Volunteer Engagement 2.0 Author Spotlight: Beth Kanter

Beth Kanter, contributor to VolunteerMatch's book Volunteer Engagement 2.0: Ideas and Insights Changing the WorldVolunteerMatch’s new book, Volunteer Engagement 2.0: Ideas and Insights Changing the World, features chapters from 35 experts in the field of volunteer engagement. In this series of blog posts, get to know these #35experts and their areas of expertise.

Today’s expert: Beth Kanter, Author and Master Trainer.

First of all, what is your chapter about?
My chapter is about how to measure your volunteer program outcomes and engagement. When my first book, The Networked Nonprofit, came out in 2010, a lot of people in the nonprofit world wondered how its ideas could ever be applied to volunteer engagement. Facebook and Twitter may make sense for fundraising campaigns and awareness building, I heard, but they don’t quite fit with the needs of volunteer programs. Now, four years later, many of those naysayers use those exact tools to strengthen volunteer relationships and leverage connections for greater impact.

My second book, Measuring The Networked Nonprofit, which was awarded the Terry McAdam Nonprofit Book Award in 2013, focused on what nonprofits can do to measure and assess their social networking. Again, I heard from many nonprofit professionals in volunteering that these ideas didn’t really apply to them. Yes, they were tracking and measuring key metrics such as volunteer hours worked, but those metrics were far removed from the insightful, social media-oriented data points I was talking about.

In this case, while I see some changes happening, more remains to be done to help the volunteer engagement field adopt a culture of data-informed decision-making. Collecting data to measure success is essential—but often, we only see part of the equation done well. Sometimes they’re not even collecting the right data!

Why is this topic important?
Are you struggling to listen and engage with your volunteer community? Measurement helps you understand how your community perceives you, what they do with the information you send out to them, and where to direct your volunteers’ efforts.

Photo Credit: Batara

Photo Credit: Batara

In addition, boards and senior management increasingly expect results expressed in the language of measurement—and funders require data to evaluate impact (and not just any data; they want to see standardized measurement criteria, because data without insight is just trivia). Communicating the actual value of volunteer engagement is one of the more difficult challenges that nonprofits face.  Hours donated is an important metric, but other important metrics, like the amount of trees planted, meals served, or young minds opened, need to be quantified in a way that demonstrates the value of the work and impact on the community. Measurement offers that.

Explain your background on this topic. (In other words, what makes you a “volunteer engagement expert?”)
I’ll be honest with you. I don’t consider myself to be a “volunteer engagement expert.” I am an expert at training and capacity building, especially related to technology, networks, leadership, and using data effectively. I think measurement is really about learning and using that feedback to get more impact–and that’s what I know how to do really well.

What did you learn and/ or struggle with when writing your chapter?
Even though I’m known as a prolific blogger and writer, I struggle with writing all the time, especially the first draft. The reason is that the first draft is always going to suck no matter what and you have to learn accept writing as a continuous improvement process. You write a draft, you get feedback “data” from your editor, in this case, Robert Rosenthal, who was fantastic! So, writing is a lot of a good measurement process, you learn from feedback and iterate and improve.

What is the one piece of advice you would give volunteer managers to take with them to the future?
Just remember that measurement is not a one-time add-on to your planning process. Much like those ideas that are successful in small steps, so too is measurement—and it’s an effort that builds your organization’s capacity and helps make your results get better with time. And be sure to have time set aside to reflect and do something meaningful with what you discover.

Make measurement your first measurable goal, in fact—and get ready to chart your success!

Volunteer Engagement 2.0: Ideas and Insights Changing the World

Beth Kanter is a master trainer, author, and blogger. Her book, Measuring the Networked Nonprofit, was awarded the Terry McAdam Nonprofit Book Award. She facilitates training and capacity building programs, and her clients include The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Knight Foundation, and others. You can connect with Beth on her blog, Beth’s Blog.


To read Beth’s full chapter, Measuring the Volunteer Program, order your copy of Volunteer Engagement 2.0: Ideas and Insights Changing the World today.

What’s Your Ocean Story? Rallying to Support and Honor a Fellow Community Member

Support community member Beth Kanter as she honors her father.

Support community member Beth Kanter as she honors her father.

Today we take a break from our regularly scheduled programming to support a member of the nonprofit community.

Beth Kanter has had an enormous impact on the nonprofit sector, helping organizations be more networked and more confident in our use of technology. Her long-standing blog has helped guide us through the minefield that is social media and online communications.

Her ever-growing resources such as innumerable wikis and her two books (so far) ensure that we are able to efficiently explore the latest and most valuable tools out there. Her engaging and interactive presentations inspire us all to do a better job with our SMART goals or to make it to the “Fly” stage of our social media practice.

Now Beth is turning to her network – to us – to help her honor her father’s memory. Beth’s father passed away this week after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. As a special online tribute to him and his deep-seated love for the ocean, she is calling on all of us to share our favorite ocean-related stories on social media using the hashtag #OceanLoveEarl. She is also raising money for Surfrider Foundation to support their ocean conservation efforts.

Help Beth Kanter pay tribute and honor her father.

Photo from BethKanter.org

As volunteer managers, we understand the importance and the power of community. I urge you to show your support for Beth as part of the VolunteerMatch community, and the greater nonprofit community, as well.

This is also a great way to get your volunteers involved. It’s a fun way for them to give some time online and share with their social networks to honor the life of a wonderful man. (And to tell some great stories about the ocean.)

The VolunteerMatch Ocean Story

For VolunteerMatch, we’re proud that we can help help people get involved with the ocean, discover its majesty and work to ensure it stays healthy. Today in honor of Beth’s father we’re sharing all the awesome ocean-related volunteer opportunitieswe can find on VolunteerMatch.


Whats’s your ocean story? Share it online with hashtag #OceanLoveEarl.

Free Community Brown Bag: Measuring the Networked Nonprofit with Beth Kanter, 12/7

Beth Kanter brown bag at VolunteerMatchIf you are in the Bay Area this week, please join us in our San Francisco office this Friday, December 7. We’ll be hosting Beth Kanter, one of our favorite experts on social change and technology, for a discussion based on the ideas in her latest influential book, “Measuring the Networked Nonprofit.”

The brown bag is from 12-1pm with time for questions afterward. Bring your lunch and your questions about measurement, metrics and social networking. Please RSVP to attend here:

Beth Kanter Brown Bag at VolunteerMatch HQ

Tools for Managing Change in a New Era

It was only 1996, but when it comes to engaging supporters, my first nonprofit job might as well have been during the Cold War.

We shared a single database file, sent out direct mail and made phone calls, and tormented ourselves over ever character in our quarterly newsletter. We tried to fit ourselves to the requirements of whatever grant or gift we were asking for. And we rarely, if ever, looked closely at whether our supporters truly understood our mission or our social impact.

Today’s nonprofit work is changing – especially when it comes to why, how and when we engage supporters in our mission. Beth Kanter captured this change clearly in her 2010 book with Alison Fine, “The Networked Nonprofit,” which presented a vision of the successful nonprofit as one that is simple, transparent, and purposely built to harness the connections of its supporters in order to produce change.

Measuring the Networked NonprofitWith “Measuring the Networked Nonprofit,” Beth picks up where she left off, presenting a framework to help networked social change organizations thrive off of change. During the brown bag event Beth will share her ideas about what to measure, how to measure, which tools to use, and — perhaps most important — how to develop an organizational culture that is committed to measuring its success.

Volunteer Coordination at the Networked Nonprofit

While they focus on social networking and technology, Beth’s ideas apply to all aspects of work at a nonprofit — even volunteer coordination. If this is you, I’ve written quite a bit about how to extend these ideas to the recruitment, recognition and retention of your volunteers:

How Can Volunteer Coordinators Help Their Organizations Become Networked Nonprofits?

Volunteer Engagement at a Networked Nonprofit

I also cover these ideas in this presentation I gave earlier this year at Social Media for Nonprofits:

Social Media & the 3Rs: Content Strategy Basics for Engaging Volunteers

But don’t take it from me: at the brown bag you can hear directly from Beth and ask her questions about how to apply networking and measurement to your work.

RSVP to Attend

Space is still available. Please sign up to attend here:


7 Thoughtful Take-Aways from My #12NTC

An event like the 2012 Nonprofit Technology Conference is a big deal for an organization like VolunteerMatch. Despite the large audiences we serve, we’re still a pretty small office, and the number of us on the team who are lucky enough to get out and actually meet the nonprofits we help is smaller still.

With #12NTC held in our own backyard this year, we were fortunate to bring six of us out to the Union Square Hilton, and thank goodness. The math of three days of nonprofits, technology and 1,800 attendees meant a pretty pooped set of VolunteerMatchers by the end of the conference. And of course, our regular chores didn’t exactly disappear while we were out. (I’m still following up on emails that stacked up during #12NTC. So if I owe you a note or a call, bear with me!)

But once again, this is a conference that’s worth it. In terms of sharing, learning, making new friends and reconnecting with the spirit of our work, #12NTC hit the spot.

Here are a few things I learned at 12NTC:

1. Viz is the biz.

Helped along by the inspired placement of Dan Roam’s awesome Blah Blah Blah book in the conference tote bag, no topic at #12NTC was hotter than visualization. Call it the Pinterest effect, but everyone was talking about tools and trends for storytelling and reporting via images. Curation, sharing, pinning, and even digital rights were all the rage, and it’s clear that the smart money is on a future where constituents aren’t expected to do much long form reading.

Viz popularity is also a big reason why NTC Ignite sessions are so popular.

2. We all have a role to play.

#12NTC isn’t produced by slick brands with big budgets. While our friends at the organizer NTEN do a great job bringing everyone together, being inclusive and providing a framework for a great couple of days, they can’t do it all. As NTC grows each year, it’s even more important that side-line events, sponsors, planners, volunteers and note takers all get actively involved.

For our part, we threw a party on the eve of the conference’s first night. With 250 folks coming in, clearly there was a need for an organized event on the front-end of #12NTC. We were glad to step up, along with our co-sponsors.

3. We’re getting better with our tech – because we have no choice.

Nonprofit tech used to be a backwater… not anymore. Today, every effective nonprofit is also proficient with technology. It’s the only way we can reach our audiences, engage and inspire supporters, and deliver services.

In my field, communications, the number of tools we have to juggle is crazy. According to a Communicopia report, [PDF] the typical smaller nonprofit digital team manages an average of 12 web properties (a website, a blog, accounts at Flickr, Facebook, Linkedin, wikis, etc.)

4. Email isn’t going anywhere.

Social media may be exploding, but the chorus of expert voices warning nonprofits not to abandon email as the main engagement channel for volunteers and donors is just getting louder. Organizations need to learn how to use it effectively at nearly every step towards success.

5. The volunteer-fundraising divide is still a broad chasm.

Giving time, giving money. In both cases supporters are giving resources to a nonprofit. Once again at NTC, I saw no deeply integrated systems or ideas for recruiting and managing supporters in both areas, and I met lots of development staff and volunteer coordinators who are worlds apart in their approaches and budgets.

Some of the online social fundraising platforms like Fundly, Razoo and Causes are helping the field to close that gap — to think of social fundraising as a kind of volunteering — but this is still a work in progress.

6. The shadow conference only grows.

Each year, it seems like more and more of NTC takes place outside of the sessions. This year, the hotel lobby seemed to be rocking with nonprofit technology industry insiders meeting and greeting, but generally ignoring the good stuff going on inside.

To an outsider, it may appear as if these folks already know what’s going on in the Nonprofit Technology world. Sadly, this group is missing the great stuff that’s going on inside, while the tech revolution continues to evolve and change under their very noses. It’s easy to miss change when it happens.

7. The debate about innovation is raging.

Our CEO, Greg Baldwin, joined Meg Garlinghouse, Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, and Brian Reich in conversation with Beth Kanter about innovaton at nonprofits. While Reich argued that few NPOs are doing truly innovative things — otherwise, wouldn’t more problems be getting solved? — a big chunk of the tweeting audience in the room called double standard on the critique. Others said it was a good reminder whether we should be pursuing innovation at all at the expense of incremental gain in efficiency and scale.

A week later, TechSoup’s Co-CEO Daniel Ben Horin published this interesting article about the debate.

These are just my thoughts… I’ve pulled together a fun list of other folks’ recasts on the conference to give you a clearer picture:

Expert Snapshots for March

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. Check back every month for snapshots of what experts in the field are talking about. This month we are focusing on social media.

Timing is Everything

Being on social media is one thing, but are you optimizing each post? Social media expert Neil Draper writes a post about the best times to post content online. Check it out and learn what days and even what time in the day is the best hour to do online outreach. Think about how you can use your social media to reach the most potential volunteers without spamming their news feeds.

YouTubing for Nonprofits

Does your organization have a YouTube account? YouTube has a special program just for nonprofits, so be sure to check it out if you haven’t already. On the blog Inspiring Generosity, social media marketing and nonprofit expert John Haydon shares some tips on what YouTube offers through its nonprofit program and how nonprofits can use channels most effectively. Check out his personal website and follow him on Twitter to keep up with the latest on how nonprofits can use social media for outreach and recruiting.

Pinning for Social Good

The latest social media craze at the moment is Pinterest, the strange lovechild of Google Images, Flickr and Twitter. Many nonprofits such as UNICEF and Amnesty International USA are already active on Pinterest. Take a listen to social media expert Noland Hoshino and how he thinks nonprofits can use Pinterest to their best advantage. Also, be sure to read Five Pinterest Best Practices for Nonprofits by the blog Nonprofit Tech 2.0.

Get a Jumpstart on the New Facebook Page Feature

At the end of March, Facebook will convert all its profile pages into a new format. If you’ve got a personal Facebook profile, then you’re probably familiar with Timeline already. Nonprofit social media guru Beth Kanter wrote a handy guide on the tools available to organizations within the new Facebook Pages setup (follow Beth on Twitter here). The permanent change doesn’t happen till March 30, so take the time now to rethink your Facebook strategy to connect with potential volunteers.