Volunteering Annals: Helping Our Community Use Linkedin at the Public Library

Volunteering with skills at san francisco public library

Greg Baldwin teaches the class.

The incredible thing about giving is just how much you get in return – even when you’re not expecting it.

That was one of the takeaways from an afternoon of training a few of us from VolunteerMatch recently conducted at San Francisco Public Library’s main branch, when what was originally a fun challenge for our readers became an important lesson in the power of skilled volunteering.

This story begins earlier this year. As VolunteerMatch prepared to pass a key milestone in our work to make it easier for good people and good causes to connect – our 6 millionth volunteer connection – we bet readers of Engaging Volunteers that they couldn’t guess when we’d hit the mark. To put our money where our mouth is, we promised to let the closest guesser do something special: they could tell the VolunteerMatch team where to do our next employee volunteer outing.

Two weeks later, we hit 6,000,000… a mere 30 minutes after Carla Lehn, a consultant for the California State Library, said we would. Carla, bless her heart, asked us to do our volunteer service in a California library close to us. But what would we – what could we? – do to help?

Moving from Service to Skills

What we came up with was VolunteerMatch’s first ever skilled group employee volunteer outing. Working closely with volunteer program coordinator Kai Forsley and the Volunteer Program at the San Francisco Public Library, myself, Shari Ilsen and Greg Baldwin put together a free hour-long training on using Linkedin to find a job.

The event took place at the city’s popular main branch and was attended by around 15 members of our San Francisco community. We covered how to create an account, set up a profile, network with other professionals, and take a strategic approach to your job search.

Don’t get me wrong: All three of us have presented in the past to much larger audiences. But this was on a topic that had nothing to do with VolunteerMatch and everything to do with the unique needs of the audience served by SF’s library. In short: it was skilled volunteering to support the mission of a local organization.

The hour flew by and we stayed late with the audience to answer questions. Afterwards, as Greg, Shari and I headed back to our office, we talked about how much we enjoyed being able to do what we love — helping people — using the skills we already had. And how great it felt knowing that we were also learning how to talk and present on something we’d never shared with an audience before.

One thing that kept coming up in our discussions was that this was how many other members of the VolunteerMatch team could benefit from getting involved in delivering trainings like this. We all have the ability to put ideas into play for a willing audience. And we can all stand to get better at how we deliver that information.

Laughing, we talked about how great it would be to move beyond the types of unskilled but beneficial volunteering we’d done as groups before (think: fun park clean ups, social service facility rehabs, environmental restorations, etc.). What if VolunteerMatch made it a point to help our team to find skilled roles we could use to give back and also augment our own professional abilities?

Fast forward to today. Shari has stepped forward and has worked with Kai and the Volunteer Program set up monthly training sessions on a variety of topics through the next year. Different members of the team will be invited to take part, meaning we can rotate more people through this exciting opportunity. And of course more of us will be able to help the library fulfill its mission while also strengthening our own presentation skills.

Today we just passed 6.5 million volunteer connections — and we’re moving to the next big landmark faster than ever. What’s that, you ask: Will we have another contest to let the crowd determine where we’ll volunteer? Sounds like a great idea to me!

How about you? Do you volunteer your skills through a program set up by your employer? What have you learned? Share your experiences here.


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.

5 Resolutions to Make 2012 the Year of the Nonprofit Volunteer Program

Engaged Volunteers of Our City Forest in San Jose, Calif.

Engaged volunteers of Our City Forest in San Jose, Calif.

No matter how you fared with last year’s resolutions, it’s a new year, and now is the time to start fresh for 2012 – what do you want to accomplish by this time next year? How will you help your nonprofit and volunteers to have a bigger impact?

Here are 5 resolutions we think are the most important for volunteer managers in 2012:

Go Viral

These days, social media and online engagement require a holistic approach. As our president Greg Baldwin pointed out in his presentation at the Social Media for Nonprofits conference, volunteers are donors are volunteers are supporters, so when you talk about your volunteer needs, talk to your donors, and vice versa.

It’s also important to use multiple channels and multiple strategies to make your organization’s needs and news go viral among your supporters. Just using Twitter won’t necessarily engage the college students on Facebook, and it probably won’t reach the Mommy bloggers on their network, either. So do your homework about where your supporters are, and spread your message as far and wide as you can.

Concentrate on Impact and Measurement

It’s now more important than ever for nonprofits to showcase their impact in measurable, concrete ways. This includes the impact of volunteers, as Tobi Johnson points out in her ebook, “The New Volunteer Manager: The First 90 Days.”

Believe it or not, this is not as daunting a task as it seems. You can learn how to measure the value of your volunteers, use data to make your decisions, and illustrate your impact to funders and other supporters.

Partner with Businesses

There is no doubt about it – corporate volunteering is on the rise. In 2010 45% of volunteer referrals that happened in the VolunteerMatch system came from our corporate network, and we’re expecting an even larger number for 2011.

Engaging corporate employees will definitely be a relevant topic for volunteer managers over the coming year, and developing a strategy to partner with businesses looking to help your cause and community is a big step towards creating a vibrant, sustainable, impactful volunteer program.

Engage Skilled Volunteers

With the launch of LinkedIn’s “Volunteer Experience & Causes” section, volunteering became an even more relevant aspect of the professional world. It also highlighted the growing importance of skilled volunteering to nonprofits.

Whether you’re talking about someone to create a new database system for you, draft up a marketing plan, or be your on-call plumber, there are skilled volunteers ready to work for your organization for free simply because they believe in what you are doing. So go find them! Tools like LinkedIn and VolunteerMatch’s Listing Wizard can be a big help with that.

Continue to Focus on Professional Development

We said it last year, and we’ll say it again: You should always be looking for new ways to learn and grow in your position. This will in the long run be better for you, for your volunteers and for your organization.

This year will be a big year for VolunteerMatch’s Learning Center, so take a look now and sign up for the free webinars that interest you. And to take it one step further, consider getting your CVA credential (you can learn more about the CVA during our free webinar on Tuesday, Jan 17th).

I hope this list has you as jazzed up about 2012 as I am. As you develop your own resolutions for the coming year, these tips can arm you with the know-how you need to make 2012 the year of the volunteer program at your organization.

Have any other volunteer-related resolutions to add to the list? Let us know in the comments below!

The VolunteerMatch LinkedIn Experience (There’s Nothing Like It)

The most well-known aspect of the VolunteerMatch persona is definitely our website with over 72,000 volunteer listings. And nonprofits like you probably know about the new behind-the-scenes products we’ve released, like the Management Dashboard and the Listing Wizard.

But the world of VolunteerMatch extends far beyond these useful tools. In fact, one of our fastest growing communities isn’t even on VolunteerMatch.org – it’s on LinkedIn.

The VolunteerMatch LinkedIn group has grown by leaps and bounds over the past year, tripling in size to over 3,400 nonprofit professionals, dedicated volunteers and corporate employees who work in employee engagement and CSR.

Why LinkedIn?

As the world’s largest professional network, LinkedIn is the perfect way to provide our members a trusted place to connect with peers. And with LinkedIn’s new Volunteer Experience & Causes field, the network is becoming an even more relevant place for volunteering, and making volunteering even more relevant in the professional landscape.

On a more basic level, though, we’ve noticed that people really do want to talk to each other about volunteering and volunteer management, and we want to enable that. LinkedIn is a great way to do that.

What’s Happening?

New discussions are posted in our LinkedIn group constantly. Here are some examples of the types of interactions you can have with other members:

  • One of our most popular discussions stemmed from a frustrated volunteer who didn’t hear back from a nonprofit when she tried to volunteer there. Read what others had to say about the issue, and contribute your own thoughts.
  • Our LinkedIn group is also a place where we post inspiring stories of nonprofits and the volunteers they work with. You can send us your story by filling out this form, and we’ll help spread the word of your impact on our LinkedIn group and elsewhere.
  • Every day brings more professional sharing and learning – like Suzy who asked for help on risk management in volunteer programs. She received over a dozen comments helping her out.
  • Finally, the group is a great place to connect with people who are looking to help your organization (like small companies). Nancy asked and received half a dozen comments from people who wanted to give their time and resources.

So join the VolunteerMatch LinkedIn group now and begin networking with a diverse, dedicated group of your peers – and expand your professional network by over 3000 with just a few clicks.

Viva Vivanista: Recapping the Volunteer Fundraising Community’s First Summit

Cody Damon from Common Sense NMS discusses search engine marketing best practices at the Vivanista Fundraising Summit

From its very first days, volunteer fundraisers have been the barn raisers of our social sector. With their passion and energy, their willingness to ask, and their vision of a community with stronger institutions to care for us in body and spirit, volunteers turned a barely settled land into a nation of opportunity.

Earlier this month I was fortunate to join a talented roster of speakers at the first ever Vivanista Fundraising Summit, which took place November 12 at the San Francisco Art Institute in the city’s famed North Beach neighborhood. The day’s program included social media experts like Janet Fouts and JD Lasica, reps from Web services like GiveForward, BiddingforGood, and Razoo, and advisers from online marketing, corporate sponsorship, event production and other areas that are critical to engaging donors.

I was invited to moderate a panel on engaging volunteer communities and moving supporters up the ladder to become champions for your organization. Joining me were Giulia McPherson, Deputy Director for Citizen Advocacy at CARE USA, Chris Cotner, Executive Director of Water4, and Bryan Breckenridge, director of LinkedIn’s new Nonprofit Solutions program.

Audience Cross-over

As I’ve written before, an interesting thing about Vivanista is its audience crossover. While volunteer fundraisers and “free-agents” make up the largest portion of its community, nonprofit workers also strongly represent, making Vivanista one of the few online resources to recognize how much overlap there is between the needs and goals of determined volunteers and the needs and goals of those who work daily at nonprofits.

But while it makes a lot of sense to blur the lines between these two audiences, it’s also important to recognize some general differences.

Many volunteer fundraisers, for example, bring to bear a high level of professional and social skill… yet aren’t all that knowledgeable about the unique aspects or needs of nonprofit organizations. Meanwhile, many nonprofit professionals are familiar with the tools and services that they ought to utilize in their work… but they lack the time management and soft skills to make the most of what they know.

Volunteers in Need: Social Fundraising and Auctions

While I waited for our panel to start, I was furiously tweeting and scribbling notes of my own. Two areas of fundraising that I’m personally still getting up to speed on are online social fundraising and benefit auctions (either online or off). Incredibly, both are heavily dependent on volunteers to run smoothly, yet they’ve flown under my radar for years.

At Vivanista, Susan Gordon from Causes.com and Lesley Mansford from Razoo.com talked about their platforms for crowd sourcing and social fundraising. As the old click-and-give model changes, organizations are recognizing that the combo of passionate supporters and the social graph could be far more powerful. These web services and a host of competitors are making it easy both for nonprofits to engage volunteer fundraisers and for individuals to begin raising money on their own.

The other area I’m learning more about is fundraising auctions.

At Vivanista, BiddingForGood.com’s Perry Allison shared with me that they’ve already helped thousands of schools and non-profits raise more money with online auction fundraisers. But Allison also said that having the capacity to effectively manage an auction – especially to reach out to businesses that might be able to give items for auction – is just too much for most organizations.

Today I can go online to VolunteerMatch.org and find more than 320 opportunities with the word “auction” in them. But Allison said the need for volunteers to help in this capacity is growing. And who else knows the local business landscape better than local supporters?

Engaging Volunteers as Champions

Late in the afternoon I was joined on stage by Giulia, Chris Cotner, and Bryan Breckenridge. While Bryan cooled his heels and waited to share what LinkedIn has been up to, I posed a few questions to help Giulia and Chris open up about their programs. CARE and Water4 both work at different ends of the nonprofit experience, CARE being a large and well-established NGO, and Water4 still emerging. Yet both organizations recognized that they owe much of their health and success to their ability to engage supporters both inside their networks (to become champions) and outside their networks (to become part of their program).

In CARE’s case, they’re working on the challenge of converting 200,000 passionate but lightly involved advocates into donors and day to day volunteers. To help get there, CARE now has regional reps around the country that engage advocates on the ground through the year: an essential model for any group that wants to convert online activists into offline supports.

At Water4, Chris said the secret to helping people get passionate has been making it possible for them to get their hands dirty. The organization, which trains small teams in developing countries to dig wells with available tools and then turn it into businesses, has a strong focus on recruiting for blue collar skill sets… an important and often overlooked potential within the skilled volunteer movement.

Transitioning over the Bryan from LinkedIn, I asked how the well-known social network for professionals is making it easier for nonprofits to identify potential and current supporters. We’ve written about the possibility of LinkedIn’s new Volunteering & Causes field before. So there are things nonprofits need to do right now. But in the long run, Bryan emphasized, organizations that now how to nurture and manage their supporter networks will be the ones who succeed.

Here are a few more links from the Vivanista Summit: