags make it really easy to keep up with the exact topics you care about on Twitter. For example, if you’re interested in learning about volunteer management from the experts at VolunteerMatch, you can follow the #vmlearn hashtag for nuggets from the Education and Training team both during and after our free webinars.

Some other useful hashtags that are very popular in the nonprofit sector are #nptech (for “nonprofit technology” and #sm4sg (for “social media for social good.”)

  • Recognition
    With the potential for your message to go viral, Twitter is a great place to thank your volunteers for their hard work, and to show the world that you appreciate them. Using hashtags can ensure that this recognition reaches the right people. When thanking volunteers on Twitter, #volunteer is a good hashtag to use. Socialbrite provides a very useful flyer listing the “40 Hashtags for Social Good.” Personally, I have this one pinned up by my desk.

For more information on using hashtags, check out this great Mashable article. To get a bigger overview of using social media for volunteer engagement, sign up for a webinar (new 2012 dates just added!)

Do you use hashtags for your organization’s volunteer program? What are some of your favorites?

Photo by cambodia4kidsorg (thanks, Beth!)