Aligning Volunteer Engagement to the Vision, Mission, and Strategic Plan of Your Organization

Guest post by Michael Fliess

Measuring the Impact of VolunteersMany leaders of volunteers agree that when volunteers are fully engaged, both the organization and the clients or cause they represent benefit.

Being “fully engaged” can mean different things to volunteers. However, in a 2013 recognition study conducted by Volunteer Canada, volunteers rated “wanting to know how their work has made an impact” as the most important way they could be recognized for their contribution.

How do leaders of volunteers ensure volunteers know their work has made a difference? As explained in the book, Measuring the Impact of Volunteers, co-authored by me, Christine Burych, Alison Caird, Joanne Fine Schwebel, and Heather Hardie, an important strategy to begin with is aligning volunteer roles with the vision, mission and strategic plan of the organization. When volunteers know their work is integral to the mission, they are more apt to feel truly part of the team, which builds a stronger commitment to your organization.

Six important steps to creating alignment include:

  1. Review the vision, mission, and strategic plan of your organization

Familiarize yourself with your organization’s strategic plan, mission, and vision to have a clear understanding of the goals and objectives. This will ensure that volunteers are integrated with that effort and not working at cross-purposes.

  1. Identify ways in which volunteer involvement supports your strategic plan

Start assessing whether volunteer contributions support your strategic plan by articulating all the volunteer work currently performed. You can apply a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) of volunteer engagement to the directives of the organization. What work helps support immediate goals or long-term vision? Are there tasks that don’t fit into your organization’s plan?

  1. Identify where you may have gaps in programming/ service

Often, the best ideas for improvement come from the end-users of a product or service. This can include staff, clients, families of clients, and volunteers. They will often see needs that are not being met. From this input, identify ways the right volunteer or volunteer initiatives might help.

  1. Create volunteer positions that fully align with the needs of programs, clients and the core services of the organization

The identification of gaps, weaknesses, and even strengths that could be expanded is where you will find ideas for new and high impact volunteer roles. Be sure to review any changes or new volunteer roles with the end-users of that role. For example, you may see a perfect opportunity for volunteers, but ensure that the team/ program with whom you would place new volunteers agree.

  1. Ask staff, clients and stakeholders to evaluate volunteer engagement

Don’t be afraid to receive and even facilitate feedback about volunteer efforts. This can be done through several different tools such as surveys, interviews, and focus groups. Ensure that you model an atmosphere of openness, where feedback and suggestions are welcomed as an opportunity for improvements.

  1. Measure and report on the impact of what volunteers do

Finally, demonstrate the impact of volunteer engagement. Show volunteers, staff, and organization leaders which accomplishments directly support the goals of the organization.

These six steps will ensure that volunteers are recruited and placed in truly strategic ways. Beginning with a focus on alignment with your organization’s vision sets the stage for leaders of volunteers to support the successful engagement of volunteers.

Michael Fliess, author of Measuring the Impact of Volunteers: A Balanced and Strategic ApproachAbout the author:
Michael Fliess has worked in the field of volunteer management for over 18 years with a focus in the non-profit/healthcare sector. He has served in leadership roles with the Professional Association of Volunteer Leaders – Ontario (PAVRO), as a director at large, co-chair of the PAVR-O Mentor Program and Survey Lead for the Standardized Volunteer Opinion Survey. Michael is a co-author and project lead for Measuring the Impact of Volunteers: A Balanced and Strategic Approach, by Christine Burych, Alison Caird, Joanne Fine Schwebel, Michael Fliess, and Heather Hardie (© 2016, Energize, Inc.)

Retirees in Prime Position to Volunteer

Guest post by Carol Marak

Retirees in prime position to volunteerNot all retirees are ready to withdraw completely. Today, more than ever, seniors want to stay involved in the community because they understand that social isolation is a health risk. While at work, they could count on their full-time job for friendships, and after retirement, the individual feels disconnected from their built-in social circle. The work connections vanish. And if a retiree doesn’t fill the void with newly formed bonds, loneliness and isolation become the new companion.

The results of social isolation:

  • The psychologist Robert Bornstein, co-author of How to Age in Place, says if people become lonely and isolated in retirement, the feelings produce a “downward spiral.”
  • John Cacioppo, a social neuroscientist, says the brain senses isolation or rejection as real threats, just like pain, hunger, or thirst. The effects of such threats put the mind into “self-preservation” mode that could carry startling results, keeping the body on elevated alert, which increases cortisol and plays havoc on the sleep patterns.
  • Social isolation can be as threatening as obesity, according to new research. There are close to 60 million Americans affected by this invisible epidemic, and scientists say that chronic loneliness poses a severe health risk.

Social Disconnect Vanishes Within Mixed Generations  

Inter-generational volunteering reduces social isolation If your nonprofit helps children, consider expanding programs that include intergenerational connections. When you do, magic happens. Since our culture tends to isolate and connect with online networks, your organization holds the key to creating approaches that deal with pressing community needs.

Intergenerational strategies can forge a path of respect and reciprocity. Over time, our culture has lost the greatest resource that mixed generations offer—a give and receive arrangement across the lifespan. Each person, no matter their age, will need and require help at various stages of their lives. Mixed generational programs mandate that we identify the inherent strength of each age group and their need to connect.

Recently, published a volunteer guide that promotes helping older adults and the elderly. Facts that you may not know about the senior population:

  • 45% of women age 75+ live alone
  • 28% (12.1 million) of noninstitutionalized older persons live alone (8.4 million women, 3.7 million men)
  • 21% of Americans age 65+ no longer drive. The non-drivers have little ability to participate in local events
  • Hunger threatens over 9 million seniors
  • 1 million homebound older people are malnourished

Since isolation is a significant issue, in particular for older seniors living in suburbia and rural areas, let’s think of ways to support them through local volunteer opportunities. I asked the Aging Council, “What opportunities can help enhance social connection for all ages?”  Here’s what they said:

“We need more person-to-person volunteer programs like the “adopt a grandparent.” But more importantly, we need to help the elderly to engage and to volunteer. If an agency/program could coordinate the transportation, people living in rural areas could be involved.” – Shannon Martin and AgingWisely.

“A great way for rural or homebound seniors to feel connected is using technology to attend virtually the local senior center! A deeper friendship can grow via telephone, email, social media or video chat, even with children. Participating with peers will relieve loneliness and give a sense of purpose.” – Kathy Birkett, SeniorCareCorner.

“We need a diverse transportation option to meet the needs of older adults who require a safe, affordable and convenient transport. Tapping into the growing cohort of retirees could be a way to increase volunteer driving programs and provide a local solution for rides.” – Harsh Wanigaratne, Spedsta.

“One of my clients obtained help from the local church. The volunteers from the church made visitations to her home, offered rides, lawn care, minor home repairs, power washing, etc.” – David Mordehi, Advise & Protect.

What is your nonprofit’s experience? Do you offer intergenerational programs that solve social issues for both children and adults? If so, please share what you and the participants learned.

Carol, author of "Retirees in Prime Position to Volunteer"About the author:
Carol Marak is an Aging Advocate, Columnist, and Editor at She’s earned a Certificate in the Fundamentals of Gerontology from the University of CA, Davis. Contact Carol at

How to Engage the Right Volunteers for Your Organization

Guest post by Rebecca Jee

How to Engage the Right Volunteers for Your OrganizationA first year University student, a stay at home parent, and a 68-year-old retiree walk into your office.

No, it’s not the beginning of a bad joke. These are the people who could be your next volunteers. But which one of them will be the right volunteer for your organization?

As a volunteer manager, you have many job responsibilities, and likely limited time. So it’s important to engage the right people and get the most out of the volunteering experience both for you and the volunteer. If you can retain these key volunteers, it will mean you spend less time on training and recruiting, and more time working with them to achieve your important goals.

Get to know them

Although you might want to accept the offer of every person who is willing to get involved, taking some time to interview them — whether formally, informally, alone or in a group — will help you engage those who are the best fit for your organisation, and help flag any people who might be unsuitable before they get too far into the process.

Ask yourself things like:

  • What mix of skills do they bring to the table?
  • How much time do they have available?
  • Why do they want to volunteer for you?
  • Do their values align with your organization’s values?
  • What do they hope to get out of the experience?

Make sure you clearly spell out what the expectations are in terms of work, the culture of your organization, and the commitment you require from your volunteers so that everyone knows where they stand from the outset. You may require your volunteers to sign an agreement that sets out these expectations and standards; be sure to give your volunteers a copy of this to keep. Also, remember to inform your volunteers if they are required to undergo police checks or the necessary working with children checks for your area.

Engage them well

Every volunteering situation will be different. You might be recruiting someone to help out in the office, getting people working together on a project, or deploying individuals to engage with the community on your organization’s behalf.

You will learn fairly quickly who your most reliable and enthusiastic volunteers are. Depending on the type of work you have for them to do, you may be able to put your key volunteers in more of a leadership role within a team, or give them greater responsibility. These are the people you can train and trust to get the job done without as much management. They can also help you develop the skills of other volunteers who are less confident or capable.

Keep in touch

Encourage feedback and communication from your volunteers. You can gain valuable knowledge from them about their experience volunteering for you and how your organization is perceived by the community. They will also feel valued and part of your organization as a whole.

72% of people who volunteer only volunteer for one organization, so if you can effectively engage someone, it’s likely they will stay loyal. If the volunteering experience is a positive one, your volunteers will become your champions, and will return to volunteer again. Not only will they help you achieve your goals, they will promote your organization because they are passionate about what you do and their part in it.

So don’t just gather a group of random people with free time. Build an amazing team of the right volunteers and understanding their needs will help you achieve your organization’s goals.

About the author:

Rebecca Jee, Guest Author for Engaging Volunteers by VolunteerMatchRebecca Jee is a writer for Open Colleges, one of Australia’s leading online education providers. As a freelance writer, editor, graphic designer, photographer, musician, crafter, food consultant, massage therapist – you name it, she’s done it all. She loves a creative challenge and has a rock-solid background in working for not-for-profit organizations. She created a website and diary called Everyday Gratitude to encourage others to reflect on what they’re thankful for. Follow her company on Twitter, Google Plus, or Facebook.

Twitter Chat Recap: Why is the U.S. Volunteer Rate Dropping?

Last week, we took to Twitter to discuss potential causes of the declining volunteer rate in the U.S., and possible solutions. Thought leaders, nonprofit representatives, philanthropists and volunteers all weighed in.

They answered questions such as “How can individuals, nonprofits, and/or corporations in the U.S. do their part to reverse this trend,” and discussed how technological advances — like VolunteerMatch’s API Integration — could help counter this problem.

Missed the chat? No worries! We’ve compiled some of the tweets from the chat. Check out what everyone had to say.

VolunteerMatch Twitter Chat Recap Storify Preview

View the full compilation here.

You can also tweet to us @VolunteerMatch to share your thoughts!

How Doing What Comes Naturally Leads to Amazing Volunteer Retention

Guest post by Elisa Kosarin, Twenty Hats

This post was originally published on Twenty Hats.

When a heart-centered approach becomes part of your program’s routine, your volunteers stick around

Heart-centered volunteer management - Twenty HatsDoes it surprise you that many − and perhaps most of the people who gravitate to volunteer engagement have studied things like psychology, sociology, or social work?

I know this because I once threw out a pop survey on my Facebook page asking what followers studied in college.

Just about everyone who responded majored in these people-oriented subjects, with a few nonprofit studies majors thrown in for good measure.

The results of my very non-scientific survey make sense, since volunteer engagement is such a people-oriented profession.

What we may not appreciate is that our gift for working with people is the very thing that help us create great outcomes in our programs.

I think of a program I talked with last summer when I was creating a webinar on volunteer retention for Girls on the Run (GOTR) International.

As part of my webinar prep I was asked to interview one particular program, the GOTR New Jersey North Council, because of their amazing outcomes − 80% of their coaches return from one season to the next. That’s like the holy grail of volunteer retention!

I wanted to know their secret.

As I spoke with the council’s program coordinator, Melissa Fagersten, it became clear that their success grew out of a heart-centered approach to managing volunteers. Melissa and her team focus on creating a culture of belonging within their program so that every volunteer feels that they are part of a community that values them.

Here’s the Important Part

The council does more than stress a personal touch with its volunteers– they incorporate their heart-centered approach into the program’s systems and practices.

Some examples:

  • When a coach burns out, they are not shown the door. Instead, they are transitioned into another volunteer position until they feel ready to coach again.
  • When new coaches are brought in for orientation, everyone is given time to explain who they are and why they chose to volunteer – even if that means the orientation takes longer. Volunteers report feeling inspired and safer because they have this space to become known to one another.
  • Melissa and her team stay on top of what’s going on for the volunteers in their work and family lives. If, say, a volunteer is scheduled for surgery, the surgery is entered as a task on the shared calendar so that someone is certain to reach out with sympathy and an offer of help.
  • The council runs a private Facebook forum where coaches share ideas and resources and strengthen their bonds with one another. When a coach was diagnosed with breast cancer, the forum users showed their solidarity by wearing orange – the ailing coach’s favorite color.

Leading a high quality volunteer program requires us to develop some skills that we may find challenging, like mastering strategic planning or tracking metrics. But those skills are most effective when they complement our natural ability to create meaningful connections and a sense of community.

To engage volunteers, it may just be that leadership means taking that what you know intuitively and ensuring that it becomes part of your program’s practices – and its culture.

Tweet this post! If you agree with my POV, feel free to share the following message:

When we create systems around our people skills, volunteer retention follows,