The Accidental Collaborator

When a short exercise went a long way towards staff engagement.

Guest post by Elisa Kosarin, Twenty Hats

This post was originally published on Twenty Hats.

engaging-staff-with-volunteers-twenty-hats-300x297In my local DOVIA (Directors of Volunteers in Agencies), one of the most common workshop topic requests is: “How to get staff on board with volunteer management.”

It’s a complex subject, most likely because staff engagement brings us into the murky world of soft interpersonal skills. We anticipate barriers and may feel discouraged about achieving any sort of progress.

Sometimes, though, a hard skill exercise goes a long way towards nurturing staff engagement.

That was my recent take-away when talking with a volunteer coordinator who participated in my recruitment planning course. As part of the course she ran what I call a “DNA Study of her successful volunteers.

In a DNA Study, you ask co-workers who supervise volunteers to provide a list of their most successful volunteers. Then, you run the demographic data to see what commonalities surface. The information is priceless when developing a profile of your ideal volunteer.

Unexpected Results
When my student ran her DNA study, she uncovered plenty of interesting findings about her volunteers – AND she noted one unexpected consequence: the process engaged the staff. Being consulted about the volunteers made the staff curious about the study results and more invested in the outcome. In fact, my student and her co-workers are now taking things a step further and convening a focus group to better understand what motivates their volunteers.

What was it about this study that united the staff? I think there were several reasons:

  • Being consulted validated the supervisors and showed that their opinion mattered.
  • The project was simple, with a clear beginning, middle, and end.
  •  The exercise was data-driven, and therefore less subjective.
  •  There was a payoff for the supervisors because the project helped clarify which volunteers would most likely succeed in the program.
  • The process was fun – how often does that happen?

What’s your take?
Someone steeped on organizational management may not have been surprised by these findings. If you have ever studied the collaborative process, you probably know that rule number one is to rally individuals around a common goal.

So this one example makes me wonder: are there similar ways to engage your staff in the volunteer management process? If you have had a similar experience, where a project of yours helped bring the staff together, please email me about your project and your results. OR, if reading this post gets you curious to try your own DNA Study and see what happens, keep me posted on your results.

Nonprofit Insights: New Tools and Strategies for Managing Risk

The Nonprofit Insights webinar series brings major thought leaders and experts to you for thought-provoking presentations on a variety of issues related to technology and engaging your community members for social good.

Register for the Nonprofit Insights webinarWhen your organization welcomes new volunteers, how do you screen them?

It seems every nonprofit has a different process and set of standards, and we think it’s time to make the whole experience easier and better.

Late last year, we partnered with a national identity service provider and conducted a survey to gather information about how nonprofits screen and authenticate volunteers. Thousands of responses later, we’re ready and itching to share some truly valuable insights about risk management and volunteer engagement with you – and to hear some more good ideas in return.

Join us for a special, free webinar on the best strategies for screening new volunteers and identifying potential risks to your organization, featuring Ernie Allen, founder, former President and CEO of National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

No matter what your current risk management practices, you’ll gain some great insight into how other nonprofits approach this issue, and how you can determine the best policy for your organization.

Reserve your spot today!
Monday, April 6, 2014
11am – 12pm PT (2-3pm ET)

Follow along with the conversation on Twitter: @VolunteerMatch and #vmlearn.

This webinar is generously sponsored by SureID.

Volunteer Training and Development Got You Down? Consider Going Online

Guest post by Alec Green

Whether your nonprofit engages just a handful of volunteers or several thousand across the country, getting them up to speed efficiently and offering ongoing professional development is a common challenge.

Student on computer in the grass.More and more, online training is becoming a popular solution to this challenge. That’s because it’s getting easier to do. Free e-learning resources such as are available for nonprofits. (That particular open online learning site includes 200+ learning resources covering all the major job functions in the nonprofit sector!)

In addition to general professional development courses, many nonprofits need to provide training that is specific to their mission, organization, or the volunteer role.  For organizations looking to scale their volunteer management programs, the Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation launched the Impact Grant. The Impact Grant provides a two-year donation of Cornerstone OnDemand’s Learning Management System (LMS) and consulting services to enhance the training of a nonprofit’s volunteers, beneficiaries, and community partners.

Spark, a national nonprofit, recently leveraged the Cornerstone LMS to roll out its volunteer training program nationwide. The team at Spark partners with schools and workplaces to match middle-school students with career mentors in fields aligned with the students’ interests. Based on the feedback of their volunteer mentors, Spark is introducing a new structured curriculum which includes online training. The new online platform not only gives Spark the opportunity to expand its program; it opens up a variety of new ways to engage both their volunteer mentors and students.

How do you know if an online volunteer training and development strategy is right for your organization? Here are some ways to determine your readiness:

  • Think about what training is critical and what falls under the “nice-to-have” category. You can also talk with your most experienced volunteers to figure out what training they will need in the future.
  • Make sure your volunteers would be receptive to online training. If your volunteers are less computer-savvy, or have limited access to high-speed internet connections, then in-person training could be more effective for your organization.
  • Ensure you have executive-level support behind you. Whether you qualify for an Impact Grant or use one of the many free e-learning resources available to nonprofits, taking your training program online will require some commitment of time and resources.
  • Ask yourself if you’re ready for the time commitment. Remember that effective online learning is not as simple as uploading a PowerPoint or linking to a YouTube recording of a webinar or in-person training. But after the initial time investment, it will likely save you time in the long run.

So, do you think you’re ready to expand to online training and development with your volunteers?

Start by signing up for the free resource, browse the course catalog, and see what they offer that would be of most value to your volunteers. In addition, the 2015 Impact Grant cycle is now open, and this recent webinar will help you determine if a full LMS is a fit for your organization. By adding some form of online training to your mix, you’ll be on your way to engaging, developing, and retaining your volunteer talent.

Alec Green is Chief Marketing Evangelist at Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation.  He is responsible for developing the overall marketing plan and strategy for the Foundation, executing all outbound communications, increasing visibility of the Foundation’s programs, and building engagement with our partners and beneficiaries.

Feeling the Winter Blues? Gain a New Perspective with a VolunteerMatch Webinar.

Kermit in snow, hearing about winter webinars.Tired of the snow and winter weather? How about adding a little professional development to your week and taking a fresh approach to volunteer engagement.

We have some interesting new topics and some old favorites cued up for the beginning of 2015:


If you’ve missed some of our most popular webinars in the past, I’ll be discussing the role that social media can play in recruiting and engaging volunteers on February 19th, and share ideas for engaging volunteers in new ways in Where Do I Go From Here? on March 12th.

And, Beth Steinhorn from JFFixler Group will be presenting her very popular topic Leveraging Volunteers for Organizational Change on April 22nd, and introducing the idea of engaging family volunteers in your program in Family Power on March 11th.

You can find the complete list of all of our webinars here. I hope you’ll join me at one of these always free online trainings in 2015!

13 Steps to the CVA Credential

Guest post by Liza J. Dyer, CVA

“I’d like to somehow make a difference in people’s lives.”

Aside from being a line from my all-time favorite movie, Reality Bites, this quote also sums up my career aspirations from a young age. Like a lot of folks, I didn’t know how I would reach my goal or what my journey would look like. But I always knew I wanted to have a job that made a positive difference in someone else’s life.

Through a series of different twists and turns in my early working life, I found myself on the volunteer engagement path. And, although I didn’t realize it at first, this wonderful and sometimes zany field became my way to make a difference.


In 2012 I was looking for a way to solidify my knowledge of volunteer management. I knew best practices, had attended some local trainings, and a handful of VolunteerMatch webinars, but I wanted something more. Something tangible. I shared this with my supervisor and she recommended the Certification in Volunteer Administration – or CVA for short – and shared her experience getting the credential.

Later that year I registered for the CVA and began studying. And now that I’ve been through the process and have my CVA, I want to share the experience with you.

Step 1: Think About It

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The CVA credential isn’t something you do just for fun. It will take time to read the textbook, study for the exam, and write your portfolio. Really think about if this is something you want to spend your time and money on. Personally, it was absolutely worth it.

Check with your employer or local volunteer administration association to see if there are any professional development funds or scholarships available.

Step 2: Register

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Now that you’ve decided to pursue your CVA, it’s time to get all your registration materials in order. My favorite part was getting recommendation letters from coworkers and colleagues; it was reaffirming to hear such positive reviews of my work from peers.

The Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration (CCVA) will process your application and, as long as you meet all the qualifications, they’ll let you know you’re in. Celebrate!

Step 3: Time to Study

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Set aside some time to read the textbook. My favorite study place was at a coffee shop. It was less distracting than home, and it was a treat to have a latte while studying.

Step 4: Get a Study Group (optional, but recommended)

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My local DOVIA (Directors of Volunteers in Agencies) – Northwest Oregon Volunteer Administrators Association – coordinates a CVA study group each year. I joined the group because I wanted to study with others and have a sense of accountability. My study group created a meeting schedule and took turns writing study guides and facilitating conversations on the textbook. As a bonus, I still turn to my study buddies when I have an ethical dilemma or want to bounce some ideas off of someone.

If you don’t know anyone else in your area who is studying for the CVA, consider reaching out to others online; Twitter and the CCVA’s Facebook page are great places to start. The CCVA also offers an online support group or you can search for a local DOVIA.

Step 5: Take the Exam

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The CVA exam mainly tests your knowledge of volunteer management best practices. It’s online and you’ll need to get a proctor to monitor the test. If you have an in-person study group you can find a computer lab and have one proctor for multiple people, which is what my group did.

After you finish the exam, you’ll need to wait a while to receive your results. Take a moment to celebrate finishing a part of the process!

Step 6: Write Your Portfolio

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Now that the exam is over, you’ll want to get started on the portfolio portion of the process. The portfolio is your chance to share your personal professional experience and has three parts – Philosophy Statement, Ethics Case Study, and the Management Narrative. Personally, I enjoyed the reflective aspect of the portfolio.

Step 7: Have a Colleague Review Your Portfolio

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If you have a study group, keep in touch with them after the exam. You can trade portfolio drafts and review each other’s work. If you don’t have a study group, you can always ask another colleague to review it for you. Trust me; you’ll want someone besides yourself to look it over before you submit it.

Step 8: Turn It In

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If you’re like me, you might be tempted to wait until the last minute to submit your portfolio. (If you’re exactly like me, you’ll wait until the December 31st deadline to submit it.) Don’t wait too long! The sooner you turn it in, the sooner you’ll hear back about your results.

Step 9: Celebrate!

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I’m a fan of celebrating the little things in life. Congratulations on submitting your portfolio!

Step 10: Wait

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Now that you’ve completed the exam and turned in your portfolio, you’ll need to wait to hear back from the CCVA. Actual, real live people are reviewing your portfolio. No robots here.

Step 11: Check Your Mail Every Day, Obsessively

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Okay, you don’t have to check it obsessively, but one day you’ll get something from the CCVA and it will be really, really exciting.

Step 12: Celebrate… Again!

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If all goes well, and you have successfully passed the exam and portfolio, you’ll have your CVA! Congratulations!

Step 13: Tell Everyone

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This is a huge accomplishment and you should tell the world! Announce it to your colleagues, share it in your organization’s newsletter, post a #CVAselfie on social media, add “CVA” after your name on your email signature and on LinkedIn, and tell friends and family.

My #CVAselfie on the day I got my acceptance letter in 2013. Source: Liza J Dyer, CVA

My #CVAselfie on the day I got my acceptance letter in 2013. Source: Liza J Dyer, CVA

I wear my CVA pin on my ID lanyard at work and when I go to workshops or trainings. When people ask what it means, I proudly explain that it’s a professional credential that shows my dedication to the field of Volunteer Management.

If you want to step up your volunteer management game, I highly recommend pursuing the CVA credential.

Interested in learning more? Sign up for the webinar on January 14th with CCVA Executive Director Katie Campbell and Jennifer Bennett of VolunteerMatch. If you decide to pursue your CVA, and if you have a VolunteerMatch account you can receive a discount on your registration fees.

For more information, see the Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration, Why the CVA Certification is Worth Your Time, or My Journey to the CVA Credential.

Liza J Dyer, CVA is a Volunteer Program Coordinator at Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon. She is also the Social Media Specialist for the Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration, Marketing & Communications chair of Northwest Oregon Volunteer Administrators Association, and Twitter Coordinator for Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Portland. Liza enjoys blogging at Volunteer Management Snark, a blog that embraces the snarky side of Volunteer Management. Connect with Liza on Twitter.