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.

4 Steps to Finding Your Volunteer Software Match

If you’re struggling to manage your volunteer program with Excel spreadsheets, manual emails, and shared Google Docs… you’re not alone.

Find Your Volunteer Software MatchA new report from nonprofit technology review firm Software Advice shows that only 7% of small nonprofits (nonprofits with an annual budget of less than $1 million) use formal volunteer management software. This is understandable. With tight budgets and even tighter schedules, who has time to search for new systems?

If you’re struggling with your current systems… you should make time.

Why? A common reason that nonprofits eventually search for better methods is that they start to lose volunteers, or receive complaints about their current system. Don’t wait until you get to this point. Make your processes as easy as possible to keep your volunteers as happy as possible.

Some nonprofits also report that they spend more time managing their systems than actually getting things done. Sound familiar?

Ok, so you’ve determined you should improve your volunteer management system. Now what?

  1. Understand why you want a new system.

Are you part of the 25% of small nonprofits that want to improve the accuracy of your data? Do you want to have proof of your volunteer program’s impact? Maybe you want to lessen your response time to potential volunteers. Determining your reasons will help you find the right software.


Top Reasons for Evaluating New Software

  1. Create a list of your must-haves.

Before you start searching, you need to know what you’re looking for. 93% of the nonprofits surveyed by Software Advice site tracking hours and activities as the most important functionality to them. But maybe for your nonprofit, it’s more important to have easy-to-manage volunteer shift scheduling.

Make a list of the most important features your new volunteer management software should have, ranked in order of importance. This will help your search.


Top-Requested Functionality

  1. Do your research.

Don’t jump into a commitment with a new software vendor because it’s the cheapest, or because you know someone else who uses it (and loves it!) A cheap solution could potentially cost you more in time spent managing it, and what works for another organization won’t necessarily work for yours. Invest in your research upfront so that you save time and money in the long run.

  1. Don’t be afraid of change.

If something’s not working, don’t stick with it just because it’s a hassle to change. This is true of many things, and volunteer management is no exception. Technology is invaluable for nonprofits, and finding the right technology for your nonprofit is the most valuable of all.

Afraid of Losing Volunteers? Start Giving Constructive Criticism.

Guest post by Monique Goodyer

Offering Constructive Feedback is an Important Part of a Volunteer ProgramYou’ve shed blood, sweat and tears getting enough volunteers to join your nonprofit.

(At least it feel like that sometimes; am I right?)

And even when they need it the most, you are afraid to give feedback or constructive criticism. Why risk loosing your hard-earned volunteers?

This situation describes the thought process of many nonprofits. While the logic may have some appeal, this way of thinking is actually counter-intuitive and hurting your organization!

Creating a constructive feedback loop for your volunteers will make them feel more valued, as well as increase the quality of your volunteer program. In short, they will be more likely to stick around.

Formal Guidelines
The first step in providing constructive feedback is setting up appropriate guidelines and expectations prior to work. The aim is to make volunteers understand they are helping a worthy cause and they can develop vital skills through volunteering. This will make constructive feedback a normal course of their development.

Some procedures that you should consider include: establishing a chain of command, clearly defining their role, outlining outcomes and showing the potential impact of their work.

The Feedback
A useful and easy technique to master for giving constructive feedback is called: The Sandwhich Theory. This is where you ‘wrap’ the feedback within two positive statements, so the structure looks like a sandwich.

When you are giving positive feedback, make sure it is sincere and not generic. For instance, you should not say “Good work” but instead say: “I love your positive attitude, you’re always the first to arrive at work”.

When offering feedback on how a volunteer can improve, delivery is very important. Avoid any words or phrases that put others in a defensive state of mind. For instance, avoid phrases such as “you should not do X” but instead focus on phrases such as “a better way of doing X might be Y”. Your tone and manner should also be very calm and open.

By the end, volunteers should be fully aware of the areas they need to improve in as well as their strengths.

Constructive feedback is very important to develop volunteering skills and improve the quality of your operations. By implementing formal guidelines and giving feedback in friendly manner, you can forget about the fear of losing volunteers.

Do you agree? What has your experience been with constructive criticism and feedback for volunteers? Let us know in the comments!

Monique Goodyer works at Monaco Compensation Lawyers, one of Australia’s compensation law firms.

Beyond Intuition

When you interview volunteers, trusting your gut leads to mixed results.

Guest post by Elisa Kosarin, Twenty Hats

Thumbs Up DownThis post was originally published on Twenty Hats.

True or False?

Our gut feelings about a volunteer are the best predictor of volunteer success.

Since I’m asking the question – and it’s a leading question – you’ve probably guessed the correct answer: FALSE.

Five years ago I would have answered ‘True’. The program where I have worked, Fairfax CASA, takes volunteer screening seriously. We expect candidates to complete a one hour orientation and two interviews before being considered for training, and then the staff discusses each candidate before making the weighty decision to accept or reject someone.

About those “gut feelings”
Despite all this rigor, our decisions often came down to our “gut feelings” about a candidate – even though our gut feelings were not paying off. We were having a tough time meeting our recruitment goals because so many trainees either dropped their cases or never even took one. This was a huge problem because our judges want to see a volunteer on every single case that enters the court.

The pressure to bring in qualified volunteers had a silver lining, because it forced us to take a good hard look at our recruitment and screening methods. And we were fortunate to receive help from a human resources specialist who taught us how to conduct behavior-based interviews.

A Better Way
The concept behind behavior-based interviewing is pretty simple: past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. You ask questions that require your applicants to give examples of the competencies you seek. If you need a volunteer who is reliable, you ask your prospect to describe situations where others could count on him to deliver. If a position requires good interpersonal skills, ask your candidate about a time she handled a disagreement with someone.

Questions usually begin one of two ways: “Tell me about a time when…” or “Give me an example of…” Then you assess how closely the candidate is able to answer the question. The response, or lack of an adequate response, speaks volumes about that person’s ability to handle a similar situation with confidence.

Shrinking the Gray Area
Fairfax CASA experienced some striking results from the shift to behavior-based interviewing. We shifted from a typical year with over a dozen non-engaged trainees to an average of two volunteers per year not taking a case. And the number of applicants falling into the “gray area”, when we are on the fence about someone, has become much smaller.

There are other factors that play into volunteer screening, like getting clear on the competencies you seek and spelling out expectations, but if I had to choose just one factor, I would pick interviewing. It’s one area where volunteer engagement still relies on the human resources best practices for excellence.

Want more info on behavior-based interviewing? Request your spot for the Beyond Intuition free webinar, Thursday, March 26, 2:00 pm – 3:00 (EST).