Expert Snapshots for November

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 just a snapshot to get you started…

Five things I’d like to say about calculating the economic value of volunteering

There’s no question that the practice of assigning a monetary value to volunteer time is controversial. Many organizations find that it’s a useful way to measure impact – in fact, VolunteerMatch calculates social value using Independent Sector’s annual estimate of the value of volunteer time – but that doesn’t mean it’s a perfect system. In this article, Rob Jackson presents some important considerations for us all when applying economics to volunteering.

Four Elements to Successfully Manage Volunteers

Volunteers are always first to think of themselves last – especially event volunteers. By treating your volunteers right, you’ll have a more dedicated and productive team that can accomplish just about anything you place in their path. Check out these four tips on the Event360 blog.

Adding Mission to Your Volunteering: Webinar Presentation & Video

This first installment of a new webinar series from Wild Apricot focuses on dispelling myths about volunteering, and providing us with ideas and strategies for attracting a diverse range of volunteers who are passionate about getting stuff done and helping our organizations. You can access the summary article, the presentation slide deck and the full recorded video.

When someone says they don’t see what’s wrong with saying we “use” volunteers

And now for a bit of [snarky] fun from our friend over at VM Snark: this animated gif illustrates the importance of words (something we very recently addressed), and how your word choices could offend the very people we’re trying to engage and honor.Think about it!

A snarky image from VM Snark

In One Word: the Magic of Volunteer Managers

International Volunteer Managers DayYou are magic, don’t let anyone tell you differently. And today, on International Volunteer Managers Day, we celebrate your passion, dedication and impact.

Because as important as volunteering is for making a difference in the world, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s YOUR work that makes it possible for tens of millions of volunteers to help the causes they care most about, to build community, to learn new skills, and to feel fulfilled.

At VolunteerMatch, we see the impact of your work on a minute-by-minute basis, as thousands of volunteers connect with opportunities each day on the VolunteerMatch network. It’s tough to put into words how much we appreciate the work you do – but we tried! Here are just a few words that capture how we feel about you:

  • Tireless
  • Inspired
  • Inspiring
  • Matchmaker
  • Selfless
  • Amplifier
  • Rock star
  • Dedicated
  • Fundamental
  • Supportive
  • Infectious
  • Unforgettable
  • Empowerment
  • Contribution
  • Dream catchers
  • Vital

So take a moment and remind yourself of the magic you create every day. And thank you!

Adaptability, Volunteer Engagement, Chickens and Eggs: Which Come First?

Guest post by Beth Steinhorn, JFFixler Group

To learn more about leveraging volunteer talent, join guest blogger Beth Steinhorn, JFFixler Group President, for a free webinar at November 19. Click here to register!

Adaptability, Volunteer Engagement, Chickens and Eggs: Which Come First?Scan the shelves of the business section of a book store or scroll through the popular TED talks these days, and you’ll be sure to find a lot of information about innovation and flexibility, nimbleness, and entrepreneurship. So much so that your eyes may glaze over and you may get a bit overwhelmed by the jargon.

Nonetheless, there’s a reason that so many are talking, writing, and thinking about nimbleness and entrepreneurship and it is not limited to business. These concepts are equally important to volunteer engagement. In fact, there is a growing pool of data that demonstrates how strategic volunteer engagement is related to organizational innovation and adaptability. Paying attention to these topics is worth the time – and investing effort in implementing some of these strategies has a significant return on investment.

One place to start is the research upon which the Service Enterprise model is based. Originally conducted by Reimagining Service, TCC Group, and Deloitte, this research has informed the development of the Service Enterprise model, with a Service Enterprise being defined as an organization that fundamentally leverages volunteers and their skills to successfully deliver its mission.

According to the research using the Core Capacity Assessment Tool (CCAT), only 17% of nonprofits studied self-identified as having strong volunteer engagement practices, leaving the vast majority of nonprofits with at best satisfactory ratings or, in nearly 20% of the cases, weak practices.

When the researchers looked at the top performers in terms of volunteer engagement, they found that those organizations were also strong in other core capacities – namely leadership, management, technical, and adaptability. Adaptive capacity is the ability to monitor, assess, respond to, and create internal and external changes. According to TCC, leadership and adaptive capacities are the most critical, as stated by TCC Group, they are “the two capacities that separate effective organizations from those that are less so.”

Similar observations were made in the new book, The Abundant Not-for-Profit: How talent (not money) will transform your organization, by Lynda Gerty and Colleen Kelly. In this book, the authors paint a vision of what’s possible when organizations embrace strategic engagement as a core business value and practice. They refer to these organizations as “abundant not-for-profits.” Based on their work helping nonprofit organizations throughout British Columbia, Canada, to embrace skilled volunteer engagement, Gerty and Kelly share what they have observed to be the traits that characterize successful abundant not-for-profits. They are:

  • Exceptional Leadership with a highly collaborative work ethic
  • Strong Management with an individual with initiative to develop and champion projects
  • Communication that keeps staff and volunteers engaged and informed
  • Adaptive Capacity marked by a passionate, entrepreneurial spirit with capacity to take risks and manage change

Once again, we see “adaptability” as a key element relating to success. Yet, being adaptable means being open to change, effectively making the case for change, and being able to manage change effectively not only personally but among colleagues (both staff and volunteers) and other stakeholders.

For an organization to embrace volunteer engagement as a key strategy to the extent that would deem them a “service enterprise” or an “abundant not-for-profit,” it needs to engage volunteers at all levels of the organization, for their skills, and in leadership positions – as leaders of teams, as leaders of projects, and as leaders of initiatives. For most organizations, this means adjusting policy, adapting current practices, and changing the way they do business.

As we all know, change is challenging for staff and the volunteers who are already connected to the organization. We can all think of examples of groups of volunteers who are reluctant to change the way they engage with an organization, and we can think of staff who are equally resistant to change. Yet, there are also many who are excited by the chance to be part of change. There are many entrepreneurial volunteers today whose skills can help your organization be more adaptable. In other words, there are volunteers who can help you and your organization learn to be more nimble, more entrepreneurial, and more flexible.

The research on organizations and volunteer engagement show a strong correlation between adaptability and robust volunteer engagement – but the research does not reveal causality. Does one cause the other? Do we know which comes first? No. They are intertwined. I believe that they are intertwined because those organizations that embrace volunteers at every level of the organization benefit from the entrepreneurial skills and spirit of those volunteers. Entrepreneurialism of the volunteers both feeds off of and fuels the entrepreneurial culture of the organization. The two benefit and strengthen each other.

While there is no clear answer to, “Which comes first – the entrepreneurial volunteers or the adaptive capacity of the organization?” there are some proven paths to getting started on both. That involves being open to change and engaging volunteers with you as partners in developing and implementing innovations at your organization. What better place to start than with volunteer engagement?

For tips and ideas on how to engage entrepreneurial volunteers with you in piloting a new volunteer engagement practice, join me on November 19 for the webinar Leveraging Volunteer Talent for Organizational Change.

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.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Words

The words you use to engage volunteers matter.Which is more likely to inspire you?

“Help support your community by volunteering to build houses for those in need.”

“Housing is a right everyone should have. Create new neighbors by lending a hand!”

Whatever the purpose: engaging volunteers, raising money, promoting an event, etc. – the words you use matter. Words with the highest value (i.e. the words most likely to engage your audience), are unique, specific, and  easy to understand.

Make Them Unique

Why are unique words so important? People are much more likely to pay attention to new information. In fact, new information actually makes us feel good, physically. Novelty causes a release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that gives us pleasant sensations from the brain stem. Because of this excitement and pleasure, our brains are trained to pay attention to new things and overlook the old. Choosing words that are unique will make you stand out, and will draw people in.

The Marketplace of Words

You might be wondering, “How do I know if my words are unique?” Well, there’s a website for that. Website Preview

Earlier this year, I researched the words most frequently used on nonprofit websites, and created the tool The Marketplace of Words. You can type your potential word in the box on the main page, and find out where and if it ranks in the top 1000 words most often found on nonprofit websites as of April 2014.

You can also browse the full lists in the Results tab. These include counts and percentages overall, in addition to breaking it down by part of speech. In the Getting Started tab, you can find advice on the most productive ways to use the tool.

The Marketplace doesn’t cover the other properties of high-value words, which are: Specific, and Easy to Understand. Here are quick explanations of why these are important to consider in addition to uniqueness:

Make Them Specific

What do you actually mean when you say community? How big is it and who is a part of it? There are so many methods of outreach; which are you referring to? These are examples of unanswered questions caused by vague words. Get specific! Instead of “utilizing a community outreach strategy”, say you’re “meeting face-to-face with residents of Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.”

Make Them Easy to Understand

The simplest way to achieve clarity in writing is to write like you speak. If someone has to take the time to decipher your message, they most likely won’t. An easy test is to ask yourself, “Would I use this word, phrase or sentence in a casual conversation?” If the answer is no – revise it. Also, when you are considering a few good words, opt for the word with fewer syllables.

The last thing you want to do is bore your volunteers with overused words, or hit them with unclear jargon. They should be excited about the awesome work they’re doing, and you have the power to make that happen. So, go on now: Go get the most value for your words!

The Volunteer as Brand Ambassador

Guest post by Tracy Kosolcharoen, Eventbrite

Eventbrite provides tips, tools and discounts to help nonprofits engage volunteers in fundraising around #GivingTuesday.As #GivingTuesday quickly approaches, many nonprofits have a single point of focus: fundraising. Nearly one third of nonprofit events on Eventbrite occur in the last quarter of the year. And during this busy time, organizers are constantly asking themselves, “How can I ensure my fundraiser is a smashing success without breaking my bank?”

Eventbrite has created an initiative, Give More Together, to help answer this very question. We’re waiving our service fees for nonprofit events occurring from December 1-6, 2014, and are excited to help you sell more tickets and collect donations when you sign up.

Another way to save money as you raise funds is through your volunteers. The truth is, volunteers can significantly impact the way attendees think of your organization. Oftentimes, guests cannot distinguish between a volunteer and a staff member, so the interactions they have will be directly associated with your brand.

This gives you the opportunity to turn every touch point – from parking to cleanup – into a positive reinforcement of your brand. By elevating the importance of your volunteers, you’ll also create a more meaningful experience for them, ultimately increasing their commitment to your cause.

Here are 3 easy steps to help you turn your volunteers into brand ambassadors:

1. Provide pre-event coaching

First, share the basics. Instill a love for your cause by explaining just how impactful your work is. Be sure to cover:

  • Your organization’s work, values and mission.
  • The purpose of this event, and how it fits in with the broader mission.
  • A general idea of why attendees are coming to the event.
  • Key leaders in the organization that will be at the event: founder, board members, etc.
  • The attendee profile and demographics so volunteers know what to expect. If you have VIP attendees, you may even want to show volunteers their photos and provide a brief background on each one, so volunteers are able to recognize guests that might need extra attention.

Then, set clear expectations:

Share your ground rules for dress code, your policy on eating, particularly if there’s food at the event, and general customer service guidelines, such as making eye contact and smiling. These pointers take only a few minutes to discuss and go a long way.

Also share your contact information or even create a chat group (Group Me, Line, and WhatsApp offer free solutions) so that volunteers can easily stay in touch and raise issues to you during the event.

2. Encourage greater involvement

Beyond assigned roles, each and every volunteer has a different vantage point on the live pulse of your event. Encourage them to use encounters with guests as an opportunity to gather feedback, with questions such as:

  • How is the event so far?
  • Anything more we can do to help you?

Have them compile feedback during their free moments, or after the shift. Encourage proactive service. If someone looks lost, volunteers can offer to assist or answer questions.

During the giving season and especially on #GivingTuesday, fundraising social media activity will be high. Your volunteers can serve as additional firepower behind your social media efforts, ensuring your event has a presence during this busy time. Encourage volunteers to share your posts and tweets with their networks.

If you have a dedicated person managing social media, you might also consider electing a few social media-savvy volunteers to tweet and post during the event itself. We say this with caution since social media can be hard to control, so if you are encouraging activity you will also want to ensure someone is able to react to any unexpected incidents.

Another option to solidify volunteers’ importance is by recognizing them in a printed program or online.

3. Thank your brand ambassadors

Share the results of their “ambassadorship.” From positive tweets about the event, to posting their volunteer photos to Facebook, remind them how valuable their support was to your guest experience.

Post-event, evaluate which brand ambassadors were most dedicated and helpful to your cause. You may want to reach out and thank them individually, or encourage them to take on volunteer leadership roles in the future.

Planning a charitable event? In addition to Give More Together, Eventbrite also offers ongoing discounts for nonprofits at

Tracy Kosolcharoen is a marketing manager at Eventbrite, where she works to help deliver more value to nonprofit event organizers through initiatives such as Give More Together for #GivingTuesday. She has also spent years managing marketing programs at American Express and OpenTable.