Guest blogger Lisa Lunghofer, Ph.D., tackles one of the Twenty Hats we wear and sometimes avoid, demonstrating program outcomes.
Let’s face it. A lot of people are afraid of program evaluation. There are countless explanations we use to rationalize not evaluating our programs. How often have you heard (or said):
- “I’m not an evaluator.”
- “Evaluation is expensive. We don’t have those kinds of resources.”
- “Participants love the program, so it must be working.”
- “Our program is complicated; it’s impossible to measure outcomes.”
To make matters worse, lack of staff expertise in evaluation is sometimes accompanied by fear that perhaps the program won’t show the results we expect. Then what?
I understand the reluctance and the fear.
Yet as concepts like results-based accountability become the norm and funders increasingly require evaluation plans in grant proposals, it’s important to step back and consider what can be gained from program evaluation. Most importantly, evaluation provides critical information about whether or not your program is achieving desired results.
We all know resources are limited. Isn’t it better to know sooner rather than later if those resources are being used effectively? And for those whose work…
When you interview volunteers, trusting your gut leads to mixed results
True or False?
Since I’m asking the question – and it’s a leading question – you’ve probably guessed the correct answer: FALSE.
Five years ago I would have answered ‘True’. The program where I have worked, Fairfax CASA, takes volunteer screening seriously. We expect candidates to complete a one hour orientation and two interviews before being considered for training, and then the staff discusses each candidate before making the weighty decision to accept or reject someone.
About those “gut feelings”
Despite all this rigor, our decisions often came down to our “gut feelings” about a candidate – even though our gut feelings were not paying off. We were having a tough time meeting our recruitment goals because so many trainees either dropped their cases or never even took one. This was a huge problem because our judges want to see a volunteer on every single case that enters the court.
The pressure to bring in qualified volunteers had a silver lining, because it forced us to…
When you facilitate an orientation, remember it’s you running the show.
Do you hold an orientation for new volunteers? If you do – and if you have held a bunch of them, you have probably seen it all.
- Audience members who dominated the conversion, leaving everyone else to shift around in their seats impatiently.
- Speakers who veered away from their talking points, creating misconceptions about the program.
- Presenters who droned on so long that there was no time left to cover all the material.
All of these scenarios undermined the impact of my orientation – something I could not afford, as my program needed a great many volunteers. So instead of refining my agenda or choosing different speakers, I chose to develop the one ability certain to turn things around, my facilitation skills.
If you are new to facilitation, or if you seek to hone your skills, here are my essentials.
My four favorite facilitation tips:
- Run the show. As the facilitator, you are…
Recently, I had the privilege of leading a training hosted by Volunteer Fairfax for RSVP workstation managers on the art of the elevator pitch.
I love the idea of the elevator pitch, because it is another way to use stories to engage prospective volunteers, but this time with the spoken word.
Just like written stories, a good elevator pitch starts by examining your prospective volunteer’s needs and goals and connecting that information to your volunteer program.
Once you frame your pitch in this manner, the words fall right into place. Here is an example from the RSVP training, created by Alacia Earley of Cornerstones in Reston, Virginia.
“You mentioned that you enjoy working with children one on one. We have a volunteer position you might be interested in. Our Homework Help volunteers come in once a week for a few hours to work one-on-one or in small groups with students at our community centers in Reston. Regular volunteers often tell me how rewarding it is to see the students come in week after week and watch their grades and self-esteem improve from the tutoring….
- You want to create a brochure, but you’re not sure what’s most important to say.
- Your wonder how to promote a special event in a way that stands out.
- You and your co-workers talk a lot about branding, and you wonder how that translates in social media.
Your marketing skills are probably not the issue here. You may simply need a road map to carry out your project.
For any marketing project within a nonprofit, I recommend starting with something the advertising pros use all the time – a creative brief.
What is a creative brief?
The creative brief is a blueprint for your project. The brief helps you clarify your messaging by asking you questions about your target audience, your purpose, your resources, your time frame. Then it walks you through all the steps to completion.
Creative briefs are especially helpful for team projects. The brief sets a common goal for everyone’s work and details each person’s unique role in making that happen.
Take a leap of faith
I wrote my first creative brief – for a volunteer recruitment web page – with a great deal of skepticism. It…
Don’t frustrate your prospects with a confusing info page.
We have devoted several blog posts to the process behind story writing for nonprofits. That’s because the story is the emotional hook that engages readers and gets them curious about getting involved in your cause.
But that’s just the beginning of the journey.
Your goal with stories is to lead your reader to take action – to volunteer, donate, attend an event, purchase a product.
Let’s stick with the goal of bringing new volunteers into your program. You want your visitor, now inspired by an intriguing story, to click over to your ‘Volunteer Now’ page. So you embed within your story a hyperlink to your volunteer opportunities page. Or, you might choose to end the story with a button containing a clear call to action.
The content on the ‘Volunteer Now’ page needs to be clear and compelling so the visitor continues on. After all – to borrow language from the sales world – your story is your ‘teaser’ and your opportunities page is where you ‘close the deal.’
If your information page is not clear and easy to read, you risk frustrating the reader and losing…