By Ellie LaCasse
Volunteers may be your organization's greatest resource. In fact, volunteers bring something invaluable to your organization, more than just their dollars, but their time, their interest, their loyalty and their ability to evangelize your mission to others in your community. Committed volunteers, helping with your work and representing you in the community, are priceless. Indeed, volunteers are likely to become your most consistent and, in time, major donors. But if you're not using technology to reach them and coordinate your volunteer efforts, you may be missing a large and growing segment of potential volunteers.
Today's volunteers are no longer content to sit and stuff envelopes on Thursday afternoons. They put a high-value on their time and abilities and want volunteer assignments that tap into those talents and reward them with the satisfaction of having provided meaningful work. To succeed, you must develop ways to find, fulfill, and satisfy your volunteers.
You may not be a sophisticated computer or web user, but you can be sure that the majority of your volunteer audience, both in your community and beyond, is using technology for their personal and business lives. Here are a few ways that you can use technology to improve volunteer efforts for your organization.
Collect specific data about your volunteers. It is critical to a not-for-profit's success to have systems in place for managing volunteer skills and abilities, as well as volunteer jobs and opportunities. At a minimum, you should invest in some type of a database for these areas. There is no other effective way to manage this important function. Some donor management and fundraising software for not-for-profits have the ability to help you manage your volunteer list and match your organizations needs with your volunteers' talents and interests for a win-win scenario.
The place to start is with your own donor and volunteer database. You may think you can do this using a simple spreadsheet, but you'll soon find that database software is much better suited for managing volunteer records and locating volunteers who match multiple criteria. Some database software is easy to use; some more complicated. In managing volunteers, you need a place to record specific information on volunteers and potential volunteers. Data you'll want to gather includes:
||100 Main Street, Anywhere, ST
|Area(s) of interest:
||working with children
||woodworking, event management, gardening
||Sally has worked with our organization for 7 years
When Sally Smith tells you she also loves to garden and has organized garden shows in the past, you may note that in Sally's file, and when you are looking for someone to work with children for a gardening event three months later, you'll be able to locate Sally by searching under "working with children" or "gardening" or "event management." If you aren't organized to keep track of Sally's volunteer interests in this way, you can be sure another organization will get to those talents first.
Match volunteer talents with organizational needs and activities. Just as important as recruiting volunteers is retaining them. With your volunteer database, you'll need the ability to manage projects and volunteer jobs and match volunteers to jobs and projects. You'll also need to be able to record what jobs people have performed in the past, what skills they possess that you have and haven't used, and check that you've found a job for every volunteer you can. If you keep your database up to date, you'll even be able to brush up on John Jones' volunteer history before you meet him for lunch.
Schedule and track projects. Use your software to manage jobs and opportunities as well. You don't want to schedule five volunteers to help with an activity and then only have enough work for two of them. All five will feel that you and your organization are unorganized and perhaps their skills could be better used elsewhere, and be reluctant to sign up again. In the example above, Sally Smith may run the children's gardening event and require one volunteer per five children. If you're expecting 25 children, you'll need five volunteers to work with them, plus volunteers for refreshments. But 10 volunteers may be pushing things a bit!
Keep in touch with your volunteers. Likewise, you should use your software system to contact volunteers. While this is most easily done via e-mail, you might also consider a personalized, handwritten note to those people connected to an event, or even a regular volunteer newsletter. You can alert committee members of an approaching meeting, updates on an upcoming event, or let them know how many pledges have registered for your upcoming walk-a-thon, transmitting not only information, but motivation and a sense of community. You can even put out a call when there's a sudden unforeseen need for emergency food preparation or data entry or help with a move. Make sure to acknowledge the importance of volunteers to your organization and community with fresh success stories.
The web is a perfect place to identify like-minded people or organizations for potential collaboration, or to scan for new ideas and better ways of doing things. Following are a few ways that web technology can help your efforts.
Recruit volunteers continually. Recruiting new volunteers can start on your own website. Provide on-line job descriptions, sign-up/registration, volunteer outcomes on your site-and keep them up to date. Create a special volunteer section where you highlight and thank your volunteers. Publish a monthly report of volunteer hours. Make your newsletter available. Look for volunteers to help maintain and build capabilities for your website (hint: they may be some of your younger volunteers!).
The web also offers many ways to reach a wider audience. You can list your organization on volunteer-based websites such as VolunteerMatch.org, IdeaList.org, or NetworkForGood.org. These sites are designed to match volunteers' interests and availabilities with the needs of not-for-profit organizations. If you're looking for teens, or if you don't need someone with specific talents in your geographic area, you can specify these particulars in your search. What better way to go beyond your existing audience and reach into new territory?
Personalize your volunteer requirements. Both on your site and on the Internet, you have the opportunity to put a real face and voice to your appeal. You can use photos, maps, even voices or music to bring your story to life. Unlike the limitations of a paper brochure, you can vary and change your image(s) daily in order to provide more depth and breadth to your message.
Link to social networking sites. Many not-for-profits are expanding their reach even more boldly with the use of interactive web tools like MySpace and Facebook, blogs, and discussion groups. Maybe, you even have a volunteer who might like to tackle this kind of outreach. This is a great opportunity to build an online community, to engage more people in your cause, resulting not only in volunteers but donations and increased awareness. The power of these interactive sites is based on people reaching out to their friends with something important to them ("Say, Tom; check this out: the art museum is planning an architectural exhibit in the spring!").
By using the available technology, whether a database or more substantial donor management and fundraising software for not-for-profits, you can better direct your volunteer efforts, ultimately increasing the level of volunteer satisfaction with your organization.
Ellie LaCasse is a development director for nonprofits who works for Mission Research, 355 East Liberty Street, Suite 201, Lancaster, PA 17602. She can also be reached through their website at www.missionresearch.com/giftworks.