Webinar Recap: 4 New Volunteer Trends to Watch

Our recent Nonprofit Insights webinar with Tobi Johnson, “Future Forecast: Four Big Shifts that Will Change Volunteerism…for the Better,” was a big success. We’re hearing from many volunteer managers and nonprofit folks how it’s inspired them to think about changes they can make to improve their volunteer programs.

Lori Halley of Wild Apricot enjoyed the session so much, she wrote up this great recap on the Wild Apricot blog. We’ve re-posted it here, but check out the original article, too.

By Lori Halley, Wild Apricot

Recap of recent Nonprofit Insights webinar hosted by VolunteerMatch about future trends in volunteer engagement, written by Lori Halley of Wild Apricot.Most nonprofits and membership organizations depend on volunteers in order to meet their mission. So at this time of year, many of you are either in the midst of orienting a new wave of volunteers or realizing that you need to recruit additional support. If that’s the case, there are a few shifts and trends impacting volunteerism that you might want to consider.

Last week VolunteerMatch presented a Nonprofit Insights webinar called: “Future Forecast: Four Big Shifts That Will Change Volunteerism…for the Better.” While I was unable to attend the live session, I watched the video and wanted to offer a recap of some of the highlights.

The webinar was led by Tobi Johnson, a nonprofit consultant who helps organizations attract, inspire and mobilize volunteers. Tobi started by reminding us that today’s world of volunteer management is very different than it used to be. It is more public due to social media, which offers challenges as well as new opportunities for engagement. In addition, technological advances and societal changes are forcing volunteer managers to become more sophisticated to keep up. To help, Tobi outlined the impact these changes will have on volunteering and identified four shifts and trends to consider as you plan for the coming year.

Trend #1: Advances in brain science & neuroleadership

While these terms sound very scientific and academic, the key points Tobi made here were that if we develop an understand of how brains function, we can better understand and empathize with our volunteers in order to offer an optimal volunteer experience. In her words, we can develop “volunteer administration practices that work with human nature not against it.”

Tobi offered a number of insights, but one that was key for me was that…

“work productivity does not generate happiness. In fact it is the other way around – happiness generates results in the workplace”

Apparently, there is research that indicates that “happiness is something we can promote and cultivate”. So, for example, when volunteer leaders or staff get stressed out, instead of forcing volunteers to share in this stress, we can find ways of encouraging happiness and developing “gratitude rituals” to “inoculate against negativity.”

What does this mean for volunteer managers?

Tobi’s suggestions for shifting to “using brain science” with volunteers include:

  • Moving away from “legacy volunteer program policies and procedures” and toward “use of human motivational triggers to develop leaders”
  • Instead of relying on “charismatic (and rare) volunteer leaders… focus on minimizing threat and maximizing reward in organizational cultures”
  • Substituting “traditional volunteer reward and recognition activities” with practices that cultivate team happiness “through evidence-based practices and team traditions.”

Trend #2: Discoveries in human performance & talent development

Join the free Nonprofit Insights webinar about the future of volunteer engagement.Since, as Tobi noted, “nonprofits are all about collaboration”, she suggested we should look to research on “talent development” to help us “better understand what motivates and inspires human performance to develop volunteer training and onboarding that is inspiring, fulfilling and makes the most of volunteer skills and talent.”

For example, in terms of insight into motivation, Tobi noted that researchers have discovered that rather than being concerned about efficiency, today workers (and volunteers) are focused on finding meaning in the workplace. We all know that the key reason most people volunteer is to “make a difference.” We’ve blogged about research into volunteer motivation that also confirms that what folks want most from their volunteer experience is to understand how their efforts have made a difference.

For insight into trends on “talent development”, Tobi noted that new research suggests that people learn better with informal versus formal, classroom-style training. Peer-to peer training is especially effective.

Challenges for volunteer managers:

Tobi’s suggestions in terms of human performance and talent development included:

  • Informal volunteer-led learning networks [e.g., peer-to-peer]
  • Use of best practices in talent development, directly aligned with program goals
  • The deeper meaning of work [should be] reflected in volunteer recognition [and allowing volunteers to be more empowered and "have a say in their work" – rather than "plaques and pins"]

Trend #3: Migration from solely virtual to virtual and mobile

Tobi noted that many organizations are already engaging virtual volunteers and allowing volunteers to work remotely. But with the ever increasing Smartphone usage for web access, and the growing numbers of telecommuters and virtual teams, Tobi suggested that organizations need to start thinking about how they can better enable volunteering via mobile. This, she suggests, means “aligning organization and volunteer and communication media and methods”. For example,

  • [Rather than over-reliance on a single communications method] Volunteer communication strategies [should] align with mobile lifestyles
  • [Instead of one-way volunteer information blasts, organizations should work towards] two-way, social communication that fosters a greater sense of community
  • Deliberate strategies to reduce perceived virtual distance [e.g., having information on a wiki that volunteers can access via mobile; websites that offer responsive design; video training that can be viewed on a Smartphone, etc.]

Trend #4: The increasing importance of data

The final trend that Tobi noted in the webinar was the importance of “harnessing and analyzing data in manageable, affordable and scalable ways in order to improve individual volunteer programs and the field of volunteerism as a whole.” This means we need to establish industry benchmarks but also that each organization should think about what data you can gather on, for example, the number of volunteer hours; retention rates; level of involvement; return on investment, etc.

Tobi suggested the following examples as to how data could be used to better manage our volunteers:

  • Common performance indicators and benchmarks used for program accountability
  • Global collaborative data sharing to inform evidence-based practice
  • Experimentation and failure embraced for what it can teach us

Applying this insight to your volunteer program

Tobi finished the webinar by reminding us that “volunteering is really about self actualization”. So if and when you decide to make changes to your organization’s volunteer procedures or programs, you need to ask yourself “will the change help facilitate a deeper sense of connectedness between our volunteers, our community and our cause?” Tobi suggests that if it doesn’t tap into that deeper sense of connection, it probably shouldn’t be your top priority.

Check out the entire webinar presentation

This is just a high level overview of this great VolunteerMatch presentation by Tobi Johnson. If you’d like to watch the entire webinar video (via YouTube) – you can view it here: Nonprofit Insights Webinar: Future Forecast: Four Big Shifts That Will Change Volunteerism…For the Better.

How do you think these four trends will impact your volunteer program in 2014? Let us know in the comments below.

5 Important Considerations When Creating a Volunteer Program Budget

5 important considerations when creating a volunteer program budget.It’s the end of another year, and for many nonprofits that means it’s BUDGET SEASON. There’s often a misconception that since volunteers are not paid, volunteer programs are also “free.” Nothing could be further from the truth, as we all know.

Here are five important considerations, based on advice from VolunteerMatch’s Preferred Partner nonprofits, to help you provide for your volunteer program’s needs in your nonprofit budget for 2014:

Making the Case for a Volunteer Program Budget

The first hurdle will be overcoming the fallacy that you don’t actually need a program budget. To do this, you need to do two things: Show the impact your volunteers have on your organization, and explain why the money is critical to its success.

Carla Lehn of California State Library suggests documenting how volunteers contribute to the mission of your organization – not just counting the number of hours, but demonstrating how their work helps the entire community.

Make Your Volunteer Budget Cross-Functional

Once you’ve built staff buy-in for your program’s budget, you can take things to the next level by integrating volunteer engagement into the budgets of other departments, as well. For example, if your organization puts on a large even each year, try to get “volunteer services” into that budget as a line item. This frees up your budget for more basic needs.

Communicating cross-functionally about your strategy for the year is critical, says Kristen Walker of Girl Scouts. As with many organizations, Kristen says their programs are so dependent on each other, creating completely separate budgets causes them all to fall short. Instead, the team determines the volunteer roles needed together, and what it would take to recruit and support them.

Recognition is a Key Line Item

One thing all of our Preferred Partners insisted: Budgeting for volunteer recognition activities is extremely important. “I like to have the flexibility to recognize volunteers and associates in creative ways for their support of our organization and the volunteer program,” says Stacey Kyser of National Church Residences.

Small items like t-shirts and other swag should not be seen as extras. “Volunteers don’t need a lot,” Mary Sweeney of Arbor Day Foundation comments, “But they certainly appreciate a fun t-shirt.” Mary also points out that small gifts like this are a great way to increase branding at an event and give love to a corporate partner who is helping to sponsor the event.

Don’t let your organization’s leadership scoff at this line item. Funding for food and small parties can mean the difference between happy, committed volunteers who keep coming back, bringing their friends and their skills with them, and people whom you never see again.

Fight for Your Right to the Right Tools

What physical supplies will you need to run your program in 2014? Make sure office supplies show up either in your budget or in your office manager’s. Additionally, do you need to renew a license for your volunteer tracking software? Perhaps you want to get some more training with Microsoft Excel? Think creatively about how better/more efficient tools can help you be more successful.

Speaking of tools, VolunteerMatch’s free one is great – but if you want to take your volunteer recruitment to the next level, consider budgeting for our Community Leader Premium Services. This package provides additional features that make it even easier for you to successfully find the right volunteers.

And if you’re a big, (BIG) nonprofit, take a look at our Preferred Partner Program – we can set you up with enterprise technology to help your entire organization streamline its recruitment and management of volunteers. As Mary Sweeney says, “Make sure to budget for the awesome work that you can do by partnering with VolunteerMatch!”

Telling Your Story Takes Time and Money

Adding space in your budget for storytelling can make it easier to increase visibility of your organization. Paying for traditional media can be time-consuming and a bit more expensive, but getting your story into the local paper is worth it.

Also, consider budgeting for social media tools and training, as well. Compared to other marketing activities, this one has a really low overhead, with the potential to cause a big splash. Plus, you can recruit a volunteer to help you run your social media accounts!

What other factors do you think are important when creating a volunteer program budget?

How Skilled Volunteers Can Make a Difference for You in 2014

How skilled volunteers can make a difference for you in 2014.

A United Saints volunteer helps rebuild homes in New Orleans.

Here at VolunteerMatch, we like talking about skilled volunteering. By creating the best match possible between a volunteer’s passions and skills with a nonprofit’s needs, there is a great chance to form a lasting connection and real community impact.

Whether your organization is already engaging skilled volunteers or not, the New Year is a great time to think strategically about how recruiting people with specific skill sets can help you reach your goals in 2014. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Plan More Events

Planning events can be time-consuming and stress-increasing. But there are individuals out there who thrive on this type of work, and who are very good at it. Why not engage some skilled volunteers to help you plan stellar events next year? With more help, and people who really know what they’re doing, your events will be better and there’ll be more of them.

Make Things Prettier

By “things” I mean both your organization’s physical and digital presence. You can recruit a volunteer with a green thumb and a flair for decorating to spruce up your office. You can also engage a graphic designer to overhaul your logo, website, or cook up some dynamite ads for the New Year.

Diversify Your Funding

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Fundraising can be a great way to engage volunteers AND improve your organization’s financial situation. If you’re looking to build more relationships with foundations, find a volunteer grant writer. Or, dip your toes into the exciting world of crowdfunding by engaging volunteers to do some social fundraising online.

Get Serious About Social Media

Chances are you’ll never know more about social media than a volunteer you could recruit to run your social media for you. Millennials, especially, are itching to put their digital native skills to good use for causes they care about.

Step Up Volunteer Engagement

Volunteer engagement and management is at least one full-time job all on its own. So why not recruit some skilled volunteers to help you engage volunteers and develop out your program?

How are you planning on engaging skilled volunteers next year to make a difference for your organization? Don’t wait – post your opportunities to VolunteerMatch now!

Expert Snapshots for December

Expert SnapshotsAt VolunteerMatch we learn so much from other experts in the field of volunteer engagement and management, and we want to help you stay up to date on the latest news and trends. Check back every month for snapshots of what experts in the field are talking about.

Farewell, Nelson Mandela

VolunteerMatch President Greg Baldwin reflects on the lessons and inspiration of Nelson’s Mandela’s life. As we all say goodbye to a figure who often seemed larger than life, one thing is certain – he has contributed more than we could ever express to the world of service and volunteerism. You will be missed, Mr. Mandela.

Nonprofits Use “Speed Dating” Model to Recruit Volunteers”

Fifteen nonprofits in the Sacramento area collaborated to hold a “Speed Matching” event for individuals looking to volunteer in the community, based on the classic “speed dating” or “speed networking” model. Click through to read about how the event went and how other organizations might apply this new model…

Investing in High Impact Volunteer Engagement: A Funder’s Perspective

Jane Leighty Justis, executive director of The Leighty Foundation, writes on the Reimagining Service blog about the need for funders to help nonprofits build up their volunteer resources. After all, in today’s tough economic climate, the best chance nonprofits have is to make the most of the volunteers who want to help.

Don’t Let the History Made by Volunteers Fall Through the Cracks of Time

WhIn one of Susan Ellis’ recent “Hot Topics” posts for Energize, Inc., she urges nonprofits to document the contribution of volunteers to their causes and organizations. It’s critical for us to have records, both visual and textual, of the difference volunteers make in our society, or this important influence will be lost forever. Susan also shares some great ideas for how organizations can do this.

Volunteering is Famous!

Recent press coverage of volunteering and VolunteerMatch.For most of us, volunteering is simply a part of life – whether we manage volunteers professionally, donate our free time or both, volunteering just seems…obvious.

But for many, many others, this isn’t the case. That’s why it’s great to see the media doing their part to raise awareness about volunteering and how to do it “right.”

Check out these recent news features that we think help close that remaining gap between good people and good causes:

How to Find Volunteer Opportunities This Holiday Season | Fox Business

How to avoid the volunteer trap | CNNMoney

Give It Up for the Greater Good | Working Mother

4 Benefits to Volunteering and 4 Websites to Help You Do So | Yahoo.com

9 Affordable Holiday Traditions to Start This Year | USNews.com

For more press coverage of volunteering and VolunteerMatch, check out our Press Room.