Why “Tough Love” Produces the Best Volunteers

Guest post by Mike Devaney

Why Tough Love Produces the Best Volunteers“Look, this has to work for you… what do you wanna get outta this experience?” she asked, squinting.

Katerina (Kat), the hospital’s volunteer coordinator, was quietly putting to bed everything I thought I knew about recruiting volunteers. For starters, she wasn’t pleading with me to join her program. Actually, quite the opposite. It felt like she was trying to dissuade me from applying!

She wasn’t, of course. But I still remember that conversation nine years later because it was so different from all my other volunteer program inquires. Based on those experiences, I had assumed coordinators were supposed to …

  • Gladly accept anyone
  • Downplay the demands of the onboarding process
  • Avoid probing questions about motives

While Kat’s program depended exclusively on volunteers, she wasn’t looking for just anybody. Why? Because visiting sick and dying patients on a weekly basis wasn’t for most people.

Motivation Drives Commitment

The first interview with applicants, Kat later told me, revealed a lot. She could predict, with a high certainty, who would follow through with the application process and who would drop out.

The program included 20 hours of classroom training, which Kat oversaw. Again, with high certainty, she could tell who would thrive as a volunteer in the hospital and who’d wash out. Discussing the big issues of life — pain, suffering, and death — reveal a lot about a person’s motivations.

Which brings me to this point: Motivation. It’s good to question an applicant bluntly, like Kat did to me, about his or her motivations. Applicants might not be fully cognizant of their driving motivation, but they should be able to articulate more than a pat answer. Why? Because it’s what’ll keep them committed and growing as volunteers.

[Grab a list of sample interview questions here.]

Now it should be said that a volunteer’s motivation may not always be altruistic. That’s fine as long as it doesn’t conflict with your organization’s mission. I stayed with Kat’s program for 4 ½ years. We became good friends and discussed a lot of things “off the record.” Some of those discussions, I’m sure, didn’t sound particularly gracious coming from a hospital volunteer, but they were authentic.

Business, Not Personal

In business, the companies who develop thoughtful, creative, even rigorous hiring processes win. The hiring process is a branding tool; word gets out quick among job applicants about the companies who do it right. From the company’s perspective, the better they screen applicants in the early stage, the more time they can devote to promising candidates in the later stages.

The same principle is true for nonprofit and charitable organizations. Put another way, cast a wide net for volunteers using vague and undefined language, and you’ll spend more time later eliminating unqualified applicants.

In my experience working with nonprofits, particularly smaller ones, I find resistance to using “callout” language when advertising for volunteers. Callout language says to the applicant “Come closer,” or “Stay Away.” It doesn’t do both. The fear is that an otherwise awesome candidate might not apply if the language is too restrictive.

That’s when I tell them about the Peace Corps. Four years after “The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love” slogan debuted, applicants outnumbered openings 10:1 and by 1991, 30 percent of Peace Corps volunteers were reached through this recruitment campaign.

If anything, the slogan proved that qualified volunteers respond to “tough love.” The question is, are you willing to go there?

About the author:
Mike Devaney is a freelance copywriter and marketing consultant who helps nonprofits recruit and retain promising volunteers. In addition to the hospital mentioned above, he’s also served as a volunteer at a nursing home and a church-sponsored meal program. Visit him at mikedevaney.com
to schedule a consultation.

How To Use Positivity To Attract New Volunteers

Guest post by Kayla Matthews

Finding qualified and capable volunteers for your organization isn’t always easy. Getting the word out is one challenge. Finding people willing to commit to the tasks at hand is another. Once volunteers are recruited, keeping them around and satisfied is a whole other effort.

A great way to make all of this happen is to focus on positivity. The message your organization conveys helps immensely. While these messages are often tailored for potential donors, they can be just as effective for prospective volunteers.

Here’s how to harness the power of positivity to attract new volunteers and keep effective ones around.

Highlight the Work Volunteers Do

How to Use Positivity to Attract New VolunteersTo recruit new volunteers and keep your current volunteers contented, highlight the great work they’re doing. Sharing volunteers’ unique roles, day-to-day tasks and what they like about volunteering go a long way in appealing to new volunteers. Using social media to thank long-time volunteers and welcome new ones is a good way to diversify your marketing efforts.

Highlighting this kind of work is also a great method for sharing the interesting ways volunteers have contributed. Take, for example, how Ford Mustang part dealer CJ Pony Parts teamed up with Make-A-Wish to restore a teen’s vintage Ford Mustang. That’s not an everyday occurrence, so it shows the different ways the volunteers might be able to help.

Sharing a story of a volunteer is a lot more effective than simply sharing a volunteer job description. By presenting volunteers in a positive light, you’ll appeal to both prospective volunteers and those who have no interest in volunteering. Simply posting a volunteer job description won’t get a lot of attention, but a compelling story coupled with a link to your organization’s volunteer page works on multiple levels.

Focus on the Outcomes

Volunteering is proven to be rewarding and satisfying, but maintaining positive messaging can be a challenge if your organization is dealing with grim subject matter. Organizations that oppose trafficking, domestic abuse, and other societal ills aren’t able to post the warm and happy images that other organizations might be able to.

That’s why you should focus on the positive outcomes your organization creates. People love a happy ending, and your organization can share those despite how difficult the path to that ending may have been.

It’s these positive outcomes that are especially motivating when the work is difficult, so share as many as you can.

Keep Positive Messages Simple

It’s important to highlight the varied work that your organization is doing, but be sure to focus on the key messaging. Distil all the work into a simple and compelling message that easily explains what your organization is all about. Potential volunteers are overloaded with distractions and often aren’t willing to dig through extensive messaging to see if the nonprofit is right for them.

Make Sharing Positivity Easy

Charity: Water, a nonprofit dedicated to providing access to clean water, has some of the best marketing in the nonprofit sector. They’re at the forefront of digital marketing trends, and their mission is easy to convey. What makes their marketing so effective is just how easy it is for supporters to share their personal experiences. This helps get the word out organically, as Charity: Water doesn’t have to pursue active outreach. The supporters do it for them.

Think of ways to encourage your volunteers and supporters to share their thoughts and feelings about your organization. Personal recommendations are far more useful than any form of advertising, so make it as easy as possible for existing volunteers to spread the word.

Positivity is a powerful tool, yet it’s most effective when you know exactly what your audience wants. Finding that balance between informative and positive can help you reach more potential volunteers.

To find what works best, fine-tune your messaging as needed and ask yourself important questions about demographics and communications channels. Following these steps will help you bring in new volunteers that can help fulfill your organization’s mission.

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About the author:
Kayla Matthews is a writer and blogger. Her work has appeared on Nonprofit Hub and The Caregiver Space, along with The Huffington Post.

Image credit: Kaboompics

4 Strategies for Engaging Your Volunteers on Facebook

Guest post by Abby Jarvis

Your nonprofit’s volunteers are likely using Facebook to connect with each other, their favorite companies, and their favorite brands and nonprofits.

Are you one of their favorite nonprofits? Do you want to be?

Let’s look at four tactics for engaging with your volunteers on Facebook.

Check out these tips for staying in touch with volunteers on the internet in general.

1. Recruit More Volunteers.

Recruit More Volunteers

Facebook is an excellent way to engage with and recruit more volunteers. If you have a strong presence on Facebook (i.e., you post regularly, interact with followers, and have a good mix of status updates, pictures, and videos), this is relatively simple.

You should:

  • Continue reaching out to volunteers by answering any questions or comments they post on your statuses, photos, videos, or other content.
  • Keep sharing great content.
  • Give people ways to find your Facebook page on your website and within your emails.

If you don’t have a strong Facebook presence, you should:

  1. Start with those in your organization. Encourage your entire nonprofit to like and interact with your Facebook page.
  2. Ask your current supporters to join in. If your current volunteers are liking and commenting on your posts, it’ll be easier for you to connect with their networks.
  3. Post content regularly. Post statuses, pictures, and videos on a consistent basis. Respond to your followers’ comments, questions, and messages promptly.

If you follow these steps, you’ll be able to recruit more volunteers via Facebook.

How?

Well, individuals might start asking to volunteer simply because you’ve raised awareness on Facebook.

But, they might not know about volunteering opportunities unless you tell them. Next time you host a volunteering event, post a few Facebook statuses in the weeks leading up to the big day.

By growing your network on Facebook, you automatically have a larger pool of potential volunteers to pull from. Once you’ve virtually connected with those donors, post volunteer opportunities right to Facebook.

By maintaining a strong Facebook presence and reaching out to your existing supporters via social media, you’ll be able to expand your network and potentially recruit more volunteers.  

2. Make Donation Appeals…

Make Donation Appeals

…But not all the time!

Yes, your volunteers are already giving you time and energy.

But research shows that if someone supports your organization, they are likely to support it in multiple ways. In fact, two thirds of volunteers also donate money to the same organizations they donate time to. But in order to get a donation, you have to ask!

As a general rule, Facebook should mostly be an avenue for relationship-building and conversations with your supporters.

Appeals should be made only occasionally, and it’s important to time them well when you do make them.

Scheduling donation appeals during peak giving times can be a good way to convert some of your volunteers into donors.

Special events like #GivingTuesday aren’t necessarily volunteer-oriented, though.

VolunteerMatch and #GivingTuesday have recently partnered up to encourage “Giving Time” as an alternative to monetary donations.

Times like these can be opportune moments to ask for donations on Facebook. Additionally, the end of the year is prime time for donation appeals. Many people are in more charitable moods and have better grips on their financial situations.

Some of your volunteers might not want to give monetarily, but it doesn’t hurt to make a donation appeal on Facebook every so often (tip: don’t make your appeals any more frequent than once a week).

3. Highlight Your Volunteers.

Highlight Your Volunteers

Nearly everyone enjoys being the star of the show from time to time. Even your most selfless volunteers might like being publicly recognized for their work.

Facebook is the perfect platform for thanking your volunteers.

If one of your advocates did a great job getting signatures for a petition, for example, highlight her on your Facebook wall. Not only will it encourage her and show her that you care about her passion, it will also show others that you value your volunteers and inspire them to get involved.

You can even make a weekly or monthly post highlighting your supporters!

Your followers will appreciate the consistency, and it’ll motivate them to try to get the Facebook equivalent of “Volunteer of the Week.”  

Tip: Make sure you get permission from your volunteers before you post pictures of them on social media (especially if there are kids in the images!).

4. Encourage Volunteers to Share their Experiences

Encourage Volunteers to Share Their Experiences

If you want to potentially recruit more volunteers and get feedback from your existing supporters, encourage volunteers to share their experiences on Facebook!

During your follow-up after a volunteer day, ask supporters to post statuses, pictures, and videos (when applicable), to their own Facebook walls, tagging any other volunteers they met during the day.

If they had a positive experience, it serves as a great online review of your organization’s volunteer program.

If not, then your nonprofit can take that feedback and use it to improve your volunteers’ experiences with your organization.

Encourage your supporters to share their encounters with your nonprofit as a way to further engage with them!

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Facebook can be an excellent tool for nonprofits to engage their volunteers. If you already have a substantial following on Facebook, use it to your advantage! If not, now’s a great time to start building up your social media presence.

Engaging Volunteers Guest Blogger Abby JarvisAbout the author:
Abby Jarvis is a blogger, marketer, and communications coordinator for Qgiv, an online fundraising service provider. Qgiv offers industry-leading online giving and peer to peer fundraising tools for nonprofit, faith-based, and political organizations of all sizes. When she’s not working at Qgiv, Abby can usually be found writing for local magazines, catching up on her favorite blogs, or binge-watching sci-fi shows on Netflix.

It’s Not Rocket Science

Guest post by Elisa Kosarin, Twenty Hats

This post was originally published on Twenty Hats.

Marketing for Volunteer ManagersMarketing isn’t rocket science if you know where to start.

I used to have a boss with a favorite expression. She liked to say “It’s not rocket science,” meaning that any time her nonprofit job required some new skill or challenge, she knew she could pull it off. She knew she was smart, and she figured there was very little under the sun that a smart person could not master with practice and persistence.

My boss’s approach worked. She took on all sorts of projects with great success, just knowing that she had the chops to do it.

Marketing is like that. It’s not rocket science. It is masterable – and it’s often an essential part of our jobs.

Do you think of yourself as a marketer? If you are responsible for engaging volunteers in your program, you most certainly are.

Last month I wrote about how there is a volunteer out there for every position – IF we know how to find them. And the finding, of course, requires that we learn how to reach the volunteers who will thrive in our programs.

If you are wondering how in the world to move beyond your program’s Volunteer page and really target your marketing efforts, start with these basics:

  1. Know your Ideal Volunteer. Get clear on who is most successful in your program – those are the volunteers you want to target.
  2. Get strategic. The pros don’t fly by the seat of their pants, they plan. You will need to learn how to develop a marketing plan and implement it.
  3. Target your message. Learn how to reach out to the volunteers you need with a message intended especially for them.

Learning how to market you program is really about getting into the head and the heart of the person you want to reach. It takes some practice and some education, and once you start seeing results, it even gets to be fun.

What’s not in your wheelhouse now may become the most interesting part of your job.

How about face to face marketing?

If you want to refine your in-person powers of persuasion, email me for a copy of my Elevator Pitch Planner. I will send you a step-by-step guide to crafting a great volunteer recruitment elevator pitch – and add you to my mailing list for more practical skill-builders.

Meet Trudy

Guest post by Elisa Kosarin, Twenty Hats

This post was originally published on Twenty Hats.

Volunteer PersonaThat’s Trudy, on the left. She is 51 years old, lives in Fairfax VA with her software exec husband, Lance, and her youngest daughter, Angie.

Angie is headed off to college in the fall, and Trudy is trying to figure out what to do when she becomes an empty nester. She used to be a school teacher before raising her daughter – she loves children – but she has not worked in many years. She is wondering if there is a way she can volunteer that involves children and will challenge her – she wants to do more than read to children or tutor them.

Why am I telling you about Trudy? Because she’s not real.

Trudy is a persona that I created while at Fairfax CASA to represent my ideal volunteer. For years, she gave me guidance on how to craft my messaging and direct my marketing. It’s Trudy who kept me focused on inspiring prospective volunteers who were a lot like her.

Old practice, new application
Creating personas is nothing new. Like so many of my favorite practices, the idea comes from the advertising world, where campaigns are carefully targeted to the ideal client. It’s a concept that translates beautifully to the nonprofit world. I have seen the practice used by volunteer managers and development directors. It helps in crafting everything from volunteer opportunities to newsletters to direct mail appeals.

Using personas gets you clear on just who you are trying to reach and how to reach them. Trudy reminded me to post my notices where a boomers might be looking, in newspapers as much as online, and to include words like “challenging” and “child-focused” in my promotional copy.

Feeling creative?
If you are ready to try your hand at creating a persona, make sure to include these essentials:

  • Know your demographics. Get clear on what your successful volunteers look like in terms of age, gender, profession, relationship-status, etc.
  • Build on the demographics with clues to your persona’s emotional world. What brings her to your program? What need is she trying to fill? What gives her satisfaction? The more you flesh out this piece, the easier it gets to write for your target audience.
  • Find a photo to bring your persona to life.

Keep her close by
Keep your persona tacked on your office bulletin board. Take a good look at her every day. And when you sit down to write something about your program, ask yourself a question much like mine, “What would Trudy like to hear about?”

Want to see the complete Trudy persona and use it as a template? Email me and request a copy.