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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When you work for a nonprofit, how do you decide to spend money on yourself?

Are you settling for less - Twenty HatsI was in charge of staff development at my last nonprofit job. That meant organizing in-services and other trainings intended to help our supervisors work as effectively as possible with our volunteers.

One year, I was especially proud that the program hired a management consultant to meet with the supervisors quarterly to talk about the art of supervising volunteers. To my mind – and to my Executive Director’s mind, there was nothing more essential than making sure our supervisors were well schooled in supervision practices.

I was so excited to offer this service to the supervisors – and surprised at the push-back I received from a couple of co-workers.

It wasn’t about the coaching. My co-workers knew this coach and liked him: it was because we were paying this coach to teach supervision.

“We’re a nonprofit,” said one co-worker. “People should be donating their services to us.”

Supervising volunteers was the most important thing our program did. It made sense to hire a qualified person to coach our staff around this essential skill….

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google-76522_1280“I absolutely hate volunteering at your organization’s name.”

Has one of your volunteers ever said this about your nonprofit online? If you haven’t done an online search to find out in a while – or ever – it’s time!

There are a lot of suggestions out there on how organizations should be talking about themselves online, including using social media. But, just like an in-person conversation, it’s important to listen online as much as you talk – if not more. Understanding what volunteers are saying about their experiences – positive or negative – can help you create a stronger volunteer program.

One of my favorite ways to listen to what volunteers are saying online is to set up a Google Alert. I’ve had Google Alerts set up for my own name for over ten years, so it was a no-brainer when I got into volunteer management that I would set it up for my organization as well.

Want to know what volunteers are saying about your nonprofit online? Set up a Google Alert in three easy steps:

  1. Go Google Alerts
  2. Type in your search terms
  3. Click “Create Alert”

Tips for Google Alerts

Three volunteer engagement pros weigh in on behavior-based interviewing

Still on the fence - Twenty HatsReaders of my blog know that I am a big fan of behavior-based interviewing — and that’s because it works. Using this particular model means you engage volunteers who are a good fit from the get go, making supervision easier and increasing your odds for retention.

But don’t take my word for it. This week, I interviewed three volunteer engagement professionals who all use behavior-based interviewing and experience their own positive results. Here are their perspectives:

Keeping things objective

Priscilla Jahanian, a supervisor at Fairfax CASA, likes the behavior-based approach because it is competency-based and not subjective. “It takes the burden off of me making a decision based on my personal feelings about an individual. It gives me confidence because I know when to zero in for clarification.” Priscilla finds the method especially helpful for pinpointing interpersonal skills.

Great for skills-based volunteers

Working at the national level of the American Red Cross, Volunteer Relationships Manager Kim Gube sees behavior-based interviewing as a useful tool to use when screening for board or committee members. The national office…

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Trudy - Twenty HatsThat’s Trudy, on the left. She is 51 years old, lives in Fairfax VA with her software exec husband, Lance, and her youngest daughter, Angie.

Angie is headed off to college in the fall and Trudy is trying to figure out what to do when she becomes an empty nester. She used to be a school teacher before raising her daughter – she loves children – but she has not worked in many years. She is wondering if there is a way she can volunteer that involves children and will challenge her – she wants to do more than read to children or tutor them.

Why am I telling you about Trudy? Because she’s not real.

Trudy is a persona that I created while at Fairfax CASA to represent my ideal volunteer. For years, she gave me guidance on how to craft my messaging and direct my marketing. It’s Trudy who kept me focused on inspiring prospective volunteers who were a lot like her.

Old practice, new application

Creating personas is nothing new. Like so many of my favorite practices, the idea comes from the advertising world,…

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On any given day I can receive multiple calls from students looking to volunteer at our agency in order to meet community service requirements. Like many students, Sarah was very eager to get started when she first called.

By all definitions, Sarah was a very well rounded young lady –a good student, an athlete, involved in theater at her school and motivated to make a difference. Yet somehow, she let the better part of her school year get away from her without making a plan as to how she would complete her 25- hour community service requirement. Despite this looming deadline, I invited Sarah in so we could talk about her volunteer goals and how we might work together to reach them.

Happy friends gardening for the communitySo, why do students wait until the last minute to make a volunteering plan? Sure, most kids these days are pulled in a thousand directions, and it’s easy to overlook items on the “to-do list”. Over the years, I’ve found that students (particularly those with a lot on their plates) need flexibility.

At Family Centers, we allow students the option to…

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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…

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When you interview volunteers, trusting your gut leads to mixed results

True or False?

Thumbs Up DownOur gut feelings about a volunteer are the best predictor of volunteer success.

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…

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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.

FacilitatorI know I have. As someone who has led over 65 prospective volunteer orientations (and counting!), I remember the early days of hosting these events. Back in the day it was not uncommon to witness:

  • 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:

  1. Run the show. As the facilitator, you are…

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