Winning People Over to Your Cause – Part One: Welcome Change

Content Marketing for Nonprofits, by Kivi Leroux MillerEditor’s Note: This series explores ways to apply content marketing strategies to help lead a successful nonprofit volunteer program. Using the wealth of information in Kivi Leroux Miller’s book “Content Marketing for Nonprofits” as a jumping-off point, this four-part installment discusses how a solid content marketing strategy will pay dividends in drawing volunteers and supporters, bridging the gap between volunteers and donors, and engaging your community.

Welcome change to enable the success of your employee volunteer program.What is content marketing in the first place? Here is Kivi’s definition: “Content marketing for nonprofits is creating and sharing relevant and valuable content that attracts, motivates, engages, and inspires your participants, supporters, and influencers to help you achieve your mission.” Your content marketing strategy, then, is your blueprint to success.

It might be cliché to say “there is always room for improvement,” but it is well-used for a reason – and it is more relevant than ever when designing a content marketing strategy. The most important thing that will allow a nonprofit to benefit from Kivi’s book is keeping an open mind to new ideas and methods of engagement, because her book is full of them.

Journeying through Content Marketing for Nonprofits is similar to the backpacking analogy Kivi uses throughout her book: there are so many concepts and strategies that will cross your path, that making sense of them requires you to be well-prepared. And the best way to be prepared for this long trek is to welcome change. It’s rarely easy, but it’s necessary.

Here are a few ways you can begin to think about new methods of engaging your volunteers and community:

Have Two-Way Conversations

The phrase “target audience” might come to mind when you are thinking about your content marketing strategy. Yet it is one of the first terms Kivi asks us to rethink in her book. In communicating with your volunteers and community, start seeing your engagement as a dialogue: you aren’t talking to them, you are talking WITH them.

This concept is especially important to keep in mind when using social media platforms. As Kivi notes, one of the biggest opportunities that social media presents to nonprofits is that anyone can be a spokesperson for your organization. This means that as people speak out publicly about your organization, any opinion about you can be floating around on the internet, outside of your control.

However, what you can control is how you prepare for those comments and speak to those people. By inviting feedback that applauds or constructively criticizes, by having a conversation, you will begin to adapt to the needs of your volunteers and community. Your content will become relevant to them as you gain a reputation for keeping an open ear to your community’s needs, and you will ultimately win people over to your cause.

Let’s take an example: Suppose you are an environmental organization, and you are seeking volunteers to spend a day educating elementary school students on water conservancy. Your Facebook page can be a great way to convert community members into volunteers, and a simple post can often do the trick.

The post might include things like: a statistic on how much water is wasted in the United States annually; a question that invites conversation and hints at the post’s main goal, such as, “Why do YOU think it’s important that kids are educated on water conservation?”; an invitation for community members to volunteer their time and share their knowledge; a photo of someone presenting to a elementary school classroom; and a link to a page on your website where people can sign up to volunteer.

Notice how most of these elements invite interaction from and with the community. (These are also great things to include in a listing on VolunteerMatch, too!)

Engage Different Types of Volunteers

While you are removing “target audience” from your vocabulary, focusing on specific groups or types of volunteers is still a useful tool. The with whom people you engage come in all different shapes and sizes: they vary in age, are of different backgrounds, and bring unique skill sets. Your job is to sift through your pool of volunteers and individually assign them tasks that they find relevant and can flourish in.

This is one strategy we apply on VolunteerMatch.org, where volunteer opportunities are placed into unique categories. For example, a family interested in volunteering at an animal hospital with their children can refine their search by clicking the cause “Animals,” then finding an opportunity listed as “Good for kids.” By engaging different types of volunteers and placing them into specific roles that best fit them, you will find that your volunteers’ outputs will be greater because they are truly interested in their work.

Another great way to get the most out of what your volunteers have to offer is to give them greater responsibility, namely through titles or positions of leadership. A younger volunteer who is particularly skilled in social media will be more encouraged if you give her the unique title of “Social Media Specialist.” A volunteer with lots of experience with your organization might be promoted to a “Team Leader” position, guiding and showing the ropes to newer volunteers.

Letting your volunteers know that you appreciate them for who they are will foster a relationship built on giving, and will get people in your community and potential volunteers excited about supporting your cause.

Communicate Across Multiple Channels

It is likely that digital technology is one of the first things that comes to mind when you think of recent changes in nonprofit communications. And it can certainly seem daunting, even scary with the instantaneous flow of information and the rapid shifts in our modes of communicating.

Rather than look at these changes with fear, see them as expanding the ways in which you can connect with your volunteers and community. More outlets might mean more work, but it also means more people who see your accomplishments, hear about your cause, and recognize your organization’s name.

We want to hear your stories: How has welcoming change allowed your organization to better engage volunteers?

Are You One of the 3,000?

No, we’re not talking about the much-desired second sequel to the movie “300.” Even we aren’t that ambitious. Instead, we’re referring to the 3,000 connections made every single day on VolunteerMatch.org between nonprofits and volunteers.

Every day on VolunteerMatch.org, about 3,000 connections are made between nonprofits and volunteers.

As the Web’s largest volunteer engagement network, this is just what we DO. We make it easier for your nonprofit organization to find the volunteers you actually need. We’ve got all sorts of awesome free tools.

So are you one of the 3,000? If not, get right on it. It takes about 5 minutes – another happy number – and your organization’s needs will be seen by millions of skilled, dedicated volunteers. So all-in-all, it’s kind of a no-brainer.

Start recruiting volunteers with VolunteerMatch now.

Lessons Learned and Good Times Had at the 2014 Nonprofit Technology Conference

The VolunteerMatch team having a great time at the 2014 Nonprofit Technology ConferenceAlmost two weeks later, the VolunteerMatch team is still processing our experience at the 2014 Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) in Washington, D.C. VolunteerMatch was involved as an exhibitor and partner for the Day of Service event, and VolunteerMatch team members spent as much time as possible meeting other nonprofits, schmoozing, and geeking out.

Here are reflections from two attendees about what was most valuable about this year’s NTC conference:

Lauren Wagner, Senior Manager of Engagement, VolunteerMatch

Lauren WagnerThis year was my first time at the NTC and I was definitely impressed. From the smooth logistics to the networking events and learning sessions, it was overall a great conference. In between shifts manning the VolunteerMatch booth, I was able to attend a few sessions and was able to come back to San Francisco with tangible ideas to put into action in my own work – which is, in my opinion, the sign of great speakers and sessions.

Delicious branded cupcakes courtesy of Network for Good.

Delicious branded cupcakes courtesy of Network for Good.

My favorite two sessions were the session on rethinking online engagement with Ash Shepherd of Minds On Design Lab and Farra Trompeter of Big Duck, and a self-help session for nonprofit marketers led by Sarah Durham of Big Duck, strategist, speaker and blogger, Nancy Schwartz, and marketing specialist Stephanie Bowen.

In the engagement session, Ash and Farra shared a new model for growing and developing your online engagement strategies to help you self-identify where your current online engagement lives and how to get it to the next level. This can seem like a large and daunting task, but luckily in the second session I mentioned above, we discussed tips and tricks for keeping yourself productive based on the three keys from Todd Henry’s book “Die Empty.” These three keys are: define your battles; be fiercely curious; and step out of your comfort zone.

Shari Ilsen, Director of Engagement, VolunteerMatch

Shari IlsenThis was my fourth year at NTC, and it really felt like coming home. I caught up with old friends, made some great new ones, and reinforced my feeling that all of us who deal with nonprofit technology are in a great big, exciting, growing community together. The themes that emerged for me from the conference follow along those lines:

We’re not alone! If you have an idea or a problem, reach out to others. Not only are others dealing with the same challenges, but others are probably finding great solutions! This became clear in the session I led with nonprofit consultant Lauren Girardin on impact measurement. This is a tough topic for many, but it doesn’t have to be if you grab models and examples of what others are already doing to achieve success. Tip: to find some of these great models and examples, join LinkedIn groups and local Meetups to connect directly with folks dealing with similar issues.

Technology is just a tool! Your organization doesn’t have to be a pioneer or early adopter in order to make the most of technology. Be strategic about how technology can help your mission – because that, after all, is the whole point. Here’s a tweet I sent that ended up becoming famous during the conference:


It’s important to have fun with what we do, no matter what challenges we face. Put some effort into making yourself and others laugh, and you’ll see the impact of your work skyrocket. At NTC we saw this in action not just after-hours during the parties, but during the sessions as we appreciated the humor embedded into every speaker’s agenda. It kept us alert, engaged and excited.

After all, in the end the main goal of our jobs is provide joy. So even if you work in a tough, emotionally charged field, find a reason to smile, and spread it.

Did you attend the 2014 Nonprofit Technology Conference? If so, what did you learn? Share it with us below!

Nonprofit Insights: How Nonprofit Data and Volunteers Can Save the World

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.

Upcoming Insights Webinar: How Nonprofit Data and Volunteers Can Save the WorldRecord-keeping is not an exciting word, and inspires equally drab reactions from nonprofits who work to fulfill record-keeping and reporting requirements. But there’s a secret many organizations are just beginning to discover: your data is the key to helping you fulfill your mission – and save the world.

How Nonprofit Data and Volunteers Can Save the World

Register for this free event.
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
10am – 12pm PT (1-2pm ET)

Follow along with the conversation on Twitter: @VolunteerMatch and #NPOdata.

Join VolunteerMatch on April 8, 2014, for a free Nonprofit Insights webinar in honor of National Volunteer Week. Erinn Andrews of GuideStar and Lisa Pool of the Technology Affinity Group, who have partnered on the Simplify initiative, www.simplifynow.org, will share how data and record-keeping in the nonprofit sector is becoming so much more than just the IRS Form 990 – and why paying attention to this trend, and engaging volunteers to help you contribute, will help your organization get more funding and support.

Register for this free Nonprofit Insights webinar now.

The Chicken, the Egg, Volunteering, and Employment

How are volunteering and employment linked?It’s not often we dive into data here. Stories of impact are so much more inspiring, and tips and tools are so much more useful. However, sometimes it’s necessary to haul out numbers to glean relevant insights about volunteering and nonprofits.

In this case, I’m not going to dive in headfirst – merely dip my toes in. I was curious about the nuggets to be found in the most recent “Volunteering & Civic Life in America” report released by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). It’s actually pretty easy to get caught up in this survey data, especially when comparing the volunteering information from different geographic areas.

For example, here are the cities with the top 10 volunteer rates in 2012:

  1. Minneapolis
  2. Rochester
  3. Milwaukee
  4. Seattle
  5. Salt Lake City
  6. Portland
  7. Washington, D.C.
  8. St. Louis
  9. Charlotte
  10. San Francisco (hooray!)

I thought it might be illuminating to compare this data to the most recent unemployment information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. After all, the economy is the top priority for pretty much all of us, but especially for nonprofits that depend on the generosity and sustainability of the public. What I found is…interesting?

Of the cities that have the highest volunteering rates, only one of them (St. Louis) is above the national average in unemployment. In other words, most of the cities that are great at volunteering appear to have stronger than average economies.

Additionally, when I compared historical data from CNCS’s report, I discovered that the three cities on the list above that have dramatically lower unemployment rates than most others (Minneapolis, Rochester and Salt Lake City) have all been ranked in the top five for volunteering rates for the past few years.

What does this mean?

Well, it certainly suggests that there’s some sort of connection between volunteering and strong economic recovery. Of course, we shouldn’t get too excited yet:

Recently the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its annual “Volunteering in the United States” report, a supplement to the Current Population Survey. The data shows that in 2013, employed folks volunteered more than unemployed. So are these cities strong because they volunteer, or do they volunteer because their economies are strong? Is it the chicken or the egg?

One thing is certain: more data is needed. I won’t try to trick you into following me down the black hole of correlation vs. causation. But it does seem clear that volunteering and healthy economies, in some way, go hand in hand. And that makes me happy.