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 or email 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.

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.

A Formula for Elevator Pitches

Guest post by Elisa Kosarin, Twenty Hats

The formula for a great elevator pitch.This post was originally published on Twenty Hats.

Recently, I had the privilege of leading a training hosted by Volunteer Fairfax for RSVP workstation managers on the art of the elevator pitch.

I love the idea of the elevator pitch, because it is another way to use stories to engage prospective volunteers, but this time with the spoken word.

Basic Elements

Just like written stories, a good elevator pitch starts by examining your prospective volunteer’s needs and goals and connecting that information to your volunteer program.

Once you frame your pitch in this manner, the words fall right into place. Here is an example from the RSVP training, created by Alacia Earley of Cornerstones in Reston, Virginia.

“You mentioned that you enjoy working with children one on one. We have a volunteer position you might be interested in. Our Homework Help volunteers come in once a week for a few hours to work one-on-one or in small groups with students at our community centers in Reston. Regular volunteers often tell me how rewarding it is to see the students come in week after week and watch their grades and self-esteem improve from the tutoring. Let me know if you would be interested in becoming a Homework Helper.”

I like the way Alacia starts with her prospective volunteer’s desire to work with children. Then, she suggests a position and illustrates how it might meet her prospect’s needs. She also shares details that describe just how being a Homework Helper helps children and creates rewarding results for the volunteer.

Another Essential Element

There is just one other element that I add to a pitch, and that is your own emotional connection to your work. Think back to what brought you to your job in the first place. Was it your passion for the cause? The quality work provided by your program? The moving achievements of your clients? When your pitch comes from the heart, it resonates further with your listener.

Here is how another pitch might sound with that final link to your own enthusiasm. This one is for a Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program:

“You might want to consider CASA volunteering. I know you are looking for a way to volunteer and have a direct, positive impact on a child’s life. That’s exactly what happens with CASA. I talked with a volunteer last week who came back from a court hearing, elated because she made a strong case for returning the child to his mother, and the judge backed up that recommendation. Those are the stories I like to hear, because I know how one volunteer can change the course of a child’s life for the better.”

I’ve Got a Formula – Try It!

Would you like to try your hand at crafting an elevator pitch? I have a simple formula I can share with you. I created it after searching the Internet for just such a formula and finding nothing that applied to volunteer engagement. My Elevator Pitch Planner shows you how to connect each piece of the process so that you create a compelling pitch ready to use when needed.

Email me to get your own free copy of the planner and my monthly updates. And please let me know how the pitch works out – or better yet, send me your successful pitches and I will post them on Twenty Hats.

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.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Words

The words you use to engage volunteers matter.Which is more likely to inspire you?

“Help support your community by volunteering to build houses for those in need.”

“Housing is a right everyone should have. Create new neighbors by lending a hand!”

Whatever the purpose: engaging volunteers, raising money, promoting an event, etc. – the words you use matter. Words with the highest value (i.e. the words most likely to engage your audience), are unique, specific, and  easy to understand.

Make Them Unique

Why are unique words so important? People are much more likely to pay attention to new information. In fact, new information actually makes us feel good, physically. Novelty causes a release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that gives us pleasant sensations from the brain stem. Because of this excitement and pleasure, our brains are trained to pay attention to new things and overlook the old. Choosing words that are unique will make you stand out, and will draw people in.

The Marketplace of Words

You might be wondering, “How do I know if my words are unique?” Well, there’s a website for that. Website Preview

Earlier this year, I researched the words most frequently used on nonprofit websites, and created the tool The Marketplace of Words. You can type your potential word in the box on the main page, and find out where and if it ranks in the top 1000 words most often found on nonprofit websites as of April 2014.

You can also browse the full lists in the Results tab. These include counts and percentages overall, in addition to breaking it down by part of speech. In the Getting Started tab, you can find advice on the most productive ways to use the tool.

The Marketplace doesn’t cover the other properties of high-value words, which are: Specific, and Easy to Understand. Here are quick explanations of why these are important to consider in addition to uniqueness:

Make Them Specific

What do you actually mean when you say community? How big is it and who is a part of it? There are so many methods of outreach; which are you referring to? These are examples of unanswered questions caused by vague words. Get specific! Instead of “utilizing a community outreach strategy”, say you’re “meeting face-to-face with residents of Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.”

Make Them Easy to Understand

The simplest way to achieve clarity in writing is to write like you speak. If someone has to take the time to decipher your message, they most likely won’t. An easy test is to ask yourself, “Would I use this word, phrase or sentence in a casual conversation?” If the answer is no – revise it. Also, when you are considering a few good words, opt for the word with fewer syllables.

The last thing you want to do is bore your volunteers with overused words, or hit them with unclear jargon. They should be excited about the awesome work they’re doing, and you have the power to make that happen. So, go on now: Go get the most value for your words!

4 Ways to Create a Positive Reputation for Your Volunteer Program

Guest post by Kristina Richards

4 ways to create a positive reputation for your volunteer program‘Tis the season of giving, but before volunteers come running to your doors and you start cashing donation checks, you may need to reassure your supporter base about your organization’s reputability. Consumers are increasingly savvy each year, and to ensure that they are willing to get involved with your organization, you need to look as reputable as possible. By understanding the importance of the following four elements, ensure your charity’s reputation looks stellar and protect your community from scams:

1. Online Reputation

Everyone from college applicants to business executives needs to pay attention to their online reputation, and charities are no exception to this rule. Rody Moore, the founder of Genbook, a small business marketing firm, advises clients to engage four simple rules when it comes to online management. In a recent article, Moore explains the importance of:

  • Paying attention to what your customers (or volunteers) are saying
  • Generating more reviews when possible
  • Promoting your reputation through social media sites
  • Responding quickly to any complaints that arise

Both volunteers to your program and recipients of your charity have the opportunity to sing your praises or lambast your efforts online, but only you have the power to deal with negative reports and encourage increased positive exposure. Talk to people who have received your services as well as people who have volunteered for your organization and ask them to post positive reviews online.

2. Transparency

Scam-savvy volunteers will take the time to research your organization before they are willing to donate time or money. To encourage their involvement, ensure you are running a transparent operation. Check your organization’s profile at, the Better Business Bureau’s online source for charity reports and standards. If you find any incorrect information, contact the BBB as soon as possible to make the necessary adjustments. Another great place to make sure your info is up-to-date is

3. Charity Phishing

A decade ago, charity fishing was just a kid’s game played at fundraising bazaars, but now, the phrase has taken on a new spelling and a new meaning. Charity phishing scams are one of the biggest scams to threaten consumers over the holidays. To safeguard your email list, ensure that you have a strong password and avoid accessing your list over a shared Wi-Fi system, as this makes it easy for hackers to gather the details they need for a charity phishing scam.

4. Educate Your Volunteers and Donors

The best phishing scam protection is knowledge, and because not every scam can be avoided, you need to educate your volunteers and donors about how to spot scams. If your email list is compromised, the phishing email will likely come from an address that looks similar to yours or an address that is cloaked by your organization’s name. The email will encourage people to donate to your cause, but instead of bringing them to your website, the email will direct them to a phishing website. Once they enter their information there, the scammers can take off on a credit card spending spree. The more your organization’s participants know about these scams, the easier it will be for them to avoid them.

How do you safeguard the reputation of your organization during the holidays? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Now that her kids are older, Kristina Richards has more time for charity work. She spends most of her free time volunteering at a downtown women’s shelter.