I was pleasantly surprised with the positive feedback on my post last week, "What's Your First Date With a Volunteer Look Like?" To further that conversation, I thought I'd share some related tips I had put into a blog I wrote a few months ago called "Volunteering For Maximum Impact Part 2 (it was a two part post).
I had written this originally to accompany a talk I had given to a club in Toronto. My goal had been to give individuals who hadn't volunteered before suggestions for what to look for in organizations they might consider volunteering with.
I focused on the fact that volunteering is a two way street: The volunteer is expected to provide their time, skills, efforts and commitment. The prospective volunteer has every right to expect a few important things from the charitable organizations with which they work. Here's what I suggested the volunteer candidates seek out:
Respect for The Volunteer’s Time: I’ve always held that you can judge what it will be like to work for an employer by the interview process and how it’s managed. The same goes for volunteering. The way a charitable organization treats its candidates during the interview process will give the potential volunteer a glimpse of what it’s like to work with them. Charities that cancel interviews, show up late and seem harried or disorganized – probably are. It’s the perfect time for the volunteer to ask themselves whether they’ll thrive in their chaos - or be frustrated by it.
I still remember my first volunteer interview for a help hotline in 2001. The Executive Director showed up 15 minutes late, told me about the volunteer who had just quit and shared her concern about the sustainability of the organization. It was more than enough for me to go back to the ads in the Chronicle of Philanthropy (the physical paper – we actually used that back then!)
Volunteer Orientation and Training: Organizations that maximize the experience for both their benefit and that of volunteers have a process for introducing them to their services, clients and roles. They offer specific training for the tasks they are asking volunteers to complete. Big organizations as well as small ones can do this. Volunteer orientations don’t have to be fancy and costly -just informative, motivating and consistent.
Having a process like this also indicates a strategically wise organization. If you’re recruiting and bringing volunteers onboard, it’s safe to assume you want them to be able to understand the value of what they’re being asked to do. Smart and efficient organizations are like that.
The second and perhaps more strategic aspect is that volunteers represent the future and lifeblood of charitable organizations. Volunteers become donors, board members and perhaps, most importantly, they become a prime source of PR. The old adage applies: A bad experience travels to at least 10. If you provide a great experience, that gets amplified as well.
Volunteer Tracking and Management Systems: An obvious best practice for organizations is tracking volunteer hours, quantifying that into specific dollars and evaluating the work of their volunteers. Volunteers – whether they’re there purely to “do something good” or are eager to build marketable skills - benefit when they get feedback around strengths and weaknesses (sorry, I meant “opportunities”). The work they’re doing may be testing them with new challenges to help them through the process of learning a skill.
From a strategic perspective, organizations that track volunteer attendance, quantify hours and evaluate performance, are usually getting funding for a program or for volunteers. They’re paying attention and that’s a good thing for all involved.
Respect for Your Boundaries: Volunteers are often asked to hit goals particularly when it comes to fundraising. It’s critical that the charitable organization remembers that volunteers are just that. They’re not a paid sales force. They’re not employees.
Be wary of organizations looking to pounce on your Rolodex within minutes of discussing the traffic you hit on the way over. OK, I’m dating myself – who uses a Rolodex these days? Anyway, asking for contacts, fundraising ideas and connections once is on the level. It’s fine to be assertive and follow up. But three times really isn’t the charm. And four times is pushing well beyond.
Pressuring volunteers to provide contacts, hit fundraising numbers (unless they’re involved in a specific fundraising event like a ride or run) or “closing them” on their involvement though sales techniques – are a huge no no.
Recognition and Appreciation: We all know that volunteers don’t step up just to get recognized or awarded. But hey, it doesn’t hurt to be appreciated. The fun thing about recognition is that it comes in so many shapes and sizes. It’s great to say thank you for simply doing what you do. Nothing feels better than hearing your name with THANK YOU attached to it. This can and should happen as often as possible.
And then, there’s the Big Thank You event (also commonly known as Volunteer Appreciation Night or Dinner). I’ve always been a fan of organizations that take the time to do something like this every year or even two times a year. These don’t need to be big, expensive or splashy – just sincere.
One final opportunity that truly shows the organization is listening is sending the volunteer to a specific event or conference of interest. For example, if you’re working with an advocacy based organization, sending a volunteer with a specific policy interest to a briefing may be worth its weight in gold. It’s an absolute win-win for the organization: the volunteer is thrilled to go on behalf of the charity and the organization is well represented and gets the valuable info (oh, and no staff time used either – not bad).
If you're a volunteer reading this and considering opportunities or an organization trying to up your game, I hope these tips have been helpful. If you're on the other side - a charitable organization looking to attract great talent, I hope these give you some thoughts about how to make your volunteer experience a great two way experience.
I welcome your thoughts, feedback and counterpoints.
Status is online
Robert GrabelNonprofit Leadership Coach and Consultant
A client recently shared that they had been trying to connect with a volunteer that had approached them. She had enthusiastically contacted the organization and there was a quick discussion. After that first meeting the dialogue - or should I say "almost dialogue" evolved into a game of cat and mouse. Despite the volunteer director's phone calls and emails and the prospective volunteer's few attempted returns (reportedly, a 3/1 ratio), they had to accept that it was not to be. Something was out of sync and and they couldn't figure out what.
While in romance and perhaps a few other things in life, the chase is as exciting as the catch, not so when it comes to volunteer engagement. Perhaps it's a stretch, but maybe there are a few parallels here:
What are the best questions to ask a potential volunteer on an initial meeting?
In other words, what are some things you (as the organization) should ask on that all-important first date to ensure a second? Here are my suggestions:
I'd love to hear what works for you. Please share....
"It's not who I am (underneath) but what I do that defines me."
Recognize the line above? It's from Batman Begins. I loved it the first time I heard it and continue to be inspired by it. I'll share that I've been a Batman fanatic since they made Corgi Bat-mobiles back in the 60's (think Adam West as Batman) I was extra thrilled and re-inspired when I watched the film twice last week- it was one of the featured films going both ways on a recent trip.
I love this line because these days, the trend is to view people and organizations as brands or symbols. Today's superheroes are those that have legions of twitter followers, "likes" and hits on a website.
But consider IMPACT over IDENTITY. As professionals and organizations, we could all benefit from a little more Batman -- a renewed focus on WHAT WE DO (that defines us). And less on WHO WE ARE.
How often are we asked what we do and answer "I'm a (fill in the blank). That response doesn't describe our impact on others or the world. One example of this difference: When I was in financial services, the truly successful professionals didn't say "I'm a stockbroker" or "I'm a registered representative." Instead, they described their work as a mission in progress commenting that "I help families send their kids to college, finance a comfortable retirement, and fund a philanthropy of their choice." Clear, concise. A difference in the world.
In the charitable sector, this question can seem very clear and concise. It's easy to describe our work with an organization in terms of activity. For example, I feed the hungry, house the homeless, or heal the sick. But go beyond the here and now to consider your personal role and vision. Let's say you're the Development Director for an organization that supports homeless shelters. Yes, you raise money to build homeless shelters. But what's the bigger picture? You bring together individuals and organizations in the effort to end homelessness. That's a lasting difference in the world.
I bring all this up not just because I'm a Batman fan or to encourage more meaningful cocktail conversation. I believe that taking the time to define WHAT YOU DO and not just WHO YOU ARE is time well spent. The result:
(and the keys to the BatMobile...)
Next time you're making a call to a new corporate or institutional prospect, try the following:
If the person is unavailable, tell the individual who answered the phone EXACTLY - and I mean EXACTLY - why you're calling. For example,"I'm calling to see if Acme Corporation might be interested in sponsoring our event. Please have (name) call me back so I can tell her/him about why this is such a great opportunity."
GET TO THE POINT! And do it directly and honestly.
Over the past few days, I've been making some calls on behalf of a new client. Initially, I was trying a few different approaches but ended up returning to this old favorite. As always, I'm getting an amazingly high response and call back rate.
My focus for these calls is on recruiting corporations to support a charity cycling event with a corporate team and/or sponsorship. Prior to starting the calls, I researched my prospects, got to know about the organization I'm helping and of course, I thought about the best outreach strategy.
If you've been in the sales/fundraising profession for awhile, chances are you're familiar with the many systems, approaches, and strategies - some of which are manipulative and dishonest - for getting decision makers to call you back. While I've never gone the route of subterfuge or slick language, I have tried all kinds of scripts and phrasing I was convinced would contain the magic bullet for getting that sought after return phone call.I still believe this is the best...It's honest. It's sincere. It demonstrates respect for your prospect's time. You'd be hard pressed to find an objection to honesty, sincerity or respectfulness.
Try it next time you're prospecting.
Robert Grabel is the President of Nonprofit Now! You can find his posts here and at www.robertgrabel.com
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