How to Deepen Your Impact by Engaging Skilled Volunteers

Our recent announcement of a new partnership to automatically post all skilled volunteer listings from the VolunteerMatch network to LinkedIn’s Volunteer Marketplace has shed a serious spotlight on the importance and potential of skilled volunteering. Check out this special series of posts exploring skilled volunteering as a category, a strategy, and, of course, an inspiration for greater impact.

How to deepen engagement by recruiting skilled volunteers for your nonprofitSo, with the help of VolunteerMatch and LinkedIn, you have a (free!) tool at your disposal for recruiting awesome skilled volunteers to support your nonprofit with important, high-impact projects.

But where do you start? What outcomes would be most valuable? How do you work out those nuts and bolts like screening, security, and accountability? Would something like this even be worthwhile for your organization to pursue?

Start by allowing yourself to think big for a minute. What could your organization achieve, if you had no funding and operational limits? What pain points have you grown so used to, that you’ve forgotten they could be different? What have you dreamed of doing but never thought possible? You’re doing good work, but couldn’t your impact be expanded?

Maybe your website does the job, but just barely. Or your logo and branding aren’t keeping up with the design-centric world we live in, and no longer gets the attention or respect you want for your nonprofit. There might be some really juicy data that you could share with potential donors, but can’t extract from your messy database. Perhaps you’ve tried your hand at social media marketing and PR, but nothing seems to work and you still only have a few followers. Or maybe you’ve been dreaming about that perfect fundraising event, but have no idea where to start…

As the wheels start turning, consider whether your organization could benefit from expertise in some of these areas:

  • Graphic and Web design
  • Accounting
  • Marketing
  • Social Media
  • Database management
  • Event planning
  • HR
  • Branding and messaging
  • IT
  • Market research
  • Strategic planning

The list goes on and on. Once you have your project in mind, and you’ve got some other members of your team on board with the idea of working with skilled volunteers, here are some things to think about as you get started.

Finding the Right Volunteer for the Job

It doesn’t hurt to cast a wide net. Post the opportunity on VolunteerMatch and select the desired skill set, and we’ll share the listing with 300 million skilled professionals on LinkedIn’s Volunteer Marketplace. Be sure to make your listing as clear and detailed as possible. The more volunteers know up front, the more likely they’ll be to seriously consider getting involved. Keep in mind that this is a professional relationship, and it should be approached in much the same way as hiring a paid staff person or service provider.

In addition to posting on VolunteerMatch, look at who you have in your existing team of volunteers. Do any of them have the skills you’re looking for? Spread the word in your volunteer newsletter about an exciting new way to get involved. You can also approach local businesses, universities, and professional groups. Many of these people will jump at the chance to hone their own professional skills for a good cause while expanding their network at the same time.

Screening Candidates

Are you wary of handing over your organization’s sensitive information for security reasons? Good! You should be! But that doesn’t mean there’s not a smart way to do it. Even if there isn’t any security risk associated with your project, you still want to screen candidates to make sure they’ll be reliable, trustworthy, and actually have the skills and experience to do a good job. Ask for resumes, conduct interviews, check their references, run background checks.

Remember that you don’t want just anyone. Engaging the wrong volunteer could result in wasted time and resources for everyone. If you don’t think someone is the best person for the role, tell them just that.

Defining the Project and Managing Expectations

When you’re engaging a volunteer to support you with a complex project or task, it’s important to lay everything out on the table. Put the desired outcomes down in writing, along with a proposed timeline and designated check-in points. Each party should sign a letter of agreement or memorandum of understanding (MoU). Everyone should be on the same page from the start about what a successful completion will look like. Then, you can take a step back and let everyone do what they do best.

Embarking on big projects with skilled volunteers can be daunting, especially if you’ve never engaged volunteers on this level before, or if you tried it once and things didn’t go so well. But professionals today have so much value to share with the nonprofit community, and when approached in the right way, skilled volunteering relationships can be rewarding for everyone involved–your organization, your volunteers, and those you serve.

Does your organization engage skilled volunteers to achieve greater impact? Tell us about it!

Thinking…Bigger about Skilled Volunteering for Nonprofits

Our recent announcement of a new partnership to automatically post all skilled volunteer listings from the VolunteerMatch network to LinkedIn’s Volunteer Marketplace has shed a serious spotlight on the importance and potential of skilled volunteering. Check out this special series of posts exploring skilled volunteering as a category, a strategy, and, of course, an inspiration for greater impact.

Thinking bigger about skilled volunteering, now with LinkedIn and VolunteerMatch.

When I first got wind late in 2013 that LinkedIn was launching a Volunteer Marketplace in the New Year, I sighed. Out loud. VolunteerMatch is a volunteer marketplace.

We’ve seen this before. In fact, there are new websites, apps, services, etc. popping up all the time. Some are awesome. Some are not.

And despite my audible sighs, I actually love hearing about them all. It pushes us to think differently and to challenge our own assumptions about the VolunteerMatch approach.

There’s more to it, though: a big part of our future takes place outside the walls of VolunteerMatch, and our ability to work with other systems will continue to be very important to our growth. Read more about the past and future development of VolunteerMatch here.

And LinkedIn is big. 300+million-members-big.

So, I paid close attention to the reasons LinkedIn was creating this marketplace. I listened as they shared their partnership plan – and how they were looking to partners to help them build out their vision of connecting their members to skilled opportunities in communities around the country (to start).

This is big for VolunteerMatch. Big because it showcases how amazing our nonprofits are. Big because it illustrates how the right partnerships can create a new game.

So, we got to work.

People haven’t traditionally thought of VolunteerMatch as a place where skilled volunteering is taking place. And now they do. The reality is that, every day, people are finding projects that tap their skills and nonprofits are learning how to think creatively about their volunteers.

Today we have over 6,000 skilled listings and an array of resources that has helped to continually grow that number.

We are the most powerful volunteer engagement network on the Web and are only getting stronger. Tactically, we’ve got the most skilled listings, sure. But strategically, we can shape the future of skilled volunteering together with partners like LinkedIn. And that’s a big idea.

Already we’re seeing increases in the connections because of this partnership—VolunteerMatch lisings shared on LinkedIn are likely to see 2-3x the sign-ups as those not shared. And with the announcement of our partnership, we expect the number of skilled listings to continue to grow.

We’re also ramping up our trainings for nonprofits to make sure they have the resources to easily take advantage of this opportunity. And our corporate partners are thrilled to have even more skilled opportunities to share with their employees.

So thanks, LinkedIn. Personally, for helping me think…even bigger. And also for being our partner in building an amazing future for skilled volunteering and the causes that benefit from it.

Read more about how engaging skilled volunteers can help your nonprofit organization – and how to do it successfully.

Post on VolunteerMatch.org right now to engage skilled volunteers for your organization!

Unsung Listeners: The Story of Hotline Volunteers

Guest Post by Marc Wong

Unsung Listeners - the story of hotline volunteersMeghan watches her mother finish a telephone call.

“Mommy, why are you crying?” she asks gently.

“I’m ok,” mommy sighs, “I’m ok.”

Meghan leaves the room and comes back moments later. “When I’m sad, I hold on to Mr. Brown,” she says, handing over a teddy bear to her mother.

On another occasion, Daddy is talking to Meghan about a tough decision he has to make.

“When I have to make a big choice, I ask Mr. Brown,” Meghan says.

“And what does Mr. Brown say?” asks Daddy.

“Nothing,” she says matter-of-factly. “He listens.”

Meghan’s actions give us a glimpse of what selfless, dedicated hotline volunteers do on a daily basis. Just like Meghan, volunteers do not judge. They do not advise. They do not solve problems. They do not interrogate. They do not point out your flawed thinking and actions so you can correct it. They do not tell you to look at the bright side or to be optimistic. And yes, sometimes they will just be quiet and let you speak. Volunteers honor and respect the callers’ thoughts and feelings and they offer their best with no strings attached.

When we look a little closer at Meghan’s words, we notice some other things: Despite her age, Meghan clearly knows something about sadness and making difficult choices. She even shares her life experience with her parents. Volunteers also bring their life experiences and considerable knowledge to each call. I don’t mean volunteers interrupt with their own stories the moment a caller pauses to take a breath. Volunteers are able to share by reaching into their own, sometimes painful, personal experience to understand what the caller is talking about, no more, no less.

Volunteers’ actions, like Meghan’s, are also gently supported by an unspoken sense of hope and decency. Implicit in Meghan’s words are the message that things will get better, that there is good in this world. This is not to say that volunteers pressure, or in any way impose their values or beliefs on the callers. Volunteers are not going to rush you to get “better”. They’re not even going to tell you what “better” means. Instead, they’ll be more than happy to hear what better means for YOU.

Volunteers earn their sense of hope from the knowledge and experience that their selfless work can bring relief. They don’t need to prove that there is goodness or fairness, in private or public spheres. They are satisfied knowing that the work they do can make a difference.

This, then, is the story of hotline volunteers. It is the wonderful combination of skill, knowledge and humanity offered so as to make it a little easier for others to tell their stories. A volunteer offers what is unique and precious to her as a human being so that others may talk about what is unique and precious to them.

For taking the time, having the patience, and putting their hearts into this noble work, please join me in celebrating and thanking all the volunteers!

Marc Wong is a listening expert and author of “Thank You for Listening: Gain Influence & Improve Relationships, Better Listening in 8 Steps”. Connect with him on Twitter at @8StepListen and on www.8StepListen.com.

A First-Hand Perspective about Students, Nonprofits and Volunteering

Guest post by Austin Hong.

A First-Hand Perspective about Students, Nonprofits and VolunteeringHello there!

My name is Austin Hong. I am 20 years old, born and raised in Los Angeles, Calif. I’m a rising junior at Boston College, studying finance and computer science, and I think I have some advice for you.

Since high school I’ve developed quite a resume of service activities. Between 2010 and now, I’ve had extensive involvement with nonprofit organizations, the most renowned being Operation Smile. I’ve served on two international service trips in Costa Rica and South Korea, individually spent over 400 hours serving an elementary school in East Boston, as well as served a number of other local organizations and events.

A significant portion of my past six years can be largely described by my passion to serve others, and it’s a passion and joy that many students and young adults my age should experience. The advice and plea I have for those of you involved in the nonprofit industry is to create an increased focus and higher emphasis on incorporating students and student chapters into achieving the goals of your organizations.

Why Student Chapters?

Students are passionate and filled with energy. I believe that high school is the starting point to several years of an individual’s path towards self-discovery. As mystical as that might sound, it is definitely something that will benefit your organization. A high school student will grip whatever interests them and drive forward with it, and for many in my generation, the interest that we have gripped has been our desire to give back to the local and global communities.

My first experience with any sort of nonprofit organization was through my older brother, who was the first to introduce me to Operation Smile. I was instantly compelled to get involved. I’m not sure if it was the fact that I revered him and wanted to mimic everything that he did, or that his personal testimony regarding his experience with the organization and its cause ignited in me a passion to also make a difference. Regardless of the reason, as soon as I was exposed to Operation Smile, I drove forward with it.

Students Need to Volunteer

Not only are your organizations in need of students, students are just as equally in need of your organizations. When a student connects with a nonprofit’s cause, it plants a seed in them that only grows over time. The seed grows in the student and creates values in him or her that are hard to come by anywhere else at that age of their life. The spread of activism and volunteerism are critical in creating a holistic person, and a set of morals. The earlier these morals are set, the longer they have to mature and become ingrained in the student.

Volunteerism will not just create a set of values in a student, but it will also give him or her a rare opportunity to be a leader. Leadership is not entirely impossible to come by within the academic setting; however the unique aspect of leadership within a student chapter is what makes it so attractive.

To put into perspective the effects of a single student and student chapters, the year after my discussion with my older brother, I founded an Operation Smile student chapter at my high school. The year after that, I decided to expand my efforts and rallied twelve existing student chapters in my local area to form what is now known as the Operation Smile Southern California Region. Each student chapter continued their efforts individually; however, as a region, we hosted large-scale awareness events and fundraisers to have a greater impact on our communities and the suffering men, women, and children for whom we served.

By my third year as the president of my student chapter and region, I had helped to provide over 6,000 volunteer hours, raised over $22,000, and created student chapters in six different high schools. I don’t want you to confuse these claims as an attempt to boost my ego, rather I wanted to show you the tangible results of a single driven student. To this day, my high school’s student chapter and the Southern California Region continue to thrive and expand, even without my involvement.

Students should not be pressured, that is to say that a nonprofit’s cause should not be forced down the throat of a high school freshman. Rather, by providing the proper resources and attention to allow a student to be exposed to an organization, and providing the support to continue their interests, engaging students can prove to be an extremely high-yielding investment for any nonprofit organization.

Austin Hong was raised in Los Angeles, California before attending Boston College, where he studies Finance. Currently he is working for a legal management consulting firm in the Beacon Hill area of Boston, Mass.

The Nonprofit Nerd Inside Each of Us

What brings out your inner nonprofit nerd?Eight years ago, I was twenty-two. I was a couple months away from graduating and heading off to start my PhD program in Neuroscience, then on to a life of research and labs. Boy, was I nerdy about the brain. And yet…

As graduation approached, I began having doubts. Did I really want to spend the next 40 years or so doing research in a lab? Why was I not more excited to get out of bed every morning?

Meanwhile, I was also heading up a small student-run nonprofit organization called Camp Kesem, a week-long summer camp for children whose parents have cancer or have passed away from cancer.

When did you realize you were meant for nonprofits?And I realized: I was more excited to get up and do the daily drudgery and admin work for Camp Kesem than I was to go into the lab. Lightbulb moment.

It was right then when I realized my future (as much as it could be figured out at that tender age,) did not lie with science, but with a whole other kind of geekiness: the social sector variety.

Almost a decade later, I am PhD-free and happily working at VolunteerMatch, engaging with people and helping them find their own passions and their own ways of making the world a better place using their time and the time and skills of others. I guess you could say I’m studying the brain in a whole different way.

The truth is, as nerdy as I was about the brain, it did not inspire me the way working at a nonprofit inspires me: for life. It took my experience running Camp Kesem in college to bring out my inner nonprofit nerd and set me on this path. And every day I get to do what I love here at VolunteerMatch, that nerd grows just a bit bigger, a bit stronger. At this point, she’s probably taller than I am (not a tough feat).

In the day-to-day craziness of being nonprofit professionals, it’s easy to forget…ourselves. But we as people are just as important as those we’re trying to help, and those whom we’re engaging.

So let’s remember, every once in a while, to connect back to what originally inspired us. Because just as I discovered, we all have a nonprofit nerd inside us. What brings yours out?