Put yourself in your reader’s shoes and write a great volunteer story

POV post - Twenty HatsIf you’ve been reading past blog posts and doing your homework, you have a good foundation of preparation for writing a great volunteer story.

Now it’s time to park yourself in front of the keyboard and start to write. As you craft your piece, ask yourself who you are writing for –

— You, or your future volunteer?

When we write up a profile, the natural tendency is to write from our point of view.

Let’s say you manage a mentoring program. Perhaps you value your volunteer because she turns in her reports on time and is willing to pick up other tasks, like answering the phones. While these things may be important, and you may decide to touch on them, they will not excite your readers and encourage them to read on.

You have already interviewed a volunteer to profile who resembles the volunteers you most want to recruit. Now you need to flip your perspective and write the story from the prospect’s point of view.

Let’s say your reader is looking for a mentoring position and there…

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A story interview starts with the right questions — and ends with a conversation

InterviewerThe art of writing a volunteer profile story is only partly in the writing. It’s also in the preparation. To tell a great story, you need great raw material, and that material comes from your interview.

If you have been following along from the last blog post, you have selected a story candidate who in many ways resembles the volunteers that you wish to recruit – a volunteer with similar goals, interests, skills, and demographics.

Developing Questions

Now you need to develop questions that will uncover the particulars of your interview candidate’s volunteer experience while generating an emotional response. These are not unusual or creative questions. They are open-ended questions that will help you connect the subject’s experience with the experience of your target reader.

Questions like:

  • What gets you excited about this work?
  • What is your proudest moment?
  • Looking back, how to do you feel about the experience?

Having the conversation

Use your questions as a springboard for starting a conversation with your subject. As you talk, pick up on the areas that generate excitement for your subject – and then keep talking. Sometime…

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To write a good volunteer story, choose the right volunteer

PenNow that you have a recruitment plan in hand, it’s time to consider the marketing techniques that will bring you to your recruitment goals. One of simplest, most inexpensive – and most powerful – ways to engage prospective volunteers is by telling the story of a current volunteer.

The average visitor makes a decision about a website in 5 to 7 seconds – that’s a very short window to grab someone’s attention. Stories are a great hook to draw someone further into your site and keep them there to learn more.

As a volunteer manager looking to recruit, you want to craft a story that appeals most to people who resemble your successful volunteers.

That means you must carefully select the volunteer that you write about. You want to profile a volunteer who will provide you with plenty of raw material for a compelling story. Look for a volunteer who:

  • Meets the typical demographic of your successful volunteers – your DNA Study will help with that.
  • Feels an emotional connection to your work and can talk about it
  • Has accomplished something significant…

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Your BFF on the job looks a little different from the one back at home

Some people think of planning and groan.  It seems like busy-work and disconnected from the actual business of managing a nonprofit.  The truth is that planning is a volunteer manager’s best friend.  A simple, well written recruitment or marketing plan is one of the most valuable tools around for managing your work effectively.

What does a plan actually look like?

Volunteer Manager's BFFIf you run an online search for marketing plans or strategic plans, you will find dozens of different options for plans — it’s a bit overwhelming.  We are going to simplify things by using a format that ties everything back to your goals.  You may even download the sample template to use for your own program.

Writing any kind of plan is easy if you have the right information.  It’s really a matter of applying the information that  you have gathered, things like number of inquiries or number of applicants, and connecting that data to your goals and objectives.

For volunteer managers, the “right data” includes the two things that were mentioned in…

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Now that we knCalculatorow where to focus our marketing efforts, you might be thinking that you are ready to roll with that volunteer recruitment plan.  Before proceeding, however, please note that any plan worth its salt includes measures.  If you are new to this practice, setting strategic measures may seem rather daunting. The good news is that  you have already been tracking some key measures on your referral sources spreadsheet. We are simply going to take that data and use a few simple calculations to set some goals.   This post will walk you through something so simple and quick to do you will wonder what took you so long to do it.

First, plot three measures on your volunteer recruitment plan:

  • Number of inquiries needed.
  • Number of applicants needed.
  • Number of volunteers needed.

Next, review your data from the referrals tracking sheet and note two percentages:

  • Percent who inquire who then apply to volunteer. Let’s say that percentage is 40%.
  • Percent of those who apply who actually become volunteers.  Let’s say that figure is 80%

Now take the number of volunteers that you actually need. To make things easy, let’s say you that you need 200 volunteers. You are…

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In my last blog post we talked about identifying the common characteristics of your most successful volunteers.  We then discussed how a deeper understanding of those commonalities informs your volunteer recruitment plan.  Hopefully, besides your DNA analysis, you are also tracking referrals.  How do volunteers hear about your program? Taking a close look at your referral sources can be just as illuminating as a DNA study.

Tracking referral sources is a best practice in volunteer recruitment and many readers are no doubt already doing so.  The luckiest of us have sophisticated volunteer management software that runs reports and takes all the hard work out of the process.

referrals imageEven if your program operates on a shoestring budget, this is a simple process. Set up a spreadsheet with three columns: name of the inquirer, the referral category (Internet, newspaper, personal referral, etc.), and the specific source of the referral (which website, newspaper, or person).   Measuring this data now will help you get more sophisticated later.

After several months of tracking, you will start to see patterns.  Some of these patterns will confirm what you already know anecdotally.  Your local volunteer center might be doing…

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Check your volunteers’ DNA

To the uninitiated, it might seem that a volunteer manager’s job is 90% done when there are enough volunteers in place to get things done.  That is, until we start to suspect that perhaps we spend way too much time and effort in keeping those positions filled.  We start to wonder if we really need to advertise in all those different places. We start to wonder if we could retain more volunteers longer and recruit less.  We start to wonder if there is a way to make our lives easier and run our programs more efficiently.

If you are wondering any of these things, the answer is to find out what makes your most loyal volunteers tick.

So perhaps the first important skill that a volunteer manager needs to master is basic data crunching. Uncover the profile of a successful volunteer in your program by running a ‘DNA analysis.’DNA

Not literally, of course. What you are really doing is gathering some essential demographic information.

I asked the staff members who  supervise volunteers to give me the names of their ten most successful volunteers.  Our program manages approximately 150 volunteers at any given time,…

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