Unsung Listeners: The Story of Hotline Volunteers

Guest Post by Marc Wong

Unsung Listeners - the story of hotline volunteersMeghan watches her mother finish a telephone call.

“Mommy, why are you crying?” she asks gently.

“I’m ok,” mommy sighs, “I’m ok.”

Meghan leaves the room and comes back moments later. “When I’m sad, I hold on to Mr. Brown,” she says, handing over a teddy bear to her mother.

On another occasion, Daddy is talking to Meghan about a tough decision he has to make.

“When I have to make a big choice, I ask Mr. Brown,” Meghan says.

“And what does Mr. Brown say?” asks Daddy.

“Nothing,” she says matter-of-factly. “He listens.”

Meghan’s actions give us a glimpse of what selfless, dedicated hotline volunteers do on a daily basis. Just like Meghan, volunteers do not judge. They do not advise. They do not solve problems. They do not interrogate. They do not point out your flawed thinking and actions so you can correct it. They do not tell you to look at the bright side or to be optimistic. And yes, sometimes they will just be quiet and let you speak. Volunteers honor and respect the callers’ thoughts and feelings and they offer their best with no strings attached.

When we look a little closer at Meghan’s words, we notice some other things: Despite her age, Meghan clearly knows something about sadness and making difficult choices. She even shares her life experience with her parents. Volunteers also bring their life experiences and considerable knowledge to each call. I don’t mean volunteers interrupt with their own stories the moment a caller pauses to take a breath. Volunteers are able to share by reaching into their own, sometimes painful, personal experience to understand what the caller is talking about, no more, no less.

Volunteers’ actions, like Meghan’s, are also gently supported by an unspoken sense of hope and decency. Implicit in Meghan’s words are the message that things will get better, that there is good in this world. This is not to say that volunteers pressure, or in any way impose their values or beliefs on the callers. Volunteers are not going to rush you to get “better”. They’re not even going to tell you what “better” means. Instead, they’ll be more than happy to hear what better means for YOU.

Volunteers earn their sense of hope from the knowledge and experience that their selfless work can bring relief. They don’t need to prove that there is goodness or fairness, in private or public spheres. They are satisfied knowing that the work they do can make a difference.

This, then, is the story of hotline volunteers. It is the wonderful combination of skill, knowledge and humanity offered so as to make it a little easier for others to tell their stories. A volunteer offers what is unique and precious to her as a human being so that others may talk about what is unique and precious to them.

For taking the time, having the patience, and putting their hearts into this noble work, please join me in celebrating and thanking all the volunteers!

Marc Wong is a listening expert and author of “Thank You for Listening: Gain Influence & Improve Relationships, Better Listening in 8 Steps”. Connect with him on Twitter at @8StepListen and on www.8StepListen.com.

Blurred Lines: Turning Donors into Volunteers…into Donors

Don't label your supporters! Turning donors into volunteers...into donors.Does your organization label your supporters and potential supporters as either “donors” or “volunteers?” Mistake!

Are your donor and volunteer databases separate? Mistake!

Research shows an empirical link between volunteering and donating. For example, volunteers donate on average 10X more than non-volunteers. In addition, nearly 70% of folks surveyed in the linked study said they donate to the organization for which they volunteer.

Fundraising and volunteer engagement are both all about building relationships. In today’s connected world, the lines are blurring between donors and volunteers, so why would you put up an artificial wall that limits your relationships? Instead, use the ideas and strategies below to empower and inspire potential community members to provide the help you need most, turning donors into volunteers…into donors.

Make Them Feel Comfy

Your time and communications with new supporters should be focused on showing them why your organization is so special, why you’re a great fit for their individual passions, and how much of an impact they can have with you. Make them feel comfortable and welcome, no matter how they want to get involved at first.

Focus on Corporate Volunteers

Volunteers who get involved with you via their workplaces, or who just happen to work at a large company, might be the “low hanging fruit” when it comes to encouraging donations. Find out if their company runs a matching gifts, granting or dollars for doers program. If so, let the volunteer know and help them easily get these benefits for your organization. Chances are, they’ll want to add in some money of their own, too.

Give Them Ownership

Ask your donor or volunteer to take the lead in a particular project. From a position of relative leadership, they are more likely to get even more engaged and increase their commitment both monetarily and time-wise. Fundraising campaigns (both online and offline,) and event-planning are both great projects for this kind of encouragement.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

Whether they’ve given time or money, your supporters are with you because they care and they want to help. Make sure they know what you really need. I guarantee they’ll jump at the chance to make an even bigger impact, and they’ll appreciate that you reached out to them as a trusted and valued champion.

If you’re interested in more detailed, tactical tips for using social media and other communications strategies to blur the lines between donors and volunteers, check out Social Media for Nonprofits in Silicon Valley – I’ll be speaking on this very topic!

How does your organization encourage volunteers to donate, and vice versa?

Winning People Over to Your Cause – Part Four: Measure Success Based on Your Volunteers and Community

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.

heartmeterHow can you learn more about your volunteers and supporters? This question should serve as the driving force behind how you keep track of your work and success. In this blog post, the final one of the series, we will discuss how you can quantitatively and qualitatively measure the impact of your work and adapt to the needs of your volunteers and community.

Invite Volunteer Feedback

One way your data might manifest itself is through surveys and polls. After a volunteer participates in one of your opportunities, ask that person to fill out a short form talking about how it went. Did the opportunity match his/her skills and interests? Did the volunteer learn something or take something away from the experience? Did the volunteer feel guided by his/her supervisor? How you tweak your program based on responses to questions like these can be the determining factor in whether or not that volunteer will lend his/her time with you again.

One organization that encourages volunteer feedback is my local Sierra Club chapter. In the process of creating and publishing their newsletter, “The Yodeler,” released online and in print, the Club invites volunteers to edit their articles, not only grammatically but stylistically and formally as well. As a result, existing volunteers directly affect how the Club’s message is delivered, and can provide input based on their own needs.

Use Online and Social media Analytics to Follow Trends

Website analytics like Google Analytics and Sprout Social will provide you with quantitative data that you can use to track a number of different statistics and trends. You might be interested in:

  • How long people stay on the volunteering page of your website
  • How many people are visiting your site for the first time (unique visitors)
  • Which age group has the most people following you

You can collect a wide variety of data and follow a bunch of different trends. But efficiently using social media is more than just collecting a mass amount of data: it is using those metrics that are most relevant to you that will then help you improve your content.

Analytics can also be used to determine how good of a job you are doing in responding to social media activity. Your online analytics can track how quickly you are responding to comments on the different social media outlets. You can then take that data and compare it to the graphs that tell you how many followers, fans, and likes you are receiving on a weekly basis. Small steps in improving your social media presence can be very beneficial in drawing new volunteers.

Balance Exposure and Engagement

Much as you want to have your name heard by lots of people, it will only be meaningful if people are actually having conversations about you. To clarify this idea, think about this awesome analogy that Kivi presents in her book:

To summarize, think of building social media followers like filling a football stadium. Many people like you enough that they will attend, but only a small fraction will wear apparel and team colors, and even less will put on face paint and go all-out with costumes. Social media provides extremely useful tools for connecting with a massive number of people, but it is up to you to use those tools effectively to create quality relationships and die-hard fans.

You might have thousands of followers on Twitter or likes on Facebook, but these only mean something if people are actually getting involved. In terms of online analytics, you might compare your impressions (the potential number of people who saw your name and post) to the number of interactions (the number of times you were mentioned by other people), and compare these to the number of people who actually sign up to volunteer.

At the same time, you can only create new interactions if you are meeting new people. Thus, exposure and engagement work together, and you need to balance both in order to successfully build strong relationships with your volunteers and community.

By following some of the strategies in this blog series, we hope that your organization leads a more successful volunteer engagement program. Maybe you used these strategies as inspiration for a new approach, or your existing strategies diverge from those listed here. We would love for you to share your experiences, and hope you will jump in the conversation about how to engage volunteers using content marketing!

What methods does your organization use to measure successful communication with and engagement of volunteers?

Winning People Over to Your Cause – Part Three: Stay in the Conversation

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.

Engage more supporters by keeping your nonprofit organization in the conversation.When communicating with your volunteers and community members and applying your content marketing strategy, keeping your content relevant is crucial to your success.

And who decides relevancy? Your volunteers and supporters! They want to go to your Facebook or Twitter page and see posts that interest them and make them want to keep reading. This will make them come back for more.

While your organization’s needs should certainly be considered when applying your content marketing strategy, the needs of your volunteers and supporters should be the primary focus. As Kivi states in her book, “Always remember why people are there on the trail with you. It’s not solely for your benefit. It’s because they want to get something out of the experience, too.”

This blog post will explore the key to keeping your content relevant and becoming your volunteers and supporters’ favorite organization: staying in the conversation.

Produce Content That’s Refreshing

With social media allowing information and news to be sent and received instantaneously, it is crucial that your content is up-to-date and current. Yet coming up with new content can take time, and the demand might seem to frequently outweigh the supply. How do you satisfy a community that is constantly seeking new and fresh information?

Suppose it is the winter holidays. Your organization wants to send your fans into the break with a few “tweets”, but you’re out of news to talk about. A great method of producing content is re-purposing. Remember that tweet you sent out a few weeks ago telling volunteers how they can make an impact at a local homelessness shelter? You can re-purpose that tweet along with a few others and create a list of ways people can give back over the holidays. The old tweet is made new, and it is refreshing because it is relevant in the specific context of the winter holidays.

Tell Compelling Stories to Connect on a Human Level

Social media, email, print newsletters – whatever your medium, you want to come off as a helpful friend and a trusted expert. Telling fascinating stories will allow you to connect with your volunteers and supporters on a personal level. And this is crucial for you in becoming their favorite organization.

Telling stories might also come in the form of testimonials. What is the success of a website like Yelp? A lot of it is relying on people’s testimonials. If 100 people give a restaurant a 5 out of 5 rating, it is very likely that a new customer will decide to try that restaurant for the first time. So why not use testimonials in your content?

One approach is the volunteer success story. Invite a volunteer who had an awesome experience with your organization to talk about it for one of your blog posts. Have that person explain how they became interested in your organization and why they enjoyed their volunteer experience. Not only will that volunteer feel rewarded and likely keep volunteering, other potential volunteers will see the post and envision themselves having a similarly great experience.

Create a Network with Other Organizations to Gain Support for Your Cause

Rather than compete with other organizations in your community, partner with them to reach out to both their supporters and yours. Sharing the work of other organizations with your followers is an awesome method of conveying your own values while staying relevant.

This can be as easy as “retweeting” the tweets of other organizations. If a local nonprofit led a successful beach clean-up last weekend, even if your work might be totally unrelated to environmental awareness, a simple retweet is a great way to say to your audience, “The work these guys are doing is awesome, and we support them.”

This makes your organization feel personable and conscientious, showing that you aren’t just pigeon-holed into one area, but supportive of a number of diverse causes. People are much more likely to volunteer with your organization because they will see that there are actual people who care about multiple issues producing that online content.

We want to hear from you: how does your organization stay in the conversation?

It’s FestiVOL Season

Volunteering is the best, right? So this year, in honor of National Volunteer Week, we’ve decided to celebrate volunteers and the difference they make by launching a spectacular week-long FestiVOL – and we want YOU to join us!

Why FestiVOL?

Join VolunteerMatch for FestiVOL, a week-long celebration of volunteering in honor of National Volunteer Week.At VolunteerMatch, we hope FestiVOL will help your organization make the most of National Volunteer Week. Whether it‘s appreciating your volunteers, strengthening existing relationships, or building new ones, VolunteerMatch will be providing tips on how you can increase engagement.

Part of our goal for FestiVOL is to help more nonprofit organizations – like yours – find the right volunteers. So each day we will release three “nuggets” just for you: One piece of inspiration, one piece of knowledge, and one action. We hope you’ll share these with your volunteers and community members, learn from them, and encourage everyone to get more involved.

What about ways that you can make an impact volunteering? FestiVOL will also provide resources to encourage your own participation in the community. Often times, simply sharing what causes you are passionate about can inspire others to make a difference, as well.

Join FestiVOL!

FestiVOL will run from April 6-12. You can see all the nuggets as we release them on the FestiVOL landing page.

You and your nonprofit can join FestiVOL by following on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram with the hashtag #FestiVOL. We hope FestiVOL gives you the energy, passion and ideas to make our communities stronger and our world happier all year long!

How will YOU celebrate volunteering during FestiVOL?

Gorgeous FestiVOL graphic designed by Katy Roby.