March Webinar Preview: Build a Strong Foundation to Ensure Success

Step up your volunteer engagement game. Attend a free webinar!

It’s a new month and that means we have new webinars to share! In February we taught you how to step up your recruitment game.  This month you’ll learn everything you need to create an engaging management program. We’ll teach you how to set goals and expectations for new and existing volunteer staff. We’ll also teach you how to become an advocate for volunteer engagement within your organization.

Here are some webinars you don’t want to miss in March:

Playing by the Rules: Creating an Effective Volunteer Handbook

In this webinar, you’ll learn how to create a living document that can help both paid and volunteer staff be better informed and know what is expected of them. A good Volunteer Handbook can also help you better identify and deal with challenging volunteers. Whether you’re just starting to create a Handbook or if you’re looking for best practices on information to include, this webinar will evaluate the Handbook you have and help you create a stronger framework for your volunteer engagement program.

Making Volunteer Engagement Everyone’s Job

Too often the role of engaging volunteers falls exclusively to the volunteer program manager. It’s not uncommon to hear the phrase “your volunteers” used within organizations. How do you make volunteer engagement everyone’s job? This webinar will provide you with the tools to become an advocate for volunteer engagement. Learn how to create a step by step communication plan to reinforce the importance of volunteer engagement to key stakeholders within your organization.

Fighting Hunger Together: Put Volunteer Groups to Work

So many volunteer managers at hunger relief organizations depend on groups of volunteers to meet the needs of their programs. Using various hunger relief organizations as examples, we’ll discuss ideas for working with corporate groups, youth groups and many more. You’ll learn effective practices for engagement and the importance of creating opportunities with measurable impacts. We’ll also share ideas for diversifying the work load and commitment level of volunteer groups. Though geared towards hunger relief, volunteer managers from all types of organizations are encouraged to attend this webinar.

Writing Accurate and Useful Volunteer Position Descriptions

This webinar covers the basics of what should be included in a position description. You’ll learn how to create and update position descriptions for all of your volunteer opportunities. We’ll also share how accurate and up-to-date position descriptions can help you recruit and train volunteers, and how they can help with retention and the development of leadership positions within your volunteer engagement program.

To learn more about our March webinars please visit our Learning Center.

Tip of The Month: 5 Easy Ways to Create Better Hunger Opportunities

Well folks, it’s that time of year again: the holidays are upon us. ‘Tis the season to celebrate friends, family and philanthropy.  For the entire month of December, VolunteerMatch has pledged to spread awareness for hunger related causes. For this month’s tip we’ll look at a successful hunger related opportunity from St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance in Phoenix, Arizona. I’ll tell you what works and how you can use similar strategies when creating your own hunger related opportunities.

Let’s get started!

What makes for an engaging hunger related opportunity?

The title is simple & straightforward.

Instead of a vague phrase like ‘volunteers needed’, there is a specific position title.  Before the volunteer has even read the description they already know what to expect. The title is also an opportunity to include key words or phrases that speak to your organization’s cause. Here it might be helpful to include words like ‘hunger’ or ‘food’.

The description clearly identifies volunteer duties & expectations.

While the title grabs the attention, the description conveys the specifics.  Create short sentences using casual language, avoiding overly professional jargon. Know your audience, make them aware of the impact their service will have within your organization.

Photos & reviews are included.

Reviews show up near the top of the page for a reason: they are important. Having reviews makes your opportunity more enticing and thus, more likely to generate referrals. Take the time to send out review requests to past volunteers. You’ll be happy you did.

Adding a photo to your opportunity is a great way to engage prospective volunteers. Instead of your organization’s logo—which is impersonal and unfamiliar—use images of volunteers in action. A photo is an excellent way to visually communicate the task at hand. An image can even depict the volunteer’s impact within your organization.

The requirements are clearly visible.

Notice the short list included near the bottom of the page. Including requirements ensures that you attract more informed volunteers who are more likely to follow through on their commitment. VolunteerMatch has built out an extensive requirements tool, for instructions click here.

There are multiple opportunities available.

Avoid the mistake of including multiple positions within a single opportunity. If you must fill multiple positions for the same event, create separate opportunities. If you have varying time slots to fill, create an opportunity for each. The more opportunities you create, the more volunteers you will attract.

Did you find these tips helpful? Want to know more?

For more information visit our Learning Center to register for a free webinar. Through our partnership with Walmart’s Fighting Hunger Together program we’ve created an entire webinar series intended to educate hunger related organizations. To learn more about our partnership, click here.

Volunteering Annals: Helping Our Community Use Linkedin at the Public Library

Volunteering with skills at san francisco public library

Greg Baldwin teaches the class.

The incredible thing about giving is just how much you get in return – even when you’re not expecting it.

That was one of the takeaways from an afternoon of training a few of us from VolunteerMatch recently conducted at San Francisco Public Library’s main branch, when what was originally a fun challenge for our readers became an important lesson in the power of skilled volunteering.

This story begins earlier this year. As VolunteerMatch prepared to pass a key milestone in our work to make it easier for good people and good causes to connect – our 6 millionth volunteer connection – we bet readers of Engaging Volunteers that they couldn’t guess when we’d hit the mark. To put our money where our mouth is, we promised to let the closest guesser do something special: they could tell the VolunteerMatch team where to do our next employee volunteer outing.

Two weeks later, we hit 6,000,000… a mere 30 minutes after Carla Lehn, a consultant for the California State Library, said we would. Carla, bless her heart, asked us to do our volunteer service in a California library close to us. But what would we – what could we? – do to help?

Moving from Service to Skills

What we came up with was VolunteerMatch’s first ever skilled group employee volunteer outing. Working closely with volunteer program coordinator Kai Forsley and the Volunteer Program at the San Francisco Public Library, myself, Shari Ilsen and Greg Baldwin put together a free hour-long training on using Linkedin to find a job.

The event took place at the city’s popular main branch and was attended by around 15 members of our San Francisco community. We covered how to create an account, set up a profile, network with other professionals, and take a strategic approach to your job search.

Don’t get me wrong: All three of us have presented in the past to much larger audiences. But this was on a topic that had nothing to do with VolunteerMatch and everything to do with the unique needs of the audience served by SF’s library. In short: it was skilled volunteering to support the mission of a local organization.

The hour flew by and we stayed late with the audience to answer questions. Afterwards, as Greg, Shari and I headed back to our office, we talked about how much we enjoyed being able to do what we love — helping people — using the skills we already had. And how great it felt knowing that we were also learning how to talk and present on something we’d never shared with an audience before.

One thing that kept coming up in our discussions was that this was how many other members of the VolunteerMatch team could benefit from getting involved in delivering trainings like this. We all have the ability to put ideas into play for a willing audience. And we can all stand to get better at how we deliver that information.

Laughing, we talked about how great it would be to move beyond the types of unskilled but beneficial volunteering we’d done as groups before (think: fun park clean ups, social service facility rehabs, environmental restorations, etc.). What if VolunteerMatch made it a point to help our team to find skilled roles we could use to give back and also augment our own professional abilities?

Fast forward to today. Shari has stepped forward and has worked with Kai and the Volunteer Program set up monthly training sessions on a variety of topics through the next year. Different members of the team will be invited to take part, meaning we can rotate more people through this exciting opportunity. And of course more of us will be able to help the library fulfill its mission while also strengthening our own presentation skills.

Today we just passed 6.5 million volunteer connections — and we’re moving to the next big landmark faster than ever. What’s that, you ask: Will we have another contest to let the crowd determine where we’ll volunteer? Sounds like a great idea to me!

How about you? Do you volunteer your skills through a program set up by your employer? What have you learned? Share your experiences here.

 

Managing Pro Bono – How to Make Sure Your Unpaid Consulting Project Produces Amazing Results

Editor’s Note: In conjunction with National Pro Bono Celebration, Engaging Volunteers has launched a 5-part exploration of best practices in pro bono volunteer engagement through the lens of the experts at Taproot Foundation.

Our friends at Taproot have just released a new book, Powered by Pro Bono, to give nonprofit leaders guidance on creating successful pro bono engagements. Each week we’re giving away a copy of Powered by Pro Bono with each new blog post on the subject. Got a great tip or story on how to engage pro bono volunteers? Share it below! We’ll send a copy to our favorite entry.

According to recent studies, there are literally millions of professionals, consultants and companies who would like to contribute their skills to your mission. And, in fact, more than $15 billion worth of skilled labor does get contributed each year. So there’s a lot at stake for nonprofits who can harness these resources.

Over the last few weeks I used this space to share best practices on scoping pro bono projects (how to figure out what you really need) and securing pro bono resources (how to approach the right people for your project). This week I’m looking closely at how to manage the projects themselves so they produce great results.

Principles of Great Pro Bono Project Management

In my last article in this series, I shared that there are 6 popular models of pro bono. Some pro bono projects are more complex and challenging than others. Team-based projects, for example, are often made up of pro bono consultants from different organizations who have never worked together before but who must be harnessed to work toward a shared goal for the benefit of a nonprofit. That’s hard. In pro bono parlance this is the equivalent of competing in a triathlon: you need to be able to perform at a very high level in a variety of different skilled areas, including scoping, inspiring, orienting, providing feedback and inspiring some more

Powered By Pro Bono assumes that if you can successfully manage the most complex pro bono projects, you can handle easier projects too – those with fewer moving parts. This chapter provides all the models, worksheets, and tips you’ll need to manage a complex and challenging pro bono engagement.

Taproot identifies fives principles of successfully managing pro bono projects:

  • Be prepared to invest time – You’ll also want to track the time you spend on this so you can determine ROI.
  • Act like a paying client – Take your role seriously. Focus on results.
  • Foster internal team communications- Keep everyone up to date. Get internal buy-in.
  • Create space for consultants to share – Both good and bad news should be shared.
  • Celebrate before during and after the project.

Managing pro bono is not all that different from managing any consultant or consulting team. Nearly all of the best practices apply. But there is also an added layer of responsibility that I’d probably call something like “purpose management”. Essentially this means keeping your pro bono team inspired and excited to support your mission.

This chapter of Powered by Pro Bono is quite technical – think lots of charts, lists and tables.  While I definitely encourage you to buy the book and check it out, a detailed overview is impossible here.

If you have never managed a consultant before (paid or unpaid), here are some good places for nonprofits to start:

Instead, the rest of my article will focus on Taproot’s recommendations for inspiring and motivating a pro bono team mid-project, this “purpose management”.

Managing on Purpose

Taproot identifies three core behaviors that underlie successful consulting relationships: trust, mutual receptiveness to the best methods and solutions, and something called “provision of value”.

The value that consultants provide is usually their skills. And, normally the value that their clients would provide back would be money. In pro bono, where money is out of the picture, that value needs to be primarily meaning and personal satisfaction.

While there are a number of secondary benefits for the consultant like the chance to work in new areas, learn new things or open up a new business line, most pro bono projects will live and die on the ability of the pro bono consultants to remain engaged through the inevitable ups and downs of a lengthy project. Turn it around – if you’re the consultant, your involvement may look like this:

You’re a busy professional. You connect with a nonprofit who has an interesting project. You are inspired by what the organization does and the vision of knowing you have helped them in their mission. After a long series of revealing emails, meetings and briefs, the work begins. But it’s harder than expected and the first presentations reveal some significant misunderstandings. More meetings and emails follow. At that point, deflated, this just feels like work, but with no pay.

Inspiring pro bono consultants is so important because pro bono can be a long process – and that process can itself be a big obstacle!

Many managers tend to think of project implementation as looking like this: Planning > Kickoff > Implementation > Debrief. Instead, Taproot’s model is: Prepare > Kickoff > Discovery > Drafting > Delivery and Implementation > Evaluation and Celebration. Extending the project phases this way not only reflects how projects really work, but it also illustrates with clarity all the ways the project can go wrong.

As with all volunteering – skilled or unskilled – recognition of the hard work, commitment and meaningful impact of volunteers is important. Powered By Pro Bono recommends that nonprofits use good recognition practices through all phases of the management of the project.

Aside from being fully organized and taking care of business, it’s always a good idea to focus on being inspiring, fun, and positive in your interactions with your pro bono consultant or team. When in doubt, talk about your mission and the important impact the project will make.

We’ve talked about good recognition practices at length at Engaging Volunteers. Here are a few links:

To keep your pro bono consultant or team engaged on a purpose level during specific phases, here are a few tips from Powered By Pro Bono that stood out for me:

Purpose During Preparation

If the project lags during the back and forth of preparation, it’s good idea to continue to send background and general materials to the team. This keeps them connected to your work and mission while they are assessing their own appetite for the project. Say thank you.

Purpose During Kickoff

Try to hold the kick off meeting in person and at your office if possible. This way the consultant or team can absorb more about your culture and work. This is also a very important time to purposefully communicate your mission and how the project ties back to it. Put some time into how you will do this during kickoff.  Say thank you.

Purpose During Discovery

Discovery is a creative and inspiring time. You’ll also be sending over lots of materials. But this is when you especially want to load the consultant(s) up with anything you think will spark their interest and help them see clearly the power of your programs. Say thank you.

Purpose During Drafting

Drafting is the first time you’ll see the results of the consultant(s) hard work. Most likely it will need to be changed to fit your needs, and that’s OK. Thank the pro bono consultant or team profusely, but the best thing you can do now is give thoughtful, specific feedback that takes their contribution seriously. If your consultant has suddenly vanished or isn’t responding, this is also a time to reiterate (by email or phone or in person) the value of their work. Say thank you.

Purpose During Delivery

This may be the hardest phase for your consultants, as the project schedule sometimes is extended (for reasons good and bad) and the light at the end of the tunnel is still not in full view. Help your pro bono team stay motivated by doing the work you need to do to show you are respecting the process: deliver your feedback in a timely fashion, keep all your stakeholder involved and updated, and start looking ahead to using the materials and scheduling trainings if necessary. Your consultants will appreciate that you are excited and ready to implement their hard work. Say thank you.

Purpose During Evaluation

Hooray! You’ve come a long way, baby. Time to celebrate. The links we posted above have lots of ideas for celebrating volunteers. Taproot adds to these in Powered By Pro Bono with a simple reminder. You guessed it: Say thank you. At every meeting.

Next week I’ll cover how to scale your pro bono involvement. Scaling pro bono means the process of taking your organization to the next level by tapping pro bono resources all around you on a regular basis. It’s the brass ring of this series – the promise that your growth as a nonprofit will only ever be limited by your ability to harness the good will of people who care in your community.

This Week: Win A Copy of Powered by Pro Bono

Is your organization Powered by Pro Bono? Do you have pro bono stories or advice to share? Add it to the comments below. Our favorite story each week will win a free copy of Powered by Pro Bono, courtesy of Taproot Foundation.

Tip of the Month: Launch Your Own Social Media Campaign in 3 Easy Steps

If you’ve read our blog before it should come as no surprise that we love social media. It’s free, it’s engaging and it’s an extremely versatile marketing tool. Nonprofits use social media to engage with online audiences and spread awareness for important causes. They also use social media as a fundraising platform to solicit donations. For this month’s tip we’ll discuss using social media as a volunteer recruitment tool. I’ll tell you how to launch your very own social media campaign using free tools available right from your VolunteerMatch account.

And we’ll do it all in three simple steps!

Step One: Create New Content

Nobody wants to read old, recycled material. Don’t just copy and paste! Take the time to create a new volunteer opportunity. Don’t rethink the role entirely, instead change the language used to describe it. Adding new content is more likely to attract new volunteers and pique the interest of those already working with you.

If you find yourself with a serious case of writer’s block:  we’ve got you covered. VolunteerMatch offers a wide variety of resources to help you navigate the posting process. Look for tips on our Community Support Page or sign up for a free webinar in our Learning Center.

Step Two: Share This Opportunity with Your Organization’s Network

The hard part is over but now you have to spread the word. After creating a new opportunity use your VolunteerMatch account to share it on social media. Review your new content in the final posting step and click on the ‘Finish’ button at the bottom of the page. Once the system posts your volunteer opportunity you’ll see the following screen:

Click on these icons to share your opportunity via social media

In the section labeled ‘Share Your Listing’ you’ll see icons for Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. Make sure you’re logged into all three platforms, then click on each icon. This will automatically share your new volunteer opportunity on each social media platform.

Step Three: Get Individuals to Share Your Opportunity with Their Networks

For the final step in this process, use VolunteerMatch to engage existing members of your network. Use the fourth icon—pictured below—to email past and current volunteers:

Click on this icon to email copies of your opportunity to volunteers in your network

Take the time to draft a brief message: explain your efforts and request that recipients share your new volunteer opportunity with their own networks. Recruiting others to share your opportunity will not only increase your organization’s online presence, it will expand your audience base and enable you to connect with new individuals who will bring new skills into your organization.

Try out our steps and let us know how it goes! Share your feedback on our Community Page.