A Case Study: What We Learned From the #WhyIVolunteer Photo Contest

#WhyIVolunteer Photo ContestAs a general rule, photos are far more effective tools than words for communicating your organization’s story. But after this summer’s #WhyIVolunteer Photo Contest, we’ve started thinking: why not have both?

For VolunteerMatch, the #WhyIVolunteer Photo Contest was the first social media campaign of its kind that we’ve attempted. In an initiative to generate personal stories from actual VolunteerMatch users, we asked the volunteers in our online communities to submit a photo of their service in action and one sentence explaining why they volunteer.

As entries rolled in to our Facebook and Pinterest accounts, others could vote on their favorite. The submission with the highest number of combined Likes and Repins would get the winning volunteer and their nonprofit featured in our September spotlights on the VolunteerMatch homepage.

Dr. John Ness and Love Without Boundaries

” Working 12-14 hours a day on ‘vacation’ to repair the broken smiles of orphaned infants so that they can have a new chance to be joined with a forever family…is the most profoundly humbling experience I have known.” ~ Dr. John Ness

The response was overwhelming.

During the month-long contest, we received over double our target number of submissions. Every day, we were blown away by these volunteers’ inspiring images and messages. And from a communications perspective, the contest was an unexpected boon. Not only did it provide us with dozens of visual testimonials to the importance of volunteering, the campaign also allowed us to regularly engage with our online communities.

As we discovered this summer, a contest like this is a great way to tell your story, interact with your audience and acquire visual evidence of your impact that can be used long-term. Here’s what we learned:

Lay out your goals in advance.

With the #WhyIVolunteer Photo Contest, VolunteerMatch primarily aimed to grow our online networks, specifically our newly-launched Pinterest, and collect great photos that could be used in later social media, blog posts, newsletters and other initiatives. These goals informed all our decisions when designing the campaign, and helped us to more precisely target members of the VolunteerMatch community.

Remember: social media can be great, but a campaign with no real direction can feel flimsy and inauthentic. If you outline your goals before launching a social media contest, it will not only be a more precise and dynamic initiative, but it will also be easier to run.

Define your audience.

Jen Kiblinger volunteers with puppies.

“#WhyIVolunteer – The chance to help dogs and the people whose lives they change…that and the endless supply of puppy kisses!” ~ Jen Kiblinger

VolunteerMatch engages with three main communities: volunteers, nonprofits and corporations. The #WhyIVolunteer Photo Contest targeted two of these.

By providing incentives for both nonprofits and volunteers, the campaign encouraged organizations to engage their volunteers and asked individuals to promote their preferred organization.

We knew that volunteers love talking about nonprofits they’re passionate about, and that every individual likes recognition for his or her contribution. The contest’s design spoke to these impulses. When designing your social media campaign, consider who it is you’d like to engage — and what that community really wants.

Make it easy to participate.

We’ve all been there. Something on the Internet excites you — a contest, an event, a “free” iPod giveaway — and you click, only to realize that getting involved is far more work than the payoff is worth. When asking individuals to submit to your contest, make it as little work as possible. The response will be much more enthusiastic.

This also goes for publicizing the campaign. When VolunteerMatch asked its member nonprofits to participate, we provided ready-to-use language for organizations to post to their Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other online media. Eliminate an extra step and your community is much more likely to join the fun.

Be prepared for roadblocks.

About a week into the #WhyIVolunteer Photo Contest, I came to the unfortunate revelation that our #WhyIVolunteer tag on Pinterest was not trackable. That meant that no matter how many photos were uploaded to our Pinterest album with that tag, a search for “#WhyIVolunteer” yielded zero results. There was no way of knowing if others had been posting their submissions to Pinterest.

Katelin Dutton and BeadsforLife

“This is a photo of Milly Nakayi and her pea selling business. (Milly in center) I loved interning for BeadforLife, because I helped to empower women by telling their success stories.” ~ Katelin Dutton

As a major goal of the campaign was to expand our Pinterest network, this news was disappointing. But from there on out, we stopped emphasizing Pinterest as a way to enter the contest. Instead, it served more as a platform for voting on submissions and showcasing the contest.

During any online campaign, there are bound to be one or two issues. To avoid these, make sure all your technologies and social media are functioning as you expect them to, and don’t be afraid of obstacles. Tweaking the contest halfway through can be tough, but it’s crucial that you’re ready to do so.

Know how to wrap it up.

Within a week of the contest’s end, we had announced the winners, written up the spotlights and asked other entrants to sign photo release forms. That way, participants were still interested and engaged as we concluded the campaign. Key to wrapping up the contest was having photo release forms ready to go, so that willing participants could allow VolunteerMatch the right to use their submission in future communications initiatives.

Before you launch your campaign, think about how to end it and what you’ll need to efficiently get the best results possible. Whether that’s a simple announcement or an awards ceremony, planning in advance will ensure that the contest concludes as smoothly as possible.

A new social media initiative can ignite new interest in your organization and remind engaged community members why they love what you do. For VolunteerMatch, a Facebook- and Pinterest-based photo contest targeting nonprofits and individual volunteers was an ideal setup. So, what kind of campaign suits your organization best?

Check out the submissions to our #WhyIVolunteer Photo Contest here. The winner, Dr. John Ness, and the nonprofit where he volunteers, Love Without Boundaries, are featured in our volunteer and nonprofit spotlights this month.

Big thank you to all the participants of the #WhyIVolunteer Photo Contest, all the organizations doing such amazing work, and all the volunteers who give their time, expertise and passion to make it happen!

Volunteers Can Tell Your Story in the #WhyIVolunteer Photo Contest!

Got volunteers? Here’s an opportunity for stellar volunteers to tell their stories—and yours!

Between now and August 24th, we’re hosting the #WhyIVolunteer Photo Contest. It’s an online competition designed to recognize these volunteers and the outstanding organizations they serve.

Here’s what your volunteers will need:

  • A photo of their volunteer work in action.
  • One sentence explaining why they volunteer.

All your volunteers have to do is post their photo and sentence on our Facebook or Pinterest with the #WhyIVolunteer tag.

We’ll be sharing these inspiring stories on our Facebook and Pinterest throughout the competition. The individual whose story gets the most Likes and repins will be featured in a Volunteer Spotlight on our homepage for the month of September. Even better, we’ll highlight that volunteer’s organization (that means you!) in our Nonprofit Spotlight.

We all know how important visibility is in the nonprofit sector. Why not get your volunteers to tell your story? Reach out to your supporters and invite them to enter the #WhyIVolunteer Photo Contest.

Check out our ready-to-use language for Facebook, Twitter, newsletters and other social media here.

Pinterest For Nonprofits: Four Tips For Effective Pinning

VolunteerMatch has found a home over at Pinterest — and we want you to join us!

With well over 100 million users, Pinterest is now the third largest social media site, after Facebook and Twitter. It’s a site where users share images by “pinning” photos and videos to their boards to share with other users. And we think nonprofits can use it to engage volunteers.

Personal, aspirational and optimistic, Pinterest can offer potential volunteers a look behind the scenes, inspiration and tangible evidence of your impact. As a platform for visual storytelling, Pinterest can help you connect with potential and current volunteers. It can also direct a ton of traffic to your website, as pins link back to their original source.

Check out these tips for nonprofits on Pinterest:

Focus on your impact.
More and more, nonprofit volunteers, donors and supporters want to know exactly how your organization makes a difference. They’re more likely to volunteer, donate and fundraise if your nonprofit clearly displays its impact.

Pinterest can be an effective way to get your message across. Images and videos of your work will fit right into the positive mood of the website and inspire followers to join your cause.

It’s not all about you.
Social media is often pegged as a product of a narcissistic era. While a lot of social sites center on a “look at me” attitude, Pinterest is based more on a “look at this” philosophy.

Make sure you follow other nonprofits, individuals and volunteers within your organization’s space. By highlighting their work in addition to your own, you’ll avoid over-promotion and retain the sense of optimistic camaraderie that characterizes Pinterest. It’s also a great way to thank those that support you — whether that’s through volunteering, donating or simply repinning your posts.

Pull back the curtain.
Pinterest operates on individual-to-individual connections. Users value personalization over promotion, so it’s important to give your organization a human face.

Offer your followers a behind-the-scenes look at your nonprofit. By featuring your staff, volunteers and those your organization affects, you’ll give your organization a personality. Your nonprofit will be more appealing and more likely to attract new supporters and volunteers.

Start a conversation.

While images and videos are the backbone of Pinterest, you can further connect with followers by using words. Use Pinterest’s caption, tag and comment options to really start a discussion with your audience.

Explain exactly what’s happening in a photo, and use relevant tags to help people find your pins. Comment on other people and organizations’ pins, directly engaging them in conversation. These are great ways to increase your visibility, make your pins easier to find and connect with your supporters.

Find our Pinterest here!

For more tips on Pinterest for nonprofits, check out these articles by Mashable and John Haydon.

Does Your Nonprofit Have A Great Tagline? Enter the 2012 ‘Taggies!’

When we think about messaging, we often focus on logos and other visual aspects of a brand.

But according to marketing and communications consultant Nancy Schwartz, 71% of nonprofits lack an organizational tagline or rate theirs as ineffective. The mind behind nonprofit marketing blog Getting Attention, Nancy hopes to raise awareness about the importance of taglines and highlight nonprofits that are getting theirs right.

“A relevant tagline does double-duty—working to extend an organization’s name and mission, while delivering a memorable and motivating message to the people whose help it needs,” Nancy says.

That’s why she’s hosting the 2012 Nonprofit Tagline Awards, a competition designed to inspire and guide nonprofits to make the most out of your messaging. Effective taglines connect quickly and strongly with your target audiences, and the Nonprofit Tagline Awards — the Taggies — will recognize the best of the best. All nonprofits and libraries are encouraged to enter.

This year’s Taggies feature five categories of tagline: organizational, program, advocacy campaign, fundraising campaign and special event. You can submit up to five separate taglines — one to each category. Enter your taglines now!

As a bonus, all entrants will be granted access to a free webinar with Nancy on nonprofit messaging: Aha! Messages — 4 Ways to Test Message Relevance.

Last year, the Taggies attracted 2,700 excellent entries and we’re sure this year’s will be even more impressive. We’d especially like to encourage you to submit taglines related to volunteering. Try submitting the tagline from your last big volunteer event to the “special event” category, or enter the slogan for your overall volunteer program as a “program” tagline!

Please take three minutes to enter your nonprofit’s taglines today. You can also follow the Taggies on Twitter with the hashtag #taggies12.

Get to Know Our New Intern

Nice to meet youHello! I’m Gina Cargas and I’m the new Communications & Social Media Intern at VolunteerMatch. While I’m only here for the summer, I’m looking forward to working with and learning from the communications and marketing team in order to connect people to causes.

I’ve just finished up my second year at Cornell University, where I’m studying Comparative Literature with minors in French and Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies. In my spare time, I write and edit for two Ithaca-based publications, teach French to kids, ride my bike and harangue freshmen into joining my housing cooperative.

I was born and raised in San Francisco, and I’m delighted to be spending another summer working in my hometown’s nonprofit community. Last year, I spent three months as an intern at 826 Valencia, a local writing nonprofit dedicated to supporting students age 6-18 and teachers of the literary arts. At 826 Valencia I coordinated the 2011 8/26 Day Write-a-thon, taught writing courses to kids, and engaged in the organization’s outreach and marketing efforts. I look forward to applying this experience, as well as my writing background, to my work at VolunteerMatch.

As the Communications & Social Media intern at VolunteerMatch, I’ll be learning from — and becoming one of — the voices of the VolunteerMatch team. I’ll be writing, researching and creating for the many different channels connecting our team with the nonprofit, volunteering and CSR worlds. I’ll act as a link between VolunteerMatch and our wider network, providing you with the information, news and knowledge you need.

VolunteerMatch is a community of inspiring professionals committed to connecting good people with good causes. I’m so excited to join the team and I look forward to getting to know you in the upcoming months!