You Can Learn a Lot about Volunteer Engagement from the Book “Fundraising with Businesses”

You can learn a lot about volunteer engagement from Joe Waters' book "Fundraising with Businesses."There’s a lot more to Joe Waters than QR Codes. Of course, anyone who’s followed Joe’s well-respected cause marketing blog,, already knows this. But his new book “Fundraising with Businesses” will remove any lingering doubt cynics may have had.

Drawing on an impressive career of doing exactly what his book is about, Joe presents 40 strategies for how nonprofits can engage businesses in fundraising initiatives. The book is easy and fun to read, and contains both illuminating examples and practical tips for those of us on the ground actually doing the work every day.

Why is This Important?

Funding is always going to be one of the biggest challenges for nonprofit organizations – and even more so in a down economy. When previous sources of funding begin to dry up, organizations must get creative and diversify. Partnering with businesses is a great way to do this.

Companies all over the world are realizing how critical it is for them to give back – not just for the public image, and not just because their employees want it, and not just because it actually makes good business sense, but because many of them really do want to help make the world a better place. This presents a huge opportunity for nonprofits to step in a guide these businesses (and drum up some significant support in the process).

Fundraisers that Involve Volunteering

While most of “Fundraising with Businesses” doesn’t directly deal with volunteer engagement, a few of the 40 strategies presented are volunteer-based: Dollars for Doers is an obvious one – many companies already have “volunteer grant” programs that enable employees to gift company money to their charity of choice when they track enough volunteer hours.

Another fundraiser profiled in the book that involves volunteers is what Joe calls a “Building Fundraiser.” Leveraging the interesting aspects (and heights) of a partner’s physical space will most often involve engaging employees, tenants and visitors in some sort of action for the fundraising itself. Similar to engaging runners for a road race, these volunteers will be willing to climb that extra floor for your cause.

Reading Volunteer Engagement Between the Lines

Beyond these obvious volunteering elements, there are other connections that we can make between this book and volunteer engagement. And I’m not just talking about the fact that when engaged, these companies actually become a “volunteer” for you – as a fundraiser! But also because the best practices involved with these partnerships are the same ones that are critical when engaging volunteers in your work. Here are some examples that jumped out at me:

Make a Good Match

Making a good match is important both for corporate partnerships and volunteer engagement.Throughout the book, Joe stresses the importance of working with the right partners – not just anyone. For example, thinking about who you’re already connected with via board members, volunteers and funders is an easy way to identify low-hanging fruit. But you should also keep in mind that the best partners are those who are well-aligned with your mission, your local community and your goals for the campaign.

Similarly, running a successful volunteer program requires recruiting volunteers who are a good fit for your organization. In fact, that’s basically what VolunteerMatch is all about. (Volunteer. Match. Get it?) Our free online service is designed to help you connect not just with any volunteer, but the right ones, and this should be something you keep top of mind throughout your recruitment and engagement process.

Set Clear Expectations

In every single chapter of the book there’s this great section called: “How It Works in 1-2-3.” And for every single strategy, #1 has something to do with communicating clearly with your corporate partner about expectations around who will do what? For who long? How much money is involved? Etc. Without these details hammered out beforehand, even a strong partnership will eventually fall apart.

Setting clear expectations for your volunteers is also important. Otherwise, volunteers will feel adrift and taken advantage of, and you will feel disappointed that they’re not giving you the level of commitment you were hoping for. That’s why we often stress the importance of bullet points in your volunteer listings.

Provide Plenty of Training and Support

One of Joe’s most interesting points in my mind was this: The more you do for your corporate partner, the more likely they are to focus their considerable energy on raising money for you. So give them the training and support they need to do a great job!

Volunteers also need lots of training and support from you. No matter how passionate they are about your cause, or how much time they have to give, you need to be there to answer their questions and show them how to do stuff. The more supported they feel, the more efficient and effective their work will be.

Show Your Impact!

It's important to show your impact, both to corporate partners and to volunteers.It’s okay to brag – in fact, it’s great to brag about the impact you made with a corporate partner during a fundraising project. How many people did you help? How many beaches are now clean? How many puppies have a new home? Not only will this drum up even more excitement and support for your cause, but reporting the success of your program will help your corporate partner make the case to run it again in the future.

The best way to retain and appreciate volunteers is to show them how their work made a difference. Even a simple email can do the job, but a phone call, a handshake, a smile, and a thank you are all great, too. Also, people love infographics. Seriously.

Technology is Helpful

Some of the strategies in Joe’s book are technology based, like the Pin-to-Give fundraiser, or the Facebook Likes fundraiser. But even those that happen more offline can benefit from the involvement of technology, whether it’s for promotion, coordination or tracking.

And if you’re not already using technology as a key element of your volunteer program, you’re a bit behind the times. Even if you don’t have a fancy system for tracking and managing volunteers, you’re probably using Excel. Plus, we all know how helpful social media can be when it comes to volunteer engagement.

I highly recommend you check out “Fundraising with Businesses” by Joe Waters. Joe also has some great supporting resources like Pinterest boards and a hashtag (#fwb40) to help you join the conversation.

How have you partnered with businesses to help support your organization? Tell us about it below!

Book Review: How Storytelling Creates Hope

Kindness to others: A message of hopeToday is not just any day off from work (if you have it off). Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, a national day to honor Dr. King’s legacy by giving back. It’s a day to celebrate freedom, to inspire action, and to instill hope.

Today is a day to recognize how one man’s story has inspired, and continues to inspire, an entire nation across genders, races and generations. After all, we as nonprofits, as volunteer coordinators, as people working day to day to engage people in our work, what is it that we really do? Each day we try to instill hope in others, so that they realize they can make a difference with their actions.

Storytelling is one of our most valuable tools for creating this hope. The story of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a great example. You might also share the stories of the people in your community whom your organization has helped, or the volunteers who give their free time in service to your vision. By relating our work to the stories of our inspiring community members, hope begins to build on itself – it can go “viral.”

Artist and former economist Asnat Greenberg recognized this, and created a book that tells the stories of people who spend their lives in service and kindness to others. “Secrets of Kindness: A Journey Among Good People” is like a refreshed “Chicken Soup for the Soul.”

The interviewees form a fascinating mosaic of diversity, with religious and secular leaders, Jews and Muslims, young and old, rich and poor. And yet they all have the same basic drive that guides them: Kindness to others. And this basic fact is where the hope comes from.

I recommend you read the stories in this book, and think about how you can create narratives like these around your work and that of your volunteers.

And remember – today on MLK Day of Service as well as the rest of the year – your stories can create hope that just might snowball into something bigger. Your story and that of your volunteers might just be the next great legacy, inspiring hundreds of millions of people to take action and make change, just like Dr. King.

What is inspiring you today?

Book Review: Are you MAD?

Making a Difference III: Still More Tips, Ideas and Stories to Change Your WorldAre you MAD? If you’re reading this blog, you probably are.

No, I’m not commenting on your assumed level of anger, or lack thereof. MAD is an acronym that stands for Making a Difference – and as volunteer engagement professionals, we know you make a difference in big and small ways every day.

It’s not exactly a revolutionary phrase, but it’s one that fuels the fires of our various passions. It is both refreshingly simple and excitingly complex, as “making a difference” can mean so many different things to different people.

Similarly, Making a Difference III: Still More Tips, Ideas and Stories to Change Your World is a book that is both practical and inspiring, informative and fun. Lisa M. Dietlin used this third book in her MAD series to tell the stories of hundreds of people who make a difference, and to help us see how we can do the same, in big and small ways, every day.

Ms. Dietlin is uniquely qualified to fill this role – after all, as President and CEO of Lisa M. Dietlin and Associates, Inc. she works with entrepreneurs and nonprofits to provide strategic advice that transforms the very nature of philanthropy as we know it. It’s as if she is redefining what it means to “Make a Difference.”

Important Lessons from the Book

The book itself is like a nugget-a-day calendar for the do-gooder in your life. Each day we are presented with a new story and a new thought-provoking message to chew on. The inspiration value of the book is enough on its own to warrant a read, but I recognize three additional important lessons for those of us in the nonprofit sector:

1. Storytelling is the super agent of inspiration. If you want to mobilize people to action, tell them a story to which they can relate. It helps humanize your call to action.

More on telling your story:

Keep Your Eyes Open: Visual Storytelling for Nonprofits
New Report Reveals Why the Internet is a Volunteer Manager’s Best Friend
Meet #VolunTweet, a New Way to Find Volunteer Opportunities on Social Media

2. Don’t underestimate the power of nuggets. In this case, short is definitely more powerful than a longer-form content style. Often a few sentences are all you need to convey your message and get people excited – try it out.

3. Remember the “why” of what we do. Sometimes I find myself getting bogged down in the details of my work – but stories like those in MAD III can help me stay grounded in the “why.”

More ideas for staying inspired:

Have You Hugged Your Volunteer Manager Today?
Family Dinner, Free Books and Finding Inspiration
But Girls Can’t Grow Moustaches! (or: Why Nonprofit Professionals Should Volunteer)

How to Make the Most of MAD III

  • Read one nugget each day to keep yourself inspired (see item 3 above).
  • Choose your favorite nuggets to share with your volunteers and keep them excited to be making a difference.
  • Come up with your own list of inspirational ways to make a difference that relate to your organization’s work.

Click here to learn more about the book Making a Difference III: Still More Tips, Ideas and Stories to Change Your World.

Are you MAD? Tell us about it in the comments!

Tobi Johnson Shows Us How to Totally Rock the First 90 Days of Being a Volunteer Manager

Tobi JohnsonPerhaps the most beautiful phrase a volunteer manager can read showed up on page 5 of Tobi Johnson’s new ebook, The New Volunteer Manager: The First 90 Days – “You are not alone.”

As Tobi, a nonprofit and volunteer management consultant with decades of experience creating and expanding impactful programs, explains in the book, all nonprofits focus on these simple questions:

How can we connect with volunteers who share the same passion for your cause? And how do you work in partnership with them to bring about change for the common good? These questions may be simple, but the answers are certainly not.

Tobi has organized these answers for us into easy, readable pieces. The 21 tips in her ebook are targeted to new volunteer managers, but in my mind they can also help current and even veteran managers to optimize their programs and improve their volunteers’ experiences.

There are three general themes that I found over an over again in Tobi’s book. I think she also did a great job providing practical advice for how volunteer managers can apply these concepts right away to our programs:

Measuring impact is important

“Describe What Success Looks Like” is Tip 2, and Tobi emphasizes the value of having a long term vision for your volunteer program, one that provides clarity of purpose and will guide you in your planning.

Tip 16 delves deeper into what it takes to achieve this purpose. Namely, metrics. We must evaluate our programs on an ongoing basis, both quantitatively and qualitatively. And, proving that she really does “get” volunteer managers, Tobi includes a comprehensive list of the metrics that we should be tracking.

Be clear with volunteers

I think it can be stated outright: Your volunteer program will not succeed if you do not establish and maintain clear communication with your volunteers. Tobi builds on this statement throughout the ebook.

First, make sure you’re speaking a language your volunteers can understand. “Volunteers don’t want to hear a bunch of internally-focused ‘501c3 speak made up of jargon they don’t understand,” she says. (Actully, I don’t know anyone that wants to hear that.)

Second, be clear about your expectations of them – and their expectations of you. If you’re on different pages about what they’ll be doing and what they’ll be getting out of their experience, it’s not going to work. Tobi suggests crafting a strong and concise volunteer position description, as well as a volunteer bill of rights.

Finally, it’s important to establish a system that supports and enriches your volunteers throughout their time with you. A well-designed volunteer handbook will help guide them and clear up confusion about roles and responsibilities. It’s also important to build your community by providing valuable content and information on a regular basis. Social media and email are great tools for this. Use them to tell your story and that of your volunteers and beneficiaries. (Incidentally, this could be a great job for a volunteer!)

Harness the power of networks

Tobi does a great job of exhibiting the potential that each of us has to amplify our impact via our networks. To foster greater community and productivity within your volunteer team, utilize technologies like wikis to facilitate collaboration. Also, encourage existing and experienced volunteers to contribute at a deeper level to the development of the program. This gives them a greater feeling of ownership and a stake in your goals.

It’s also important to work closely with other departments and colleagues in your nonprofit. Building these strong bridges will ensure that they are there to support you when you need it, and will teach you all the ways your program can help them, thus increasing your potential impact.

Don’t underestimate the value of your personal network, either. Your friends, family, former coworkers, and even LinkedIn contacts will be useful resources for you when you need advice or a hook-up.

Finally, forming external partnerships with other groups and organizations will enable you to accomplish far more than you ever could with just your nonprofit’s budget, time and manpower, and you’ll incresae your impact without having to pull 30 hour days. Tobi includes a caution to establish a formal partnership agreement that is simple, to the point, and a research-based factor of success for nonprofit collaborations.

And what about after your finish the ebook? What happens after the 90 days? Your learning is not done! There are lots of resources to help you continuously improve your skills, from the VolunteerMatch Learning Center to Tobi’s group, Tobi Johnson & Associates, to the Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration. But this ebook is a great place to start, and a great resource to come back to when looking for ways to improve.

Click here to download the ebook, and learn more from Tobi Johnson by following her blog.

The Future of Nonprofits: “Innovate or Die”

The Future of NonprofitsPerhaps the biggest divide among today’s nonprofits is the use of social media. Some organizations use social media heavily to deliver programs, engage supporters and advocate for the cause, but some are a more ambivalent.

David Neff and Randal Moss, the two co-authors of “The Future of Nonprofits: Innovate and Thrive in the Digital Age,” are very active members of the first group. Both have won awards for their digital strategy work with nonprofits and as consultants. Neff was named one of the top “Social Media People” in Texas in 2009. Moss has testified before the U.S. Congress on digital media marketing.

Like many of today’s current thinkers on the subject of social media and social change, the two begin their book boldly… by making the case that for today’s nonprofits, coming to terms with the uncertainties of  Web 2.0 is not just helpful, it’s imperative to their survival. (Even within the genre, the title of the first chapter, “Innovate or Die,” is a keeper.) Fortunately for readers, “The Future of Nonprofits” proves to be a truly useful guide to help nonprofit organizations do exactly this.

Innovation as Imperative

The watchword in “The Future of Nonprofits” is “innovation.” According to Neff and Moss, innovation responding to social trends has driven every major change in the nonprofit industry, and will continue to do so. One of the most compelling examples they give of this is the shift from geographically-based fundraising to workplace-based fundraising as a result of women joining the workforce in the 1970s. This is a big reason, they say, that fundraising is now driven in a big part by peer-to-peer social networking. More people who care about issues have daily access to technologies that help them connect to others who share their passion. defines “innovation” as invention successfully placed into practice. With this in mind, Neff and Moss stress that we must not only come up with new ideas, but also think of new ways to execute them. Essentially, they say, we’re now living in a climate of constant change, so organizations must cultivate a “culture of innovation.”

Neff and Moss provide multiple industry examples of how different businesses have used social media to increase their impact. Staff members at Comcast, for example, followed a Twitter user who complained about their customer service, and quickly tweeted back to help the user with his problem. Now Comcast solves all its customer service problems online.

The nonprofit charity: water raised $250,000 in one day by inviting its Twitter followers to a conference. This funding allowed them to increase their visibility exponentially. Now any visitor of has seen Charity Water’s frequent advertisements that stream during your favorite episodes of “30 Rock” and “The Daily Show.” These colorful testimonials are sprinkled throughout the entire book, and entice readers even further, likening social media to a steaming plate of cookies just waiting to be eaten. ($250,000 is a little more than you might earn from a neighborhood bake sale.)

Digitizing Nonprofit Strategy

For all its talk of future casting and flexibility, the name of the game in “The Future of Nonprofits” seems to be “social media or bust.” Jump on the wagon with the cool kids, already! Despite the authors’ earnest testimonial to Web 2.0, no one can deny that technology and innovation are interrelated. It’s a chicken-or-the-egg kind of situation: Technology is driving innovation, but innovation is also driving technology.

However, many nonprofits still remain social-networking-phobic. It’s important to recognize that even though the jargon may seem confusing, the goals are the same. The three pillars of the book’s strategy are familiar to anyone who has ever tried to run an organization – being aware of other organizations, structuring for the future, hiring inspired people with lots of new ideas  – and social media can help achieve these goals more quickly and effectively.

Here are some tips that Neff and Moss share about how using social media can more effectively advance your organization’s goals in the digital age:

  • Awareness: It has always been important to remain aware of what’s going on in similar organizations to remain competitive in the marketplace. Just a few years ago you might have received a deluge of paper newsletters in your mailbox that piled up on your kitchen table. Today, it’s up to you to subscribe to blogs (from Beth Kanter and Nancy Schwartz’s Getting Attention to NTEN and VolunteerMatch, to the various articles at and follow like-minded organizations on Twitter.It’s not just about gauging the competition. Where reading a monthly mailing is a passive act, social media can help you participate, learn and confer with your surrounding market. “Like” things. Leave comments. Part of awareness is making other organizations aware of you.
  • Structure: In the old days, business structure was all about the CEO in the secluded corner office proposing all the big ideas. Now, creating an innovative organization is all about feedback from all levels. But how can nonprofit managers cultivate, refine and launch ideas? Social media. You can get feedback from anyone on Twitter or other online networks on many of your ideas during the launch phase of a project. They can come from anyone with good ideas that don’t necessarily have a locked door and daunting capital letters after their names.

Neff and Moss surely make a convincing case for the use of technology in today’s nonprofit business climate. The comic strip in the back of the book that summarizes its entire contents is a cute if somewhat gimmicky way to spread their message in yet another media format. Although one has to wonder: Are we really expected at this point to take the time to read more than 140 characters at a time?

I would recommend this book to any organization looking to revitalize and/or build their impact in the digital world. You can buy “The Future of Nonprofits: Innovate and Thrive in the Digital Age” by David J. Neff and Randal Moss on their website.

Check out more photos of the book, Moss and Neff on Flickr.

Laura Weiss is an intern at VolunteerMatch. You can reach her at