Share Your Story By Entering The Fight Hunger Photo Contest

Nonprofits know that visual storytelling has the power to prompt social change on a level that no other medium can. Photography can instantly provoke an emotional response which can lead to a call to action.

To share the story of the inspiring work that hunger related organizations are doing, and all the individual volunteers fighting hunger this season, we’re launching a Fight Hunger Photo Contest.

Here’s your chance to be recognized for the amazing work you’re doing in your community. Today VolunteerMatch is launching the Fight Hunger Photo Contest. The goal is simple: to raise awareness of the work being done by nonprofits and their volunteers. We want to encourage as many nonprofits as possible to tell their story, so this contest is meant to be easy, fun and simple.

Here’s How to Enter:

1) Simply upload a picture of you, your organization and/or your volunteers doing hunger related volunteer work to the VolunteerMatch Facebook Page with a caption about fighting hunger.

2) Be sure to also share your photo on Twitter with the hashtag #FightHunger.

3) That’s it. The photo with the most likes, comments and shares wins. Contest ends 12/28/2012. Update: Contest extended until 01/04/2013.

Prize: The winning photo will be featured on the Engaging Volunteers blog along with an interview. We encourage you to take this opportunity to show off the incredible work that you’re doing in your community.

Most importantly, we’d like to encourage you to reach out to your volunteers and ask them submit their photos to the Fight Hunger Photo Contest. We’ll be sharing the visual stories we receive throughout the contest as they come in so be sure to send your entry as soon as possible.

Good luck!

(Photo Credit to via Flickr)




Tip of the Month: Launch Your Own Social Media Campaign in 3 Easy Steps

If you’ve read our blog before it should come as no surprise that we love social media. It’s free, it’s engaging and it’s an extremely versatile marketing tool. Nonprofits use social media to engage with online audiences and spread awareness for important causes. They also use social media as a fundraising platform to solicit donations. For this month’s tip we’ll discuss using social media as a volunteer recruitment tool. I’ll tell you how to launch your very own social media campaign using free tools available right from your VolunteerMatch account.

And we’ll do it all in three simple steps!

Step One: Create New Content

Nobody wants to read old, recycled material. Don’t just copy and paste! Take the time to create a new volunteer opportunity. Don’t rethink the role entirely, instead change the language used to describe it. Adding new content is more likely to attract new volunteers and pique the interest of those already working with you.

If you find yourself with a serious case of writer’s block:  we’ve got you covered. VolunteerMatch offers a wide variety of resources to help you navigate the posting process. Look for tips on our Community Support Page or sign up for a free webinar in our Learning Center.

Step Two: Share This Opportunity with Your Organization’s Network

The hard part is over but now you have to spread the word. After creating a new opportunity use your VolunteerMatch account to share it on social media. Review your new content in the final posting step and click on the ‘Finish’ button at the bottom of the page. Once the system posts your volunteer opportunity you’ll see the following screen:

Click on these icons to share your opportunity via social media

In the section labeled ‘Share Your Listing’ you’ll see icons for Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. Make sure you’re logged into all three platforms, then click on each icon. This will automatically share your new volunteer opportunity on each social media platform.

Step Three: Get Individuals to Share Your Opportunity with Their Networks

For the final step in this process, use VolunteerMatch to engage existing members of your network. Use the fourth icon—pictured below—to email past and current volunteers:

Click on this icon to email copies of your opportunity to volunteers in your network

Take the time to draft a brief message: explain your efforts and request that recipients share your new volunteer opportunity with their own networks. Recruiting others to share your opportunity will not only increase your organization’s online presence, it will expand your audience base and enable you to connect with new individuals who will bring new skills into your organization.

Try out our steps and let us know how it goes! Share your feedback on our Community Page.

Why Slacktivism is a Key Engagement Strategy for Nonprofits

A version of this article also appears on Volunteering is CSR.

Ladder of EngagementSlacktivism used to be a dirty word. It used to stand for actions people take when they don’t really care, when they don’t plan on giving money, when they are just taking a break from watching Hulu and stalking their exes on Facebook.

Nowadays slacktivism often plays a key role in outreach campaigns that nonprofits run to raise awareness and support for causes (think “Like this page and Corporation A will donate a dollar” type of campaigns).

This link between slacktivism and nonprofits is a good thing! As it turns out, slacktivism is an important step in engaging people more deeply in a cause.

In her article “Why Slacktivism is Underrated,” Katya Andresen of Network for Good presents the findings of the Dynamics of Cause Engagement study by Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication and Ogilvy Worldwide. The study shows that slacktivists are in fact more likely to take meaningful actions in support of a cause.

They are just as likely to donate, twice as likely to volunteer, and twice as likely to participate in offline events like charity walks. Slacktivists are also three times as likely to solicit others for donations on behalf of a cause, and more than four times as likely to encourage others to sign petitions and contact political representatives.

Clearly, engagement is a ladder, and slacktivism is the first rung. It’s a way to start people off with small actions, eventually leading them up the ladder to greater involvement with your organization. With proper guidance, slacktivists can become donors, volunteers, and even leaders of organizations and initiatives.

Groundwire's depiction of an engagement pyramid.

Groundwire's depiction of an engagement pyramid.

Here are some examples of common slacktivist actions for social good:

So you’ve engaged all these consumers with your cause. Great job! Now what?

You can really amplify the impact of your campaign by bringing these newfound slacktivists to the next level of engagement.

For people who liked you on Facebook, engage them in running their own mini campaign using Causes or some other application. They can involve their network of friends and family in collecting donations and raising awareness. And people who Twibboned their avatar are probably Twitter junkies, so invite them to participate in a Tweetup event that you’re hosting, or ask them to donate their tweets using a service like Help Attack.

Without the all-seeing eyes of the Internet, it’s much harder to track people who wear your ribbons and pins or buy cause-related products. But if you are able to reach out to those people who engaged offline, this is an important time to educate them further about the cause.

Let people know how they can become more involved by living greener, eating healthier, contacting your organization, volunteering, donating, spreading the word… After all, if you don’t teach them how to help, they never will.

So when you reach out to people, whether online or off, recognize the value of what you’re doing and be proud of engaging so many slacktivists – and potential future activists – in your important issue.

But don’t forget to ask yourself: Now what?

Inside Out: Engaging Volunteers in a Social Media World

Greg Baldwin at Social Media for NonprofitsWe were very proud when our President, Greg Baldwin, spoke at the Social Media for Nonprofits Conference earlier this month. Nonprofit managers already know how important volunteers are to an organization. This conference was an intriguing look at the way social media—if you’re not using it already—can help you do just about everything – including (or especially) volunteer engagement.

The Buzzword: Volunteers

This was the second time the Conference stopped in San Francisco. While volunteering wasn’t a focus in June, this time it was on everyone’s radar. Chelsa Bocci from Kiva told us they have 10 volunteers or pro-bono professionals for every one paid-employee. Meg Garlinghouse offered tips for using Linkedin’s new service for nonprofits, Linkedin for Good, which makes it easier for nonprofits to tap into the leading professional social network to find the perfect volunteer for the job.

Greg’s presentation, “Inside Out: Engaging Volunteers in a Social Media World” showed us that the volunteer community has grown to include a new set of people. Volunteers don’t just stuff envelopes anymore. They can be board members, graphic designers, and social media strategists. The best way to reach this socially-active, plugged-in group is by meeting them on the networks they’re already using.

However, in order to capture attention in a medium that is constantly pushing old, two-dimensional content to the bottom of the feed, volunteer managers should keep in mind exactly who they’re trying to reach. Social media will allow you to create content that caters specifically to your targets, making them more likely to engage and give feedback, and from here you can form a close-knit community of supporters.

People Are Willing to Give

As Greg pointed out, we underestimate by as much as 50 percent how much others are willing to help. As a VolunteerMatch volunteer intern, I can personally back up this claim. I get the chance to read many volunteer testimonials, and am always amazed by the passion people have for their cause.

I started volunteering to get a feel for what it’s like working at a web-based nonprofit, and to build up some real-world experience. The more time I spent here, the more I understood what the people around me are working towards.

Whether it’s learning about tools for social media outreach, sitting in on meetings with the Communications Department, or getting the rare opportunity to attend the SM4NP Conference, my volunteer experience has been truly fulfilling. The most rewarding part, though, is knowing that I’m helping the people I’ve come to meet along the way with their daily goal — helping connect good people and good causes.

Volunteer Engagement is Donor Engagement

Greg showed us that volunteers are influential not only in terms of human resources, but fundraising as well. Two-thirds of volunteers donate to the organizations they serve, and they’re likely to give 10 times more than regular donors.

Social media allows you to drastically increase the number of people you deliver your message to. Imagine if this message were compelling enough to inspire people to get involved offline and experience first-hand the work you do. This is what makes volunteers want to donate money as well as time.

Greg introduced the audience to the &you widget from Johnson & Johnson, a tool for streamlining the way that people interact with nonprofits. It’s an all-in-one interface for listing volunteer and job opportunities, news and events, and a simple way to donate. The widget can then go directly on your website, blog or Facebook page.

The point is, don’t make the mistake of thinking that people don’t have the time or energy to help. Your support base is right at your fingertips thanks to social media tools like these.

The Three R’s

Social networks should be a fundamental part of the entire volunteer-cycle. Remember the three R’s of volunteer engagement: Recruitment, Retention and Recognition. Enticing photos can captivate potential volunteers. YouTube training videos can speed up the introduction process, and mentions on a Facebook post can give thanks.

Remember that these social media networks are all ways to supplement genuine relationships. It’s a new medium for your message, but the content of your message is still what matters most.

Once you start to get the hang of it, you will begin to witness the way social media enhances your organization’s ability to engage volunteers, which at the end of day positively impacts pretty much everyone.

Photo from the Social Media for Nonprofits Facebook page.

Jesse Fineman is an intern at VolunteerMatch. You can reach him at

Intuition vs. Data: How We Use Facts to Change the Way We Make Strategic Decisions

VolunteerMatch’s Zeph Harben was part of a panel on data-driven decision making at the 2011 Nonprofit Technology Conference in Washington, DC. He wrote the following article for the NTEN Blog to summarize some of his thoughts on the topic.

By Zeph Harben

Every day we encounter hundreds of decision points. Thankfully, most of them are quite small.

  • Should I have a bagel or Wheaties for breakfast?
  • Should I wear jeans or khakis to work?
  • Should I watch “American Idol” or try to get through a few pages of Finnegans Wake?

Ideally, most of these will be snap judgments. We follow our habits or rely on intuition. We allow the choice to bubble up without losing much time agonizing over the outcome. The human mind, it turns out, is an extremely efficient manager of the chaos of life.

However, patterns that work so well on small decisions often fail us when it comes to the big stuff. While it may be obvious that programmatic strategy – decisions that affect your coworkers, your volunteers, or your organization’s mission – shouldn’t be based on “snap judgments”, it’s incredibly hard to make the human mind work any other way. All too often, the decisions that arise from going with your gut turn out to be mistakes that set you back weeks or months.

The key to making sound, big decisions is to ground them in real-world, vetted, unprejudiced, unadulterated facts. Working in I.T. for the last 8 years, most recently as Director of Application Architecture at VolunteerMatch, I’ve had some experience working through mistakes. While gut-based decision-making is as natural as choosing your breakfast, I’d like offer some tips on how to recognize the patterns, and ultimately change the way your organization makes strategic decisions.

Cognitive Bias: The Invisible Elephant in the Room

There are big reasons why organizations struggle to avoid driving strategy with instinct, so to create a culture that encourages data-based decisions, leaders must first recognize the cognitive biases that influence decisions.

What’s a cognitive bias?

Wikipedia has a great primer on the topic for amateur organizational psychologists. As you read it, you’ll begin to spot the biases that your team suffers from.

In the case of VolunteerMatch, we’re not immune by a long shot. As an application service provider with roots that stretch back to the early days of the Web, we’ve been through several phases of change and development. Sometimes we’ve led trends. Sometimes we’ve lagged behind them.

Here are a few examples:

The Bandwagon Effect

In 2008, we launched Facebook Connect, a “single-sign on” method that allows our visitors to use their Facebook credentials to log in. Like many Web services, we were following the social media trend without realizing how much our perspective was skewed by bias of the Bandwagon Effect.

We could see that the internet was deluged with “me-too” Facebook implementations, and we lacked clear data on the potential impact of the change. Our discussions at the time centered on the need to “do something”.  We charged ahead, investing months in the integration.

The project had some positive outcomes – we fixed an archaic registration and login process, and Facebook Connect kicked off a larger social media effort that is still paying dividends for VolunteerMatch today. However, in terms of our key metrics we saw little impact from Facebook Connect.  While there was a ton of buzz about Facebook at the time, our particular implementation fell flat with visitors.

Three years and much market research later, we now know that providing better integration for sharing tools (e.g., AddThis, Facebook Activity Widget, etc.) has been the key to enhancing social activity and has increased our presence on Facebook and elsewhere. Thankfully, these other data-led investments have finally paid off for VolunteerMatch.

Here area few tips to avoid your own Bandwagon Effect:

  • Perform a pilot study. Take a ride on the bandwagon, but be ready to jump off.
  • Collect clear data on the impact of several distinct approaches to the problem you are trying to resolve.
  • Use A/B testing methods to test a single variant in your workflow.
  • Test small, incremental changes instead of overhauling everything. Be prepared to return to old methods if it’s not working.
  • Avoid using marketing hype as a substitute for your own analysis.
  • Try, and be willing to fail, to prepare your team for future success!

Status Quo Bias

Status Quo bias takes many forms, but in simple terms it involves fear of change. In organizations, the Status Quo bias can emerge from a strong cultural identity, or static models of your constituents and their needs.  If you’ve ever heard the phrase “This is the way we’ve always done it,” you’ve encountered the Status Quo bias.

At VolunteerMatch, the Status Quo bias recently infected our approach to attracting visitors. After many years of stellar growth in visitors, we observed that website traffic was flattening. Our decisions related to this trend reflected a strong bias towards Status Quo.

For years, VolunteerMatch grew by providing users with Google-like tools to search, segment, slice and dice our volunteer opportunities. But internet behavior is changing – people find opportunities today through content curation and sharing, and they expect information to be presented in a contextual, localized format like on Yelp or Google Places.

At first, we focused on small-scale improvements to our registration process and search tools. We reasoned that if we simply adjusted the old formula, we would return to our previous rates of growth and success metrics.

However, visits continued to stagnate.

Finally, with extensive research and data analysis, plus some help from an SEO consultant, we were able to see how outmoded our assumptions about the way people search for volunteer opportunities had become.

Today we’re developing functionality around localized content, and ensuring that our volunteer opportunities are more discoverable by search engines that put primacy on local content.

The results so far?  Extremely positive – our success metrics and website traffic have been improving steadily.

Ride the Wave, Not the Bandwagon

Over time, we’ve been able to align our strategy more closely with new trends and changes in the competitive landscape.  This hasn’t been easy, but by countering cognitive biases with data analysis and an incremental approach to change, we now have a sense of  “riding the wave” — instead of riding the bandwagon.

Zeph Harben is the Director of Application Architecture at VolunteerMatch. Previously he was Director of Information Technology for TRUSTe.