Visual storytelling is one of the most powerful marketing and fundraising strategies there is, and volunteers are some of your most impassioned supporters. So why not ask them to tell your story with their photos and videos?

Between now and August 24, VolunteerMatch is hosting its’ first-ever #WhyIVolunteer Photo Contest—an online competition designed to recognize outstanding volunteers and organizations, plus encourage nonprofits like yours to tell your stories in creative ways.


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Guest bloggerRobert J. Rosenthal (@volmatchRobert) is VP of Communications & Marketing at VolunteerMatch, the Web’s largest network for volunteer engagement. Their new guide (free), 101 Volunteer Recruitment Secrets, showcases the insights of dozens of volunteer recruiters to share what works.

Part One: 101 Secrets to Great Volunteer Recruitment

Great communications is at the heart of many of the secrets of the most effective volunteer recruiters. In my last post at Getting Attention I featured two such tips – Target your audience where it is and Being responsive can help turn a spark of interest into a flame. So what are some of the other communications tips from 101 Secrets?

Getting to the “Why’s” of a Volunteer Prospect


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Guest blogger Robert J. Rosenthal (@volmatchRobert) is VP of Communications & Marketing at VolunteerMatch, the Web’s largest network for volunteer engagement. Their new guide (free), 101 Volunteer Recruitment Secrets, showcases the insights of dozens of volunteer recruiters to share what works.

If you know the fundamentals of your work but it still feels like you’re missing out on a secret to effective volunteer engagement, we understand.

It can be lonely being the one responsible for volunteers. All around the organization the rest of your colleagues are dug in doing their work, setting program goals, delivering services, raising funds. Meanwhile you’re trying to figure out the best way to align a prospective volunteer’s need with your own program goals.


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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.

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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.

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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.


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Is Your Org Ready To Put An Engaged Base To Work -- Pew Survey Findings Show High Voter Expectations Of Involvement In Obama AdministrationThere’s so much emphasis on the challenge of building your organization’s base. After all, without a base, there’s no progress.

But once you open the door, you have to be ready to welcome and more fully involve your base. You need to walk the talk — if you invite folks to give or sign a petition, to staff a table or to participate in a program, then continue to be responsive, enabling them to be (increasingly) involved in the way they want to be. Far too many organizations aren’t poised to do so and play mad catch up, risking a vital resource.

Nothing proves the need to walk this talk more strongly than the recent release of survey results on post-election voter engagement (thanks to the Pew Internet and American Life Project). Researcher Aaron Rich reports that most of Obama’s campaign troops plan to remain engaged with the incoming Obama Administration and mobilize others in support of his agenda. That’s no surprise to me, but is the administration ready?

Rich also reports out that:

  • 62% of Obama voters expect to be involved in moving the administration’s agenda forward by asking others to support its policies. That’s voters, not campaigners.
  • 46% of Obama voters and 33% of McCain voters expect to hear directly from their candidate or party leaders over the next year, and many of them have a particular medium (phone vs. email vs. text vs. social networking) in mind.

Things are clearly different now, with Obama’s base (and McCain’s too, to a lesser extent) unwilling to shrink into the background. For example, my ornery friend Mark Sirkin complained to me today that he “…had to yell at [the Obama transition team] for calling me on the phone. I said hey, I’m a Web donor  [so get me online]. Don’t make me give you a fake phone number.

Dig into these findings yourself to understand fully how your base’s expectations have changed. They are going to expect to be more actively involved in forwarding your issues themselves. You have to be ready to give them whatever guidance, tools info or motivation they need to do so most effectively. Are YOU ready?

Click the Comments link below to tell me how your organization is helping your base move your issues or causes forward, or not.

P. S. Don’t miss out on the in-depth articles, case studies and guides on key nonprofit communications topics featured in the Getting Attention e-alert. Subscribe today.

Nancy Schwartz in Campaign Marketing Models & Tips, Nonprofit Communications, Trends, Viral Marketing, Volunteers | 1 comment
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Your Volunteers Make, Or Break, Web 20 Outreach -- But You Have To Help Them Do It RightYou know an idea is big when it bubbles up from various sources at the same time. That’s what’s been happening today with this one…

Putting social media tools to work should be on your “to-do” list for 2009, although you have to take a quick look at what your communications goals are before jumping in. But even if you don’t see a strong immediate match with your goals, it makes sense to experiment with a tool or two so you’ll be up to speed when the time is right.

At a minimum, start with:

  • Facebook: Both Fan and Cause pages for your organization, and a personal page for you (so you get to know how Facebook works, and doesn’t work). “The Cause will require little upkeep and should spread virally with only a little help, while you can focus on maintaining the Page with current content and information, much like a website, ” says Aaron Palmore with the Human Rights Campaign.
  • LinkedIn: Personal profile for you, and a group for your organization (so other LinkedIn users can affiliate themselves with your org, and you can reach them easily via LinkedIn).

But once your org is using some social media tools, putting your existing volunteer base to work is the best way to build out your social media presence. Here’s how:

  • Ensure your base knows your org is out there on Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr or whatever by:
    • Featuring links on your homepage to those pages and profiles. This is so obvious, but less than 5% of nonprofit orgs using Facebook and other social media do it. Here’s a few that do:
      • Greenpeace, but it’s way at the bottom of the page. Move it up top!
      • Sierra Club, middle of the right column. A bit buried.
    • Including links in your email signature, to your Facebook pages and LinkedIn profiles.
  • Empower your volunteers as organizers to build awareness of and engagement in your cause. But you have to feed them the right content and tools to do it right.
    • CauseWired author Tom Watson advised orgs participating in an online discussion today to “free up your content and volunteers to organize in the venues they prefer.”
    • Here’s how the Red Cross provides its volunteers with “tools [they] can use to help [their] online fans, friends and family join the Campaign for Disaster Relief.”

How are you making it easy for your volunteers to organize via Web 2.0? Email me and I’ll share with Getting Attention readers.

Nancy Schwartz in Nonprofit Communications, Social Media, Volunteers, Web 2.0 | 0 comments
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Nonprofits Filling Govt Gaps to Help Still-Recovering New Orleans HoodsYesterday I took an incredibly compelling, dismaying yet somehow hopeful tour of four areas still devastated by Hurricane Katrina — Gentilly, the 9th Ward, St. Bernard Parish (where only 5 homes remained in the county post storm) and Lakeview. 2 1/2 years post-Katrina, these areas remain blighted with huge expanses of open land where homes were torn down, dead trees and other storm debris never removed and street lights are still out. More photos here.

The media doesn’t broadcast Katrina images anymore, but these stories are here. Many of them. Grocery stores just reopened in three of these areas, with residents crying with joy in the aisles. Imagine 2 1/2 years without a grocery store nearby. The post office in Lakeview just re-opened earlier this month.

As you know, the federal government failed to provide the help that New Orleans and surrounds needs. What’s incredible, and what I didn’t know, is how nonprofits have stepped up to fill the gaps, trying to build a better city, not just the same city. Here are some of the projects I saw during yesterday’s tour:

Nonprofits Filling Govt Gaps to Help Still-Recovering New Orleans Hoods 1Barnes and Noble Chairman Leonard Riggio’s family foundation just committed $20 million to building homes for low-income families through a newly created nonprofit development arm, Project Home Again (PHA). The new homes are for those who lost theirs as a result of Hurricane Katrina. The pilot will build 20 wind-resistant homes in Gentilly, to offered at no cost via lottery to eligible families willing to swap their damaged homes or vacant lots, where PHA will build another hurricane-proof home.

Nonprofits Filling Govt Gaps to Help Still-Recovering New Orleans Hoods 2The grassroots Beacon of Hope Resource Center provides services key to daily living for residents in three of these areas. Services are practical and much-needed, ranging from acting as a communication link between city agencies in restoring services and utilities such as mail delivery, electricity, sewerage and water, and vetting home repair vendors from structural engineers to mold remediators. This is a huge help when insurers are requiring policy holders to get three or more valid estimates for every necessary repair. The trailer at left holds washers and dryers available to residents still doing without.

Nonprofits Filling Govt Gaps to Help Still-Recovering New Orleans Hoods 3The self-organized City Park Mowrons are New Orleans residents who stepped forward to help the 30 (of 260 pre-Katrina) remaining employees restore and maintain this famed park. They mow, weed and plant this city haven which served as a post-Katrina camping ground for refugees.

These are just a few of the many nonprofits helping New Orleans come back to life. I’m hugely moved and impressed by the creativity, energy, focus and generosity of the people behind these initiatives who have stepped up to the plate, and are making a huge difference to residents and and their institutions and communities still striving to rebuild.

Missing out on the Getting Attention e-newsletter? Subscribe now for in-depth articles and case studies on nonprofit marketing.You’ll get first access to research like this, plus other coverage to ensure marketing impact.

Nancy Schwartz in 08NTC, Creative Partnering, Nonprofit Communications, Unique Approaches, Volunteers | 0 comments

Capitalize on The Big Give -- 4 Ways to Work it Via Nonprofit MarketingOprah’s Big Give premiered Sunday evening March 2nd to record audiences (15.6 million, according to Nielsen ratings). Now that’s a huge number of folks paying attention to giving; many of whom are likely to have little experience with nonprofits, donating or volunteering.

The show works like this: Ten contestants, ordinary people who auditioned in different cities like “American Idol” aspirants, are paired into teams and assigned a person who needs help. The team that raises most money — and presents the most moving case — wins. Each week the lowest-scoring contestant gets sent home.

Despite the fact that critics have panned the show as a venue for product placement, not good will; as a fraud and so far worse than a show that doesn’t claim to do good, The Big Give is clearly a dream for ABC and its advertisers. I see it as a dream come true for nonprofit marketers.

Here are four low-cost/effort, high-return ways to put those 31 million eyeballs (and millions more who are reading about the show) to work for your nonprofit:

  1. Harvest volunteers, while interest is hot. Register today with VolunteerMatch. Oprah has wisely partnered with experts on this front — VolunteerMatch is shepherding folks into volunteering, a service featured on the show home page. Make sure you’re volunteer ops are listed in the VolunteerMatch database. Here’s how.
  2. Make it easy for folks to give via Network for Good, even if you’re already using another online giving strategy. Oprah has partnered with online giving service Network for Good on the donation side. Sign up today so you don’t lose these viewers.
  3. Invite supporters to throw Big Give parties for your org, and simplify the process by providing a downloadable party kit with e-invite text, stories of other giving parties, a party hotline, etc. Oprah offers tips for format and food here.
  4. Sponsor or launch a local “Big Give” knock off in your community. Here’s info on Big Give Houston, which is a great model for your community.

Missing out on the Getting Attention e-newsletter? Subscribe now for in-depth articles and case studies on nonprofit marketing.You’ll get first access to research like this, plus other coverage to ensure marketing impact.

Nancy Schwartz in Fundraising: Innovations & Research, Nonprofit Communications, Special Opportunities, Volunteers | 7 comments

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