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.

Celebrate the Fun Side of Volunteering with #FestiVOL15

#FestiVOL15: Celebrate National Volunteer Week with VolunteerMatchPeople volunteer for all kinds of reasons. One of the top reasons? It’s fun.

This National Volunteer Week (April 12-18, 2015), VolunteerMatch is celebrating the fun side of volunteering with our second annual FestiVOL. Time to put on those party hats, dig out those noisemakers, and shout with us, “Volunteering is AWESOME!”

Of course, it’s not all fun and games. One of our #FestiVOL15 goals is to help your organization attract and engage volunteers. We want you to get the most out of National Volunteer Week.

To help reach this goal, each day of the week we’ll post three nuggets of information: One piece of inspiration, one piece of knowledge, and one action. Check out our #FestiVOL15 webpage to follow along as they’re posted. You can also follow the hashtag #FestiVOL15 on Twitter to see everything as it’s released, and to join in the fun yourself!

Whether you work with volunteers, give back in your free time, or are still looking for that perfect opportunity, here’s to you!


Expert Snapshots for April: Prospective, Online, and Pro Bono Volunteers

Expert SnapshotsAt VolunteerMatch we learn so much from other experts in the field of volunteer engagement and management, and we want to help you stay up-to-date on the latest news and trends. 

Here’s a snapshot to get your April going:

Waiting but Not Idle: How to Keep Potential Volunteers Engaged in Your Organization
One of the worst things you can say when a potential volunteer contacts you is… nothing. While it sounds easy enough to respond to each volunteer request, there are some real challenges that come with engaging prospective volunteers. This article from Charity Village explores those issues and offers actionable suggestions.

Online Volunteers: Don’t Ever Call Them Virtual
By calling volunteers who don’t come into your office “virtual,” are you inadvertently making them feeling less important than “real” volunteers? Virtual volunteering is on the rise, and for some nonprofits and volunteers, it’s becoming a norm. This article from The NonProfit Times delves deep into the world of virtual volunteering, and politely reminds us that we shouldn’t call these volunteers “virtual.”

Pro Bono Can Help Fill Nonprofit Resource Gaps
Nonprofits put a lot of emphasis on fundraising. But what about “resource raising?” This is the question posed by Elizabeth Hamburg, President and CEO of Taproot Foundation. Pro bono volunteers can “fill in the resource gaps”. In other words, these highly skilled volunteers can complete projects that nonprofits would otherwise have to pay a lot of money for. Read this article for more about how your nonprofit can benefit from engaging pro bono volunteers… and how the volunteers benefit as well!

Volunteer Onboarding [Free Webinar]
Volunteer engagement expert Tobi Johnson is hosting a free webinar on April 16, 2015 all about volunteer onboarding. She’ll cover the 5 Things to Remember When Welcoming New Volunteers. And bring your questions! After the webinar, stick around for an informal Q&A discussion.

Follow us on Twitter for news and trends throughout the month: @VolunteerMatch.

New Reason to Add Dates to Your VolunteerMatch Listings

VolunteerMatch releases new calendar feature.“What are you up do this weekend?”

Have you ever been asked that question by a coworker, friend, or acquaintance, and realized with sudden joy that you don’t have a single thing planned?

It’s kind of a great feeling, isn’t it?

The next question is: What are you going to do with your unexpected free time? Of course, you have unlimited options, but one great option is to volunteer.

You log onto to find an opportunity for this Saturday. You pull up a list of opportunities near you based on your interests, and you scan through a long list to see if you can find something on the date you need. It takes some searching before you find a good match.

VolunteerMatch Date Searching New FeatureOn 4/14, we’re releasing a new feature that will make this process a lot easier.

Users will see a calendar on their home page. Choosing a location and clicking on a date will make it possible to see all the volunteer opportunities in the area on that specific date.

So what does this mean for you, the nonprofit?

Before Tuesday 4/14, log into your VolunteerMatch account and add dates to your volunteer opportunities, if they don’t already have one. This will make it more likely that your listing will be found by those looking for date-specific opportunities. (This doesn’t apply to ongoing, non-date-specific opportunities, of course.)

But wait, we’re not done yet! Starting 4/14, we’re also launching the new volunteer connection detail pages.

What do you need to know?

Instead of getting “referrals” (people interested in volunteering with you), you’ll get “connections”. They mean the same thing. However, the connection details will look a lot nicer, and tell all about the prospective volunteer, including skills, resume, location and picture. Check it out:

VolunteerMatch New Connection Detail Page

It will be simpler than ever to connect with the right volunteers for your organization.

And don’t forget! Add dates to your volunteer listings now to get them found by more prospective volunteers.

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.