Wednesday, April 25, 2012

How To Ensure Effective and Engaged Volunteers - Part Two - Keeping Volunteers Motivated and Supported

In Part One of this series, I wrote about how to find good volunteers. Finding good volunteers is half the battle. You want them to stay, and in order for that to happen, volunteers need to be motivated and supported. Some of the biggest problem areas for volunteers are not having enough work to do, doing work they don't want to do, and not feeling appreciated.

I mentioned this before, but it bears repeating - Don't take on volunteers if you can't support them. If you don't have something concrete for the person to do on a regular basis, don't take someone on at this time. Volunteers need structure, as well as effort and engagement from the staff.

Are you ready for your new volunteers?
If you are bringing in volunteers to work in your office, make sure they have a decent workspace and computer to use.

Each volunteer should have a supervisor. Other people in the office may have work for the volunteer, but it should all be directed through the supervisor.

Each volunteer should also have a work plan, which can be transformed from the position description. This link includes some sample workplans. Workplace Template They may be more complex than you need.

I strongly recommend putting together a volunteer manual for all volunteers. This can include information such as history and mission, organizational policies, accomplishments, and key messages. You can also write out specific instructions pertaining to each volunteer's work.

Here are some sample volunteer manuals.
The second one also includes other sample templates such as a volunteer contract.

On their first day
Before your volunteers start work, give them a good orientation. Show them around the office, introduce them to everyone, and show them how pertinent equipment (computer, copier, etc.) works. 

Go over the volunteer manual and the volunteer's work plan. The volunteer should have input about the type of work they will be doing. Make sure everything is clear.

The amount of training you give your volunteers will depend upon their experience. Take time to give them the best training possible.

In addition, do something special for them on their first day. The Volunteer Manager at a place I used to work would always bring in a cupcake for new volunteers. Another good idea is for the volunteers to eat lunch with the staff. You could either go out or have pizza at the office. This is a great opportunity for volunteers to get to know people.

Are they lovin' it?
Make sure your volunteer's experience is a good one. While structure is important, be flexible if the volunteer needs to make a change in their schedule. Volunteers should enjoy the work they for you, and they should like coming in to help. Don't give them work they don't want to do.

Keep it up
Volunteers and their supervisors should hold a weekly check-in meeting to go over progress and exchange feedback. It doesn't have to be a long meeting, but it can help volunteers feel engaged, while the supervisor can assess how well the volunteer is doing.

Show appreciation
Volunteers need to feel appreciated. A simple thank you is always good. So is bringing in treats for them, having a regular lunch together, holding a recognition event, and including volunteer profiles in your newsletter or website.

Volunteers like to be included. If it's appropriate, invite them to attend staff or committee meetings. Keep them updated on your organization's progress and accomplishments. Good volunteers could even manage other volunteers

Keep showing appreciation, but make sure it's sincere and specific.  Encourage everyone on the staff to make your volunteers feel appreciated.

Is it working?
While it's important to show appreciation, you need to give your volunteers honest, constructive feedback. This is why the weekly check-in meeting is so important. Help your volunteers if they need  improvement or give them another task that might be better suited for them. If a volunteer isn't working work out, it doesn't benefit anyone if you keep the person on.

Investing the time to keep your volunteers motivated and supported will pay off for everyone in your organization.

Volunteer Resources

Developing and Managing Volunteer Programs

Photo by The Big Lunch via Flickr

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

How To Ensure Effective and Engaged Volunteers - Part One - Finding Good Volunteers

Photo by WA State Library via Flickr

It's National Volunteer Week. Many nonprofit organizations rely on volunteers. Some provide services such as tutoring or mentoring and others help out with publicity and administrative tasks.

Taking on volunteers can be very rewarding for an organization, as well the volunteer, but it can also be frustrating for both parties. Two problem areas are finding the right people and keeping your volunteers engaged. In this post, I'm going to write about finding good volunteers.   

If I can offer one piece of advice it would be - Don't take on volunteers if you can't support them.  People may contact you seeking a volunteer opportunity.  If you don't have something concrete for the person to do on a regular basis, don't take someone on at this time, even if you think you can't turn away a potential volunteer. Volunteers require effort and engagement from the staff.

What is your need?
If you do have a need for volunteers, take the process seriously and go about it the same way you would if you were hiring a staff member.

First, put together a position description. This will help you assess your needs and what the person will do. Then you can post it when you recruit. The position description can also be transformed into the volunteer's work plan.  I will go into more detail about that in my next post.

Here are some sample volunteer position descriptions.

Training vs. Experience
Decide how much training you want to provide. If you are recruiting tutors, they will probably need to go through a training. However, if you are looking for an administrative person, you will most likely want someone with experience.

Finding someone with experience may take longer, but it will be worth it. Yes, people with experience will be looking for paid positions, but you might be able to find someone who is between jobs, a stay-at-home parent with relevant experience, or a retired professional. Don't be afraid to be picky about choosing volunteers.

If you do bring on volunteers without experience, make sure you give them a good training and are available for guidance and support.

Finding the right people
Your best bet is to ask people close to you, such as board members, staff, and other volunteers. You would want a personal recommendation like this for higher level work and any type of work done on your website. 

Otherwise, you can post announcements on sites such as Idealist or Volunteer Match, on your website and social media, and on community list serves. 

Ask for a resume, writing or design samples, and references. Do a background check if the person will be working with children.

When you interview potential volunteers, besides assessing whether they have the right skills and experience for the position, see if they are willing to commit to a set schedule. This is often one of the biggest problems with volunteers. Of course, they should also be passionate about your work and fit in with your organizational culture.

I really recommend taking the time to screen your candidates. Any investment you make up front will pay off in the end for both your organization and the volunteer.

In Part Two, I will write about keeping your volunteers motivated and supported.

Additional Information

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

How You Can Create A Welcoming Website - Part Four - Writing For The Web

Photo by pigpogm via Flickr

How You Can Create A Welcoming Website - Part One - Your Home Page

How You Can Create A Welcoming Website - Part Two - Your Entire Website

For the past few weeks, I've been writing a series of posts on how to create a welcoming and audience-centered website. In my final post in this series, I want to go into more detail about writing for the web.

But before I go into the actual writing part, we need to focus on getting your website visitor to read your content in the first place. In the previous posts, I explained how important your website's look is. First impressions are key. If your web pages look cluttered and sloppy, your visitor might not sick around to read your content, no matter how great it is.

You might think you are being creative by using a red background with white type. Don't do it. Stick to black type on a white background. It's not boring. You are thinking of your audience and giving them something that's easy to read. Leave colors for your logo and graphics.

Avoid using fancy type. A simple font such as Ariel or Georgia works well. Sans serif fonts are usually recommended for websites, but simple serif fonts are also good.  

Bigger is better. Use at least a 14 point font, so your visitor isn't straining to read your content. Here is more information on choosing fonts. Want people to read your nonprofit website content? Start here.

People don't read copy on the web; they scan it, and they read online content 25% slower than print. Therefore, you need to break up your text with lots of white space and use short paragraphs, lists, bullets, bolded headings, and bolded words. Keep the pages clean, and include links for more detailed information. Using one or two pictures or images per page will also help break up the text. 

Again, your goal is to get people to read your content, but if the type is too small and there are no spaces between paragraphs, you might lose them before they even get a chance to read what you wrote.

Now, about your writing. Several weeks ago, I wrote a post about the 4 Cs of Writing Good Content While this covers all types of copy, it is especially relevant for website copy.

Is it clear? Make sure you know your intention. What results do you want? For example, your donation page should compel someone to donate.

Is it concise? Use as few words as possible, but use strong words and leave out any unnecessary adverbs, adjectives, or filler.

Is it conversational? Write in the second person and don't use jargon or any words people need to look up in the dictionary.

Is it compelling?  Start with a good opening and keep your reader interested throughout.

Use the inverted pyramid, where you include the most important information first, and make your point right away. Of course, your content should also be well written and free of grammatical errors and typos.

Each page on your website might have a different target audience. For example, people visiting your volunteer page may not know your organization, so include a short description of what you do. 

Remember that you want to create a welcoming website for your audience. If you don't, your visitors won't stay long and could miss out on your call to action and other messages.

Resources - Writing for the Web

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How You Can Create A Welcoming Website - Part Three - Your Donation Page

Image by S1m0nB3rry via Flickr

How You Can Create A Welcoming Website - Part Four - Writing For The Web

Over the past few weeks, I've been writing about ways you can make your website welcoming and audience-centered. In this post, I'd like to go into a little more detail about your website's donation page. According to Convio, online giving grew by almost 16% in 2011. It is likely to increase even more in 2012.

Most people will be coming to your donation page because they have been led there by your electronic or mailed fundraising appeal. They may have also been drawn there by social media. To get them there in the first place, be sure your appeal has a compelling message.

Make it simple
Now that you have a potential donor on your donation page, you want them to stay. It's very important that you create a donation page that's easy to use, easy to read (no clutter), and has a strong call to action, using the same messaging you have in your annual appeal (to stay consistent).

Make sure you have an easy and secure online donation form. Show how the donation will be used and what different amounts will fund. You can set up a form with different giving levels ($25, $50, 100, etc), but include an "other" field so your donors can give any amount they choose.

Not everyone is comfortable donating online; therefore you need to include your mailing address so your donor can send you a check. Include a downloadable donation form that your donors can print and mail in with their checks. 

In addition, add your phone number to the donation page in case donors want to call in with a credit card number or just ask a question. You should also include a link to other ways of giving, such as planned giving, donating in someone's honor, or in-kind donations.

Don't forget to say thank you
After someone has completed their online donation, they should be taken to a thank you landing page so they know that you received their donation and it didn't end up in the netherworld. They should also receive an e-mail acknowledgement. 

Make sure your message is friendly and personal and doesn't resemble a receipt you would get after checking out on Amazon. This does not let you off the hook from sending out a thank you letter, which you should mail no later than 48 hours after receiving the donation.

A picture says a 1000 words
Find a compelling photo that captures what your organization does, and put that on your donation page. In the few seconds it takes to view that photo, your donor should get a good understanding of your work.

Recurring gifts
One feature of some online giving platforms is recurring gifts. This is a great way for your organization to raise additional revenue by enticing donors to give larger gifts. A $200 donation might seem more feasible over the course of a year. It also allows you to receive revenue throughout the year instead of at the time you do your annual appeal.

What else to include on your donation page
You can include a link to your annual report on your donation page.  This is an easy way for your donor to look at a list of your accomplishments over the past year.  If your annual report doesn't have a list of donors, you can put one on your website with a link on your donation page. Be sure to give people the option of not being included on your donor list.  For corporate and foundation donors, consider displaying their logos.  

You can also include links to your 990 forms and any Charity Navigator or other outside reviews you might have.

Online giving will continue to be more prevalent. Make sure your organization is keeping up with the times and has a donation page that is welcoming and donor-centered.

Online Donation Resources