People Make the Difference: Matching Volunteer Interests to Nonprofit Needs

Everyone should have the chance to make a difference - don't you think?At VolunteerMatch, we believe that everyone should have the chance to make a difference. And we REALLY believe that the best way to make sure this happens is to help connect good people with the good causes that need them. Sounds simple enough, right?

In order to create the best connections between volunteers and nonprofits, we have all sorts of fancy, auto-magical tools and technology on VolunteerMatch.org, including search filters, Volunteer Profiles, and skills-based Listing Wizards. And we’re often reminded that our work is never done.

For example, we recently, and very proudly, released the 2013 Annual VolunteerMatch Impact Report, showcasing a whole year of connecting and volunteering across the VolunteerMatch network. In the report there are two sections I want to focus on today: “Top Opportunities,” and “Most Popular Interests.”

Cause areas with the highest number of active volunteer opportunities in the VolunteerMatch network.

Top Opportunities

This section displays the cause areas that have the highest number of volunteer listings on VolunteerMatch.org. What’s interesting about this top ten list is that the top five haven’t changed in years (just check out our reports from previous years.) The next five spots, however, are in constant flux. This year, Women and Homeless & Housing were replaced by International and Disabled. This reflects the constantly shifting nature of the nonprofit sector and its needs.

Most popular cause interests of volunteers in the VolunteerMatch network.

Most Popular Interests

Here’s where we show the cause areas that are most popular among our volunteer members – meaning they produce the most connections. What I like about this section is seeing the great diversity of interests and passions that make up the VolunteerMatch network. There’s truly something for everyone who wants to make a difference, and boy, do they show up!

Putting Them Together…

When we view these two sections together, however, a small but nagging inconsistency emerges. They don’t match up completely. You’ll notice some of the popular interests of our volunteers (Animals, Advocacy & Human Rights, Homeless & Housing…) don’t show up on the list of causes with the most opportunities. And vice versa.

This is a problem because it means that nonprofits are not necessarily getting all of the help they need, and volunteers are not always finding enough opportunities to help in the areas they care about. So what do we do about this?

For volunteers, we recommend taking a look at where the greatest needs are – consider a volunteer opportunity in one of the top 10 causes as a way to help the most.

For nonprofits, however, we all need to take a good hard look at these most popular interests, and tailor our volunteer listings to them. Perhaps we can create volunteer opportunities that attract folks who are passionate about human rights, or women? Be creative and strategic, and you’ll engage more volunteers and better volunteers.

In order for EVERYONE to have the chance to make a difference, we need to start listening and noticing what each of us truly needs – both nonprofits and volunteers. And then, the connections made on networks like VolunteerMatch will be strong, long-lasting, and will really change the world.

What do you think? How can we make sure the needs of nonprofits and the interests of volunteers are aligned? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Nonprofit Tip of the Month: What You Can (and Should!) Post on VolunteerMatch

What you can (and should!) post on VolunteerMatchHere at VolunteerMatch, we want to help people find ways to put their skills and energy to good use – to help nonprofits like yours.

We want volunteers to visit VolunteerMatch confident that they’ll have some legitimate, meaningful options to choose from when deciding where to get involved. We want volunteers to have the information they need about each and every opportunity to really assess whether it would make sense for them.

That experience is what keeps people coming back to find more opportunities and connect with more organizations. It’s what makes people want to tell their friends about all the great stuff they’ll find on VolunteerMatch. It’s what ultimately gets YOU the volunteers you need for your organization!

When you post your volunteer needs, you can help us make sure VolunteerMatch remains the respected, viable network of volunteer and community service opportunities that people know and love. Here are some things to think about when posting your new opportunities (or editing your existing ones!):

1. A VolunteerMatch opportunity IS aimed at helping volunteers find activities at your organization, so make sure to list specific active tasks that you need help with.

2. A VolunteerMatch opportunity ISN’T a place for you to advertise your website. No phishing allowed. We do have some great sponsorship opportunities, though, if you’re looking to direct traffic to your own website.

3. A VolunteerMatch opportunity IS an unpaid position. We know some volunteer opportunities involve compensation, which is fine! If you’re offering a stipend or any financial compensation to your volunteers, just make sure it’s no more than the federal minimum wage.

4. A VolunteerMatch opportunity ISN’T a direct fundraising solicitation. However, we realize how integral volunteers are for your fundraising efforts! A VolunteerMatch Opportunity IS a great place to recruit fundraisers, NOT funds.

5. A VolunteerMatch opportunity IS a place to set expectations with your volunteers, including whether you’d like them to help provide materials for an active task. For example, providing yarn for knitting blankets is okay.

6. A VolunteerMatch opportunity IS a place be upfront about volunteer costs. No bait and switch. We realize there are costs involved with some volunteer opportunities (VolunTourism, Disaster Relief, etc).  If volunteers need to “pay to play”, let them know in your VolunteerMatch opportunity.

7. A VolunteerMatch opportunity IS a way to engage folks from all over the world. If the opportunity is marked “virtual” it must be equally accessible and equally relevant to volunteers located anywhere in the world. Writing newsletter articles, researching and writing grant proposals, or providing phone support are all examples of virtual opportunities.

8. A VolunteerMatch opportunity ISN’T something to duplicate in every zip code! Don’t spoil volunteer opportunity search results for volunteers. Your opportunities are visible for a 20-mile radius around the zip code they are listed within. Don’t create multiple identical opportunities in zip code after zip code. Nobody likes spam. If you need to cover a larger geographic area, use our Multi-ZIP feature, available when you publish your opportunity.

Making sure your opportunities fall within these guidelines will ultimately serve both your organization and the network of volunteers we all rely on to move our missions forward.

Do you have tips for fellow nonprofits about posting great VolunteerMatch opportunity listings? Share them below!

How to Engage Job-Seekers as Volunteers

How to Engage Job-Seekers as VolunteersIn today’s economy, one might expect volunteering rates to shoot up as employment rates remain shaky.

While this isn’t the case, there’s still a lot of opportunity for nonprofit organizations like yours to engage people currently searching for jobs.

Why Engage Job-Seekers?

Excellent question. Folks looking for employment are going to be driven. They are focused on their goal, which means if they choose to spend time with you, they really care about you and your cause. They often have valuable skills to bring to the table, and even though their commitment might dwindle after they find a job, you can keep them connected via newsletter, one-day events and donation opportunities until they find more time to give again. Bottom line: You want to build a long-term relationship with these people, so you’d better start now.

Focus on Skills

Target people with specific skills who might want to polish them while they job search, or who might be looking to build new skills to make themselves more marketable. For ideas, check out the skills taxonomy in our Listing Wizard.

Be Clear About Expectations and Commitment

Looking for a job can often be as time-consuming as a full-time job itself. So make sure to lay out time commitment expectations, as well as the exact work to be done, from the very beginning. That way you only involve people who know the score from the beginning, and you can both feel good about the connection. This is important content to put in the position description on VolunteerMatch.

Provide Recommendations and Networking

There’s no rule that says volunteering can’t benefit the volunteer. In fact, it should help volunteers, beyond making them feel good about their impact. Acting as a referral for your excellent volunteers, and introducing them to people who might be beneficial in their job searches, are great ways to show your appreciation and ensure they stay engaged long after they land their dream jobs.

Offer Leadership Opportunities

Finally, even if you can’t actually hire your favorite volunteers, design ways for them to take on larger roles within the organization as they become qualified. This looks great on their resumes, and makes your volunteer program that much more dynamic. Not sure what sorts of leadership roles your volunteers would want? Ask them!

Head to VolunteerMatch now to post volunteer opportunities that will attract passionate job seekers to your organization!

How to Design Volunteer Opportunities for Physical Fitness and Health Nuts

How to design volunteer opportunities for physical fitness and health nutsPeople who are active in other aspects of their lives are often active in their communities, as well. They tend to be dedicated, committed, and eager to involve others in what they’re doing. So naturally, they’d make great volunteers!

Here are tips to design volunteer opportunities to get people who are into exercise and being healthy “into” your nonprofit:

Focus on the Movement

Think creatively about what your organization needs help with, and how that could be portrayed to seem like a fun, active opportunity. A beach clean-up can certainly provide some exercise, for example. Helping to set up or volunteer for a charity run is another great way to involve health nuts. Chances are there’s some way to express you volunteer opportunity to highlight the moving parts, so to speak.

Treat Them Liked Skilled Volunteers

…Because they are. Recruit someone to lead a yoga class at your shelter. To teach students about nutrition. To put together information packets about healthy living. These folks have skills and experience that could provide added value for your community in ways you’ve never even considered.

Make It a Group Thing

People who are health conscious and active are often also very social. Make sure your active opportunities are group-friendly, and encourage people to bring friends and family. What’s better than volunteering with your friends on the weekend AND spending time being active outside? Win-win-win.

Head to VolunteerMatch now to post volunteer opportunities that appeal to physical fitness and health nuts!

(Photo by Dave Rosenblum on Flickr.)

Are You One of the 3,000?

No, we’re not talking about the much-desired second sequel to the movie “300.” Even we aren’t that ambitious. Instead, we’re referring to the 3,000 connections made every single day on VolunteerMatch.org between nonprofits and volunteers.

Every day on VolunteerMatch.org, about 3,000 connections are made between nonprofits and volunteers.

As the Web’s largest volunteer engagement network, this is just what we DO. We make it easier for your nonprofit organization to find the volunteers you actually need. We’ve got all sorts of awesome free tools.

So are you one of the 3,000? If not, get right on it. It takes about 5 minutes – another happy number – and your organization’s needs will be seen by millions of skilled, dedicated volunteers. So all-in-all, it’s kind of a no-brainer.

Start recruiting volunteers with VolunteerMatch now.