Winning People Over to Your Cause – Part Four: Measure Success Based on Your Volunteers and Community

Content Marketing for Nonprofits, by Kivi Leroux MillerEditor’s Note: This series explores ways to apply content marketing strategies to help lead a successful nonprofit volunteer program. Using the wealth of information in Kivi Leroux Miller’s book “Content Marketing for Nonprofits” as a jumping-off point, this four-part installment discusses how a solid content marketing strategy will pay dividends in drawing volunteers and supporters, bridging the gap between volunteers and donors, and engaging your community.

heartmeterHow can you learn more about your volunteers and supporters? This question should serve as the driving force behind how you keep track of your work and success. In this blog post, the final one of the series, we will discuss how you can quantitatively and qualitatively measure the impact of your work and adapt to the needs of your volunteers and community.

Invite Volunteer Feedback

One way your data might manifest itself is through surveys and polls. After a volunteer participates in one of your opportunities, ask that person to fill out a short form talking about how it went. Did the opportunity match his/her skills and interests? Did the volunteer learn something or take something away from the experience? Did the volunteer feel guided by his/her supervisor? How you tweak your program based on responses to questions like these can be the determining factor in whether or not that volunteer will lend his/her time with you again.

One organization that encourages volunteer feedback is my local Sierra Club chapter. In the process of creating and publishing their newsletter, “The Yodeler,” released online and in print, the Club invites volunteers to edit their articles, not only grammatically but stylistically and formally as well. As a result, existing volunteers directly affect how the Club’s message is delivered, and can provide input based on their own needs.

Use Online and Social media Analytics to Follow Trends

Website analytics like Google Analytics and Sprout Social will provide you with quantitative data that you can use to track a number of different statistics and trends. You might be interested in:

  • How long people stay on the volunteering page of your website
  • How many people are visiting your site for the first time (unique visitors)
  • Which age group has the most people following you

You can collect a wide variety of data and follow a bunch of different trends. But efficiently using social media is more than just collecting a mass amount of data: it is using those metrics that are most relevant to you that will then help you improve your content.

Analytics can also be used to determine how good of a job you are doing in responding to social media activity. Your online analytics can track how quickly you are responding to comments on the different social media outlets. You can then take that data and compare it to the graphs that tell you how many followers, fans, and likes you are receiving on a weekly basis. Small steps in improving your social media presence can be very beneficial in drawing new volunteers.

Balance Exposure and Engagement

Much as you want to have your name heard by lots of people, it will only be meaningful if people are actually having conversations about you. To clarify this idea, think about this awesome analogy that Kivi presents in her book:

To summarize, think of building social media followers like filling a football stadium. Many people like you enough that they will attend, but only a small fraction will wear apparel and team colors, and even less will put on face paint and go all-out with costumes. Social media provides extremely useful tools for connecting with a massive number of people, but it is up to you to use those tools effectively to create quality relationships and die-hard fans.

You might have thousands of followers on Twitter or likes on Facebook, but these only mean something if people are actually getting involved. In terms of online analytics, you might compare your impressions (the potential number of people who saw your name and post) to the number of interactions (the number of times you were mentioned by other people), and compare these to the number of people who actually sign up to volunteer.

At the same time, you can only create new interactions if you are meeting new people. Thus, exposure and engagement work together, and you need to balance both in order to successfully build strong relationships with your volunteers and community.

By following some of the strategies in this blog series, we hope that your organization leads a more successful volunteer engagement program. Maybe you used these strategies as inspiration for a new approach, or your existing strategies diverge from those listed here. We would love for you to share your experiences, and hope you will jump in the conversation about how to engage volunteers using content marketing!

What methods does your organization use to measure successful communication with and engagement of volunteers?

Know the Facts: Volunteer Drivers and the “Ride-Sharing” Liability Controversy

Guest post by William R. Henry, Jr.

Know the Facts: Volunteer Drivers and the “Ride-Sharing” Liability ControversyIf your organization engages volunteers to transport people, and the volunteers use their own vehicles, you may be concerned about liability. Now those worries have been amped up by the controversy over “transportation network companies” (TNC’s) such as Uber and Sidecar, which use Web portals to act as brokers between those who need rides and those who are willing to provide them in their private vehicles.

The controversy is that the liability exposure of TNC’s falls between the scope of commercial auto policies and that of personal auto policies, and it will take some time before insurance companies and government regulators can sort it out. Meanwhile, nonprofit-sponsored programs are at risk of an unfair comparison, because TNC’s sometimes are described as “ride-sharing” – a term that volunteer-based programs have used for many years.

There is a major difference in the two models – volunteers driving their own vehicles for nonprofit organizations might be reimbursed for their expenses by the organization or by passengers, but they are not driving to make a profit. In contrast, vehicle owners drive for TNC’s to make money.

Based on all evidence I have been able to find, insurance companies understand this difference. Although individuals who drive for TNC’s might jeopardize their personal auto insurance, there is no reason at this point to believe that an insurer would deny a claim, cancel coverage, or increase premiums of a customer just because that individual is a volunteer driver, and is reimbursed for reasonable expenses.

Most insurance companies writing personal auto coverage have an exclusion for liability “arising out of …a vehicle being used as a public or livery conveyance.” In other words, don’t use your vehicle as a taxi. In response to the rise of TNC’s, the Insurance Services Office (ISO), which provides standard policy forms, recently issued a policy “endorsement” (modification) excluding coverage for TNC-type arrangements.

My organization has approached several underwriters with the question of whether a customer’s coverage might be jeopardized if that person serves as a volunteer, transporting clients for a nonprofit organization, and is reimbursed for expenses.
Although underwriters always remind us that coverage determinations depend on specific facts of a claim, one underwriter from a major insurer did venture to say that a claim would be covered unless the compensation the volunteer had been receiving “exceeded normal reimbursement of expenses, including wear and tear on the auto.”

Jim Levendusky, manager of Insurance Solutions Underwriting for Verisk Analytics, the parent company of ISO, told me he is not aware of any insurance companies that are contemplating adverse action against customers who drive as volunteers.

The California Public Utilities Commission, in a 2013 ruling on regulations and insurance requirements for transportation network companies, also recognized the difference between TNC’s and volunteer-based programs. The rules exempt nonprofit organizations from the requirements.

Even in the absence of evidence, insurance agents and brokers sometimes warn their customers that they are jeopardizing their personal auto coverage by serving as volunteer drivers. A few states have enacted laws to prevent insurance companies from taking the kind of adverse action that no company yet has taken. The “facts on the ground,” as reporters like to say now, do not justify those warnings and legislative actions.

If your organization engages volunteer drivers, make sure your staff and volunteers know these facts!

William R. Henry, Jr. is executive director of Volunteers Insurance Service Association, which provides insurance and risk management services to volunteer-based nonprofit organizations nationwide, under the brand CIMA Volunteers Insurance (

Winning People Over to Your Cause – Part Three: Stay in the Conversation

Content Marketing for Nonprofits, by Kivi Leroux MillerEditor’s Note: This series explores ways to apply content marketing strategies to help lead a successful nonprofit volunteer program. Using the wealth of information in Kivi Leroux Miller’s book “Content Marketing for Nonprofits” as a jumping-off point, this four-part installment discusses how a solid content marketing strategy will pay dividends in drawing volunteers and supporters, bridging the gap between volunteers and donors, and engaging your community.

Engage more supporters by keeping your nonprofit organization in the conversation.When communicating with your volunteers and community members and applying your content marketing strategy, keeping your content relevant is crucial to your success.

And who decides relevancy? Your volunteers and supporters! They want to go to your Facebook or Twitter page and see posts that interest them and make them want to keep reading. This will make them come back for more.

While your organization’s needs should certainly be considered when applying your content marketing strategy, the needs of your volunteers and supporters should be the primary focus. As Kivi states in her book, “Always remember why people are there on the trail with you. It’s not solely for your benefit. It’s because they want to get something out of the experience, too.”

This blog post will explore the key to keeping your content relevant and becoming your volunteers and supporters’ favorite organization: staying in the conversation.

Produce Content That’s Refreshing

With social media allowing information and news to be sent and received instantaneously, it is crucial that your content is up-to-date and current. Yet coming up with new content can take time, and the demand might seem to frequently outweigh the supply. How do you satisfy a community that is constantly seeking new and fresh information?

Suppose it is the winter holidays. Your organization wants to send your fans into the break with a few “tweets”, but you’re out of news to talk about. A great method of producing content is re-purposing. Remember that tweet you sent out a few weeks ago telling volunteers how they can make an impact at a local homelessness shelter? You can re-purpose that tweet along with a few others and create a list of ways people can give back over the holidays. The old tweet is made new, and it is refreshing because it is relevant in the specific context of the winter holidays.

Tell Compelling Stories to Connect on a Human Level

Social media, email, print newsletters – whatever your medium, you want to come off as a helpful friend and a trusted expert. Telling fascinating stories will allow you to connect with your volunteers and supporters on a personal level. And this is crucial for you in becoming their favorite organization.

Telling stories might also come in the form of testimonials. What is the success of a website like Yelp? A lot of it is relying on people’s testimonials. If 100 people give a restaurant a 5 out of 5 rating, it is very likely that a new customer will decide to try that restaurant for the first time. So why not use testimonials in your content?

One approach is the volunteer success story. Invite a volunteer who had an awesome experience with your organization to talk about it for one of your blog posts. Have that person explain how they became interested in your organization and why they enjoyed their volunteer experience. Not only will that volunteer feel rewarded and likely keep volunteering, other potential volunteers will see the post and envision themselves having a similarly great experience.

Create a Network with Other Organizations to Gain Support for Your Cause

Rather than compete with other organizations in your community, partner with them to reach out to both their supporters and yours. Sharing the work of other organizations with your followers is an awesome method of conveying your own values while staying relevant.

This can be as easy as “retweeting” the tweets of other organizations. If a local nonprofit led a successful beach clean-up last weekend, even if your work might be totally unrelated to environmental awareness, a simple retweet is a great way to say to your audience, “The work these guys are doing is awesome, and we support them.”

This makes your organization feel personable and conscientious, showing that you aren’t just pigeon-holed into one area, but supportive of a number of diverse causes. People are much more likely to volunteer with your organization because they will see that there are actual people who care about multiple issues producing that online content.

We want to hear from you: how does your organization stay in the conversation?

Winning People Over to Your Cause – Part Two: Get Everyone On Board

Content Marketing for Nonprofits, by Kivi Leroux MillerEditor’s Note: This series explores ways to apply content marketing strategies to help lead a successful nonprofit volunteer program. Using the wealth of information in Kivi Leroux Miller’s book “Content Marketing for Nonprofits” as a jumping-off point, this four-part installment discusses how a solid content marketing strategy will pay dividends in drawing volunteers and supporters, bridging the gap between volunteers and donors, and engaging your community.

Winning People Over to Your Cause: Get People On BoardYou are the in charge of running your nonprofit’s volunteer program. You are ready to implement the two-way conversations, targeted engagement, and multi-channel communication we discussed in the first blog post of this series.

But in order for your program to truly welcome change and successfully apply new content marketing strategies for volunteer engagement, you need to make sure that the other departments and everyone else in your organization are on the same page.

Using the example of a Communications Director, Kivi explains that it is a misconception that other departments are not part of communications and marketing. The fact is that everyone plays a role, and marketing is more successful and done better in a team rather than alone.

Similarly, by getting your colleagues aligned with your volunteer program goals, you will strengthen the internal structure of your organization, which will result in more volunteers and supporters for your cause. This blog post is aimed at strategies you can employ to get everyone on board with your volunteer engagement goals.

Solve Your Organizational Jigsaw Puzzle

Coordinating your nonprofit’s volunteer engagement requires you to be an all-star. You have to constantly communicate with members of your community and other organizations, lead your volunteers, attract new ones, and make sure you are meeting the goals that your organization hopes to accomplish. A solid organizational device like a timeline will allow you to navigate through all of these tasks with efficiency.

One strategy Kivi encourages her readers to try is an editorial calendar. An editorial calendar consists of the different events and deadlines you must meet over the course of a given period. It pushes you to stay focused on your goals and prioritize the tasks that you have to complete at a certain time. With handy online sharing tools like Google Docs and Calendars, you can get other departments to work around your schedule and fit in new assignments on your editorial calendar.

You might want to create multiple editorial calendars, including one specifically for communicating with your volunteers. This will allow both you and your volunteers to get a clear picture of what you hope to accomplish over the next few months or year. Furthermore, you can make sure that you do not have a surplus of volunteers working on an assignment one day and a lack of volunteers on another day.

Get Other Staff Members Involved in Your Volunteer Engagement

It’s easy for us to get caught up in our own work. Each day holds a multitude of tasks that need to be completed, and there simply doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to do them all. It might even feel like the work of other departments isn’t relevant to the mountain of assignments on your desk – and vice versa.

That mindset must be changed, because everyone in your organization plays a role in determining the success of your volunteer program. In fact, engaging volunteers should be the goal of someone on the tech side of operations just as much as the person in charge of running the volunteer program. So how do you get those other departments and staff involved?

One method is to simply invite them to participate in your activities. This past MLK Day of Service, a group of New Sector fellows volunteered their time to explore innovative options for VolunteerMatch to approach volunteer engagement in 2014. VolunteerMatch staff from different departments participated in the event, and the group was divided into four discussion groups: big picture engagement, global outreach, marketing and communications, and technology.

This event invited the fellows to examine different areas of the organization and suggest new approaches. Perhaps even more importantly, the staff gained a reinforced understanding of how volunteer engagement is the thread that ties the different ends of VolunteerMatch together.

By getting everyone on board with your volunteer program goals, your organization will develop a clearer understanding of its overall goals and driving purpose. As a result, your staff will feel unified and on the same page, and you will feel much more organized and prepared.

Be Constructively Self-Critical

As your organization gets stronger internally, it is important to keep asking yourself questions to adapt and make further improvements:

  • What does your organization most need volunteers, supporters, and community members to actually do, and how soon do you need these things accomplished? Being able to clearly communicate to your volunteers what you need them to do will make sure they make the greatest impact possible.
  • What are the most pressing needs for your volunteer program? If you are lacking volunteers, then perhaps allocating more time for outreach via social media should take precedence on your editorial calendar.
  • How is your staff representing your organization’s image? While social media can be a useful tool for communicating with a vast number of people, it also means that your staff have to present themselves professionally. Drafting basic tweets or Facebook posts for your staff to cut and paste is a great way for them to be involved while keeping up-to-date with your volunteer program.

What strategies does your organization use to get everyone internally working together on volunteer engagement?

Winning People Over to Your Cause – Part One: Welcome Change

Content Marketing for Nonprofits, by Kivi Leroux MillerEditor’s Note: This series explores ways to apply content marketing strategies to help lead a successful nonprofit volunteer program. Using the wealth of information in Kivi Leroux Miller’s book “Content Marketing for Nonprofits” as a jumping-off point, this four-part installment discusses how a solid content marketing strategy will pay dividends in drawing volunteers and supporters, bridging the gap between volunteers and donors, and engaging your community.

Welcome change to enable the success of your employee volunteer program.What is content marketing in the first place? Here is Kivi’s definition: “Content marketing for nonprofits is creating and sharing relevant and valuable content that attracts, motivates, engages, and inspires your participants, supporters, and influencers to help you achieve your mission.” Your content marketing strategy, then, is your blueprint to success.

It might be cliché to say “there is always room for improvement,” but it is well-used for a reason – and it is more relevant than ever when designing a content marketing strategy. The most important thing that will allow a nonprofit to benefit from Kivi’s book is keeping an open mind to new ideas and methods of engagement, because her book is full of them.

Journeying through Content Marketing for Nonprofits is similar to the backpacking analogy Kivi uses throughout her book: there are so many concepts and strategies that will cross your path, that making sense of them requires you to be well-prepared. And the best way to be prepared for this long trek is to welcome change. It’s rarely easy, but it’s necessary.

Here are a few ways you can begin to think about new methods of engaging your volunteers and community:

Have Two-Way Conversations

The phrase “target audience” might come to mind when you are thinking about your content marketing strategy. Yet it is one of the first terms Kivi asks us to rethink in her book. In communicating with your volunteers and community, start seeing your engagement as a dialogue: you aren’t talking to them, you are talking WITH them.

This concept is especially important to keep in mind when using social media platforms. As Kivi notes, one of the biggest opportunities that social media presents to nonprofits is that anyone can be a spokesperson for your organization. This means that as people speak out publicly about your organization, any opinion about you can be floating around on the internet, outside of your control.

However, what you can control is how you prepare for those comments and speak to those people. By inviting feedback that applauds or constructively criticizes, by having a conversation, you will begin to adapt to the needs of your volunteers and community. Your content will become relevant to them as you gain a reputation for keeping an open ear to your community’s needs, and you will ultimately win people over to your cause.

Let’s take an example: Suppose you are an environmental organization, and you are seeking volunteers to spend a day educating elementary school students on water conservancy. Your Facebook page can be a great way to convert community members into volunteers, and a simple post can often do the trick.

The post might include things like: a statistic on how much water is wasted in the United States annually; a question that invites conversation and hints at the post’s main goal, such as, “Why do YOU think it’s important that kids are educated on water conservation?”; an invitation for community members to volunteer their time and share their knowledge; a photo of someone presenting to a elementary school classroom; and a link to a page on your website where people can sign up to volunteer.

Notice how most of these elements invite interaction from and with the community. (These are also great things to include in a listing on VolunteerMatch, too!)

Engage Different Types of Volunteers

While you are removing “target audience” from your vocabulary, focusing on specific groups or types of volunteers is still a useful tool. The with whom people you engage come in all different shapes and sizes: they vary in age, are of different backgrounds, and bring unique skill sets. Your job is to sift through your pool of volunteers and individually assign them tasks that they find relevant and can flourish in.

This is one strategy we apply on, where volunteer opportunities are placed into unique categories. For example, a family interested in volunteering at an animal hospital with their children can refine their search by clicking the cause “Animals,” then finding an opportunity listed as “Good for kids.” By engaging different types of volunteers and placing them into specific roles that best fit them, you will find that your volunteers’ outputs will be greater because they are truly interested in their work.

Another great way to get the most out of what your volunteers have to offer is to give them greater responsibility, namely through titles or positions of leadership. A younger volunteer who is particularly skilled in social media will be more encouraged if you give her the unique title of “Social Media Specialist.” A volunteer with lots of experience with your organization might be promoted to a “Team Leader” position, guiding and showing the ropes to newer volunteers.

Letting your volunteers know that you appreciate them for who they are will foster a relationship built on giving, and will get people in your community and potential volunteers excited about supporting your cause.

Communicate Across Multiple Channels

It is likely that digital technology is one of the first things that comes to mind when you think of recent changes in nonprofit communications. And it can certainly seem daunting, even scary with the instantaneous flow of information and the rapid shifts in our modes of communicating.

Rather than look at these changes with fear, see them as expanding the ways in which you can connect with your volunteers and community. More outlets might mean more work, but it also means more people who see your accomplishments, hear about your cause, and recognize your organization’s name.

We want to hear your stories: How has welcoming change allowed your organization to better engage volunteers?