9 Ways to Improve Volunteer Recruitment

How to Recruit VolunteersStanding behind the success of just about every nonprofit is a group of volunteers who are passionate and committed to the organization with which they spend their time. In fact, if you develop an amazing volunteer program, you’ll have a waiting list of individuals wanting to work with your acclaimed organization. What is the secret to improving your volunteer recruitment efforts?

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Guided by the words of Gandhi, I too felt my mark was best left while in service to others. It is the most gracious work one can do.

Volunteers are attracted to their work for the value it provides. To create a desired experience for volunteers, there must be a number of positive elements in play. Here are nine tips to improve your recruiting and help you retain volunteers.

  1. Prepare your Program with a Clear Vision and Extensive Plans

Volunteers are the best ambassadors for your brand. Give them the tools to promote you well. Your organization needs to clearly define the program and expectations. Volunteers are giving their time, talent and energy to your institution, and they need to know the purpose. You need your volunteer program to be an experience, and a coveted one at that. If they don’t feel productive, they won’t come back.

Have a long-term vision for the program, then develop a mission to define the purpose. Most importantly, have well executed policies and procedures. Take advantage of various times of the year when it is more common for volunteers to come aboard. When people come in to help around the holidays, offer incentives for them to stay on year-round.

  1. Develop an Experience, and Make It Unique

The modern philosophy is experiences over things, and volunteers know this. Create an experience for them that is special. Curate the experience with pleasant work surroundings, competent managers, reasonable schedules, and meaningful work. Clearly outline volunteers’ responsibilities, and keep it consistent and interesting. Recognize their work and remind them of the positive outcome from their help.

  1. Diversify your Roster

Did you know that 80% of nonprofits are staffed by volunteers? Everyone can bring something unique to the table. For the sake of you, the employees, and other volunteers, diversify your volunteers. There are many types of people who want to help an organization, and it is best to get a little bit of everything to create the best environment for growth. This is for practical purposes as well.

Some younger volunteers may be more willing to work later shifts or lift heavy things. Older volunteers may be more dependable and have more connections for the organization. Depending on your cause, you will attract varying skillsets and individuals. Get a mix of young and old. The younger audiences are great to harness for their social connections. They can help spread the word and involve their friends.

  1. Show Appreciation for the Volunteers

Volunteers are not paid in money, but they are paid in experience and connections. They deserve widespread appreciation for their work. Make sure you have at least one person in charge of volunteer experience and appreciation. It needs to be a priority if you want to retain and recruit volunteers. Allow the volunteers to participate in plans for their own events. This shows you trust them, and will increase morale within the volunteer experience.

Develop a strategic plan for rewarding volunteers to show recognition. The most common method is the annual volunteer thank you luncheon. Another more frequent option is a volunteer of the month. As volunteers become more comfortable, grant them more responsibility. Acknowledge the increase in responsibility as earned, and thank them for it.

  1. Define Role Responsibilities Clearly

Clearly communicate your expectations of volunteers. It is vital to articulate job descriptions for your volunteer positions. There needs to be someone in charge of coordinating volunteers because they have different rights from employees. This person can facilitate questions from volunteers and act as a liaison to others in the organization on the volunteer’s behalf. Make sure the coordinator constantly refines the roster for volunteers, in order to attract the right ambassadors for the brand.

  1. Give Volunteers Value in Their Work

Always reiterate the impact of the volunteer’s hard work. Do not just give the volunteers menial tasks. The busy work is okay occasionally, and some individuals prefer this work. The more you invest in them, the more they will invest in the organization. Make their experience a rich one, and give them the space to be creative with the job they do. People value a position more if they feel they authentically contribute in a meaningful way.

  1. Create an Enjoyable Work Environment

When you can capture the heart of a volunteer it is invaluable.  When you lose the heart of a volunteer you will never recapture it. Support the volunteers to make their experience a social one. Encourage them to bring friends, and get others involved. This is particularly useful for the younger volunteers. They want to help, and if they can enjoy the company of friends, they will be more likely to consider it a social experience.

They will sell the message of your organization to their friends if it resonates with them. This is where the investment of educated brand ambassadors is critical because you are recruiting other potential volunteers, too. It is a win-win.

  1. Leave Opportunities for Growth

Some individuals want to volunteer for the sake of volunteering, while others look to it as an opportunity for growth within the organization. As you see volunteers gaining confidence in their roles, check in with them. See where they are at, and if they want to take on more responsibility. If so, a good method is to enlist them to train new volunteers.

You can also schedule outreach events where volunteers can spread the word about your program and organization. Colleges, classes, schools and activist events are great methods for your brand ambassadors, aka volunteers, to share your organization’s message.

Give them opportunities to develop special skills so boredom does not occur. Keep in mind, some individuals might have begun as a volunteer with hopes to become an employee. If they do not want a paid position, they just might want more of a leadership role as a volunteer. Communicate with them about their expectations.

  1. Partner with Other Organizations

Partner with other organizations to get the word out. Pair your events with affiliate programs to educate individuals on your mission and recruit future volunteers. Reach out to people when they first move to a community. Welcome them to let them know your organization exists. Make them aware without being pushy.

It is best to plant the seed in people’s mind about your organization, then wait for them to come to you. It must be from their own volition; otherwise they will not be as invested. If you have dispersed an in-need message and have a good reputation for volunteers, people will be drawn to you. Long-term volunteers have a huge investment in the organization’s mission. After a great experience as a volunteer, word will spread. Do good and good will come help you.

Employing a Social Media Strategy to Supplement Volunteer Recruitment

Nonprofit Social Media StrategyWith the expectation of immediacy in the digital age, it’s no surprise over 75% of American adults use social media.  As millions connect daily, social media has become cross-generational and a part of everyday life; those same millions using it to gather daily news and connect with social causes.  If harnessed correctly, social media can be the perfect medium for any non-profit organizations volunteer recruitment arsenal.  Like most things though, having a well laid plan is necessary, otherwise much of what social media has to offer will be squandered.  Considering the amount of technoliteracy required, simply charging the Millennial to post content on social media isn’t a strategy.  Adversely, being of an elder generation isn’t an excuse for not having a strategy either.

Volunteer administrators are tasked with recruiting, training, staffing, and acknowledging volunteers.  At many non-profit organizations, the function of recruitment is reactionary, with volunteer administrators responding to emails, answering phone calls and arranging meetings.  Employing social media allows those recruiting, to be proactive by opening new doors, enlarging the organization’s social network, and increasing the likelihood of onboarding new volunteers.  Keep in mind though, every detail from the content, channels you post on, when and how often you post needs to be intentional with a designed purpose.

Understanding the purpose is first determined by knowing the ‘why’ of the social media strategy.  Whether the goal of the strategy is to generate support for an event or to create a virtual community among volunteers, knowing this goal will shape ‘how’ it’s accomplished.  The ‘why’ in this particular case is converting virtual followers into volunteers.  For those just starting out, focus on one goal at a time to maximize results before implementing more advanced practices.  Focusing on more than one campaign can diminish your social return on investment (ROI), conversion rate of followers to volunteers and your message consistency.  Because this process needs to be Inclusive to other programs within the organization you’ll want to avoid creating a strategy on your own.

Start by conducting an audit to set a benchmark:

Using publicly available data, measure your current social media metrics and set a standard.  But don’t stop there, compare your metrics against likeminded organizations.  Include your information technology (IT), webmaster, and communications staff in the conversation.  Social media engagement needs to be cross-functional to successfully engage the many social circles that exist. As a collaborative group, create guidelines to measure ROI.  Be sure to consider the following;

  • Measure website traffic.  Work with your webmaster and determine current traffic rate before implementing the strategy.  Continually measure the change in traffic as time progresses.  Websites with a social media presence experience nearly 55% more traffic than those without.  
  • Followership and social reach.  Determine current rate of new followers per month.  This only works by having authentic followers (not bought and paid for) on social media.  Over time, monitor this to see if there’s an uptick in followers.  Building a network of authentic followers will create a community around your organization’s brand.  Followers connected to your organization will advocate, share, repost and comment on your content.
  • Frequency of posts.  Each social media channel has an optimum posting frequency rate.  Measure your efforts against current industry standards, using that as a starting point.  Identify what works best, readjusting frequency as needed based on audience feedback.  Finding the optimum post rate will allow for increased visibility of content, while mitigating risk of ‘content shock,’ or audience fatigue from over posting.  
  • Social media is about interaction.  Go beyond ‘numbers’ and dissect the feedback you receive.  Be cognizant of language used by the audience when engaging and compare this over time to quantify effectiveness.  What you say about your organization may (or may not) be what others are sharing through their social networks.  Keeping interaction conversational with followers will humanize your organization’s virtual presence, creating authenticity and trust.  It will also allow you to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s being shared about the organization.

After the audit, plan the deliberate outreach to the targeted audience:

When focusing on volunteers (current and potential) you’ll want to research and understand the population you’re trying to convert.  Pay attention to their demographics and where they reside on the social web.  Different populations have a tendency to use certain social media channels.  Conduct research and seek out the populations you desire.

  • Collect demographics.  Send surveys and conduct deep dive of publicly available information about current and potential volunteers.  Gather age, gender, location, education, profession, and their sources for news.  Collecting data will allow you to segment your outreach and better understand your audience, resulting in stronger virtual connections.
  • Use analytic tools.   Monitor click rates and capitalize on how people engage.  Consider using Google analytics (similar applications) or paid ads that allow you to track and analyze data.  Adopting analytic applications will let you quantify and assess the degree in which your audience engages.  This allows you to see what resonates with your audience and hone in on what works.  

Creating content with consistent branding:

While consistent messaging is important, also consider the way it’s reinterpreted by the audience.  Social media is largely ‘social,’ so focus on making the virtual connection.  Be sure the recruitment strategy is on message with the overall strategic plan of the organization.  Content and logo use should be within the branding and style guidelines that exist, but may need to be modified, allowing engagement to be conversational.  Consider color schemes, images, videos and nomenclature.  Add keywords for search engine optimization (SEO).  Tone and voice should be such that it reaches the broadest audience while being relevant and engaging.  Using images and videos will keep your message brief, concise, and visually stimulating, keeping your audience captivated.

Employ an editorial calendar and a dashboard:

Use an editorial calendar to plan content that’ll be used on social media and traditional marketing channels.  Plan the types of posts, who’s assigned to content creation, due dates and when to publish.  Coordinating content, will ensure material is regularly posted for your audience.  Be sure content creation and editing are congruent with current organizational branding and style guidelines.  Here’s a great editorial calendar template by CoSchedule.com that can be used as a starting point.

After you set up an editorial calendar, save yourself a tremendous amount of time and schedule your posts in advance using a dashboard.  The employment of a dashboard will allow you to schedule posts on multiple channels simultaneously, collaborate with other team members, analyze results (usually a paid feature), and simultaneously track several campaigns.  Research the use of dashboards carefully, as some allow integration between Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook, but some do not.

Social media should be used to augment (not replace) traditional means of marketing and outreach.  Don’t forget incorporating social media into existing marketing tools.  Integrating social media into your website, publications, email newsletters, events and promotional booths will bring your social media presence outside the social web.

Adopt staffing roles and shared responsibilities:

Because social media takes place 24/7, managing interaction will present challenges.  Unless there’s full-time staff whose job is to manage social media, you’ll need the support from others who can commit time to monitoring engagement.  Achieve this by assembling a team that can dedicate time to posting and interacting with followers.  Ensure team members have visibility of what the others are doing.  Create an environment that encourages information sharing to prevent duplication of effort, while facilitating true collaboration.  Until your organization can determine significant ROI of your social media strategy, responsibilities of social media management will be a team effort.  In the meantime, the team can work on attaining buy-in through shared management.  Sum the hours of shared responsibilities, painting a picture of how much dedicated time is necessary to do this successfully.  Only after there’s buy-in from leadership will a dedicated staff member be considered to manage social media.

Initiating engagement and listening to feedback:

Be social.  Interact with followers who post and share your content.  Like the act of volunteering, the virtual connection should focus on the experience through virtual engagement.  Be deliberate with your message while being conversational.  Assign a real person (not an auto responder) who can reply promptly while using discretion.  Below are some tips to do to this effectively.

  • Transcend formal discussion.  Conversational engagement will humanize the organization’s web presence.  Go the extra mile and nurture back and forth dialogue that’s honest, authentic and transparent.  This will create an intimate and positive conversation, keeping your followers engaged and enthusiastic.
  • Capitalize on the engagement.  Create chat sessions, Facebook groups and hashtags that allow followers to provide feedback, advice and commentary.  Both successes and failures exhibited by the organization will be noticeable based on what people share through their social media.  By creating and owning these outlets, you can post content to drive conversation in a direction advantageous to your goals.
  • Post in real-time.  Take advantage of social media and post updates in real time while at events where volunteers are serving.  Like a conversation between two people, volunteers will document and record their good (and bad) experiences, sharing them through virtual conversations.  If those you’re engaging have a good experience, the conversation that follows will take care of itself.
  • Properly tagging others.  ‘Tagged’ followers often times receive an alert notifying them of engagement and will in turn respond, creating conversation.  By tagging others, you allow the conversation to be tracked.  If it’s not tracked, you lose an ability to analyze the data using third party applications.
  • Listen and continue cycle:  Follow the conversation and analyze engagement through the entire lifecycle of the strategy.  Use the data to periodically audit the process, making adjustments as needed.  Feedback from engagement will contribute back into the process of auditing, setting new benchmarks, targeting and segmenting the audience, generating future content, staying in tune with supporters and strengthening the virtual relationships.

For many including myself, it’s hard to remember a life without instant access to the digital world.  But in the grand scheme of things, social media is relatively young in age when compared to other marketing tools.  There’s a reason traditional marketing tools have stood the test of time.  While social media isn’t a ‘fix’ or something to be solely relied on, it’s one of the fastest growing social circles for collaboration with an estimated 20 million new users projected over the next five years.  For non-profit organizations that have a limited advertising budget, little visibility and few staff, social media can offer an outlet that levels the playing field against the 1.5 million other organizations competing for the same attention from volunteers.  Like starting anything from the bottom, it takes dedicated time (give it an hour a day), deliberate action, fine tuning and most importantly, patience.  As your audience grows, so will your conversion rate of authentic followers to volunteers.


Volunteers as Customers: New Take on Age Old Ideas for Volunteer Management

Volunteer Management TipsCustomer service isn’t a new concept in the for-profit industry.  It’s commonplace for businesses with paying customers to have a robust customer service management process in place, and they should, considering their customers keep their doors open.  Through the use of customer service management software, consumer research and marketing data, for-profit companies can better attract customers, understand their needs, appeal to their desires and provide wonderful service when needed.  It’s pretty black and white determining who the customer is at a for-profit company, but what about identifying the customer of a nonprofit organization?  Is the customer the population the organization serves, or is the customer those who give their time (volunteers) and money (donors)?  The argument can be made that they’re both a customer, both being a different type of customer.  Regardless, whether you’re being served by the nonprofits mission, or providing your time and money as a supporter, you’re receiving something in return which is a resulting experience.

Exploring volunteer management through the lens of the volunteer as the customer isn’t a new concept, but it’s one that gets a lot of push back.  It’s a concept that is often unrecognized, polarizing, even ignored in some circles.  As it relates to volunteer management, try taking a “volunteers as customer” approach.  Making this distinction by giving the title of “client” to the population the organization serves through its mission, and “customer” to the volunteer who serves.    This being said, nonprofit organizations or volunteer administrators who take a “volunteers as customer” approach to volunteer management, spend more time differentiating between their “clients” and “customers” as they’re different people.  But It’s when you come to the realization that they’re different, you begin to understand that the customers aren’t always the people you serve, and you begin to view volunteer management through a new lens that allows you to have greater appreciation for their service.

Applying the concept:  From a revenue generating model, to the nonprofit model.

At a company or business whose goal is increased revenue, the customer purchases a product or service, and the money they spend is received by that company or business as a monetary profit.  Because of the way a revenue generating business is structured, they’re designed to generate a profit that benefits the stakeholder or shareholders, often times in the form of dividends.

Now, let’s apply the same concept to a nonprofit, but in this case when we refer to the customer, we’ll substitute that word for the title volunteer.  At a nonprofit organization, the volunteer gives their time in exchange for advancing the mission or cause of the organization they support.  The organization as a nonprofit is in the business of providing a good or service, and as a result, the community or population the nonprofit serves receives that good or service.

Volunteers give something to the organization just like a paying customer, and what they give, is also just as precious as the donation of money.  Whether pro bono publico or an episodic one time service project, that volunteer will essentially give something they’ll never get back, and it needs to be handled with the same delicacy as a financial contribution.  Because of this, there are severe consequences if the volunteer as a customer has a bad experience, and, if the experience is great, it’ll pay huge dividends later.

Implications of bad customer service.

Thinking about customers being those that exchange money for services, it is important to keep in mind:

  • An estimated 9 out of 10 customers will talk about that bad experience, with over 50% of them talking about that same bad experience all the time.  So, on average, each will tell 21 people.
  • 6 out of 10 customers who have the intention to complete a purchase won’t follow through on a purchase solely because of poor customer service.

The positive impact of great customer service.

I believe volunteer recruitment goes beyond conducting outreach, and largely relying on word-of-mouth, by volunteers who continue to advocate for getting involved with the organization.  When volunteers receive great customer service that results in a good experience, the below statistics can have a tremendous impact on recruitment.

  • Nearly 50% of all people are likely to try a new product or company because of a recommendation by a friend or family member based on a positive review.
  • The influence of a positive customer review by friend or family member has a higher degree of impact than any sale or promotion.

Let’s imagine those customers were volunteers who came to the non-profit organization to give of their time.  Viewing volunteers as customers, using these statistics, it’s eye opening.  It makes you think about the volunteer’s experience and the implications if that experience is less than desirable.  In addition, when it comes to future donations, volunteers are 10 times more likely to give a donation to a non-profit than someone who doesn’t volunteer.

If you’re thinking that these statistics only ring true to paying customers at a for-profit business, think again.  A recent 2013 study by Journal of Extension, concludes that decision making when it comes to volunteering has, similar behaviors and motivations to those who are making the decision to make a purchases.  Most of these behaviors centering around the two primary categories of brand loyalty and satisfaction.  Similarly, a Fidelity survey indicates that nearly 50% of people agree that the volunteers of today have a different motivation than other generations.  Most of these motivations stem from their experience volunteering, versus what they actually accomplish as a volunteer.  Having a great experience as a volunteer plays a vital role.  It leads to a volunteer either being retained, or moving onto the next organization.  Worst case scenario, tell more than twenty people about their bad experience.  It’s important to recognize that volunteers are essentially “customers” of volunteer opportunities.  The volunteer opportunities are what the volunteer is seeking and ultimately shopping for.  When you take the stance of the volunteer being the customer, the above statistics are revealing.

Applying essential elements of customer service to apply.

Here are some of the essential elements of customer service and some measures that can be put in place to address each.

This is a list of 9 customer service musts that have a unique impact on what a customer thinks or feels about a brand.  I will hit on each of these from the perspective of volunteer management.

  • Well-Designed Website:  A well-designed website aids in getting information about volunteer opportunities, calendar of events, how they can register or apply, or contact a lead staff member to get more detailed information.  As a result, potential volunteers can easily navigate the website, find needed information and apply to be a volunteer.  The fewer steps it takes to apply or register, the better.
  • Ease of Access:  The easier opportunities are to volunteer for (accessibility of location, and scheduled date), the likelier it is that a volunteer will commit.  Try scheduling opportunities on dates and times that volunteers have off from work, and host the opportunity at a location that’s easy to transit to.  You’re likely to have a higher turnout because it’ll be convenient and less of a burden for the volunteer.
  • Responsiveness:  Timely replies to email inquiries and returning missed calls in a timely fashion are key.  It’s important to strike while the iron is hot and their enthusiasm is high.  This will help with the urgency in which volunteers react to your call to action.
  • Equipped and Trained Staff:  The worst thing to fall victim to is wasting the volunteers’ time by not being properly equipped.  Hurrying up only to wait is unacceptable and is one of the biggest points of negative feedback given by volunteers to nonprofits.  Simply not being organized.  Get ahead of this curve by training your staff and preparing in advance.  Properly equipped and trained staff will be empowered to direct volunteers, and provide the necessary guidance to accomplish the tasks assigned.  This will help cast a positive light on the organization and how it’s regarded by volunteers, communicating to them that your events are well planned and efficiently run.
  • Patience Managing Your Volunteers:  While this is a must, this just means that over time, and likely through trial and error, the volunteer administrator or nonprofit organization staff will have to get good at knowing when to cut losses and decide when volunteers are a bad fit.  While I do believe that more can always be done to divert the energy of volunteers into productive outlets, as managers of volunteers, you can fire volunteers.  Being patient will allow enough time for you to determine the return on investment from a volunteer.  It will also help you better assess if certain volunteers are qualified for the job, if more training needs to be conducted, or if it’s time to part ways.  But the bottom line is only time will tell, you cannot rush to judgement here.
  • Openness to Criticism:  nonprofit managers ought to look at each piece of criticism as a chance to change or fix something that is broken.  Do not take these as personal attacks.  Creating a survey that volunteers can respond to, and allowing for feedback in after action reports is crucial to making improvements.  Through these mechanisms you’ll be able to correct deficiencies, but it starts with being open to feedback.
  • Positive Spontaneity and Appreciation:  A verbal “thank you” goes a long way, so I urge folks to not stop there, and be creative about it.  “Thank you” can include letters, cards or annual awards, but can also come through social media such as tweets, Facebook posts, blog posts on the website or even an article in an organization’s publication.  While volunteers won’t often ask to be thanked, kind gestures make all the difference.  It can leave them feeling over joyous about their experience only reinforcing their commitment to your organization.
  • Trustworthiness:  Trust goes both ways.  You’ll need to trust that the customer’s feedback is true, whether it’s about the way they perceived something, an argument with a paid staff member, or receiving poor service.  In the end, the trust you put forth in volunteers will be reflected in the way these situations are handled.  If there’s no trust, it will show, and reflect back in how volunteers treat their commitments to the organization.  
  • Managing Expectations:  I always tell people that the hardest part of managing a network of volunteers is managing personalities and expectations.  The expectation is formed from everything communicated to that volunteer, from the hours you tell that volunteer they’re committing to, to making sure the volunteers time is utilized effectively.  It is important to make sure the service project doesn’t deviate from what was originally communicated.  By properly managing expectation, you double down on trustworthiness, showing consistency which fosters an environment that’s comfortable and “known” to volunteers.

It’s no secret that many successful for-profit companies have entire teams, processes, policies and software packages.  Understanding the stigma that resides around the dreaded “overhead” or administrative costs at nonprofits, you may also claim you can’t possibly afford the same robust customer service packages and personnel needed.  While that’s true in many circles, I’ve learned there are many free and low cost alternatives that can be utilized.

Another thing I’ve learned over the years is that common sense isn’t always common knowledge.  In an industry where volunteers are utilized so often, with approximately 62.8 million Americans volunteering in 2015 alone according to Corporation for National & Community Service data, volunteer management as a profession, and the value placed on volunteerism is still awesomely underrated.  As a result, simple customer service practices are overlooked.  When viewing the volunteer as the customer, I’ve began to understand that human capital is so valuable to the sustainability of a nonprofit.  It offers countless benefits in the long term.  If similar customer service practices found in the for-profit industry are adopted in volunteer management, the return on investment can be seen in increased public engagement and awareness, new opportunities to cultivate support, and ultimately more donations for years to come.  It starts with valuing people first and seeing volunteers as customers who deserve to be a high priority.

Want to Boost Employee Engagement? Try Company Volunteer Programs

Want to Boost Employee Engagement? Try Company Volunteer Programs Employee engagement is one of the principle concerns among business leaders around the country who aim to create an effective and satisfied workforce.  In fact, according to Gallup’s most recent U.S. employee engagement survey, employee engagement is closely correlated with business conditions essential to an organization’s financial success, such as productivity, profitability and customer engagement.

In short, engaged employees are more committed to the company they work for and are invested in its success by driving the innovation, growth and revenue their employers rely on to stay ahead of the competition.  For employers, investing in their most important assets – their employees – can have a transformational impact on overall business outcomes.

The real question is, how can an organization create a culture of engagement and what employee benefits drive the highest levels of engagement and employee satisfaction?  Unfortunately, there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

In today’s war for talent, attracting and retaining the best employees are more important than ever.  As the U.S. workforce continues to shift in demographics, employers need to consider embracing a host of new benefits that appeal to a multi-generational workforce.  Among the many benefits options available, volunteer programs should not be overlooked.

According to a Deloitte Millennial study, 75 percent of the workforce will consist of millennials (those who were born after 1982) by 2025.  As more young people enter the workforce, they bring with them a new set of priorities.  In fact, a study from the Intelligence Group found that 64 percent of millennials said they would take a lower-paying job that they found fulfilling over a job that they didn’t enjoy, even if they had the opportunity to earn more than twice as much in an unfulfilling job.

Millennials care about diversity, company ethics and the opportunity to give back to their communities.  These priorities are essentially creating an entirely new workplace model for employers, one in which a company’s moral compass is just as valuable as its bottom line.

When executed properly, volunteerism and charitable giving can be strong morale boosters.  Companies implementing an employee volunteer program should consider the following key steps to ensure success:

  1. Commitment is key. Demonstrate company executives’ commitment to volunteerism and charitable giving.  Share a clear vision for the program and examples of milestones and long-term goals.  A recent GreenBiz study found that millennial employees prefer working for leaders they admire in companies that exemplify strong values that underscore their corporate social responsibility.
  1. Understand employee passions. Ensure the program focuses on one or more issues that truly engage employees on a personal level by soliciting their input upfront.  Survey employees to determine the community issues or causes most critical to them today and in the near future.  Are they passionate about addressing homelessness, bridging a local opportunity gap or improving community parks?  Understanding the issues of greatest importance to employees will empower companies to deliver more engaging volunteer programs.
  1. Go social. Create opportunities for employees to connect with each other about their employee volunteer efforts.  These initiatives could range from creating a company-only internal blog platform where employees can share experiences and photos with one another, to kicking off a company e-newsletter highlighting employees’ charitable efforts or even promoting the company’s volunteer efforts on the company’s Facebook or Twitter profiles.  It’s important to remember that charitable efforts can also create excellent team-building and leadership opportunities for employees.
  1. Think beyond monetary commitments. Donation-matching programs and other fundraising initiatives are a great start, but it’s also important to consider alternative avenues for employees to offer their time and talents to causes important to them.  According to America’s Charities’ Snapshot 2015, nearly 60 percent of companies offer paid time off for employees to volunteer.  This same survey shows a growing expectation among employees that employers will provide volunteer opportunities for teams of their colleagues – 82 percent said employees want the opportunity to volunteer with peers in company-supported events.

Creating a comprehensive employee volunteer program as part of an organization’s overall employee engagement strategy can help companies attract and retain top talent.  They can result in stronger relationships with the surrounding local community, an enhanced public image, and a happier, healthier and more productive workforce.

Pro Bono Volunteer Programs – A Valuable Resource To Tap Into

Tips to Setting Up a Volunteer ProgramEvery nonprofit works hard to be a good steward of donor dollars. As donor expectations continue to increase, all nonprofits are confronted with new (and often expensive) challenges—expectations of better operations, more transparent reporting, outcome measurement and better technology.

As nonprofits seek funding to manage these new expectations, the challenges mount. Some funders, enthralled with the overhead myth, stipulate their gifts must be targeted toward specific program budgets leaving few resources for the fundamental building blocks of running an organization. An increasing number of nonprofits compete for the limited number of capacity building or technology grants offered.

Perhaps no key function at nonprofits gets neglected more than technology. In fact, research from the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN), which works to improve nonprofits’ use of technology, indicates that the median IT budget at nonprofit organizations may be as low as one percent of the overall operating budget. With so little money earmarked for technology, not only is the cost of business applications far beyond the financial reach of many nonprofits, but top-flight technical talent is also difficult to attract and not always possible to develop internally.

Fortunately, a growing number of technology vendors — NetSuite included — have made it a standard practice to donate technology products to nonprofits. While some product donations are ready to go out of the box, many require tech talent to oversee implementation and make these valuable gifts work for the organization receiving the donation. An unintended consequence of free technology is it often doesn’t solve the resource constraint problem – nonprofits still need the resources to purchase consulting and other services.

One answer that benefits nonprofit and company alike is pro bono volunteering. And while enabling employees to volunteer as project consultants on the technology rollouts at nonprofits sounds like a good idea on so many levels, it’s surprising to learn that it simply doesn’t happen very often. In fact, pro bono volunteering is an untapped resource on all fronts, not just when it comes to technology. According to the Taproot Foundation, which works to help match nonprofits with pro bono skills, just three percent of nonprofits say they have access to the pro bono support they need.

NetSuite realized that, for our technology donations to have a transformational impact on nonprofit operations, we had to pair them with pro bono services. Along the way, we’ve learned that a pro bono volunteer program not only helps our nonprofit customers thrive, it also strengthens our business by giving us more insight into the needs of an important customer constituency, deepens and develops the way nonprofits use our software, and provides our employees with invaluable on-the-job training and an opportunity to give back by offering their professional skills.

Along those lines, according to research from True Impact, a consultancy that helps organizations measure the social, financial and environmental return on investment (ROI) of their programs and operations, employees are three times as likely to gain material job skills via pro bono volunteering as they are with traditional volunteering. In other words, giving away employees’ time in the form of pro bono volunteering effectively injects them with additional value to the company.

Tons of Nonprofit ResourcesWhile it sounds great on paper, nonprofits shouldn’t rush into accepting pro bono help from companies. It’s important to think through the following tips before you apply for or enter into a pro bono relationship:

  1. Find the right partner: Free help from professionals sounds great – but you should strategically decide when taking on pro bono help makes sense, and from whom you will get it. Someone offering to do a social media plan pro bono might not be a good fit if your organization doesn’t have a communications department or a process to put the plan to action. The best bet is to identify what you need help with and determine which companies are experts in that field. Some of your existing corporate partners might be the perfect pro bono partners, provided that they have expertise in the area you want to improve.
  2. Have a clear scope of work: What are your goals for this project? What is the outcome you want to achieve? Identifying what the specific deliverables will be as well as what is in-scope and out-of-scope is a critical piece of working with pro bono volunteers. Will the volunteers be providing training, product support, consulting or something else? Outlining the expected deliverables and timelines up front will help you feel better about the time and effort your organization and volunteers are investing in a project.
  3. Treat this like a professional engagement: Would you pay a consultant to take on a project and not devote staff time and resources to manage that project? Of course not. The same should be the case for pro bono: budget the time and internal talent you’ll need for a project, meet with your volunteers, and stay on track to receive the deliverables at the end of the engagement.
  4. Connect it to the Mission: Connecting project need with social impact will help to get volunteers engaged and excited about the work they will be taking on. Sure, writing a script to make a report auto-generate might not feel core to your mission, but automating that process might free up your staff and volunteer resources for other mission-critical work. Making that correlation for the volunteers will help them see the impact of the project they are taking on.

Every company approaches pro bono differently, and many have not yet started a program, although thanks to campaigns like ‘A Billion+Change’ the move to provide pro bono support is gaining momentum. At NetSuite, we formally launched our NetSuite.org SuiteVolunteer Pro Bono program in 2013 with a commitment to take on a significant number of pro bono projects each quarter.  We have been seeing the fruits of our labors ever since, with employees gaining invaluable on-the-job training and many of our nonprofit software users emerging as stronger users of the platform.

Our employees desire to donate pro bono time is evident in the program’s growth: since it launched, more than 700 NetSuite employees have given nearly $1.5 million worth of their time to more than 260 nonprofits. In 2015 alone, more than 300 SuiteVolunteers donated 4,694 pro bono consulting hours, worth more than $700,000 using the industry standard valuation.

One of the keys to the SuiteVolunteer program’s success has been a focus on small, digestible projects that begin and end within a quarter. We assemble our pro bono project teams during the first month of each quarter, and each team completes its project over the ensuing two months. Generally speaking, each quarter now features about 100 employees working on 30 to 40 projects. This distributed approach has enabled us to get more employees involved on more projects, thus impacting more nonprofits. These projects also act as building blocks for our nonprofit partners. We aren’t trying to take on all of their challenges at once, but instead are looking for small, incremental ways to improve their operational success.

The bottom line of all these efforts is the power that comes from sharing talent. Every company has incredibly talented employees in its ranks, many of whom want to use their skills to make a positive social impact. Nonprofits and corporations that are able to harness the skills of these passionate employees will find that the benefits of pro bono contributions run deep. What’s more, taking a strategic approach to choosing a pro bono partner and thoroughly outlining the need you’re addressing can ensure a successful project.

For corporations, providing pro bono opportunities for your employees will not only engage your employees and strengthen your business, but can inspire your customers and partners to develop similar programs, thus exponentially driving change in the social sector.

Pro bono help, once thought of as only something lawyers provide, is growing more prevalent across business sectors. By effectively tapping pro bono volunteer skills and corporate pro bono programs, you will gain access to a new pool of resources that can help build capacity and fund those often overlooked “overhead” projects.

For businesses, their employees and the nonprofits they serve, pro bono volunteering can be the ultimate win-win-win.

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