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…

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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…

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FormulaRecently, 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.

Basic Elements

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…

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BlueprintHave you ever found any of these things to be true?

  • 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…

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Don’t frustrate your prospects with a confusing info page.

frustrationWe 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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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