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.

MarketplaceOfWords.com 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!

Bay Area Native Takes On VolunteerMatch

Nicole Villanueva, Communications & Social Media Intern

Hello VolunteerMatch Family! I’m Nicole Villanueva and I will be one of the new Communications & Social Media interns contributing my voice to VolunteerMatch for the next coming months. I will be working with the Communications department to refine online communications to help volunteers, nonprofits, and corporations connect good people with good causes. I’m very excited to work with, and learn from, the largest volunteer engagement network.

I grew up in the East Bay and working in San Francisco has always been a dream of mine. I attended University of California, San Diego where I played lacrosse (GO TRITONS!) and received my bachelor’s degree in communication.

I fell in love with marketing and communications during my senior year of high school when I participated, and won, in DECA (Distinguished Educational Clubs of America), a business club in which members compete against each other in several different categories. I found that the subject sparked a passion in me and I discovered what I wanted to pursue as a career.

Volunteering has always been a part of my life and it has impacted my worldview. I have found that among all the bad things in the world, even just a small act of kindness can have a ripple effect and touch the lives of many. I’ve been able to help out in many different ways from volunteering in a community garden to building a house in Tijuana, Mexico for a family in need.

It is important to me that I am involved in an organization where my skills contribute to something bigger than the company or myself. The Communications & Social Media internship at VolunteerMatch has given me the perfect opportunity to do so.

I’ve always found that communicating an idea is the key to unlocking its power. You can have the most innovative idea in the world but it’s worth close to nothing if you can’t communicate it effectively.

I would like to contribute my communication skills and knowledge of social media platforms to help nonprofits, volunteers and corporations reach their goals towards making the world a better place. I am looking forward to my time at VolunteerMatch to hone and apply my skills I learned in and out of the classroom while helping the greater good become even greater.

August Webinar Preview: Creating More Engagement & Measuring Success

Learn something new. Attend a free webinar.

Summer is almost over and we’re hosting webinars you don’t want to miss. This month we’ll teach you everything you need to know to create an engaging volunteer program. We’ll cover the basics of online recruitment and advanced engagement strategies. You’ll also learn how to create program metrics in order to evaluate strengths and weaknesses of your volunteer program.

Let’s take a look.

Walking the Walk: Engage Volunteers in Your Volunteer Engagement Program

Learn how to effectively delegate volunteer engagement and management work to volunteers so you have the opportunity to “think bigger.” We’ll discuss evaluating your program for volunteer engagement, determining how best to use volunteers, creating a communication plan, screening and training volunteers to be an important part of your volunteer recruiting, retention and recognition plans.

Fighting Hunger Together:  Engage Volunteers in New Ways

Using examples from food banks and pantries and meal service programs from around the country we’ll discuss creating new opportunities for volunteer engagement. Do you have volunteers conducting community outreach, gleaning fresh produce from their neighborhoods, sharing meal and recipe ideas, or participating in your social media campaigns? Sample position descriptions will be provided.

Fighting Hunger Together: Engage Volunteers Using Social Media Tools

This webinar will offer an introduction to including social media in your volunteer recruitment and retention plans. We’ll take a look at examples of hunger relief organizations who have successfully marketed their opportunities using social media. You’ll also learn about the social media tools available as part of your VolunteerMatch account that can help you promote your volunteer opportunities on other social networking sites.

Measuring Success: How to Strategically Assess Your Program

Your volunteer engagement program can be measured by more than just the hours a volunteer gives your organization. What other kinds of information should you keep track of, and how do you know if you’re doing a good job with your volunteer engagement program? This webinar will help you think through both the quantitative and qualitative information you can use to evaluate your program.

Check out more free webinar topics in the VolunteerMatch Learning Center.

Pro Bono at Conferences: Reflections of an Expert After Nonprofit Boot Camp

Public relations pro Jennifer Kern hangs out at the VolunteerMatch booth during Nonprofit Boot Camp, 6/12/13, in Silicon Valley.

I go to a lot of conferences and so I know it’s not always easy to get the help I’m looking for when I’m there.

For example, I may not know anyone else at an event — putting the onus on me to reach out and network just to feel a human connection.

If I attend a panel or a  workshop it might have interesting content, but the speakers don’t have the time or flexibility to make it especially relevant for my needs.

And, let’s be honest, sometimes it’s just hard to feel at home in a big room full of strangers.

Last week the much-loved – and much-missed – Nonprofit Boot Camp series returned for the first time in three years. As part of the program, VolunteerMatch teamed up with the Silicon Valley chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals to coordinate a series of one-on-one “Ask The Expert” consultations taking place throughout the day.

Attendees could sit for 30 minutes at a time with one of 25 experts in volunteer engagement, marketing, finance, fundraising, technology and other areas of nonprofit management. Cool, right?

I jumped at the opportunity — not only to put VolunteerMatch’s muscle behind helping the sessions be a success, but also to volunteer as an expert myself. What better way to help attendees have a terrific experience and while also putting our money where our mouth is about the value of pro bono service?

What Constitutes Pro Bono at a Conference?

These days most conferences can’t afford fees for panelists, moderators and often even keynote speakers. So in essence many of the thought leaders who appear on the program at our favorite conferences are working “for free.” But there’s usually an unspoken quid pro quo: Come talk about what you do and think, and we’ll promote you as a superstar in your field.

But volunteering as an expert in a one-on-one session setting is different. Like so much pro bono service, it involves a lot of listening. You tailor your deliverables to a specific organization. And you accept the fact that success in the engagement will be defined as much by the attendee’s involvement as by your own.

That means there’s some risk involved – it’s a collaboration. Even so, there are tons of reasons why offering free expert one-on-one consulting makes sense for pretty much any conference:

  • For attendees, getting free one-on-one consulting allows you to get custom help, create a relationship with an expert in the field, and come away from the event feeling like you got deep-dive support on the issues you face on the job.
  • For experts, volunteering with one-on-one consulting at an event is a great way to demonstrate a deep commitment to advancing the field, exercise your listening and presentation skills, potentially develop new business leads, and meet other leading consultants and practitioners.
  • For conference producers, adding a free one-on-one consulting element to your events is a terrific way to add an element of diversity and depth to the content program, widen the network of experts who are likely to help promote your event beforehand, and facilitate authentic relationship building.

Talk about win-win-win. PR guy Dan Cohen, principal of Full Court Press Communications and one of last week’s volunteer consultants, said it best from an expert’s perspective:

“Aside from the consultations, there was amazing networking among my peers.  While our firm has some very good tools in our toolbox, the expert tables were packed with a complete set of solutions provided by folks who think like we do.  We’ve already included one of the peer firms in a proposal.”

My own experience at Boot Camp was also great.The four or five folks I consulted with presented different challenges. One consultee was struggling to inspire volunteers to her wild cat conservation organization, who seemed to all want to get out in the field and count cougars even though most of the need was in the office. Another woman I met with managed volunteers for a retail store that sold second-hand items to benefit a nonprofit. How could they build a cadre of happy volunteer cashiers?

I felt this last consultation went well, but when I got an email from her the next day I knew for sure: “Your input on our volunteer program…was incredibly valuable,” she wrote.

Equally important, I was able to spend my breaks networking and making new friends with dozens of other experts, all of whom have tremendous knowledge and big hearts to share.

Hats off to all the amazingly talented folks who volunteered their time as experts at Nonprofit Boot Camp last week:

  • Hallie Baron, Hallie Baron Consulting LLC
  • Leyna Bernstein, Leyna Bernstein Consulting
  • Dan Cohen, Full Court Press Communications
  • Stephanie Demos, Alum Rock Counseling Center
  • Eric Facas, Media Cause
  • Jennifer Kern, PR & Company
  • Karen Kwan, Community School of Music and Arts
  • Jessica LaBarbera, Nonprofit Finance Fund
  • Beverly Lenihan, Reesults Consulting
  • David Livingston Styers, Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership
  • Sara Morency, Sara Morency Coaching & Consulting
  • Suzanne Oehler, Yapper Girl
  • Aaron Pava, CivicActions
  • Anna Quinones, Independent Consultant
  • David Russo, American Cancer Society
  • Carla Schlemminger, Socialbrite
  • Adam Straus, Straus Events
  • Sharon Svensson, Essex & Drake Fund Raising Counsel
  • Alisa Tantraphol, Second Harvest Food Bank
  • Connie Wang, LinkedIn

What do you think? Share your thoughts and experiences about pro bono consulting at conferences and events below.

Nonprofit Tip of the Month: Follow Up, Follow Up, Follow Up!

Don’t drop the ball. Follow up.

You use VolunteerMatch to connect with the volunteers you need, but what happens next? Following up is an important part of the recruitment process. It’s the first opportunity for your organization to engage new volunteers. For this month’s tip I’ll teach you how to use the tools in your VolunteerMatch account to follow up with everyone who expresses interest in your opportunities.

Following up does not have to be a long, involved process. Most of the time a simple ‘Thank You’ note will work. You can also use follow up messaging to inform volunteers of next steps in your on-boarding process. If your organization has a Community Leader subscription you can even create customized questions that are sent out automatically.

When you post an opportunity on our site it will be visible to thousands of individuals within our network. Each time an interested volunteer clicks the ‘I Want to Help!’ button we will automatically save their contact information into your VolunteerMatch account. You can use this information in your follow up process by accessing your Referral Report.

To learn how to access the Referral Report watch this short Tools Training Video.

Use the information stored in your Referral Report to send out follow up messaging to prospective volunteers. Let them know you received their inquiry and inform them about next steps. Schedule a phone interview, send them additional paperwork or invite them to register on your website. Taking the time to follow up promotes engagement and retention, so make sure your organization doesn’t drop the ball.

Do you have any tips for following up with volunteers? Share them in the comments below!