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ENGAGING & MANAGING VOLUNTEERS

On this page are ideas from strategies to help you work more efficiently to the latest in research on keeping volunteers happy and productive, as well as ideas, suggestions and hints to build volunteer recruitment capacity.

~June 2009~


    Infrastructure:  An Essential to Surviving in Uncertain Times

             Infrastructure:

    1. An underlying base or foundation
    2. The basic facilities needed for the functioning of a system

    Riverside Webster’s II Dictionary


             US President Barack Obama has focused attention on the aging US infrastructure.  Roads need paving, buildings need to go “green,” and bridges are in danger of collapsing in many parts of the US.  He urges Americans to look to their homes and expenditures with an eye to improving the infrastructure.  Part of Obama’s economic stimulus package includes money to assess the infrastructure in communities large and small and get moving with repairs or replacements.
             Obama’s zeal in promoting the need for the US to get back to the basics of tending to our houses, roads, and saving’s accounts put this writer in the mind that the same can be said of volunteer programs and the operation of boards and committees.  Listen to the warning of an author of a recent research report.  The influx of retirees into the volunteer corps from the “baby boom” generation might mean more volunteers than organizations know what to do with.  The author concludes, “. . . the infrastructure of nonprofits is already inadequate to support current levels of elderly volunteering, and this problem is likely to worsen as volunteer numbers increase in the future.  Instead of focusing on recruitment, organizations may wish to focus on capacity building to accommodate the large number of new volunteers. . .” (Einolf)
             When was the last time you did a full blown assessment of your recruitment strategies, analyzed the volunteer positions to bring them up to date, looked at how volunteers wish to be organized, and what are you putting in the volunteer bank in the way of attracting new people to new positions? 
             Whether you are reading this in Franklin, KY or Astoria, OR, or London, CT or London, England, you can check out your program with an eye to up-dating the infrastructure.  Over the next several months there will be articles suggesting ways to improve and enhance your volunteer program.
             We start with an assessment tool.  Traditional volunteer programs are a good place to begin.  The elements of organizing the traditional program are clear.  Starting in 1973 Marlene Wilson highlighted the elements of running the effective program.  Subsequent books by Susan Ellis, Nancy Macduff, Steve McCurley, and Sue Vineyard among others developed those ideas into a systematic whole.  Review the elements in a chart that outlines  the elements of engaging and managing volunteers.  Next, rate your program.  When you complete the assessment, select one or two areas where you want to improve the infrastructure and watch for articles in Volunteer Today on being the best volunteer program in your community--where people are lined up to volunteer.

    Einolf, Christopher (2009) “Will the Boomers Volunteer During Retirement? Comparing the Baby Boom, Silent, and Long Civic Cohorts,” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, Vol. 38, No. 2, April 2009, pp 181-199.

     



MARKET PLANNING:

Strategies to Increase Volunteer Participation


        
         Getting new volunteers is not simply a matter of doing the same old thing.  Do the same thing, get the same result.  The literature on marketing has a simple method of identifying where new “customers” [volunteers] might come from.  This grid is a way to analyze new ways to engage people.

Review the grid and then read the sample below it.

 

Existing Volunteer Positions

New Volunteer Positions

 

Existing Markets of Volunteers

Market Penetration

Get more of the same types of volunteers currently serving.  Deeper penetration into the market.
(more of the types of volunteers serving now)

Volunteer Task Development

Find new tasks for the exiting volunteers to increase volunteer hours and service
(existing volunteers doing new tasks)

 

New Markets of Volunteers

Market Development

Developing new markets to engage new types of people who are not currently serving. 
(new people doing same tasks)

 

Diversification

Recruiting new volunteers for tasks that do not currently exist, but are developed specifically to attract new types of people.(new volunteers--new tasks)

An Example
Developing new sources for volunteers for an after school volunteer program.

 

Existing Volunteer Positions

New Volunteer Positions

 

Existing Markets of Volunteers

Market Penetration

  1. Most volunteers are female (98%)
  2. Ad campaign to homes to ask all types of mom’s to volunteer
  3. Get teachers to identify possible mothers who might want to volunteer.

Volunteer Task Development

  1. Ask current volunteers to help with fund drive to buy books for students in tutoring program

 

New Markets of Volunteers

Market Development

  1. Grandparents are a potential source of volunteers.
  2. Develop a campaign to recruit grandparents of kids in the school to be tutors.

 

Diversification

  1. Math and science needs a tutoring program
  2. Develop an online tutoring program in math
  3. Get virtual volunteers to tutor kids during the day on math, using the Internet.

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Learning from Business How to Weather the Economic Downturn
        
         Our sisters and brothers in the for-profit world of business have experience with up turns and downturns in the economy.  Here is some advice from business on how to survive the bad economy.  It has been translated into strategies for those who manage volunteers and/or run voluntary organizations. 

Advice from Businesses

Applicability to Volunteer Programs

1. Learn about the customers of your weakest competitors. While competitors are busy shoring up their relationships with large, established clients, it could be the perfect time to swoop in and court their smaller customers.

A.  Learn about those volunteering the least.  Analyze who is volunteering now and who is not by demographics (age ranges, gender, ethnicity, etc.).  Plot a recruiting campaign to target one of the small populations in your organization.

2. Take a cue from Apple’s Steve Jobs. When asked by Fortune magazine recently about Apple’s strategy for the last economic downturn, Jobs pointed to how the company survived the 2001 tech bust by upping its R&D budget. “It worked, and that’s exactly what we’ll do this time,” he told the magazine.

B.  Start a study of volunteers, staff and recipients of services to determine new places where volunteers can help.  Put the emphasis on short-term assignment.  Create new volunteer tasks and seek out new people.  Use the challenges of today to build the program of tomorrow.
         Avoid giving up on new programs or projects.  Postpone and study.  Use this time to do leg work to make it successful in the future when the time is right and money is available.  It is also likely to keep new volunteers more engaged and seasoned volunteers enthusiastic.

3.  “There are two ways to run a business,” says Fred Mossler, senior vice president of merchandising for online shoe retailer Zappos, “adversarily or as a partnership.” Considering that the company relies on about 1,500 partners to provide its customers with a diverse selection of shoes, Zappos has chosen the latter option. To that end, the company built an extranet, so that every partner can see how its brand is performing. “They get to see everything our buyers see,” Mossler says. “This way we have about 1,500 other sets of eyes looking at our business and helping to improve it.”

C.  Consider your volunteers as your partners in keeping the program healthy and strong.  Provide them a blog or other electronic means of keeping up-to-date on all the organizational activities.  In-the-know volunteers can often see solutions that those too close to the problem miss.  Tell them the good and the bad news in a way that informs, but does not alarm.  The volunteers are allies in bringing in more volunteer and other potential resources, like money.  If they are out of the loop on information, they can do neither.

4.  While many companies batten down the hatches and try to survive, experience shows that, for prepared companies, economic slowdowns can provide significant opportunities to improve their positions and accelerate into the next “up” cycle.

 

D.  The up-cycle for volunteer programs is ahead.  All over the globe elected and appointed officials are urging people to get involved in their community.  As the economy recovers globally and confidence is returned there will be a growing interest in service.  Are you ready?  How do you get ready?  Do you have volunteer positions for those wanting and needing short-term service?  That is positioning.

5.  Most companies encounter four critical pressure points; costs;, market position, customer behavior, and complexity

 

6. Costs

In good times, companies often focus on increasing sales and opening up new markets rather than on managing their costs down the time-honored experience curve--that practice may come back to bite them in a downturn. A downturn is a great time to create the "burning platform" necessary to accomplish cost savings and get back onto the experience curve.

 

E.  Costs
The volunteer program has costs.  What are they?  Can they be contained?  Are there jobs that would enhance the volunteer program that could be done by a volunteer?  Seek ways to cut what is costly, using the “streamlining” method.

7. Market Position

In ordinary times, well-managed market leaders generally outperform followers--leaders' profits and revenues grow faster, their returns on equity are higher and their customers are more loyal, to mention just a few measures.

F.  Market Position
Volunteer programs dealing with the homeless, poverty, or feeding programs have seen an influx of volunteers in many communities.  Those who have had work hours reduced or were laid off are anxious to help others the person considers less fortunate.  Well-managed programs that get volunteers like this are likely to change their standing and continue to attract volunteers as the economy recovers.  Check your infrastructure to make sure you are professional and organized.  That helps bring volunteers back.  And it is likely to shift your market position in the community.

8. Customer Behavior

Customers never sit still, of course. But in a downturn, both businesses and consumers are likely to shift their buying patterns faster than ever. They seek out bargains. They do without some things altogether. These changes in behavior can significantly rearrange the pools of profits that companies compete for

G.  Customer Behavior


Nothing is truer today than the behavior of volunteering changing.  Some volunteers want shorter assignments, so he/she can work a part time job to help make ends meet at home.  Others are volunteering because he/she is out of work.  Some volunteers are trying out the idea of new careers by engaging in volunteer work.  All this can be good news for the creative manager of volunteers who can harness that energy and put it to work, quickly and in a professional manner.

9. Complexity

A fourth pressure point--and perhaps the least recognized--is complexity. Companies in good times tend to add features, variations and line extensions, thereby complicating both their production processes and their organization. Even in good times, this can raise costs and interfere with a company's agility.

H.  Complexity
Every aspect of the volunteer program should be scrutinized for its complexity.  The harder we make it for people to volunteer, the less likely the person will come at all or stay.  Check out the intake process.  Do you require people to attend 20 hours of training before becoming a volunteer?  Could a shorter session weed out the curious and cut out the need to train anyone but those who really want to do the job? Honda requires half a day to build all possible variations on the Accord, while Detroit automakers need more than 90 days to build all possible variations of some American compacts.  Is your volunteer program more like Honda or GM?

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