When a short exercise went a long way towards staff engagement

engaging staff with volunteers - twenty hatsIn my local DOVIA, one of the most common workshop topic requests is “How to get staff on board with volunteer management.” It’s a complex subject, most likely because staff engagement brings us into the murky world of soft interpersonal skills. We anticipate barriers and may feel discouraged about achieving any sort of progress.

Sometimes, though, a hard skill exercise goes a long way towards nurturing staff engagement.

That was my recent take-away when talking with a volunteer coordinator who participated in my recruitment planning course. As part of the course she ran what I call a ‘DNA Study’of her successful volunteers.

In a ‘DNA Study’ you ask co-workers who supervise volunteers to provide a list of their most successful volunteers. Then, you run the demographic data to see what commonalities surface. The information is priceless when developing a profile of your ideal volunteer.

Unexpected Results

When my student ran her DNA study, she uncovered plenty of interesting findings about her volunteers – AND she noted one unexpected consequence: the process engaged the staff. Being consulted about the volunteers…

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Get those favorite projects off the back burner — even when it seems time like there’s not enough time

Laughing at Time - Twenty HatsDoes this sound like you?  You have a project that is all your own, something that would really benefit your nonprofit and be fun to implement – a special program for your clients or a new training for your volunteers, but there is so much other work on your desk that the project never takes off.

The “too much work to get the fun and exciting stuff done” is an issue I hear lot from volunteer managers.  It’s a complaint uttered wistfully because we spend so much time attending to the needs of others.  Our jobs would feel so much more fulfilling if only we could put our mark on them.

Partly, we put the needs of others first because that’s why we do nonprofit work in the first place.  We want to improve the quality of life for other people.

More than that, not getting to our own projects may be a symptom of the scarcity mindset so often found in nonprofits, where we put all our energy into retaining…

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Happy Nonprofit Happy Volunteers - Twenty HatsMeet Joe Landmichl (not the fellow to the left — see below). He’s the volunteer manager for the Grand Rapids Public Museum, and one of the most impressive people that I met at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service.

What makes Joe a standout? It’s his talent for engaging volunteers of all ages within the museum. Joe places volunteers everywhere: as educators, as graphic designers. Joe even has volunteers working in the museum’s accounting department.

Joe was hired by the museum just six months ago, and in that time has already doubled the number of active volunteers – imagine what his program will look like a year from now.

A Staff That WANTS Volunteers

I hear from a lot of volunteer managers who find it incredibly difficult to get the buy-in of staff to work with volunteers. Not so for Joe – and that’s why I wanted to interview him. I wanted to know what it is about Joe’s approach that makes it so easy for staff to embrace the use of volunteers.

 Joe Landmichl talks up...
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Start a continuing ed program and watch your volunteers stick around

The secret sauce that retains volunteers - Twenty HatsWhat does a continuing education program do for your volunteer base?

Besides educating your volunteers, it’s the secret sauce that boosts volunteer retention.

That’s one of the great lessons I learned while managing volunteer training for Fairfax CASA.

CASA volunteers are required to complete 12 hours of continuing education each year in order to remain certified as advocates. The mandate keeps volunteers current on issues related to child abuse and neglect.

What I discovered was that our continuing ed program did much more than educate the volunteers: it also helped create a sense of community and belonging that kept volunteers engaged.

One year our volunteer satisfaction survey included over 125 (overwhelmingly positive) comments about continuing ed – everyone had an opinion about it—compared with only a few dozen comments around other questions. I knew that our program was on the right track when our volunteers found so much to say about their learning.

Ditch Your Appreciation Event?

Some volunteer programs get really bold with continuing ed. Take Lori Baker, who recently retired as head of a…

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Can your agency make it work with court mandated volunteers?  Laura Rundell weighs the pros and cons

Working with Court Ordered Volunteers - Twenty HatsMany of us have struggled to effectively utilize volunteer applicants with court-mandated service in a way that is both beneficial and safe for our agency. Some of these volunteers may have brought much needed skills or labor to your volunteer program. Others led to more negative experiences that made us question if it is worth the risk to accept applicants with court mandated service. If you work for a social services agency, providing a “second chance” may also be part of your mission.

If you are evaluating your agency’s policy about court mandated volunteers, or are just looking to make your program as effective as possible, here are some points that might guide your team’s decision.

  • Is your agency able to provide suitable supervision? If you serve youth, you have to weigh very different risk factors than if you organize community clean-ups, but in either case, volunteers (not just court mandated) must have some degree of supervision. Is your agency able to provide a level of supervision appropriate to…

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We’re talking about digital beauty here — not the personal kind

Looks DO Matter - Twenty HatsWhen it comes to writing for the digital world, looks really do matter.

I say this as someone who likes to blog and teach writing skills to my nonprofit colleagues.

For all of the time we spend on crafting, say, a compelling story, it’s the way a story looks that makes the difference between someone clicking away from your website or sticking around.

For volunteer managers, a digitally attractive post means more inquiries from prospective volunteers. For development directors, that means more stakeholders who may someday become donors.

The Internet world is very different from the pen and ink world. We go to online to get something done:

get information ─ talk with someone ─ buy something

And the quicker we find what we’re looking for, the quicker we take action.

We know all this because, in the 1990s, Jacob Nielsen started testing Internet users to understand how they access the digital world. He has lots of fascinating studies where he did things like track user eye movements and collect data.

One of Nielsen’s findings is that online users don’t…

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Don’t worry if a volunteer speaker bows out of your info session.  You have another great story close at hand.

Surprise story maroon - Twenty HatsDoesn’t the role of information session facilitator feel more like a talent scout sometimes? I am thinking of all the sessions that I have organized over the years to engage volunteers, lining up current volunteers to share their stories and inspire others. I spent a lot of time calling around to find someone who had the time to join us for a session.

That cast of characters was always changing, depending on who was available that day to share their story. I used to worry a lot about what would happen if a speaker was a no show or cancelled at the last minute.

Then I realized that there was one story that was always available, equally powerful, and often overlooked. My own story.

Your story is just as powerful.

Facilitating an information session is about more than keeping the session on track. It’s also about opening up and sharing your emotional connection to the cause.

If you have volunteered with your program, that’s a great bonus. I started…

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Make sure the resources you like to use the most match up with what you need

Your relationship with free stuff - Twenty HatsWhat’s your relationship with free stuff? Everyone has one, even if it sounds odd to describe it that way. Is yours more of a friendship or is it a committed relationship?

In other words, do we hang out with free stuff now and then or do we feel the need to become exclusive?

I have a definite opinion on this one: free stuff resides in the friendship zone.

Don’t get me wrong. I give away a lot of free stuff like handouts and webinars and I’m happy to do so. I know it’s a great help in developing our professional skills.

What you may not realize is that I’m very selective about what I share and feature resources that are intended to polish the skills of someone who already has covered some of the basics. These resources will never take you deep enough to really master a particular skill – that’s not the purpose.

This is where some readers may want to revisit their relationship with free stuff. Oftentimes when we work in…

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Want to bring co-workers on board with your great idea?  Start with these three things.

Achieving Buy-in - Twenty HatsWhen I’m with my colleagues, the most common complaint I hear is how difficult it is to bring co-workers around to their point of view. Achieving that kind of buy-in is one of the qualities that separates managers from leaders because it means standing by your vision. The buy-in could be around anything, from finding new ways to engage volunteers to getting people to staff meetings on time. Lack of buy-in can feel like a hopeless situation, but the truth is that you can usually shift circumstances to your favor.

Achieving buy-in is at the top of my mind because I’m preparing a workshop on the subject for my local DOVIA*. As I develop the presentation, I have found many different models for fostering buy-in – all different, some quite complex. But in every approach there are some common threads.

Here are three essentials.

  1. It’s not about persuasion – at least not at first. How many times have you created the most compelling script possible in your head to make your case, only to have it…

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TH Guest Blogger Liza Dyer shares another handy app to keep us on track.

Pocket Screenshot - Twenty HatsDo you have FOMO, also known as Fear Of Missing Out? Maybe you have TBD, or Too Busy Disorder. Either way, you are going to miss out on things on the internet every single day. And not just things, but important things that can make you a more informed, connected, and knowledgeable professional. In a world of information overload, how can you keep up?

I use the free version of Pocket to save and organize volunteer management and nonprofit resources. It’s a powerful and accessible way to bookmark things you want to read, watch, or look at later.

Don’t have time to read that great article a colleague emailed to you? Save it to Pocket and read it when you have the time. For example, Nonprofit Quarterly wrote about a Wall Street Journal article about boomer docents at a museum “going wild.” I’d already read the original article, but wanted to read what Nonprofit Quarterly had to add to the conversation. I didn’t have time to look at the whole…

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