Engaging Talent in Best Work

Guest post by Stephen Ristau

Engaging Talent in Best WorkToo often I hear from highly skilled and motivated people, “I just can’t seem to find a nonprofit organization that uses my professional talent well.” And despite the great strides that nonprofits have made in recent years to design volunteer or pro bono work experiences that require advanced expertise or training, I still see a disconnect between the available talent pool and the engagement opportunities nonprofits offer.

Do you find this to be true also? Has your organization stepped up the caliber of short-term, project-oriented work that taps into the motivations and expertise of volunteers? How can we assure effective volunteer matches that meet the mutual goal of “best work?”

I am interested in hearing about your experiences, cool ideas and best practices.

Here are some of mine:

  1. Do your homework - Engaging talent (paid or pro bono) is expensive but is well worth the time and effort to do it well. Done right, you are providing a pathway for the contribution of skills and expertise you otherwise may not be able to afford- you can ill afford to not prepare for this potential infusion of talent.
  2. Define what you need - Most of today’s volunteers want to know what impact they will have. Ask yourself “what will happen as a result of this project?” to get at the expected outcomes and deliverables, and then describe the resources and support you will make available to your volunteer to get the job done.
  3. Tailor opportunities to fit your volunteers - While many of us have used volunteers in the same roles for years, today’s volunteers (from Millennials to Boomers) want to use their skills to make a difference. Be prepared to customize short-term, high-yield engagements that may result in “repeat business” from volunteers who discover that your organization knows how to involve them best.
  4. Engage volunteers’ “eyes and ears” to determine new ways they can contribute - Be a progressive talent manager and engage volunteers in identifying organizational issues, challenges, and solutions they see. Collaborate on project plans, assess the strengths and interests of your volunteers, and support volunteers in the customizing of positions that meet your most pressing organizational gaps.
  5. Lead, follow, AND get out of the way - The best leaders and managers know how and when to do all of these: know how to provide direction, enable leadership and initiative, and clear the way for those with the talent and drive to get things done right the first time. Understand the capabilities and experience of your human resources, including volunteers, and allocate your time and supervision accordingly.

“Best work” organizations, nonprofit and for-profit, are those with human resources that champion innovation and learning, are accountable for outcomes, and are able to work in a coordinated team environment.

How are you maximizing opportunities for your nonprofit to achieve this “best work” standard? Let us know.

Stephen Ristau has been a nonprofit executive and social entrepreneur.  An innovator in the national encore movement, he has led Transforming Life After 50 and the SVP Portland Encore Fellows program.Contact Stephen at stephenristau@gmail.com and www.linkedin.com/pub/stephen-ristau/4/75/b28.

Nonprofit Tip of the Month: What You Can (and Should!) Post on VolunteerMatch

What you can (and should!) post on VolunteerMatchHere at VolunteerMatch, we want to help people find ways to put their skills and energy to good use – to help nonprofits like yours.

We want volunteers to visit VolunteerMatch confident that they’ll have some legitimate, meaningful options to choose from when deciding where to get involved. We want volunteers to have the information they need about each and every opportunity to really assess whether it would make sense for them.

That experience is what keeps people coming back to find more opportunities and connect with more organizations. It’s what makes people want to tell their friends about all the great stuff they’ll find on VolunteerMatch. It’s what ultimately gets YOU the volunteers you need for your organization!

When you post your volunteer needs, you can help us make sure VolunteerMatch remains the respected, viable network of volunteer and community service opportunities that people know and love. Here are some things to think about when posting your new opportunities (or editing your existing ones!):

1. A VolunteerMatch opportunity IS aimed at helping volunteers find activities at your organization, so make sure to list specific active tasks that you need help with.

2. A VolunteerMatch opportunity ISN’T a place for you to advertise your website. No phishing allowed. We do have some great sponsorship opportunities, though, if you’re looking to direct traffic to your own website.

3. A VolunteerMatch opportunity IS an unpaid position. We know some volunteer opportunities involve compensation, which is fine! If you’re offering a stipend or any financial compensation to your volunteers, just make sure it’s no more than the federal minimum wage.

4. A VolunteerMatch opportunity ISN’T a direct fundraising solicitation. However, we realize how integral volunteers are for your fundraising efforts! A VolunteerMatch Opportunity IS a great place to recruit fundraisers, NOT funds.

5. A VolunteerMatch opportunity IS a place to set expectations with your volunteers, including whether you’d like them to help provide materials for an active task. For example, providing yarn for knitting blankets is okay.

6. A VolunteerMatch opportunity IS a place be upfront about volunteer costs. No bait and switch. We realize there are costs involved with some volunteer opportunities (VolunTourism, Disaster Relief, etc).  If volunteers need to “pay to play”, let them know in your VolunteerMatch opportunity.

7. A VolunteerMatch opportunity IS a way to engage folks from all over the world. If the opportunity is marked “virtual” it must be equally accessible and equally relevant to volunteers located anywhere in the world. Writing newsletter articles, researching and writing grant proposals, or providing phone support are all examples of virtual opportunities.

8. A VolunteerMatch opportunity ISN’T something to duplicate in every zip code! Don’t spoil volunteer opportunity search results for volunteers. Your opportunities are visible for a 20-mile radius around the zip code they are listed within. Don’t create multiple identical opportunities in zip code after zip code. Nobody likes spam. If you need to cover a larger geographic area, use our Multi-ZIP feature, available when you publish your opportunity.

Making sure your opportunities fall within these guidelines will ultimately serve both your organization and the network of volunteers we all rely on to move our missions forward.

Do you have tips for fellow nonprofits about posting great VolunteerMatch opportunity listings? Share them below!

How Writing a Volunteer Listing is Like Being in Grade School

When posting volunteer listings on VolunteerMatch, spelling and grammar matter!Don’t worry – this isn’t a long list. But there is one important similarity between creating volunteer listings in VolunteerMatch to connect with great volunteers, and grade school: Spelling and grammar matter.

Engaging volunteers in your work is all about cutting through the noise that busy, ambitious people see every day and getting them to read your listing, and click that “I want to help” button. By posting on VolunteerMatch you are beginning a new relationship with potential volunteers, and the volunteer listing is the first impression. We all know how important first impressions are.

100% of listings with no connections had spelling errors, and 80% had grammar mistakes.

To build a strong, healthy relationship with a new volunteer that can grow and last, (and really, to even get the volunteer to work with you to begin with,) you need to present your organization and yourself as dependable, authentic and organized. The volunteer needs to believe that the work they do with you will have the best possible impact for the cause they care about.

So it makes sense, then, that a listing with spelling and grammar mistakes will decrease the confidence potential volunteers have in your organization. In case you don’t believe me, here are some numbers:

A few years ago we reviewed 100 random listings with no volunteer connections. Of those 100 listings, 100% of them had spelling errors and 80% had grammar mistakes. That’s a pretty big coincidence…

So as you sit down to post your volunteer listings on VolunteerMatch, remember to spend the extra 10 seconds and use that “spell check” function. I guarantee it will make a difference and draw more volunteers to your organization – and then you can all make a bigger difference together.

How to Engage Job-Seekers as Volunteers

How to Engage Job-Seekers as VolunteersIn today’s economy, one might expect volunteering rates to shoot up as employment rates remain shaky.

While this isn’t the case, there’s still a lot of opportunity for nonprofit organizations like yours to engage people currently searching for jobs.

Why Engage Job-Seekers?

Excellent question. Folks looking for employment are going to be driven. They are focused on their goal, which means if they choose to spend time with you, they really care about you and your cause. They often have valuable skills to bring to the table, and even though their commitment might dwindle after they find a job, you can keep them connected via newsletter, one-day events and donation opportunities until they find more time to give again. Bottom line: You want to build a long-term relationship with these people, so you’d better start now.

Focus on Skills

Target people with specific skills who might want to polish them while they job search, or who might be looking to build new skills to make themselves more marketable. For ideas, check out the skills taxonomy in our Listing Wizard.

Be Clear About Expectations and Commitment

Looking for a job can often be as time-consuming as a full-time job itself. So make sure to lay out time commitment expectations, as well as the exact work to be done, from the very beginning. That way you only involve people who know the score from the beginning, and you can both feel good about the connection. This is important content to put in the position description on VolunteerMatch.

Provide Recommendations and Networking

There’s no rule that says volunteering can’t benefit the volunteer. In fact, it should help volunteers, beyond making them feel good about their impact. Acting as a referral for your excellent volunteers, and introducing them to people who might be beneficial in their job searches, are great ways to show your appreciation and ensure they stay engaged long after they land their dream jobs.

Offer Leadership Opportunities

Finally, even if you can’t actually hire your favorite volunteers, design ways for them to take on larger roles within the organization as they become qualified. This looks great on their resumes, and makes your volunteer program that much more dynamic. Not sure what sorts of leadership roles your volunteers would want? Ask them!

Head to VolunteerMatch now to post volunteer opportunities that will attract passionate job seekers to your organization!

Nonprofit Tip of the Month: Put Your Best Face Forward by Keeping Your Organization Profile Up-To-Date

Put Your Best Face Forward by Keeping Your VolunteerMatch Organization Profile Up-To-DateOne of the benefits of listing your organization and volunteer opportunities on VolunteerMatch is the search engine optimization. When people search for your organization on Google or another search engine, your VolunteerMatch account is likely to pop up close to the top of the search results.

That means that even if you don’t have any active volunteer opportunities listed, it’s likely that people will still see your VolunteerMatch profile and whatever information you (or a previous member of your organization) posted there. Your profile can also be found through our organization search page, and the opportunity search if you do have active listings. Thousands of volunteers visit our site each week, so people are looking!

This is free exposure for your organization and mission; take full advantage of it by keeping your information current and compelling. Spend just a few minutes reviewing your account to avoid looking outdated, or worse, out of business! A concise, informative, and grammatically correct profile can make all the difference in helping paint the picture of a legitimate, well-organized operation. Take a look at ours for inspiration!

Take a look at the VolunteerMatch organization profile.

Here are some elements to make sure you have in your profile:

  • Clear mission statement – If you don’t have one, use this space to share your goals, and what your organization or group aims to achieve.
  • Concise, informative description of your organization and the services or events you provide. What do you do? How do you do it?
  • Current contact person and contact information.
  • Link to your website, if you have one.
  • Interest areas/categories (e.g. Hunger, Education & Literacy, Animals).
  • A fun, engaging photo.
  • Reviews! You can ask any current or previous volunteers to write a review of their experiences volunteering for your organization. This really helps the profile stand out.

To edit your organization’s information, follow these steps:

  1. Log into your account at www.volunteermatch.org/post/login.jsp and access your organization dashboard.
  2. Under ‘Manage Organization’ in your side menu, click ‘Edit Organization Profile.’ This form allows you to edit your organization’s information including name, address, phone, fax, website URL, mission, description, contact title and name, and categories.
  3. Edit the desired information and click on ‘Continue’ at the bottom of the page – this will save your changes!

To add a photo to your organization profile, follow these steps:

  1. Under ‘Manage Organization’ in your side menu, click ‘Photo Manager’ – this is where you can upload up to 5 photos for your account to use on your profile and listings (or 20 photos if you’re a Community Leader!)
  2. On the bottom right of the next page, click ‘Select an organization photo’.
  3. Add a new photo from your computer, and enter a title and caption.
  4. Click ‘Save’!

Cleaning up this corner of your web presence can help you make a good impression on potential volunteers and supporters. It will only take you a few minutes, and a lot of people will see it! So get started right now!