Colleen Farrell

We’re thrilled to welcome back guest blogger Colleen Farrell, Senior Director, Marketing and Communications at New York Cares.

Did you know it’s National Volunteer Week? What better time to look at the role of recognition in volunteer communications.

New York Cares did a study last year to try to measure the impact of recognition. We personally thanked volunteers who did multiple projects to see if that would influence their likelihood to volunteer again. 15% of the sample became our control group, who received standard mass communications – emails, access to web resources etc – but no personalized recognition (if you did multiple projects and never heard from us, I apologize!).

The result: volunteers we thanked completed four more projects over the year than people we left alone. They volunteered 15 times, compared to 11 times for the unrecognized group. That translated into 16% of our total 97,000 volunteer opportunities being filled just because we said thanks.

The power of thank you matters because repeat volunteers bring experience that helps raise the quality of the service we deliver. They’re less costly to deploy than bringing in and training new recruits. And returning volunteers are more likely to become leaders, which is critical for us to expand programs.

Here are the three elements that strengthen our volunteer recognition communications:

  • Personalize the message – Track people’s activities, thank them by name in a timely way and cite the work they did. If you can, share clients’ feedback – a child’s note, quotes from people they helped and statistics about impact.
  • Mix it up – It’s hard to thank people too much or too often. Experiment with different channels and look for opportunities to express gratitude wherever you can. Personalized email, letters, or phone calls (even if you leave a message) are easy ways to let volunteers know their individual efforts make a difference.
  • Share the good news – Integrate recognition into fundraising and community building events, and incorporate in online strategies. We have an online volunteer honor roll, give awards to leadership volunteers, and highlight volunteers’ impact in everything we do. Don’t forget to tell local media about your award winners–recognition is fantastic material for PR.

P.S. Get more in-depth articles, case studies and guides to nonprofit marketing  success — all featured in the twice-monthly Getting Attention e-update. Subscribe today.

Guest Blogger on April 12, 2011 in Volunteers | 1 comment
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We are delighted to have Colleen Farrell, Senior Director, Marketing and Communications at New York Cares, join us as a recurring guest blogger.

New York Cares is New York City’s leading volunteer organization and runs volunteer programs for 1,000  nonprofits, city agencies and public schools, enabling more than 50,000 volunteers annually to contribute their time, expertise and energy to a wide array of organizations that address critical social needs citywide.

Every fall I feel like a kid going back to school. I don’t have to worry about pop quizzes these days, but there’s a big shift as we transition from the slower summer months into our busiest time of year.  New York Cares’ inventory of volunteer projects increases dramatically -– doubling between August and November.  Volunteer interest also ramps back up after summer, with a spike around Thanksgiving.

Our communication and management challenge is to quickly re-engage volunteers after the summer, and ensure we mobilize the right number of people at the right time as projects expand. Here are three things we consider:

1. Ensure capacity is in place so volunteers can act now.

We calculate the volunteers we need each month, then create a communications plan synced with our project roll-out schedule.  For example, we scale back new volunteer orientations during the summer.  In late July, we begin asking volunteers to become project leaders for fall (which is critical for starting new projects).  From August onward, email, social media, and orientation schedules accelerate to bring in more volunteers.

There have been times where volunteer demand has outstripped our capacity –- it’s disappointing for volunteers, and something we work hard to avoid.  The volunteers you turn away may never come back.

2. Start with existing volunteers.

The adage, it’s more efficient to get business from existing customers than win new ones, applies to volunteers, too.

We track and analyze volunteers’ histories through our database.  This helps us forecast how many of last year’s volunteers are likely to return (about 50%) and how many new people we need to recruit to fill our available opportunities.  We target communications accordingly.

3. Build a monthly messaging plan.

We create an editorial calendar aligned with our programs, and try to unify messaging across channels.  We pick a lead theme each month or season  – in the fall, we’re all about education.  Messaging is simple and action oriented.  We provide context about the current volunteer needs, paint a picture of the impact they can make, and provide clear direction on how to get involved.

Some of our most experienced volunteers will be too swamped to re-engage: that’s reality. But we stay in touch, and try to offer other, less time intensive ways to help – fundraising, donating, and friendraising, for example.

What are your Fall strategies for re-engaging volunteers and other supporters?

P.S. Get more in-depth articles, case studies and guides to nonprofit marketing  success — all featured in the twice-monthly Getting Attention e-update. Subscribe today.

Guest Blogger on October 14, 2010 in Volunteers | 3 comments
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Photo Lyn Hughes 2009I want to welcome guest blogger Colleen Farrell.  As senior director of marketing and communications at New York Cares, New York City’s largest volunteer organization, she is a master communicator re: volunteer engagement. Today, Colleen shares some social media insights for volunteer communications…

I’ve been immersed in social media for several years, but like everyone else, have much to learn.  New York Cares has a very credible (and fast growing) online presence, but I often feel like we’re just scratching the surface.

That’s one reason I attended last week’s 2010 National Conference on Volunteering and Service (NCVS). Social media was all the buzz, with its own dedicated track (standing room only) featuring speakers from Facebook, Twitter, Pepsi, Craigslist and others.  And most importantly, it created a vibrant forum for sharing experiences and wisdom from the crowd.

I came away with multiple takeaways (always a good sign). Here are my top five:

1.  There are no experts – There are no social media manuals, and there is no single right way to do it. The best way to learn is to get out there and do it. Twitter’s Jack Dorsey got laughs when he recommended not following panelists’ advice – instead trust and listen to your community.  They’ll tell you what matters.

2.  It’s not about us – The days of one-way communications are over.  Jessica Kirkwood of Points of Light Institute suggests thinking of social media like a cocktail party.  You can’t just walk in and expect people to listen to you.  You need to introduce yourself and ask questions – engage in a conversation.  If you do it right, you’ll get a chance to share your own story in a context that matters to people you meet.

3.  Measure – Many organizations – mine included – got into social media because it seemed like the right thing to do.  Now my team and I are looking hard at what we do, why we do it and results we get, e.g. ROI.  I’m interested to learn more about low-cost dashboards like Spredfast to automate measurement across channels.

4.  No silo zone – Don’t silo social media with one person or department.  Embed it in everything you do and empower people to participate, internally and externally. Set policies and guidelines, appoint owners, then mobilize your community to tell your shared story. Nonprofit leaders should lead by example and use the tools themselves.

5. Tone – Personalize, humanize, be transparent, and above all, be authentic.

The Case Foundation’s Sokunthea Sa Chhabra did a great summary of a session called ‘Social Media for Social Good.’  Check out conference hashtags on Twitter (#NCVS and #SM4SG) for notes and links on getting started, and more.

Do any of these topics resonate with challenges you’re facing?  How is your organization using social media to advance mission?

 

P.S.  Enter today – The 2010 Getting Attention Nonprofit Tagline Awards (a.k.a. The Taggies) close on July 28! And this year, for the first time, you can submit your organization’s program, fundraising campaign and/or and special event taglines, in addition to your organizational tagline.

 

Guest Blogger on July 8, 2010 in Social Media, Volunteers | 2 comments
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