Diagnosing and Curing “Volunteeritis”

Volunteer management is a significant part of my community relations role at a medical school. Our students are incredibly brilliant, generous, and hardworking people. I’m fortunate to have a highly motivated volunteer pool, but I have come to realize that my success in coordinating them corresponds closely with the other stressors in their lives (biochemistry tests, for example).

If we have a big event on the eve of an exam, there is likely to be an outbreak of “volunteeritis,” as I’ve dubbed the disease of last minute “something came up” cancellations from my volunteers. Here are a few tactics I’ve come up with to prevent this event-crippling disease:

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  1. Pad your volunteer slots – slightly. Deciding upon the right number of volunteers in a job is as important as administering the right dose of a medication. Too many in a position and your volunteers feel like you’re wasting their valuable time and might not feel they’ve had a good experience. Too few and you’re in panic mode. Volunteer atrophy happens, so adding an extra spot or two can help offset last-minute cancellations. I also keep e-mails from people who are interested in volunteering but didn’t have a chance to sign up before the slots filled as a virtual waiting list.

  2. Send a couple rounds of volunteer detail messages. An outbreak of volunteeritis typically strikes a few minutes after I send out the details confirming where to check in, what to wear, etc. I like to have all of the details before I communicate them to volunteers, but sometimes everything doesn’t come together until a few days before the event. I’ve begun to send volunteer details a little more than a week out, whenever possible, and then a second e-mail a day or two before the event that’s been fine-tuned to address questions that have come in, or offer a better map or additional information on the event hashtag, etc.

  3. Set expectations on finding replacements. I’m fortunate that my volunteer base is well-connected with one another, both in person and in a Facebook group specific to sharing campus volunteer opportunities. I try to set up an expectation that volunteers seek a replacement whenever possible. I think this also sets student volunteers up to have stronger professionalism skills when it comes to making career commitments.

I’ve begun to address “volunteeritis” at our big orientation meal packaging event training, which is a kickoff to service for the school year. The med students humor me by laughing when I tell them I’m going to share information about a secret disease they won’t find in their medical school textbooks, but addressing the issue at the start of their experience at school has definitely helped me as they seek out opportunities to make a difference in the community.

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Recognizing Volunteer Trends

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Volunteer coordinators are always looking for new team members – and volunteer trends are a good place to start. At VolunteerLocal, we’ve noticed a few trends that seem to be popping up more and more across the country. Below, we’ve listed some of the top trends we’re seeing that may help you find your next great volunteer.

Businesses are Getting Involved

More and more businesses are looking for ways to make a group outing a way of giving back to their community. Whether it’s a major corporation that just moved into town or a small business with 10 dedicated team members, there are so many opportunities to get help for your cause. Try reaching out to the HR team at the company with a bit about your organization, what kind of help you need and see if they might be interested. For this kind of outreach, offering an opportunity for a large group to come to help out all at once can be a great option.

Colleges are Looking for New Partners

Colleges offer a wealth of volunteers with varied schedules and a passion for changing the world. We’re seeing a growth in millennial activism and with that, there are plenty of willing volunteers walking around local campuses. With colleges, you can often reach out to a specific organization on campus that’s just right for your cause. Maybe the track and field team can help at your next marathon or students in the communications school are able to do social media outreach for your event.

Schools are Teaching Civic Duty

Volunteers aren’t just walking around college campuses these days; they’re also bounding through the halls of elementary schools. More and more primary education teachers are looking for ways to teach students about civic engagement. While high school kids are old enough to help with quite a lot, you’d be surprised what the little ones can do too. Stuffing envelopes and making signs are simple and fun ways to get younger kids involved.

So get out there and broaden your base! There are people of all ages looking to help, and keeping an eye out for volunteers in the places you might not normally think to look might just win you a lot of new volunteers.

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Creating a Hype Squad

 There are lots of important volunteer jobs – but what about one that keeps your volunteers excited to be a part of your movement? Enter: The Hype Squad. Take those energetic teens and millennials in your volunteer base and create a team to hype everyone up about your event and organization’s mission.

At the Event
When you start scheduling out each role for your event, why not leave 15-minute shifts here or there for a small crew to get the other volunteers excited? Send them out with bottles of water, small pieces of swag or (our personal favorite) snacks! Giving volunteers that quick acknowledgment that you’re glad they’re there can be a huge morale boost and keep everyone excited for the cause.
On the Ground
Get your organization evangelists out to the masses! Create a small team of people who will go the extra mile in getting the word out about your organization. Make sure this team has a clear understanding of your mission, some literature/pins/swag and a genuine interest in getting the word out. We’re not necessarily suggesting you send them out to a street corner to yell about your cause, but outreach can be as easy as talking about it at a party or posting flyers at school.
Virtual Squad

While face-to-face is always great, social media is a hype squad’s best friend. See if volunteers are able to share news about your event and organization on their social media accounts and offer ideas for how to share to make it even easier (a selection of event photos, sample tweets, etc.). Encouraging your team to take photos while volunteering and creating organizational hashtags will get the word out fast about what your crew is doing and attract more volunteers.

Most of all, make sure your organization has a mission that people can get behind. Help volunteers understand why your team is so important and how much you can help your community so you can create a team that truly wants to hype your cause.

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5 Ways to Help with No-Show Volunteers

We all know recruiting and developing volunteer teams is necessary and effective to run events of any size. Yet depending on a workforce with no official obligation to show up on time (or at all) means last minute flakes are often inevitable. What can you do to handle these no-shows?

1. Pad Your Numbers

As simple as it sounds; account for last-minute dropouts while you’re still in the planning stage of the event. If you know you need 10 volunteers to cover a specific area, work to recruit 12-15 people. To be more accurate, take a look at data from previous years to calculate an average attrition rate tailored to your event culture and demographics. (Hint: VolunteerLocal gives you great tracking data!) Planning to overestimate your volunteer recruitment helps cover no-shows on the day of the event.

2. Create Floater Positions

While you’re preparing your volunteer plan, create a floater position. The job description for floaters is simply to fill in the gaps for absent volunteers or areas that have a higher degree of need than anticipated. This again requires a higher level of recruitment, but it also makes for a smoother experience during the event.

3. Keep Paid Staff Off the List

Your paid staff members are invaluable not only to the event but also to your volunteers. As you promote your event and recruit volunteers, resist the inclination to count your staff people in your volunteer numbers. When they are not locked into a certain area, they are free to provide leadership to volunteers and cover gaps created by a lack of volunteers or by crises that may arise.

4. Track Your Volunteers

Find the tools that make your job easier! VolunteerLocal helps you in each stage of planning, recruiting, and event management. Collecting your data in one place allows you and your team to see potential areas of concern, locate teams that are running low on volunteers, communicate with volunteers before and after the event, and keep track of who has checked in and who not arrived. Knowing your need is half the battle in keeping your event running smoothly, and VolunteerLocal makes it simple.

5. Practice Gratitude

The easiest way to fix the problem of no-show volunteers is to make sure volunteers show up in the first place. Most volunteers are willing to serve but also are looking for perks. How are you thanking your volunteers? Look for ways to give them behind-the-scenes access, exclusive merchandise, or special experiences that demonstrate your appreciation and provide an incentive for them to show up. Keep treating your volunteers well, and watch your no-show rate drop from year to year!

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7 Ways to Get The Most Out of Your Online Communication

Every day we all get dozens (hundreds?) of emails, and it’s a constant game of trying to keep up with the most important ones.

 

Just like you, volunteers are flooded with emails. But obviously, your emails are the most important to them…right?

That moment when you realize half of the people you emailed didn’t even bother reading through what you spent an hour carefully crafting is definitely a blow to the ego. Not only that, but it’s a real communication issue if volunteers aren’t getting the information they need.

We get it. That’s why we’ve got seven helpful ways to make your online communication more effective. Next time you are trying to connect with volunteers, keep the following tips in mind:

 

Send a text. Emails are great, but texts have a significantly higher open rate. It forces you to think through what the most vital piece of information is and send that short snippet off to your masses. With VolunteerLocal’s feature for volunteers to opt-in to text messages, you can communicate what volunteers need to know in a quick, no-fuss way.

Communicate with the right people. Seems pretty elementary, right? Send your emails or texts (or carrier pigeons) to the people who most need to read it. Sometimes it may seem easier to send one big email to everyone on your list and hope they find the part that pertains to them. Wrong! That brain dump in one massive email just means that even more people are confused. Then they might start to ignore those big emails you send, thinking it no longer pertains to them. We’ve got all the export tools you need — so grab the list of volunteers working on a specific task and email them only what they need to know.

Have fun with it. You heard me, spice it up a little! Be playful and fun by dropping in some (appropriate) jokes or images to keep volunteers engaged and interested. Everybody loves a little GIF action to sum it up. Make this email something volunteers enjoy receiving and reading by giving some personality to it. When adding in some fun, remember to make sure the tone matches the organization you are sending it from as well as matching the message itself.

Keep it brief. Short and sweet, those are the messages most read. If it can’t be read in a minute or two, maybe this shouldn’t be communicated in an email.

 

Highlight key points. Sometimes there’s no way around it, there’s a lot of content that needs to go out at once. Instead of overwhelming people with one big chunk of text, make sure to highlight a few areas that are most important. You can make a list (like this one!) or put a few key bits in bold so it really stands out. Of course, highlighting the entire email makes it all unreadable, so make those key points count.

 Make a video. Depending on your budget and time, video can be a great way to communicate with people. It doesn’t have to be fancy – just make sure the message is clear. To do so, plan ahead what you’ll say and check that your audio is clear. If this is a message you’ll be sending out continuously (for instance, basic ground rules for volunteers or background information on the organization or event), it may be worth investing in making a more professional video that can be used again and again.

Meet face-to-face. Sure, this isn’t always a viable option (hello, there are only 24 hours in a day), but when it is–go for it. As the volunteer coordinator, volunteers are looking up to you for advice, encouragement, and instruction. Having a personal presence can give them the extra confidence they need to do the job right. So, perhaps this means using emails and texts to let them know when the next informational session is or to send follow-up notes after your in-person meeting with them.

 

Whatever it is that you are communicating, we want to help you make it as effective as it can be. So, feel free to shoot us an email if you’ve got questions on how the VolunteerLocal features can make your life (and your emails) a bit easier.

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New VolunteerLocal Team Member!

Hey there, everybody! Cece here, the newest member of the VolunteerLocal team. From a small town in Kansas to the big city of Chicago, I’ve taken a stroll down the yellow brick road (yes, a Wizard of Oz reference) starting in the world of hospitality as a concierge, then moving to the fast-paced tech space. I’m thrilled to be taking on this new adventure as your Account Manager!

To say I’m a fan of music would be a major understatement. When I’m not taking in as much live music as I am lucky enough to experience in this beautiful city, you can find me belting out the greatest hits while perfecting my cooking skills for my eventual MasterChef win. Occasionally, I’ll contemplate bringing my running shoes out of retirement, opting instead to kick my feet up and enjoy a much more leisurely lifestyle.

I cannot express enough how incredibly excited I am to be part of such a fantastic group of people. I look forward to the many ways in which we will all continue to grow. Send me a Tweet at @CeceKilat. We can exchange recipes and discuss if it’s actually possible to win Hamilton lottery tickets. :)

#HappyVolunteering

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Mind the Gap: Managing Generational Differences in Your Volunteer Force

FREE PIZZA! FREE PIZZA!

While this tactic might work to gather young folks to learn about your cause, it probably won’t be a selling point for older generations. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as enough pizza. As baby boomers begin to retire and have more free time for contributing to their causes, and younger generations feel more connected and civically-minded, it’s crucial to make all ages feel engaged when volunteering.

It’s true that most folks volunteer thanks to a genuine desire to help their communities. However, research suggests that motivations vary by generation.

How can a volunteer manager bridge this gap, pointing out individual successes while cultivating a community that brings everyone together?

Step one – be creative. Flyering in a coffee shop and making a Facebook event might not cut it. Talk to current volunteers about what events they are attending and ask them to help you recruit there. Reach out to new media sources and venture to new parts of town. Utilize your organization’s network – if they’re passionate about your mission, they’ll be thrilled to help!

 

 Step two – be deliberate. Once you’ve got a solid crew of volunteers, learn as much as you can about them. Consider personality types – who is going to be a great leader of a committee, and who has the technical skills to get work done fast? Establish a clear problem-solving protocol so that your volunteers know from the get-go that they can be honest with you and their teams.

 

Step three – be gracious. Consider your volunteers’ motivations when expressing your gratitude. A young volunteer might like to know how her contribution directly impacted the organization’s mission, whereas an older volunteer might like to know how his contribution made you feel. When possible, let each volunteer know that you are paying attention to them and are thankful for their specific abilities.

 

The benefits of age diversity in your volunteer group are obvious: more perspectives, more community engagement, and a better network. But it goes beyond that. One study on age diversity suggests that having people of different generations making complex decisions together leads to higher work performance and self-reported health.  Thinking beyond the free pizza to engage volunteers of all ages is a great step for your organization and for your community.

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