Make New Friends and Give Back in Austin, TX

If you haven’t heard of the Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) hosted by NTEN, then you should check it out and register. A couple thousand nonprofit professionals coming together to discuss how to make the most of technology? Yes, please!

Join VolunteerMatch at the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference Day of Service.

VolunteerMatch is proud to be sponsoring the Day of Service at this year’s NTC. Throughout the conference, there will be volunteer opportunities for you to share your skills with Austin, TX area nonprofits. And this year, we’ve expanded the Days of Service program at the 15NTC to include virtual volunteering opportunities, so you can give back before the conference, too!

A Call for Projects

Are you an Austin-based organization that could use some help either in person between March 3-6, 2015, or virtually in advance of the conference? We would love to hear from you! Please add your organization’s volunteer opportunity to our “Days of Service” project. All you need to do is the following:

  • Create an account – be sure to register as a nonprofit looking for volunteers.
  • Suggest an opportunity – use the ‘Add a Project’ form to share your organization’s volunteer opportunity with the NTC Community.

Please note that you can post multiple opportunities from the same organization. Kindly include a link with the project suggestion and include contact information for the person leading the volunteer opportunity. That will help us and attendees better connect with you.

In order to make these opportunities as rewarding as possible for both the organization and the 15NTC attendees, we ask that projects consider the following guidelines:

  • The volunteer time commitment between March 3-6 needs to be limited to no more than 2 hours per day and must be suitable for groups of 2 or more.
  • In-person volunteer opportunities must be easily accessible from the Austin Conference Center on foot, public transit, or using a transport mode that the organization can provide to/from the Convention Center.
  • Virtual opportunities are also welcome, with specifics on how volunteers will connect with the organization (e.g., Skype, Google Hangout, listserv).
  • Virtual opportunities can begin ahead of the conference.

So spread the word to any Austin-based nonprofits you know! And if you’re a 15NTC attendee looking to volunteer while in Austin, you can sign up for an opportunity here.

We hope to see you (volunteering!) at the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference!

How to Understand Your Volunteers’ Attitudes

Guest post by Haley Myers, Volunteer Program Assessment

Understanding your volunteers' attitudes.Understanding volunteer attitudes and engagement is important for any nonprofit organization. Engaged volunteers are likely to be less stressed and more psychologically healthy. In addition, they feel a sense of commitment to their organization and can foster positive relationships with paid staff, which can have implications for the organization as a whole.

Most importantly, understanding the perspective of the volunteer can provide insight into the larger volunteer program – what components are working well and what may need some attention.

Techniques for Assessing Attitudes & Engagement

The two most popular techniques for assessing attitudes and engagement of volunteers are interviews and surveys. Interviews can provide detailed and nuanced information, but are time consuming; it not only takes time to sit down one-on-one with volunteers, but combing through the resulting data can be messy and tedious. In addition, interviews can be subject to the biases of the interviewer – their interpretations of the information can be influenced by their own pre-conceived ideas of the strengths and weaknesses of the volunteer program.

Surveys represent a much easier mechanism for gathering information on volunteer attitudes and engagement. Surveys are the best way to gather information from a large number of volunteers in a short amount of time. Similarly, interpreting the results is more straight-forward than sifting through the qualitative data from interviews. Once the survey is created, it is easy to replicate on an annual or semi-annual basis, as some organizations may want to track engagement trends over time.

Creating a Volunteer Attitudes & Engagement Survey

Your organization can create your own volunteer attitudes and engagement survey. Some online platforms like Survey Monkey or Zoomerang allow organizations to administer surveys free-of-charge. However, larger nonprofit organizations may face some challenges with these tools because they cap the maximum number of responses for the free versions. In addition, the content of a home-grown attitudes and engagement surveys can lack normative information and support materials. Consulting firms can offer those materials, but will most likely create a financial burden for nonprofit organizations who are already strapped for resources – a simple volunteer engagement survey could run upwards of $10,000.

Another option is to apply for the Volunteer Program Assessment (VPA) at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. VPA is a validated, cutting-edge volunteer attitudes and engagement survey that contains dimensions suggested to be important in the current employee engagement literature. Trained VPA consultants work one-on-one with nonprofit organizational leaders to collect the data using the survey, interpret the results, and develop recommendations to increase organizational effectiveness. Above all, these services are completely free thanks to scholarships funded by grants.

To learn more about VPA, you can visit vpa.uncc.edu or email volprogram@uncc.edu for more information.

Haley Myers is Co-Director of the Volunteer Program Assessment and a member of the Organizational Science Program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Why I’m Thankful for My Nonprofit Internship

Guest post by Dylan Manderlink

How nonprofit internships can be valuable for young people.Over the course of my four years of college, I had the privilege to intern at five different nonprofit organizations, all of whom were dedicated to different causes. From my tour relations internship position at a human rights nonprofit in LA, to my marketing internship at a nonprofit’s national headquarters in Boston, I gained a depth of insight that has informed my career decisions in the nonprofit sector.

No matter how different my tasks have been at the internships I’ve held, with each one I have gained a meaningful perspective on nonprofit work and the impact the sector can have on our communities. Given my young age, in each internship I was given a considerable amount of responsibility and mobility within the organization. I felt valued, not just as an intern, but as a part of their staff and movement as a whole.

Now that I am a recent post-grad working my first “real world” job, I can step back and really appreciate the professional and personal growth I experienced while interning in various nonprofits. Here are a few ways my nonprofit internships prepared me for my post-grad life and first job:

1. Nonprofits understand that time is precious and deadlines are important to their organization and cause. Because of this, I learned how to optimize the time I had. In my previous internships, whether I was there for a half-day or the full 9-5, I knew I had no time to waste. Now, that’s not to say that I felt rushed or stressed out at all. Instead, I felt additionally motivated by the urgency and importance of our work.

2. Nonprofits were forgiving if I made mistakes. My employers would take time to coach me, and by doing so, fostered my personal growth. At each nonprofit I interned with, I felt valued, appreciated and empowered as an employee. I have had several friends who interned at large for-profit companies who felt dissatisfied with how they were treated as an intern. I remember them commenting on always having to run errands, do menial tasks, and not have opportunities to build relationships with the staff they worked alongside. On the contrary, in my nonprofit internships I felt like I was constantly given additional responsibilities. In fact, many of those responsibilities were outside my comfort zone or area of familiarity.

3. I always felt like my higher-ups and co-workers took time to get to know me, my interests and passions, and my life outside of work. I noticed how welcoming, supportive, and empowering the nonprofit work culture is. Now, in my first post-grad job, I take the initiative to relationship-build with my fellow co-workers because I know how important that is in a work environment. I also actively seek areas where I can foster personal growth. I value finding mentors, welcoming opportunities to learn from my mistakes, and asking my co-workers to evaluate my performance.

4. Nonprofits promote and embody the notion that ‘it takes a village.’ I think one of the main reasons why I felt constantly empowered as an intern was because the nonprofit culture understands that each person’s contribution and effort is invaluable. Each employee, no matter your status or job title, is vital in promoting the cause that your organization fights for. Together, we have the power to make a real difference – within the organization, our community, and society at large. In my current job, I try channeling the ‘it takes a village belief’ everyday. I do this by:

  • Asking for help from my co-workers.
  • Vocalizing my appreciation for my co-workers and the hard work they do everyday.
  • Thanking others for their contributions to our staff’s overall goal.

It’s important to remember that we wouldn’t be able to do our jobs effectively without each other. I definitely learned that notion of staff unity from the internship experiences I had in college.

5. Nonprofits value a young voice and recognize the potential and eagerness of 20-somethings. As a recent post-grad, I was nervous about being hired at such a young age, and if organizations would question me given the little experience I’ve had. Even when these job insecurities and worries were overwhelming, I remember how appreciative my nonprofit staffs were when they realized that I was still in college and had so much passion and dedication to social change and nonprofit work. They viewed my age and paired eagerness as a pro, rather than seeing my age as something that signified inexperience.

Although there are many more benefits of having nonprofit internship experience as an undergrad, the advantages and skills I have highlighted are ones that have greatly impacted me in my first job as a college graduate.

The multiplicity of skills and diverse knowledge of the workforce that I have gained through my five nonprofit internships have given me a unique but practical perspective on the nonprofit sector. Rather than experiencing a tidal wave of worries following my college graduation, I felt hopeful, motivated, and ready to enter my first job and start pursuing my desired career.

So, if you’re a nonprofit employee who is thinking about hiring on an intern, I would highly encourage and support your decision to do so. As a previous nonprofit intern, I am tremendously thankful for the personal and professional growth I experienced while interning. The nonprofit internships I held helped inform my post-grad career decisions, and are professional experiences I will always reflect on when looking to better myself as an employee and as a community member.

My charge to nonprofit professionals is to recognize college students’ idealism, passion and fire to spark change. Along with recognizing these things, make room for them to be an asset and part of your organization. The confidence that my nonprofit coworkers encouraged concerning my age, idealism and commitment to social justice, is just what I needed when entering the workforce. This similar notion is something nonprofit professionals can embody within their own staffs and use to inspire young people to get more involved in the nonprofit sector.

Does your organization work with young interns? Tell us about your experiences below!

Dylan Manderlink is a recent graduate of Emerson College in Boston, Mass., who with a self-designed major, Investigative Theatre for Social Change. She is now a Teach for America corps member, teaching high school in rural Arkansas. She is passionate about working in the nonprofit sector and providing educational opportunities for students to creatively inform themselves and others about social justice, community change and human rights.

What Does Your First Date with a Volunteer Look Like?

Guest post by Robert Grabel, Training for Good

A client recently shared that they had been trying to connect with a volunteer that had approached them. She had enthusiastically contacted the organization and there was a quick discussion.
How to have a first date with a volunteer to help make sure there's a second.

After that first meeting the dialogue – or should I say “almost dialogue” evolved into a game of cat and mouse. Despite the volunteer director’s phone calls and emails and the prospective volunteer’s few attempted returns (reportedly, a 3/1 ratio), they had to accept that it was not to be. Something was out of sync and and they couldn’t figure out what.

While in romance and perhaps a few other things in life, the chase is as exciting as the catch, not so when it comes to volunteer engagement. Perhaps it’s a stretch, but maybe there are a few parallels here:

  • Both parties come together with lots of expectations
  • Those expectations often aren’t expressed up front (and sometimes not until it’s too late) and;
  • Communication is key!

I’m sure there are other similarities, but I think these are good starters. This got me thinking:

What are the best questions to ask a potential volunteer on an initial meeting?

In other words, what are some things you (as the organization) should ask on that all-important first date to ensure a second? Here are my suggestions:

  1. What got you interested in volunteering with us? Are you looking at similar opportunities with other organizations? (Translation: Are we special? Are you looking for a commitment? Or, are you playing the field and checking out other options?)
  2. Are there special skills you’re looking to utilize with us? (Fairly standard: What do you bring to this relationship? Taking it a step further, are we going to be able to keep you busy doing what you do?)
  3. Are there skills YOU are looking to develop? Are there experiences YOU are looking to have? (These two are my favorites because they say WE CARE ABOUT YOU, not just what you can do for us. Backed up with sincerity, this mindset keeps volunteers engaged and part of your organization)
  4. Would you consider taking on a leadership role if the opportunity was right? (This re-affirms their long-term interest and speaks to the critical question of leadership succession. Committed, active volunteers with a stake in your future are your leaders of tomorrow)
  5. What’s the most effective way to build our relationship? How can we be sure we’re meeting your expectations? And what’s an effective way for us to give you feedback? (This gets to the heart of the communication issue and sets a platform for honesty and continued growth)

At the core, these questions speak to an organization’s mutual interest in the volunteer’s experience, growth and long-term prospects with an organization. While I can’t guarantee every first date approached this way will mean a second, you’ll at least feel confident asking.

I’d love to hear what works for you. Please share your “first date” experiences in the comments below!

Robert Grabel is the President of Training for Good, a consultancy that trains charities to become business development experts consistently generating new leads and developing rewarding relationships. Robert has over 25 years of professional experience split equally between business & finance and the nonprofit sector and has held Senior Leadership roles at the Cabrini Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, Volunteers of America Greater New York, Turnaround for Children, The American Heart Association and Spoons Across America. You can follow Robert on Twitter and on his blog.

The Fine Art of Facilitating Orientations

Guest post by Elisa Kosarin, Twenty Hats

The fine art of facilitation.This post was originally published on Twenty Hats.

When you facilitate an orientation, remember it’s you running the show.

Do you hold an orientation for new volunteers? If you do – and if you have held a bunch of them, you have probably seen it all.

I know I have. As someone who has led over 65 prospective volunteer orientations (and counting!), I remember the early days of hosting these events. Back in the day it was not uncommon to witness:

  • Audience members who dominated the conversion, leaving everyone else to shift around in their seats impatiently.
  • Speakers who veered away from their talking points, creating misconceptions about the program.
  • Presenters who droned on so long that there was no time left to cover all the material.

All of these scenarios undermined the impact of my orientation – something I could not afford, as my program needed a great many volunteers. So instead of refining my agenda or choosing different speakers, I chose to develop the one ability certain to turn things around, my facilitation skills.

If you are new to facilitation, or if you seek to hone your skills, here are my essentials.

My four favorite facilitation tips:

  1. Run the show. As the facilitator, you are the leader. Don’t give your power over to the audience or the speakers. You have the right to jump in and redirect the conversation at any time.
  2. Give your speakers a heads up. Tell your speakers what you expect them to cover and how long they have to speak, and give them a heads up that you may interrupt if time runs out.
  3. Manage the long-winded guests. If someone dominates the Q & A, it’s fine to say “Let’s hear from other guests” and direct your attention to another part of the audience.
  4. Save some questions for afterwards. If the questions are coming fast and you need to cover more material, let folks know that you are available to answer their questions individually when the presentation ends.

Please Weigh In

What do you think of these top four? If you have your own Point of View on facilitation, please share it here or send me an email at TwentyHats@mail.com. I am creating a facilitation tip sheet, and I would love to include the collective wisdom of my colleagues on this topic – and credit you all for your input.

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.