When Volunteers Fall Off the Radar

Guest post by Elisa Kosarin, Twenty Hats

This post was originally published on Twenty Hats.

How do you manage volunteers who have dropped off the radar screen? Twenty Hats turns to a pro for the answers.

When Volunteers Fall Off the RadarWhat do you do when a volunteer drops the ball – either fails to fulfill their responsibilities or just plain falls off the radar?

It’s a scenario that causes plenty of heartburn for supervisors who are then placed in the uncomfortable position of holding a difficult conversation. And for some volunteer supervisors, the dread around addressing this unfortunate issue makes it hard to even begin a potentially difficult conversation.

It IS possible to frame those conversations in a way that keeps your volunteers engaged. Just ask MaryAnn Wohlford.

Meet a Supervision Pro

MaryAnn is a supervisor at my former workplace, Fairfax CASA. Hands down, she is the most experienced volunteer supervisor I have ever known. That’s partly because MaryAnn worked in human resources for 20 years and child advocate programs volunteers for another 13 – and partly because she has an intuitive sense of what works to bring the best out of people.

MaryAnn’s volunteers rarely if ever fall off the radar screen. Instead, they fulfill their extensive commitment to advocating for an abused or neglected child, earning the respect of judges, attorneys, and social workers for their dedication to the children they serve.

The Bottom Line

I asked MaryAnn for her pointers when dealing with an absent volunteer. Her approach is based on the rapport she builds with each volunteer.

“The bottom line is that the relationship between the volunteer and the supervisor needs to be collaborative. When there is frequent communication, a volunteer feels supported and valued.”

That means regular check-ins – first to identify what the volunteer needs to do next and then to follow up.

“Some volunteers drop the ball because they think no one is looking — or they think what they are supposed to do is unimportant because no one is asking about it.”

The Accountability Factor

MaryAnn holds volunteers accountable even when their schedules get busy.  Knowing that her volunteers are clear about what is expected of them and have made a commitment, she might start the conversation by saying, “That’s a concern. How can we arrange things so that you can still fulfill your obligation?” or “Is there any way I can help?”

Sometimes volunteers find themselves in situations that cause discomfort or they don’t know how to handle. In those instances, she frames the conversation collaboratively, letting them know that difficult situations can be worked out. “Most important, I always follow up in these instances to make sure the problem is resolved – and I give them kudos for taking care of the issue.”

Recognizing Burnout

When burnout is the root of the problem, the approach is somewhat different. “I sense that you are feeling frustrated. Tell me what’s going on.” She listens, validates their concerns, and then reminds the volunteer of his role and his accomplishments.

Regardless of the situation, the key is not to let the volunteer off the hook, but instead problem-solve collaboratively to keep the work going.

As MaryAnn says, “Volunteers need to feel that they are not alone. They need to know that you have the same interest in the work that they have, and that you are working together to get the job done.”

Tweet this post! If you agree with my POV, feel free to send this message:

When a volunteer falls off the radar, problem-solve collaboratively & maintain accountability http://twentyhats.com/?p=1678 @THNonprofit

Starting Out as a Volunteer Manager: Advice from a Beginner

BeginningGuest post by Emma Bennett

Starting out as a Volunteer Manager can be a tough task – especially if it’s your first time in the role. I spent years and years volunteering and management seemed like an appropriate new challenge.

I was lucky enough to have previous management experience from work, but volunteers cannot be managed like employees. They have different motivations, needs, wants and concerns. I’m still in my first year of volunteer management and I love it, but it has come with its fair share of challenges.

However, the best thing about it is cultivating great volunteers; watching their confidence grow, building on their goals and being their source of support.

I’ve picked up a few things over the past few months that have helped me transition smoothly from a volunteer to a volunteer coordinator. They are pretty simple, but they lay a firm foundation to get you going with your volunteer program.

  1. Learn everyone’s name

This is so simple and so obvious, but it’s the most important thing. Find out the name of every volunteer, trustee or friend. If you struggle with names, write them down or ask volunteers to wear name badges. Do whatever you can to get know everyone as quickly as possible.

  1. Make one-on-one time

Taking on a new responsibility can be difficult and time consuming, but making some time for each of your volunteers is a great way to get going. You’ll find out about their needs and motivations, how they like to communicate, what they’re hoping to get out of volunteering and their goals. Ask them what they would like to see from you, and use this information to make yourself a better manager.

  1. Who knows what?

Let’s get to the grittier stuff. Is there an evacuation plan in case of a fire? Does anyone have any disabilities, food allergies or mental health considerations that you need to know about?

These types of questions are extremely important for compliance. The sooner you know all the important safety stuff, the sooner you can get on to the fun bits.

  1. Get organized

Working on computer.Create a mailing list with all the emails of your volunteers. If your organization does not have volunteer management software, you can use spreadsheets to collate any telephone numbers, emergency contacts, etc. Find a method for logging attendance. A volunteer database is your most important source of data.

  1. Know your policies

Every organization should have a governing document that details the policies in place to safeguard its members. It’s important to learn what the policies are for recruitment, whistle blowing, child protection, expenses and absence. If you don’t have these policies in place, think about introducing them.

Emma Bennett, Volunteer CoordinatorEmma Bennett is a Volunteer Coordinator for a Leeds Supplementary School, Trustee and Charity Blogger. Emma is extremely passionate about volunteering, young people and mental health and has worked extensively on a wide variety of Third Sector projects. She writes and works in digital for High Speed Training, who provide online safeguarding and equality & diversity courses. @emm_benn

4 Ways to Build an Ineffective, Disengaged Nonprofit Board

Your board of directors. They are responsible for the governance of your organization. They are also volunteers.

It’s an unfortunate truth that many nonprofit organizations struggle to effectively attract and engage board members. And for good reason – it’s not an easy task!

But before you start asking, “Why are there no good board members out there?!” take a look internally. Are you making these all-too-common mistakes with your board?

Disengaged Board Member

1. Be Vague About the Commitment Level

I once knew someone named Don. Don’s good friend was starting a nonprofit whose mission was to bring more culture and art into their small community. Don’s friend said, “Don’t worry – it won’t be much work. I just need bodies.” Don didn’t have much of an interest in the topic, but he wanted to be a good friend. So, despite being busy raising his two daughters and working full time, Don said yes.

You can probably guess how this ends: It actually was a lot of work, and Don didn’t have the time or the interest. He left the board a year later with both his and his friend’s time wasted.

For some organizations, the only requirement for being on the board is writing a big check once a year. But is this the norm? No. Most nonprofits are small, volunteer-run groups who benefit by having active and engaged board members. If you think, “I just need to get someone in the door, and then I’ll get them interested,” then think again.

2. Don’t Ask for Monetary or Fundraising Support

“She already does so much for us. We can’t ask her for money, too.”

I heard this once at a nonprofit I was working with. If this sounds familiar to you, it’s time to revisit your outlook on your supporters. In fact, people who donate time to your organization are much more likely to donate money, too, when compared with those who do not volunteer for you. Why? Because when you’re as invested in an organization’s success as you should be when you’re a board member, you’ll likely do what’s in your means to help the organization succeed – including a monetary donation. And often, the only barrier between a donation and no donation is the courage to ask for one.

3. Keep All the Responsibility to Yourself

It’s no secret: People want to feel useful. Spending hours at a board meeting and not feeling like you’re personally accomplishing anything is a sure-fire recipe for disengagement. I know I would rather spend 3 hours working on a project that matters than 1 hour simply nodding my head and participating in a few votes.

It’s okay to give up the reigns to your board members here and there. You might be surprised at how a disengaged board member does a 180 when given a little responsibility using the unique skills they bring to the table.

4. Choose Board Members Who Don’t Reflect the Community You Serve

Diversity is always the ideal – not just on a board, but in virtually any setting. A variety of opinions coming from a range of worldviews is key to progress. But when you’re striving for diversity, ask yourself one critical question: “Does anyone on our board actually share experiences, values, and interests with the community we’re serving?”

Imagine how much more effective a hunger-fighting organization could be if someone on the board actually experienced what it’s like to go hungry? You’ll get insights you simply can’t get through research.

One way to increase diversity on your board is to reach outside of your networks. Post your board openings on VolunteerMatch.org with the cause tag “Board Development.” Remember to be as descriptive as possible about the commitment level and the type of board member you’re seeking.

Do you have advice to share on creating an effective and engaged board of directors? Share them in the comments below, or tweet to us @VolunteerMatch.

Photo credit: CollegeDegrees360

Including Volunteers in Your Nonprofit’s Marketing Efforts

Guest post by Kristen Gramigna

Nonprofit Marketing StrategyYour volunteers have unique sets of skills and talents — and they’re passionate about your cause. So who better to go to for insights into the minds of your supporters? Asking for their opinions and ideas on the best way to present your cause could prove invaluable.

Here are some other tips for ramping up your marketing efforts, and including volunteers along the way.

Measure what works best for your audience.
Any effective marketing effort starts with understanding your audience, what they care about, and how they want to receive messages. Chances are, your supporters are increasingly reliant on mobile devices, email, online communications and social media interactions. Successful nonprofits adjust their strategies appropriately to meet their audiences in the channels they are using.

With that said, remember that not all messages are functional on all kinds of mobile devices. A skilled volunteer can measure your site traffic and social media interactions with analytics tools that provide insights about your audience and the kinds of devices they use. The more you know about the lives of your supporters, the more likely you’ll craft a marketing message that fits into it.

Use videos to get views.
Mobile devices, apps and social media have made it possible for organizations of all sizes to capture compelling images and produce videos that are easily downloaded to social media channels. Despite the power of your copywriting and campaign ideas, the emotional level with which you’re able to connect with audiences is paramount to your nonprofit success. Videos allow you to set the appropriate mood and tone that can do just that.

Videos are also increasingly popular among a range of audiences. According to FameBit, YouTube reaches more 18 to 34 year olds than any other cable network. A study by Forbes Insights also revealed that more than 50 percent of executives watch at least one video on YouTube weekly.

Are these demographics included in your nonprofit’s audience? Film your volunteers talking about why they love your organization, and create a YouTube channel if you don’t already have one. You may even find that a volunteer steps up to manage the project!

Leverage social media supporters.
Establishing an online presence for your organization to be found through online search is challenging. Though producing consistent and quality written and visual content can help boost your website’s page rank, leveraging the reach of your supporters can boost your efforts even further. Identify who among your both your current volunteers and social media followers are especially active and connected in various social media channels. Reach out to them and ask if they’re willing to help spread the word about your cause with their own social media networks in exchange for a token of appreciation, like VIP seating at an event, or similar type of recognition.

Your volunteers’ insights are key to developing marketing efforts that are sincere and meaningful among the people who are truly the face of your organization. Though your volunteers don’t expect monetary compensation, your appreciation and invitations to their involvement goes a long way.

Nonprofits may have the challenge of limited budgets and resources, but with a little creativity and support from others, you can build a marketing effort that rivals that of major corporations.

Kristen Gramigna is Chief Marketing Officer for BluePay, a credit card processing firm that provides its services to nonprofits among other businesses. She has more than 20 years experience in the bankcard industry in direct sales, sales management and marketing.

How to Turn Away Volunteers and Still Have an OK Day

Guest post by Elisa Kosarin, Twenty Hats

This post was originally published on Twenty Hats.

How to Turn Away VolunteersWhat’s the absolute, no doubt about it, worst part of managing volunteers? For me, it’s turning away the ones that are just not a good fit – the ones that won’t work out in any of the roles that your program offers. After all, volunteers are donating their time and talents to support your cause. It’s hard to reject something given so freely.

I have had to reject hundreds of volunteers over the years. At first, the process was wrenching. I could feel my blood pressure rising every time I picked up the phone, knowing I was about to share news that was sure to disappoint. A conversation with an upset rejected volunteer had the potential to ruin my day.

I’ve got some guidelines

Over time and through trial and error, though, I came up with some guidelines for turning away volunteers that bolstered my confidence and allowed the applicant some space to process the bad news.

If turning away volunteers gives you heart palpitations, here are my basics for making the experience manageable.

  1. Don’t avoid: Putting off the phone call will probably heighten your anxiety and make it more difficult to deliver your message.
  2. CALL the volunteer: Your applicants deserve the consideration of a phone call. Don’t shirk your responsibility by resorting to an email or letter.
  3. Frame the conversation from the applicant’s point of view: Explain that, from your experience, the applicant will feel frustrated or unfulfilled in this position rather than rewarded.
  4. Don’t give reasons: Don’t share all the reasons why the applicant was turned away. Once you give a reason, the applicant has the opportunity to refute your assessment, leaving you in the position of defending yourself. You will leave the call feeling flustered and the applicant will feel more upset than ever.
  5. Show compassion: It is possible to deliver bad news in a caring way. Let the applicant know that you are sorry to share this information.
  6. Give your boss a heads up: Some applicants are going to take their displeasure up the chain of command. Make sure your supervisor is aware of the situation so that she can back you up.
  7. Vent after the call: These calls are difficult. Find a trusted co-worker and debrief after a tough conversation. You need the validation that you did something tough but essential.

Not fun – but important

Turning away volunteers is never fun. But turning away unqualified volunteers is the flip side of the management coin. It’s a signal that you are clear on who works for your program and who doesn’t. It means you see how an unqualified volunteer strains capacity when you are committed to keeping your program strong.

What have you found?

Do you have some practices to add to the list? If so, please email me your ideas and I will share them through Twenty Hats.