Guest post by Ben Bisbee and Kathy Wisniewski
Welcome to part three of our “Volunteer Talent + Time Tracking” blog series — our introduction to the concept of progressive volunteer and human capital talent tracking. As you’ll recall, we began both parts one and two referencing Benjamin Franklin’s volunteer firehouse as both the organizational forefather to modern traditional volunteerism and skills-based volunteerism (SBV).
In part two, we also began by highlighting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quote “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve.” — a well known and powerful statement about volunteerism and service. But as we expressed, it’s also sometimes a crutch that indirectly reinforces the idea that all volunteers are “equal” and potentially “faceless”.
And this is where we want to begin our final post on talent and time tracking. Before we do, we want to thank you for reading this series and conclude by exploring and inspiring you to think very differently about another layer of the volunteer management experience: recruitment, retention, and recognition. Ways that, at first, might feel unrealistic and uncomfortable, but (we promise) will help bring your program into the 21st century.
We believe Dr. King’s quote serves as a reminder that service and volunteerism are opportunities for everyone. And as we expressed in part two, oftentimes this quote gives us and our organizations the continued license to look at all volunteers as “the same”.
But we get it; thinking of our volunteers as a body of one is comforting. It’s also easy. But it’s also lazy.
Did we say lazy?
Yeah, sorry. And hey, while we love the idea of oneness, we think it should stem from a very different quote: “unity in diversity,” an idea that dates back to ancient times in both western and eastern cultures based on an understanding that each of our differences enriches our oneness and our human contributions and interactions.
If you think about it, in the nonprofit sector, we’ve been practicing “unity through diversity” with a certain contributing group since the beginning of our existence: that’s right, donors.
Let’s talk about the universe of donors for a moment (we promise we’re headed somewhere enlightened).
In the realm of development, no donor is alike — or at least — all donors are never alike. We have major gift donors, online donors, planned giving donors, legacy donors, corporate donors, foundation donors, family foundation donors, in-kind donors… the list goes on.
And in most organizations, there is a threshold in which a donor is considered a “major” donor, whether it be for a $500 gift, $1,000 gift, or whatever dollar amount the organization chooses. Once a person reaches “major donor” status — either as a one-time gift or in a monthly/sustainer model — the relationship changes, morphing into something that is viewed as somehow more important, more valuable, more worthy of our attention. Major donors are often sent different types of communications than other donors. Their phone calls are immediately accepted. They are invited more lavishly to events and special occasions. They have crossed that great divide into “VIP” status.
This isn’t just an industry norm, it’s smart relationship management. It’s good to pay attention to people who choose to invest a large amount of money into our organization. It’s beneficial to the future of the relationship to send them targeted communications that explain the impact the organization is making because of gifts like theirs. It’s wise to take their phone calls and involve them in as many organizational events as possible to show off more of your organization and keep them passionately invested.
But why is this model only practiced with donors?
As we addressed in part two, we have once again convinced ourselves that only financial contributions are worthy, that supporting donors is implicit, and still, that relationship investments for volunteers are burdensome because they are “free”.
Thankfully, this is where the practice of talent + time tracking intends to open minds and doors, and change the way we see volunteerism.
We believe it starts (and as the third and final blog post of this series — ends) with the classic 3Rs of volunteer management:
It should come as no shock that recruiting volunteers by simply saying “Hey, we need volunteers!” may return a few volunteers for your effort, but not many. We also know retaining volunteers by saying, “You’re such a great volunteer — here are a few free cheeseballs and a fridge filled with diet soda,” may also work for a while, but doesn’t offer much inspiration for them to continue supporting your mission. While recognizing volunteers by saying “Hey, every volunteer at xyz organization, thanks for everything you accomplished this year!” is short-sighted and lazy.
We promise, there is a better way! Just as is done with the solicitation, retention, and recognition of a major donor, there is a level of intention, planning, and management necessary to develop and sustain relationships with volunteers. This same donor methodology should apply to volunteer programs.
Your organization is in need of volunteers for various assignments. You’ve taken the time to explore where you need additional help, you’ve talked to the appropriate staff members, you know exactly what those positions are, and you’ve drafted the position descriptions. The avenues you choose to recruit volunteers to fill these positions are endless. Maybe it’s attending a volunteer fair, or posting on your website, speaking at a community event, or utilizing a volunteer recruitment site like VolunteerMatch.
But how you draft that call for volunteers will make all the difference in the world. It’s much like reading an ad for a job or a donation solicitation. Do you want to apply for a job that says “Hey, we’re looking for a Director of Marketing. You should come work for us! Apply today!” Probably not. And would a donor be compelled to donate just because you say “Our organization is great! Donate today!” Unlikely.
Like with any invitation to “join” an organization, individuals want insight into the organization’s needs, the impact that the organization makes in the world, and how they factor into all of this. They want to know why working for or donating to this organization will enrich their lives as well as the life of the organization.
Volunteer recruitment is no different.
Our vision of talent + time tracking invites you to consider the following:
- Use the current and projected contributions of your volunteers to showcase thoughtful details and hard facts as to how your volunteer program impacts your mission and how you envision that impact growing with the addition of more or specific volunteers.
- Allow the stories and successes of your volunteer program to invite potential volunteers who may already be inherently drawn to your cause.
- Don’t just describe the role. Showcase the great work volunteers have done, how many people have been helped, how much money has been raised, and how their particular expertise will benefit all involved — including themselves.
- Extend the invitation to become a veritable partner with your organization and you are sure to win the hearts of a multitude of talented new volunteers.
Retention can be a tricky thing to figure out. But from our perspective, looking at how we treat donors showcases an organizational pathway to success that’s clear and simple. It’s easy to see that if someone donates to an organization, and the donor never hears from the organization again, it’s likely they will not donate again. Donors want to know how their money is being used. They want to visualize their impact.
Smart organizations keep individuals informed and involved, updating them on accomplishments, creating “touch points” throughout the year, and strategically showcase how their contributions allow for a vision of future projects.
For volunteers, it should be the same.
Not to use the “L” word again, but lazy retention efforts in maintaining your volunteer corps will often put you in a place where you’re always recruiting because you’re rarely retaining. Our vision of talent + time tracking invites you to consider the following:
- Go beyond the traditional but generic “thank you” with your volunteers, and use the tracking of key volunteer efforts and performance measures to showcase the amazing work your volunteers do on a regular, consistent basis.
- Strategically find new ways to showcase volunteer efforts, hours, and key projects throughout the year — not just at an annual gathering or during National Volunteer Week.
- Just as you’re using organizational information and inspiration to recruit, use these same tactics to retain your volunteers with great frequency.
- Consider it your other-other job to prove to them that their investment has real-world meaning every day and in a variety of transformative ways.
This is our favorite area of all. Your volunteers are a fantastic group of people — unlike any others. They have done amazing work for your mission and your cause. They are making you money, they are saving you money, and they are a human extension of your mission and model. They deserve to be recognized smartly, strategically, and openly.
Like donors again, how volunteers want to be recognized is generally different from volunteer to volunteer. Some want very public recognition with medals and shout outs, their “name in lights” so to speak. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Others don’t require or quickly shun any recognition at all. And that’s ok too.
So we propose an approach that ensures you’ll please recognition seekers and non-seekers alike. Our vision of talent + time tracking invites you to consider the following:
- Show them their impact! Yup! That same information, those same numbers, those same stories of information and inspiration that you used to recruit and retain are the very same building blocks for recognition.
- If you’re the type of organization that gives out physical awards based on hours, consider highlighting the volunteer’s role and individual talents as well.
- But if you’re not the kind of organization who likes to call volunteers out by name or spotlight them online or in your newsletters, this is where you can utilize their roles and those associated talents to speak more broadly about their contributions without having to name names — just name titles and roles.
Fine. Sure, but can we get an example? Sure!
Old Method: “Thank you to all our volunteers! You make our organization what it is each and every day!”
Talent & Time Tracking: “We have a rich and diverse volunteer base. Our horticulture volunteers — all 28 of them — have been contributing 4 hours a week, supporting over 1,300 hours in the educational gardens this quarter alone engaged in weeding, planting, and educating visitors. And our 45 manor volunteers have given over 1,000 hours in tours so far, delighting people with over 2,000 hours of information and history! These combined volunteer efforts ultimately helped save our organization nearly $8,000!”
For literally hundreds of years now (thank you Benjamin Franklin!) we’ve been successfully and virtually exclusively tracking the hours contributed by our volunteers. The only change we hope to introduce for a modern volunteer program design is the additional art of tracking associated talents too. Yes, it might feel disruptive. Yes, it might seem strange at first. It might even bring on a sense of guilt (more on that in a moment). But it’s time.
The talents of our volunteers are often the virtual foundation and building blocks of our organizations. Their time is just that — hours devoted. It’s like we’ve been singing the praises of the miles driven, but never the car or the trip itself. That has to change. It’s time. (See what we did there?)
We know that on the surface, it might seem somewhat counterintuitive to attribute variable monetary values to volunteers. Or it might feel taxing to think about tracking talents when some of us still struggle with the basics of tracking time. But we need to stop avoiding the opportunity to grow and evolve just because we want all of our volunteers to feel equally special and equally valued or because new management tactics can seem daunting.
And we would even go so far to suggest that some of you aren’t even worried about those elements, and are instead feeling a certain sense of guilt about the transparency of asserting variables of value from volunteer to volunteer. But remember, no one feels guilty about the marketing executive making more money than the administrative assistant. And no one feels guilty about distinguishing between one-time donors, major donors, or five or six-figure level donors. In the same way, it’s ok to value one volunteer’s time higher than another based on the work they are doing in their role for your organization. The trick is to place the value on the roles, not necessarily on the individual. The value of each volunteer is the same. The value of their work is different. And rightfully so.
If implemented and managed, talent + time tracking will help to:
- Showcase the accurate and growing spectrum of financial contributions to your organization.
- Help you build a world-class SBV and human capital organizational model built on leveraging volunteers for a wealth of new cost-saving and money making roles.
- Take the associated talent tracking and use those metrics to dramatically enhance your recruitment, retention, and recognition efforts like never before.
Talent + time tracking is about elevating our volunteer programs to lucrative new heights professionally and organizationally. It’s about appropriately leveraging concrete evidence when speaking with stakeholders. This is information that can be reported back to your Board of Directors in an impressive way. This is information that can be included in annual reports and lists of accomplishments. This approach strongly demonstrates the value of your program as well as your value and progressive approach as the volunteer program manager. This builds the culture of unity in diversity. It’s a win-win situation where everyone not only feels valued, but is valued.
It’s time to stop making our industry just about time. It’s time to finally, to proudly, to professionally showcase our talents, too. Talent + time tracking will do this powerfully. We’ve always known that the secret to the successes of volunteer professionals has been our talents. And at the end of the day, we feel that time has finally come.
About the authors:
Ben Bisbee is founder + principal at Rhinocorn Consulting, focused on helping nonprofits to advance and design new strategies for successful fundraising, volunteer, engagement, partnership and CSR programs. Ben lives in NE Ohio and is married to his husband of 14yrs.
Kathy Wisniewski, CVA, is the Administrative Services Officer for the Histiocytosis Association and has spent most of her career in volunteer program design and management. Kathy lives in NJ with her husband of 7 years.