The Fine Art of Facilitating Orientations

Guest post by Elisa Kosarin, Twenty Hats

The fine art of facilitation.This post was originally published on Twenty Hats.

When you facilitate an orientation, remember it’s you running the show.

Do you hold an orientation for new volunteers? If you do – and if you have held a bunch of them, you have probably seen it all.

I know I have. As someone who has led over 65 prospective volunteer orientations (and counting!), I remember the early days of hosting these events. Back in the day it was not uncommon to witness:

  • Audience members who dominated the conversion, leaving everyone else to shift around in their seats impatiently.
  • Speakers who veered away from their talking points, creating misconceptions about the program.
  • Presenters who droned on so long that there was no time left to cover all the material.

All of these scenarios undermined the impact of my orientation – something I could not afford, as my program needed a great many volunteers. So instead of refining my agenda or choosing different speakers, I chose to develop the one ability certain to turn things around, my facilitation skills.

If you are new to facilitation, or if you seek to hone your skills, here are my essentials.

My four favorite facilitation tips:

  1. Run the show. As the facilitator, you are the leader. Don’t give your power over to the audience or the speakers. You have the right to jump in and redirect the conversation at any time.
  2. Give your speakers a heads up. Tell your speakers what you expect them to cover and how long they have to speak, and give them a heads up that you may interrupt if time runs out.
  3. Manage the long-winded guests. If someone dominates the Q & A, it’s fine to say “Let’s hear from other guests” and direct your attention to another part of the audience.
  4. Save some questions for afterwards. If the questions are coming fast and you need to cover more material, let folks know that you are available to answer their questions individually when the presentation ends.

Please Weigh In

What do you think of these top four? If you have your own Point of View on facilitation, please share it here or send me an email at TwentyHats@mail.com. I am creating a facilitation tip sheet, and I would love to include the collective wisdom of my colleagues on this topic – and credit you all for your input.

Twenty Hats is authored by Elisa Kosarin, CVA, a nonprofit professional with 15+ years of experience in nonprofit marketing, development, and volunteer management. She founded the site to help volunteer managers master the skills they need to make their jobs easier.

For the Love of Animals

A young ASCMV volunteer holds a dog. She frequently walks dogs for the organization.

This ASCMV volunteer adores dogs, and walks any size, any breed. It must run in the family, as her mother is a special events and adoptions volunteer for the organization.

The dog glanced back, eying the person holding his leash mischievously. And in a flash, he wiggled out of his collar and took off. Nimbly weaving through the downtown farmers market, the dog ran through a car wash, jumped over a few fences, and went around a roundabout…twice.

Undaunted, the dog’s caretaker followed persistently, and finally caught up as the dog squeezed his way underneath a shed for a nap. The caretaker didn’t give up, and didn’t try to wait the dog out. Instead, this person got down on the ground, wiggled through cobwebs, and emerged covered in dirt, soaking wet, and victoriously holding onto the rogue dog.

Who was this diligent caretaker? Just your average volunteer at the Animal Service Center of the Mesilla Valley (ASCMV), located in Las Cruces, New Mexico. But these volunteers are anything but average.

For ASCMV, volunteers are the physical and emotional lifeblood that enables them to do their important work. Learn how this nonprofit engages and manages dozens of dedicated, passionate and skilled volunteers.

Read more about ASCMV’s volunteer management.

How Do You Keep Your Organization Safe?

How does your organization screen potential volunteersWhen your organization engages potential volunteers, how do you screen them? How do you ensure that, not only are they the people you really need, but that your nonprofit’s information, reputation and clients will be protected? Furthermore, how do you determine what to include in volunteer screenings, and measure the effectiveness of them?

These are not easy questions to answer, especially since we’ve noticed that each organization tends to have its own set of standards and policies for screening volunteers. And wouldn’t it be so much easier if we shared our knowledge and experience with each other?

Of course it would. Enter VolunteerMatch.

We’ve partnered with a national identity service provider to gather information about how nonprofits currently screen volunteers and validate their information. We think the survey results will help us all engage the right volunteers for our organizations. Because even though not every screening process or step will be right for every nonprofit, finding trends and best practices can help steer us in the right direction.

All you need to do is fill out an easy 10-minute survey, and share it with colleagues and friends. We’ll release our findings in early 2015.

Take the survey, and help us create a more secure, volunteer-filled world for everyone.

Take the survey now.

Why It’s Still Hard to Volunteer (and How Nonprofits Can Help)

This post was originally published on the New York Cares blog.

Guest post by Gary Bagley, New York Cares

New York Cares Volunteer Impact ProgramSince the report in February that volunteering numbers are down in the U.S., I have spent much of my time telling well-meaning people poised to make a call to service to please put down the bullhorn. A call to service is important, but a greater problem needs to be addressed first – improving the ability of nonprofits, schools, and community groups to engage volunteers strategically to drive impact.

At New York Cares, we think of volunteers as employees who get ‘paid’ with something other than money. That ‘something else’ may be different for each of us. Regardless, the same tenets that make for top-notch HR practices hold true for volunteer management. If a business mismanages its employees, it will lose them. New York Cares was founded in 1987, expressly because so many schools and nonprofits lack staff, money and know-how to involve volunteers effectively, if at all.

Our strategies are twofold:

  • We provide free volunteer management to our Community Partners, allowing them to outsource their volunteer needs to us, at no cost to them or their clients.We have fulltime staff who manage every program detail. They diagnose community partner needs, develop programs, create curricula, buy supplies, and recruit and train volunteers and volunteer leaders.
  • We also train Community Partners to grow programs by leveraging volunteers. In 2012, we launched our Volunteer Impact Program (VIP) to go beyond our outsourcing model. During the three-year pilot phase, we developed multi-year volunteer management plans with 15 Community Partners and provided ongoing training and staff support for achieving the goals. The results were dramatic. Our VIP participants from Year One had a 138% increase in the number of volunteer projects, compared to a 29% increase in non-participating Community Partners. We are committed to scaling up our VIP work by expanding to more nonprofits through a combination of training and consulting services with New York Cares. These VIP results reaffirm our belief that the question is not whether volunteers are willing and available, but rather, how to better prepare organizations to engage volunteers well.

By the way, the numbers may be down nationally, but this is not the case at New York Cares. We orient approximately 18,000 new volunteers annually, and this number is holding strong.

Thank you to all of New York Cares’ volunteers, current and future, who are committed to making NYC a better place to live for all New Yorkers.

Gary Bagley is Executive Director of New York Cares. He is responsible for more than tripling annual volunteer service delivery, filling more than 150,000 volunteer positions on 18,000 projects and serving over 1,300 nonprofit organizations and schools last year. If you would like to read more of his musings, go here or follow him on Twitter at @GBagley_NYCares.

Connect to Who Your Volunteers REALLY Are

A volunteer on a Habitat for Humanity Global Village mission trip.

A volunteer on a Habitat for Humanity Global Village mission trip.

How well do you know your volunteers? How well do you NEED to know them? After all, we’re very busy people working at nonprofits, and isn’t it more important to run our events without a hitch and come in under budget than to be buddy-buddy with volunteers?

No.

Think about it this way: Your volunteers are the people who care so much about what you do, they have actively sought you out so they can spend their free time, skills and sweat to do work for you – for free. What can be more important than that?

How Does It Help?

Getting to know your volunteers on a deeper level can have a number of benefits for your volunteer program and organization as a whole: when you speak to aspects of your volunteers’ personality and their real lives, you’ll see an increase in engagement and excitement. People will stick around longer and be more willing to take on leadership roles.

Also, when you have a stronger relationship with your volunteers, that connection becomes more valuable and meaningful for YOU, as well, and for your staff members who join you. When your volunteers become special, individual people, you’ll have even more fun, and be even more passionate about supporting them.

When Does It Help?

Knowing more about what makes your volunteers tick will be useful in a whole bunch of situations, such as designing new opportunities to appeal to other great volunteers, or coming up with fun, affordable appreciation events and gifts that your volunteers will actually like.

When you have a real relationship with a volunteer, you’ll be able to determine the best path forward to move them into a leadership role, or to expand how they support the organization by asking them for donations of money and goods, in addition to time.
And the more you’re connected to your volunteers, the easier it is to get connected to their friends and family, thus expanding your community of supporters!

What Do You Do Now?

So if you’re convinced, how do you actually go about getting to know your volunteers on a deeper level? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Ask them to fill out a survey (keep it simple and not too invasive!)
  • Ask them for feedback after an event, whether over email or via VolunteerMatch’s reviews feature.
  • Spend time with them! Have actual conversations with them! Ask them questions about their lives! Smile at them!
  • Talk to your fellow staff members, and foster a culture in your organization of sharing experiences and notes about volunteers, so everyone can learn from each other how best to relate to your supporters.

How do you get to know your volunteers better? Share your ideas and strategies below!