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.

Unsung Listeners: The Story of Hotline Volunteers

Guest Post by Marc Wong

Unsung Listeners - the story of hotline volunteersMeghan watches her mother finish a telephone call.

“Mommy, why are you crying?” she asks gently.

“I’m ok,” mommy sighs, “I’m ok.”

Meghan leaves the room and comes back moments later. “When I’m sad, I hold on to Mr. Brown,” she says, handing over a teddy bear to her mother.

On another occasion, Daddy is talking to Meghan about a tough decision he has to make.

“When I have to make a big choice, I ask Mr. Brown,” Meghan says.

“And what does Mr. Brown say?” asks Daddy.

“Nothing,” she says matter-of-factly. “He listens.”

Meghan’s actions give us a glimpse of what selfless, dedicated hotline volunteers do on a daily basis. Just like Meghan, volunteers do not judge. They do not advise. They do not solve problems. They do not interrogate. They do not point out your flawed thinking and actions so you can correct it. They do not tell you to look at the bright side or to be optimistic. And yes, sometimes they will just be quiet and let you speak. Volunteers honor and respect the callers’ thoughts and feelings and they offer their best with no strings attached.

When we look a little closer at Meghan’s words, we notice some other things: Despite her age, Meghan clearly knows something about sadness and making difficult choices. She even shares her life experience with her parents. Volunteers also bring their life experiences and considerable knowledge to each call. I don’t mean volunteers interrupt with their own stories the moment a caller pauses to take a breath. Volunteers are able to share by reaching into their own, sometimes painful, personal experience to understand what the caller is talking about, no more, no less.

Volunteers’ actions, like Meghan’s, are also gently supported by an unspoken sense of hope and decency. Implicit in Meghan’s words are the message that things will get better, that there is good in this world. This is not to say that volunteers pressure, or in any way impose their values or beliefs on the callers. Volunteers are not going to rush you to get “better”. They’re not even going to tell you what “better” means. Instead, they’ll be more than happy to hear what better means for YOU.

Volunteers earn their sense of hope from the knowledge and experience that their selfless work can bring relief. They don’t need to prove that there is goodness or fairness, in private or public spheres. They are satisfied knowing that the work they do can make a difference.

This, then, is the story of hotline volunteers. It is the wonderful combination of skill, knowledge and humanity offered so as to make it a little easier for others to tell their stories. A volunteer offers what is unique and precious to her as a human being so that others may talk about what is unique and precious to them.

For taking the time, having the patience, and putting their hearts into this noble work, please join me in celebrating and thanking all the volunteers!

Marc Wong is a listening expert and author of “Thank You for Listening: Gain Influence & Improve Relationships, Better Listening in 8 Steps”. Connect with him on Twitter at @8StepListen and on www.8StepListen.com.

A First-Hand Perspective about Students, Nonprofits and Volunteering

Guest post by Austin Hong.

A First-Hand Perspective about Students, Nonprofits and VolunteeringHello there!

My name is Austin Hong. I am 20 years old, born and raised in Los Angeles, Calif. I’m a rising junior at Boston College, studying finance and computer science, and I think I have some advice for you.

Since high school I’ve developed quite a resume of service activities. Between 2010 and now, I’ve had extensive involvement with nonprofit organizations, the most renowned being Operation Smile. I’ve served on two international service trips in Costa Rica and South Korea, individually spent over 400 hours serving an elementary school in East Boston, as well as served a number of other local organizations and events.

A significant portion of my past six years can be largely described by my passion to serve others, and it’s a passion and joy that many students and young adults my age should experience. The advice and plea I have for those of you involved in the nonprofit industry is to create an increased focus and higher emphasis on incorporating students and student chapters into achieving the goals of your organizations.

Why Student Chapters?

Students are passionate and filled with energy. I believe that high school is the starting point to several years of an individual’s path towards self-discovery. As mystical as that might sound, it is definitely something that will benefit your organization. A high school student will grip whatever interests them and drive forward with it, and for many in my generation, the interest that we have gripped has been our desire to give back to the local and global communities.

My first experience with any sort of nonprofit organization was through my older brother, who was the first to introduce me to Operation Smile. I was instantly compelled to get involved. I’m not sure if it was the fact that I revered him and wanted to mimic everything that he did, or that his personal testimony regarding his experience with the organization and its cause ignited in me a passion to also make a difference. Regardless of the reason, as soon as I was exposed to Operation Smile, I drove forward with it.

Students Need to Volunteer

Not only are your organizations in need of students, students are just as equally in need of your organizations. When a student connects with a nonprofit’s cause, it plants a seed in them that only grows over time. The seed grows in the student and creates values in him or her that are hard to come by anywhere else at that age of their life. The spread of activism and volunteerism are critical in creating a holistic person, and a set of morals. The earlier these morals are set, the longer they have to mature and become ingrained in the student.

Volunteerism will not just create a set of values in a student, but it will also give him or her a rare opportunity to be a leader. Leadership is not entirely impossible to come by within the academic setting; however the unique aspect of leadership within a student chapter is what makes it so attractive.

To put into perspective the effects of a single student and student chapters, the year after my discussion with my older brother, I founded an Operation Smile student chapter at my high school. The year after that, I decided to expand my efforts and rallied twelve existing student chapters in my local area to form what is now known as the Operation Smile Southern California Region. Each student chapter continued their efforts individually; however, as a region, we hosted large-scale awareness events and fundraisers to have a greater impact on our communities and the suffering men, women, and children for whom we served.

By my third year as the president of my student chapter and region, I had helped to provide over 6,000 volunteer hours, raised over $22,000, and created student chapters in six different high schools. I don’t want you to confuse these claims as an attempt to boost my ego, rather I wanted to show you the tangible results of a single driven student. To this day, my high school’s student chapter and the Southern California Region continue to thrive and expand, even without my involvement.

Students should not be pressured, that is to say that a nonprofit’s cause should not be forced down the throat of a high school freshman. Rather, by providing the proper resources and attention to allow a student to be exposed to an organization, and providing the support to continue their interests, engaging students can prove to be an extremely high-yielding investment for any nonprofit organization.

Austin Hong was raised in Los Angeles, California before attending Boston College, where he studies Finance. Currently he is working for a legal management consulting firm in the Beacon Hill area of Boston, Mass.

The Nonprofit Nerd Inside Each of Us

What brings out your inner nonprofit nerd?Eight years ago, I was twenty-two. I was a couple months away from graduating and heading off to start my PhD program in Neuroscience, then on to a life of research and labs. Boy, was I nerdy about the brain. And yet…

As graduation approached, I began having doubts. Did I really want to spend the next 40 years or so doing research in a lab? Why was I not more excited to get out of bed every morning?

Meanwhile, I was also heading up a small student-run nonprofit organization called Camp Kesem, a week-long summer camp for children whose parents have cancer or have passed away from cancer.

When did you realize you were meant for nonprofits?And I realized: I was more excited to get up and do the daily drudgery and admin work for Camp Kesem than I was to go into the lab. Lightbulb moment.

It was right then when I realized my future (as much as it could be figured out at that tender age,) did not lie with science, but with a whole other kind of geekiness: the social sector variety.

Almost a decade later, I am PhD-free and happily working at VolunteerMatch, engaging with people and helping them find their own passions and their own ways of making the world a better place using their time and the time and skills of others. I guess you could say I’m studying the brain in a whole different way.

The truth is, as nerdy as I was about the brain, it did not inspire me the way working at a nonprofit inspires me: for life. It took my experience running Camp Kesem in college to bring out my inner nonprofit nerd and set me on this path. And every day I get to do what I love here at VolunteerMatch, that nerd grows just a bit bigger, a bit stronger. At this point, she’s probably taller than I am (not a tough feat).

In the day-to-day craziness of being nonprofit professionals, it’s easy to forget…ourselves. But we as people are just as important as those we’re trying to help, and those whom we’re engaging.

So let’s remember, every once in a while, to connect back to what originally inspired us. Because just as I discovered, we all have a nonprofit nerd inside us. What brings yours out?