How and Why to Make Volunteering a Family Affair

Guest post by Beth Steinhorn, JFFixler Group

A mother and daughter volunteer together with the Sacramento Tree Foundation.

A mother and daughter volunteer together with the Sacramento Tree Foundation.

Whether you represent a food pantry, youth program, senior center, theater, or other organization or agency, families are likely a key constituent of yours. They may be welcomed as members, program attendees, visitors, or clients. They may be cultivated as donors or participants. Rarely, however, do families easily and readily find ways to volunteer at these organizations – to volunteer together.

Meanwhile, families are as busy as they have ever been and finding time together is a priority. Parents are seeking to spend meaningful family time together, to live out the values they want to instill in their children, and to make a positive difference in their community. In response, many organizations are beginning to actively engage families as volunteers, whether for a one-time event or in an ongoing relationship. Many different factors have inspired that new commitment to engaging families.

Last year, our firm shared a case study about one family volunteering program at the Aquarium of the Pacific. That institution was inspired, in part, by the powerful connection between young visitors and young volunteers. Sean Devereaux, the Manager of Volunteer Services, described the interaction between an 8-year old volunteer and a visitor of similar age:

“The interaction was truly magical. The young visitor was able to get so much more depth of knowledge than if he had interacted with an adult because the kids spoke to each other in a common language. It was remarkable. I wasn’t the only one who was noticing that magic. The Aquarium as a whole recognized the value of peer-to-peer learning. So we began marketing family volunteering as a valuable and integral program for our volunteer corps.”

Organizations can harness the energy of families working together, and, as seen in the “magic” observed at that aquarium, the benefits add up to far more than just the hours contributed by the family volunteers. Everyone benefits – the volunteers, the organization, the visitors or clients, and even the community-at-large.

When organizational leaders are strategic and careful about the roles they create for family volunteers, they can expect tangible contributions from family members of all ages. Creating meaningful and appropriate roles takes time, but is possible. In their book, Doing Good Together, Jenny Friedman and Jolene Roehlkepartain share seven “keys” to a successful family service project. They are:

  1. Purpose; impact on a real need
  2. Simplicity
  3. Creativity
  4. Intergenerational appeal
  5. Relationship building
  6. Reflection
  7. A next step

This list is a great starting point to discuss what makes family volunteering effective for all involved. Discuss what each of those seven key elements means to you and your constituents and what they might “look like” at your organization.

There are meaningful roles for families at most organizations. The challenge is to surface them. Here are a few suggestions to get the ideas flowing:

Social Service Agencies: Families can organize food drives, unload and shelve donations to a pantry, raise funds by organizing family-friendly events, and host information sessions at their homes or schools to educate others about the pressing needs in their own communities.

Community Centers: Families can help with facilities projects like building or painting playground meals to seniors, tutor children, or brainstorm, plan, and run events to bring new members to the Center.

Farms and Community Supported Agriculture: Families can tend crops and harvest food to be donated to a local food pantry, thus helping the environment, learning new skills, learning about issues related to hunger, and feeding the hungry all at the same time.

Museums and Cultural Organizations: Families can serve as tour guides, interpreters, greeters, or program ushers.

These are just a few examples of successful family-friendly volunteer roles. What can families do for your organization?

To learn more about family volunteering, join guest blogger Beth Steinhorn, JFFixler Group President, for a free webinar at September 3. Click here to register!

Beth Steinhorn is a nationally recognized leader, writer, and innovator in volunteer engagement and nonprofit management. As President of JFFixler Group, she leads consultations, facilitates workshops, directs research, presents keynote addresses, and publishes blogs and articles. Throughout her 25+ year career with nonprofit organizations, Beth has worked to help organizations and their leadership to achieve their missions through strategic and innovative engagement.

The Responsive Tech that Powers Your Volunteer Recruitment

Responsive Design on the VolunteerMatch HomepageHere’s a fun activity: Take out your smartphone, open a Web browser, and go to www.volunteermatch.org. Looks nice, right?

We just released a fully responsive version of our website. This means that when volunteers come to VolunteerMatch.org to search and sign up for your volunteer opportunities, it’s even easier and prettier. Special thanks to our mobile Innovation Sponsor, UnitedHealth Group, for making this exciting upgrade possible!

Why Does Responsive Design Matter for Volunteer Engagement?

That’s a fair question. Let’s start with the numbers: Over 25% of people coming to our website these days are doing so via a mobile phone (this doesn’t even count tablet users!) To give you an idea of magnitude, that’s been about 2 million people so far in 2014. That number is up about 60% since last year. So the mobile market is growing for volunteer engagement, too.

Now let’s get into the fuzzier stuff. We want to make sure everyone has the chance to make a difference. Mobile phones are a big way many people – including lower-income, and physically-challenged folks – are able to access the Internet. Now the experience on VolunteerMatch will be as seamless, beautiful, fun and easy for them as it is for someone on a desktop computer.

So the switch to responsive design makes it more likely that anyone on a mobile phone, whether they are on their couch, at work, at a bus stop, waiting during their kid’s violin lesson, or weaving along the sidewalk, will find and sign up for your volunteer opportunities.

Should Nonprofits Do Anything Different?

Responsive volunteer opportunity on VolunteerMatch.org.You certainly don’t have to. You volunteer opportunities will automatically be optimized to look beautiful no matter what device someone is using. However, we do have a few simple tips to make the content of your listings stand out for people while on the go:

  • Keep it short and simple. Make it easy for someone to quickly read about the opportunity while scrolling through with their fingers. Otherwise, chances are they won’t take the time, and they’ll miss important details or they’ll give up and not sign up at all. Bullet points, simple lists and short sentences all work great.
  • Make your title extra-special. While on-the-go, many people won’t click through to view an opportunity unless it looks especially fun and inviting, or exactly what they’re looking for. So make sure your opportunity title is very descriptive, and make it witty or even funny so it stands out from the rest of the search results.
  • Include skills. Busy folks on their mobile phones will be more attracted to volunteer opportunities that seem tailor-made for them, and this means their specific skills. Fortunately, VolunteerMatch has a Listing Wizard that helps you choose the right skills for your opportunity. (And don’t forget, these listings are then automatically sent to LinkedIn’s Volunteer Marketplace, for even more exposure!)

So what are you waiting for? Post some mobile-friendly volunteer opportunities on VolunteerMatch now, and let us know what you think about the new, responsive version of the website!

People Make the Difference: Our Economics are a Win-Win-Win for Social Good

The economics of the VolunteerMatch network prove how special our volunteers really are.There’s something special about VolunteerMatch – and yes, I’m biased. But it’s true, and I’ll prove it.

It’s not just that we’re a free service that helps everyone – volunteers, causes and businesses – find a way to make a difference. It’s not just that we create a unique ecosystem of people and organizations that support each other and make the world a better place. You see, it turns out that the volunteers in the VolunteerMatch network are special in their own rights. A cut above, you might say.

Here’s Proof that We’re Special

In the recently released 2013 Annual VolunteerMatch Impact Report, there’s a fun little section called “Economics of the VolunteerMatch Network.” I’m pretty geeky, and I like that this section features some fun stats about what goes on in the VolunteerMatch network on a regular basis, and the value that’s created by this activity. For example, how can you NOT get excited that 1.7 connections are made EVERY MINUTE between a nonprofit and a volunteer?

Check out the economics of the VolunteerMatch network.

But the two numbers I want to focus on right now are in the orange and red boxes: Volunteers in the network serve on average 12 hours per month, and have an estimated value to nonprofits of $3,209 per volunteer.

According to the latest Volunteering & Civic Life in America data, folks in the U.S. volunteer an average of 32.4 hours per year – which is about 2.7 hours per month. So people who use VolunteerMatch volunteer 10X as much as your average person!

All of this dedication pays off – literally. Based on the Independent Sector calculation of the value of a volunteer hour, as well as a bunch of our own data about average time spent volunteering and length of commitment, we have calculated the average “lifetime” value of a volunteer recruited by a nonprofit via VolunteerMatch. And remember, it’s free and really easy to post a volunteer listing.

Talk about a win-win-win: Nonprofits like yours post your listings for free and connect with great volunteers, and this helps dedicated people contribute to their passions in a fulfilling way, and it all makes the VolunteerMatch network an even richer place for everyone to make a difference.

What are you waiting for? Post and update your listings now.

What I Learned from Volunteering

Guest post by Dylan Manderlink

Dylan Manderlink shares what she learned volunteering - and how nonprofits can and should increase outreach to young people.

Dylan volunteering in Boston, Mass.

This post should really be called: “How I learned more about my community and humanity once I stepped outside my college classroom.” You see, going to college in the heart of a city has an abundance of advantages, and many students are quick to take a big gulp of all the opportunities presented by the fast-paced, busy, and unique city landscape.

While internship opportunities, professional networking events for soon-to-be post grads, company hosted events at local restaurants and bars, and higher education possibilities are readily available and most likely taken advantage of by eager 20-somethings, taking time to volunteer at the many nonprofit social/environmental justice organizations, homeless shelters, advocacy centers, philanthropic fundraisers, local schools and child care facilities that complete the city of Boston are not always at the forefront of young people’s minds while navigating through their college experiences.

But, with a little push from student organizations, local nonprofits and passionate individuals, volunteerism and community change can start to take a front seat and become not just an opportunity, but also a priority in the lives of young people.

Volunteerism, civic engagement and advocacy are the driving forces for creating change and making a positive impact in your community and society at large. While gaining internship and job experience can lead to community impact and social change, it’s important for us to remember that before we start advocating for change and informing others about issues we care about, we need to fully understand the complexity and depth of the social, environmental, or economic issue we are passionate about.

Not only do we need to understand the ‘issue’ or ‘societal problem’ that many people face and are impacted by every day, but we need to meet and work alongside those whose daily realities are shaped by injustices, while not creating any divides or barriers in the process. Everyday people are affected by the issues that organizations fight for or against, and once we realize how people-centered things like advocacy, outreach and service are, I believe young people will realize their call to action and their potential in their local landscapes to really affect change.

My Experience

How can nonprofits appeal to more young people in order to get them more involved in community issues?

Dylan volunteering in Boston, Mass.

For example: Recently I had a very unique volunteer gig. A few times a semester I would take the Red Line to Quincy to volunteer at the Prison Book Program, where I would read letters from incarcerated individuals from all over the country and find 2-3 books that match their interests and reading criteria. Opening each letter and hearing people’s stories reminded me of the harsh realities of our world today, and the difficulty many people face in preserving their human dignity and self-worth.

Whether guilty of crimes or innocent, our incarceration system is an issue that many activists rally around in terms of its success and promise in correcting and rehabilitating criminal behavior. So, to read letters and hear the voices of those who are living on the marginalized edges of our society, but who rarely have a voice in the issue that’s being nationally rallied around, is an uncommon circumstance that should be noted and have more attention and action drawn to. Their desire to educate themselves within the confines of a prison wall is real and heard by those of us who take time to spend their weekday evenings in the bottom of a church basement, sorting through donated books, and reading literary wish-lists of those who are incarcerated.

Another meaningful experience that sticks out to me is when I regularly volunteered at a children’s homeless shelter in Roxbury, Mass. for two years, and was reminded of the fact that the statistics we hear every day about homelessness are real people – not just numbers. Every child I played alongside, made a puzzle with, and created art work for, reminded me that the largest percentage of people who are homeless is in fact, not the men people see on the street who are waiting in line for the soup kitchen, but families: Mothers, children of all ages, infants, and fathers.

I was reminded that every human and every family deserves a place to call a home, a place to grow up, and a place to feel safe and comfortable. Helping the shelter to provide an afternoon of safety, comfort, respect, and joy for children who don’t have a home or much stability was a small but meaningful contribution to a much greater familial and societal obstacle.

What I Learned

I learned from my volunteer experiences in Boston that people are not powerless; in fact, we have a great deal of power and potential, despite sometimes being told we may not have any because of the zip code we were born in, economic status, family life, sexual orientation, or employment status. Through the volunteering I made as a priority and a cornerstone of my life in college, I learned how empowering it is to realize how much agency you have in your own life and how beautiful it is to share that with others in hopes of them discovering it themselves.

I learned how giving human beings are, even when they don’t have much to give. I learned how one of the biggest equalizers of our society is storytelling and the sharing of self. We open countless doors of understanding, compassion, education, and empathy when we let the chaos and speed of the cityscape subside, and take time to actively listen and communicate with our community members. Our community is a diverse fabric of human beings, and we all have a voice in enacting change, improving the lives of our neighbors, and promoting a more just and verdant world.

I learned that local nonprofit organizations have the potential to amplify their outreach to colleges, and young people in general, through matching passions with skills. You as organizations need to purposefully identify for us why promoting service and civic engagement is not only important, but necessary if we want to improve our lives, the lives of others, and the dilemmas and misfortunes our world faces every day.

The relationship between young people and nonprofits can be the start of a significant change in our community, and should be a reciprocal and powerful educational experience. An open-minded and encouraging flow of communication between organizations and community members can be the launchpad for the social and environmental change organizations talk about and try for every day. Together, we can make change – not just a semblance of idealism, but reality, as well.

How does your organization engage with college students and young adults? Share what you’ve learned in the comments!

Dylan Manderlink is a recent graduate of Emerson College in Boston, Mass., who with a self-designed major, Investigative Theatre for Social Change. She is now a Teach for America corps member, teaching high school in rural Arkansas. She is passionate about working in the nonprofit sector and providing educational opportunities for students to creatively inform themselves and others about social justice, community change and human rights.

People Make the Difference: Matching Volunteer Interests to Nonprofit Needs

Everyone should have the chance to make a difference - don't you think?At VolunteerMatch, we believe that everyone should have the chance to make a difference. And we REALLY believe that the best way to make sure this happens is to help connect good people with the good causes that need them. Sounds simple enough, right?

In order to create the best connections between volunteers and nonprofits, we have all sorts of fancy, auto-magical tools and technology on VolunteerMatch.org, including search filters, Volunteer Profiles, and skills-based Listing Wizards. And we’re often reminded that our work is never done.

For example, we recently, and very proudly, released the 2013 Annual VolunteerMatch Impact Report, showcasing a whole year of connecting and volunteering across the VolunteerMatch network. In the report there are two sections I want to focus on today: “Top Opportunities,” and “Most Popular Interests.”

Cause areas with the highest number of active volunteer opportunities in the VolunteerMatch network.

Top Opportunities

This section displays the cause areas that have the highest number of volunteer listings on VolunteerMatch.org. What’s interesting about this top ten list is that the top five haven’t changed in years (just check out our reports from previous years.) The next five spots, however, are in constant flux. This year, Women and Homeless & Housing were replaced by International and Disabled. This reflects the constantly shifting nature of the nonprofit sector and its needs.

Most popular cause interests of volunteers in the VolunteerMatch network.

Most Popular Interests

Here’s where we show the cause areas that are most popular among our volunteer members – meaning they produce the most connections. What I like about this section is seeing the great diversity of interests and passions that make up the VolunteerMatch network. There’s truly something for everyone who wants to make a difference, and boy, do they show up!

Putting Them Together…

When we view these two sections together, however, a small but nagging inconsistency emerges. They don’t match up completely. You’ll notice some of the popular interests of our volunteers (Animals, Advocacy & Human Rights, Homeless & Housing…) don’t show up on the list of causes with the most opportunities. And vice versa.

This is a problem because it means that nonprofits are not necessarily getting all of the help they need, and volunteers are not always finding enough opportunities to help in the areas they care about. So what do we do about this?

For volunteers, we recommend taking a look at where the greatest needs are – consider a volunteer opportunity in one of the top 10 causes as a way to help the most.

For nonprofits, however, we all need to take a good hard look at these most popular interests, and tailor our volunteer listings to them. Perhaps we can create volunteer opportunities that attract folks who are passionate about human rights, or women? Be creative and strategic, and you’ll engage more volunteers and better volunteers.

In order for EVERYONE to have the chance to make a difference, we need to start listening and noticing what each of us truly needs – both nonprofits and volunteers. And then, the connections made on networks like VolunteerMatch will be strong, long-lasting, and will really change the world.

What do you think? How can we make sure the needs of nonprofits and the interests of volunteers are aligned? Share your thoughts in the comments!