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The Recipe for an Extraordinary Volunteer Program

The Recipe for an Extraordinary Volunteer Program

Most nonprofits engage volunteers according to a process that was developed in the 40’s and 50’s. This old way of approaching volunteer programs frustrates today’s volunteer force. That’s why we’ve created a powerful new approach to find, keep, and grow volunteers so nonprofits can save time and accomplish more without increasing their team’s workload.

This isn’t a recipe we invented – we just are the first people to have both the technology and services to deliver it with precision.

1. Promote Volunteerism

Whether your volunteer is 19 or 79, volunteers are mobile, they’re on social media, they act digitally, they share, and they like to interact where their friends and family are.  This is why we must leverage technology to promote online, via social networks, and direct to our volunteers’ phones.

We publish a mobile-friendly catalog of volunteer opportunities from your website and drive traffic to our tools through targeted email invitations, social media integration, and web searches. We also publish project-specific landing pages to advertise volunteer opportunities via volunteer recruitment sites like VolunteerMatch and All for Good.

2. Eliminate Barriers to Engagement

Once we’ve generated interest, we must not squander that opportunity by asking a volunteer to call or email for further information.  They won’t do it.  We also can’t ask them to fill out paper, download a PDF, wait days or weeks for vetting, or visit four different websites to complete the requirements necessary to make an impact.

Once a volunteer is interested, we get them to work quickly by having them complete all the application requirements in advance in Volunteer Portal, which can include forms, waivers, background checks, certifications, and training. Plus, our Volunteer Kiosk makes same-day signing simple for certain volunteer jobs.

3. Empower the People

Today’s volunteer expects to have transparency and control over their experience.  They want to self-identify the best job for them.  They want to meet the requirements to volunteer from the palm of their hand.

We empower volunteers to self-apply, set their own schedules, run reports, check-in/out of assignments, and provide feedback, all from the palm of their hand. We even deploy automated reminders for application requirements and assignments, so the volunteer has the control they want while simultaneously freeing up your staff from the tedious work.

4. Show Gratitude

Every aspect of the volunteer experience communicates how much you value the gift of a person’s time.  How easy did you make it to sign-up?  Was the volunteer matched well with their volunteer job?  Did they have the proper training/preparation?  Were they able to make an impact?  Were they asked for their feedback on their experience?  How were they greeted by your organization?  Were they thanked by your staff?  Were they recognized by your organization?

Your new centralized Volunteer Portal will honor your volunteers’ time by creating a standard of efficiency so the volunteer isn’t  bumping into obstacles and instead invests their time making a difference.

The Volunteer Portal automatically tracks your volunteer’s activities, including projects, assignments, attendance, and the total hours they have contributed. This makes it easy to run accurate reports on activities and milestones that are being hit. Our platform allows for automated and tailored thank you emails to be sent as volunteers complete various assignments. You can even configure the service to send out a personalized, ‘handwritten’ note or gift upon registration or completion of volunteer activities.

5. Get Feedback

In order to continuously grow, we need feedback on what is going well (so we can do more of that) and where we can make improvements.  What better source of feedback is there on your volunteer programs than from your volunteers themselves?

Your Volunteer Portal prompts your volunteers to respond to a quick 3-question poll, which includes a rating and written comments on their experience. This provides invaluable insight that is easy to give (by the volunteer) and directly tied to the project and job they performed.  We have found this to be a powerful tool to help identify areas of success and opportunities for growth.

6. Measure Impact

Many nonprofits struggle with getting the reports they want.  VolunteerMatters allows you to quickly report on all volunteer activities and information in a snap. All reports are designed to be Excel friendly so that it’s easy to get data out of the system. We also offer opportunities to use our APIs and Zapier webhooks to integrate our systems with 3rd party systems.

Video Testimonials to Drive Volunteer Recruitment

Video Testimonials to Drive Volunteer Recruitment

Testimonial videos are a way to let your volunteers, beneficiaries, corporate partners, and staff  do the talking for you. Putting your most successful, happy, or unique fans on screen is a powerful way to attach a real-life narrative to your mission. A video testimonial is an amazing tool for volunteer recruitment, donation solicitation, attracting grants/sponsorships, increasing membership, and increasing awareness.

Video testimonies can come from a variety of experiences including:

  • Organizational – These clips feature staff members who are responsible for the volunteer programs, talking testimonial-style about what they do, why they do it, and how serving their mission to the extent they are capable would be impossible without their supporters.
  • Volunteer – Volunteers are often our most passionate supporters.  Putting them on screen to talk about why they invest their time and energy with our organization is compelling.  Hearing these words from a volunteer versus a paid staff member (no matter how dedicated) almost always conveys a more authentic and powerful message.
  • Beneficiary – If your mission is designed to serve a specific group of individuals, it is a beautiful opportunity to let those we serve describe the positive influence our organization has in their lives.  Putting a face to the impact we are making does wonders to reinforce the ways in which our organization is making a difference.
  • Corporate Partner – Demonstrating social responsibility has become a competitive necessity for many corporations.  Additionally, they recognize the tremendous value derived from employee volunteer experiences.  Imagine a video starring your best corporate sponsor, describing the impact they make through your organization, along with the many benefits to their business.  It’s an amazing gift to your corporate sponsor as well as an amazing tool to attract like-minded supporters.
    What Modern Volunteers Expect

    What Modern Volunteers Expect

    When we say “modern volunteer” we don’t mean young volunteers.  We just mean volunteers of today.  None of us are the same people we were a year ago.  We have new expectations, new priorities, and new goals.  So, if your policies and approach to volunteerism were designed a year ago or longer, it might be time to reconsider things.  It’s a new world out there.
    The modern volunteer expects:

     

    • Transparency
      No one wants surprises and they don’t want to unearth the answers to their most likely questions.  If your volunteer opportunities, expectations, requirements, procedures, location, scheduling, etc. are shrouded in mystery, you’ll alienate people.  They want access to all of their questions before they’re asked and available from the palm of their hand.

    • Control
      Whenever possible, the volunteer wants to have control over where they volunteer, the type of work they perform and according to their availability.  This also means they want flexibility in how they approach their volunteer work.

    • Portability
      More than 55% of all email and web browsing, 61% of Google searches, and 68% of all social media is read from a mobile device. 

    • Efficiency
      In other words, it’s got to be easy.  Today’s volunteer is used to “iPhone easy” tech.  And they have little patience for having to jump through hoops to learn about your volunteer opportunities or sign up for them once interested.  They want to make a near immediate impact.

    How to Annoy Any Volunteer Under 35

    How to Annoy Any Volunteer Under 35

    It’s a funny experiment, but try these things if you’d like to see any volunteer under the age of 35 go running in the opposite direction:

     

    • Make them download something
      It’s true.  They hate having to download a PDF application.  And if you want to really see them freak, ask them to print something out.  Half of them don’t even own printers.

    • Make them call someone
      If you advertise opportunities to volunteer and ask these volunteers to call someone for more information, be prepared to hear crickets.  You may think this approach is working when people do call, but the silence of those not calling is deafening.

    • Don’t make it mobile
      They’re getting the vast majority of their information on their phones.  When you communicate, whether it be from your website, via email, via social media, or certainly via text, it’s likely they’re reading it on a phone.  So, when they click to learn more and have to pinch and zoom, you’ve lost them.

    • Don’t let them self-select
      You’re not doing any favors to this group by deciding anything for them.  Let these volunteers self-select what is of interest to them, the things they are qualified for, and the activities that fit into their schedule.

    The Problem with Waitlisting Volunteers

    The Problem with Waitlisting Volunteers

    Through years of study, we learned that waitlisting was often causing some needs to go unmet or just made volunteer sign-up overly complicated. So, we left it in the rear view mirror and haven’t found a good reason to reincorporate it in our product. If after reading the below, you feel it’s still super important, we would like to better understand why as we’re always eager to learn. Here’s the four most popular debunked reasons for offering waitlists.

    1. “Our roles/positions are too popular”
    Some volunteer positions are more popular than others. So, if their preferred role is “full” a volunteer could get on a waitlist to see if someone backed out and they could take their spot. We learned that this actually encourages a volunteer to hold off on selecting an alternate position or role where the needs have not been met – causing other needs to go unfulfilled. Instead, we encourage organizations to offer alternate volunteer roles should the most popular needs fill up. As a result, we see higher participation rates and a higher percentage of needs reaching the minimum required staffing levels. Additionally, by fostering a culture of “getting your favorite assignment” versus “meeting the current needs of the organization” we encourage people to switch assignments, which causes a cascading effect to volunteer schedules and assignments.

    2. “We have too many no-shows”
    We also discovered that organizations used waitlists because they would have a high degree of people either canceling or not showing up to their assigned positions. They wanted a back-up list of volunteers they could call on to fill those vacated slots. In this case, waitlisting treated the symptom rather than the root cause. There should not be a high rate of drop-outs and no-shows in the first place. Instead, let’s improve the volunteer sign-up process to better communicate the volunteer commitment AND reinforce that commitment through confirmation and reminder texts and emails. Also, with every assignment reminder, provide a super-simple way to withdraw their assignment should their plans change. This makes it easier to open slots during the recruitment phase and allow someone else to take their spot.

    3. “We need more flexibility for staffing”
    We have also found that some organizations want to staff certain roles/positions to a minimum level to make sure they have met minimum staffing requirements, and allow a waitlist just in case things should change. In this case, in an effort to provide greater flexibility to staff/administrators, they were introducing more uncertainty for the volunteer and discouraging them from volunteering for things where a need had not yet been met. Instead, for each role/position we should define a minimum headcount required and a max headcount allowed. The minimum headcount is for the staff so they can know when they can stop recruiting and the maximum headcount is to let the volunteer know when the sign-up is “full”. This encourages your organization to provide a range between being understaffed (which is never good) and the maximum number of volunteers we can absorb where each volunteer still feels they have contributed (too many volunteers can be just as troublesome as not enough).

    4. “We’ve always done it this way”
    This is probably the strongest resistance to accepting an alternative to waitlisting. We get it. This is a strong pull for a lot of people. However, we must recognize that in many cases the reasons we did something a certain way in the past is because there wasn’t a better way at the time. Waitlisting originated because organizations didn’t have good systems for tracking staffing levels, recruitment, self-withdrawal from assignments, excellent tools for confirming and reminding, nor the proper tools for staff to feel confident in who was going to show up to do what. We have all of that now!

    In summary, waitlisting complicates the heck out of everything and discourages volunteers from signing up for their second or third option. The metrics in our studies have proven this to be true. If you think we’re wrong, we’d love to hear from you.

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