5 Ways the Arts Can Enhance Your Volunteer Program

Guest post by Jordan Shue

Enhance Your Volunteer Program with the Arts

Teams performing at the corporate singing challenge, CincySings, in Cincinnati. Photo by Matt Steffan, courtesy of ArtsWave.

The arts have a tremendous ability to change individuals in positive ways. Now, imagine if that power was applied to entire teams of volunteers — specifically groups of volunteers from for-profit organizations.

Not only does using the arts to partner with for-profit companies mean improving the economy of a local community and increasing the quality of life for its residents, it means giving a company the chance to challenge employees to be their best and feel more connected to its purpose and mission. It also allows you to leverage proposals for corporate support by providing opportunities for mutually beneficial exchanges. You don’t have to be an arts organization to use the arts; simply adding creative elements to volunteer projects or working with a local arts group is a great way to start.

If you’re looking to create arts-based projects for your organization’s volunteers, here are five easy and effective programs you can implement:

  1. Skills-Based Volunteering: If you yourself are an arts-based nonprofit organization, volunteers may have niche strengths your organization needs — such as marketing and finance skills. This can greatly increase your organization’s operating capacity.
  2. Arts-Based Training: Recruit local artists and engage their practice to teach innovation, interpersonal skills, public speaking, and more during half-day trainings with departments or teams.
  3. Corporate Arts Challenge: Encourage corporate volunteers to show their creative side and build teamwork with a friendly singing or arts-based competition. While events like this can be expensive to hold, they can also be a powerful fundraising tool for your organization.
  4. Corporate Art Shows: Provide a space for corporate volunteers to showcase their artistic talents to co-workers while embracing creativity in the workplace. This is a fantastic way to invite the community to showcase the company’s creativity while simultaneously producing a branding opportunity for the company and sponsorship opportunity for your organization.
  5. Team Volunteering: Gather a team of enthusiastic volunteers for an arts activity that beautifies and strengthens the community, such as painting a mural or assisting in installing a public art sculpture.

Want to learn more? Americans for the Arts — the nation’s largest organization devoted to ensuring all Americans have access to the transformative power of the arts — recently released three workbooks in a series dedicated to helping nonprofits start employee volunteer and engagement programs.

Check them out if you’re interested in starting an arts skills-based volunteering, arts-based training, or corporate arts challenge program.


About the author:
As the Private Sector Initiatives Program Manager at Americans for the Arts, Jordan works to advance private sector support for local arts agencies through a number of programs and field education opportunities, as well as through the pARTnership Movement, a campaign to reach business leaders with the message that the arts can build their competitive advantage.

Volunteer Opportunities to Involve Your Major Donors

Guest post by Blake Groves

Engage Your Major Donors as VolunteersLike many aspects of nonprofit life, we’re seeing all sorts of fascinating opportunities pop up in the volunteering world. You can now text your ZIP code to a phone number and receive a list of volunteer opportunities in your area. To be blunt, that’s really cool!

The volunteering arena is an exciting environment to be in.

Why are you leaving your major donors, and really any donors, out of the loop?

Have you ever thought to yourself — I can’t ask someone who just gave a large contribution to volunteer their time as well. If you have, you’re not alone.

Sure, a university probably wouldn’t want to ask someone who just funded most of their new library to also pour cement for the whole building, but there are plenty of great volunteer opportunities for major donors that can have a major impact on how those donors engage with your organization.

Don’t undervalue the relationship that can be built when someone gets to support an organization they care about in a non-fiscal way!

Get creative and start offering your major donors unique volunteering opportunities like the two below.

1. Ask them to help out during an advocacy event.

Participating in an advocacy event has the potential to be a really special volunteering opportunity.

These events get your major donors involved at the ground level, showing them firsthand the work you’re doing and how their donations have factored into your service. It calls to mind a common tip given to creative writers — show, don’t tell!

To provide some context, here’s a sample scenario.

Imagine you’ve gathered all the signatures you need using an online petition, but you’ve chosen to take your online petition offline in the final stage by hand delivering it to the appropriate party.

It’s a grand gesture that sticks in people’s minds and, at the very least, draws attention to the worthwhile cause at hand. You could ask a major donor to join in on the delivery. They’d leave with a memory of a once-in-a-lifetime volunteering experience.

If your organization participates in advocacy, think through the ways you can creatively engage your major donors and help them forge lasting bonds with your cause and your mission.

2. Ask them to participate in a feasibility study.

Feasibility studies aren’t exactly the first thing one thinks of when they hear the word volunteering, but they do provide a unique opportunity to learn more about your major donors while they learn more about you.

If you’re organizing a capital campaign, you’re probably also orchestrating a feasibility study to survey members of the community to gauge the viability of the project you’re fundraising for.

Ask some of your major donors to participate in the feasibility study. Their involvement gives them a window into a current project you’re working on and your present goals while your team gathers invaluable insight into your major donors’ thought processes. All involved benefit.

Note: Two rather obscure options were chosen here to demonstrate how creative you can get with major donor volunteerism. Think outside the box and find unique avenues to let your major donors into your organization’s day-to-day work!

About the author: Blake Groves is the Vice President, Strategy and Business Development with Salsa. With more than 20 years in technology solutions and consulting, Blake’s expertise lies in hands-on knowledge of sales, consulting, product management and marketing. For the last 10 years, he has narrowed his focus to how Internet technologies can help nonprofit organizations.

What to Expect When You Are Expecting (From Volunteers, That Is)

Guest post by Elisa Kosarin, Twenty Hats

This post was originally published on Twenty Hats.

Managing Expectations of VolunteersYou can measure some pretty high expectations from volunteers – IF you market to the ones who will deliver.

I hear a lot about how the paradigm is shifting within volunteerism: volunteers are busier than ever, and many organizations are looking to engage volunteers differently. The trend is towards micro-volunteerism and short term assignments.

Does this trend mean that we need to expect less from volunteers overall?

Absolutely not.

Opening up to new volunteer positions does not mean we need to expect less from volunteers. It means we need to reframe the discussion and ask ourselves what is most needed to meet the mission of the organization.

Take my former program, Fairfax CASA. CASA volunteers are appointed by a judge to advocate for the best interests of an abused or neglected child. Volunteers must make an extensive commitment because to do any less means that an abused or neglected child goes unserved. To advocate properly, every volunteer must remain on a case until it is closed by the court – and many cases last two years or longer.

That’s a huge commitment. And yet, there are people out there who are willing to take on the responsibility.  I think about what’s required of volunteers at Fairfax CASA and it’s astounding.

  • Remain on a case until it’s closed by the court
  • Contact all the case professionals on a monthly basis
  • Visit the child twice a month
  • Write court reports whenever there is a hearing
  • Complete 12 hours or continuing education each year
  • Cover all court hearings on the case
  • Submit monthly reports to their supervisor

Why do they do this? Because they are believers in the program’s mission and invested as much in the outcome as the staff. If they are stepping up, that means we have done a great job of communicating the program’s mission and shown them how they will be rewarded for their efforts. As one of my former volunteers used to say, the “psychic income” received from being a CASA volunteer outweighed the extensive commitment.

Finding committed volunteers takes proper screening. It also requires you to promote your program so that you are reaching out to the volunteers most likely to deliver.

So perhaps the reframe is not even about what your program needs – it’s about marketing to engage volunteerswho meet your needs. It’s a big world out there. I would argue there’s a volunteer perfect for any volunteer position – IF you know how to reach her.

Do you agree? Share your opinions below. Is it possible that meeting your program’s volunteer needs is more about marketing than anything else?

Help Your Volunteers Gain Skills They Can Use

Guest post by Amy Cowen

Help Your Volunteers Gain SkillsAccording to LinkedIn, 41% of hiring managers say volunteer work is just as valuable as paid work on a CV.

Therefore, as an organization that engages volunteers, it’s important to make sure the skills they gain through your organization are meaningful.

Many volunteers are young adults or students who are specifically looking to gain work experience while in school. Even if your volunteers are not currently furthering their education, they may still want to list their volunteer work on their CV.

So, what skills can you teach your volunteers that will help them on their career paths?

Note: It’s important to ask your volunteers what they hope to get out of their volunteer experience. These suggestions are not one size fits all!

  • Leadership and Management Skills

People learn leadership and management skills both by doing and observing. Every organization operates under some type of management structure, and your volunteers can gain experience by working within this structure. One idea is asking them if they would like to manage a team of other volunteers. The ability to lead a group, and lead by example is invaluable to future employers.

  • Time Management Skills

Whatever your volunteers have going on outside of their volunteer work, they will have to negotiate their daily schedules to fit volunteering in. Volunteers that arrive late or frequently cancel volunteer commitments might be the ones in need of extra time management mentoring. Time management is a skill that all employers look for.

  • Social Skills

Through volunteering for your organization, individuals can improve their teamwork, networking, and communication skills. Many volunteer positions inherently need a level of communication between the organization and the community or sponsors. You can also create these opportunities by inviting volunteers to organizational meetings and events.

  • Business Skills

Business skills can include simple aspects of clerical or front office duties. However, they can go as far as bookkeeping, accounting, supplying, and more. Any business skills you can impart into your volunteers will go a long way on their CV.

By helping your volunteers learn new skills, you will certainly improve upon their CV. However, the added benefit is that possessing these skills will ensure that they are also as effective as possible for your own organization. Therefore, imparting your wisdom to your volunteers will benefit everyone involved.

Amy Cowen is a passionate writer who often provides career advice for students, volunteers and job seekers. She writes for Aussiewriter and hopes to run her own team of writers someday.

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!