Volunteer Management Update
Should You Create a Recruitment "Exhibit"?
Every community has opportunities for setting up some sort of exhibit or booth at which you might promote volunteering with your organization. These might be open to the public, such as in a shopping mall or community fair, or set up for special audiences, such as in the cafeteria of a university or large corporation. Should you be vying for table space at events like these?
September Hot Topic
By Susan J. Ellis, President Energize, Inc.
Are You in a Volunteer Management Silo?
The principles and daily tasks of effective volunteer engagement are universal, no matter the setting. Yet, those who publish or plan conferences for the field find it hard to attract an audience as diverse as the field itself. Too often leaders of volunteers have a "silo" mentality and stay within their own setting or field (whether health care, sports, cultural arts, etc.) when looking for professional development. In this month's Hot Topic, Susan explains how limiting this can be, and she challenges you to venture outside your silo to explore the wider world of volunteering.
Read this Month's Hot Topic.
News from the Field
Once Again, Volunteers Respond
to Natural Disasters
As this Update is being written, we are overwhelmed by the scenes of catastrophic flooding in Texas and Louisiana, and in Bangladesh, India and Nepal. We can't express the depth of our concern for everyone affected and we know that recovery will be a long, hard process.
Being focused on volunteerism, you have undoubtedly seen news and other communications about volunteers lining up or wanting to help, and in many cases, organizations are asking volunteers to be patient. If you or the volunteers you work with are eager to help, here is some of the latest information:
- Since there has been much less coverage on the catastrophe unfolding in South Asia (as compared to that about Hurricane Harvey), start by informing yourselves and others. You can read this NY Times article or follow @IFRCAsiaPacific on Twitter. Then, visit the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies for ways to help.
- For how to help in Texas and Louisiana, check here.
Volunteers Are the Silver Lining
If there is anything at all positive about such emergencies, it's that almost every single news report and human interest story is peppered with the word "volunteer." Despite many negative stereotypes attached to the label of unpaid help in regular life, in a disaster the word volunteer is elevated to the status of hero. Paid first responders are applauded, too, but extra attention is given to those who appear and do what needs to be done simply because they can and they are willing to do so. As gut-wrenching as many of the stories are, it is heartening that people-helping-people stories are filling our newscasts, with special recognition that the aid is extended by and to everyone, regardless of color, religion, creed, or nationality. We all should take heart from that.
When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Susan wrote a Hot Topic that is worth revisiting today. "The Silver Lining of Disaster" discusses heroic volunteering during a crisis, but also the need for sustained assistance for the long haul afterwards. Then keep reading to the Addendum, "A Powerful Idea," which offers an important perspective identified by colleague Karen Key on the need to include those affected by disaster as participants in their own recovery, not simply as victims needing help.
Spotlight on Resources
On-Demand Volunteer Management Webinars
Visit the Energize Directory for the Profession for Web sites offering a menu of online volunteer management topics from which someone can choose subjects and when to view them - or sites providing a webinar curriculum that someone can complete on her or his own schedule. Here is a sampling:
Latest Thinking in Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing (Based in the UK)
10 online lectures from the UK-based Henry Stewart Talks, showing how not-for-profit marketing is essential for everyone who needs to attract support, funding, and volunteers for their organization. Available on a three-year license - online and accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
School of Volunteer Management (Based in Australia)
An internationally recognized Diploma of Volunteer Management available in distance mode. This is a course for managers of paid and volunteer staff. The School of Volunteer Management offers a suite of volunteer management and business management courses customized to reflect the unique character and diverse needs of the not-for-profit sector and the people it engages.
University of North Texas (Based in the U.S.)
UNT offers five 100% Internet-based Volunteer Management courses. The completion of any four courses can lead to a certification in volunteer and community resource management. Core courses in this program of study are not re-hashed traditional course offerings. They are especially formulated to utilize existing texts by recognized experts in the volunteer management field and will offer students the opportunity to interface with experienced faculty in both classroom and field situations. Courses can be taken for full university credit or extension credit.
The Volunteer Match Learning Center (Based in the U.S.)
Choose from 26 different free webinars offering volunteer engagement tips, industry insight, and management best practices.
And, of course, don't forget Energize's own Online Volunteer Management Training Program, with enrollment options for individuals and teams as well as entire organizations. Go to
for more information on this on-demand, comprehensive learning resource.
New Articles Available
Volume XVII, Issue 4
Free Access this Month
From the Archives:
Highly-skilled Volunteers = High Impact Results! (VI, 4, Oct. 2005) In this still-pertinent article, the late Jill Friedman Fixler shared how creating work assignments that engage highly-skilled volunteers provides a win/win situation for you and the volunteer. Using five case studies of real organization experiences, she explored what "highly-skilled" means, what makes working with highly-skilled volunteers special or different from working with other types of volunteers, and where to find highly-skilled volunteers.
From the Current Issue:
Points of View
Passion, Not Mimicry
At a UK conference In 2007, Rob Jackson heard discussion of: What are the significant issues facing volunteer managers today? And when the answers in a similar event ten years later mimicked the exact same responses, Jackson's heart sank. Jackson and co-author Susan J. Ellis write, "it seems as if our profession is still stuck at the same stage of development. How are we ever going to succeed if we cannot collectively overcome the challenges that continue to dog us in our field?" In this Points of View, Jackson and Ellis suggest a simple path toward change: Steer clear of the choice to mimic what others are doing and instead develop and follow a passion for volunteer management work by refocusing on its purpose and promise.
Subscriber Access Only
for a full year or 48-hour access)
New Postings Since the Last Update:
Volunteers Help New Orleans Students Make History with a New Book - George Washington Carver High School students in New Orleans survived Hurricane Katrina as children and now, ten years later, have a school filled with caring people. Through the teaching and mentoring of special volunteers, the 11th grade students have now published a book, History Between the Folds, sharing their personal narratives. Learn their story from Willmarine B. Hurst, one of the devoted volunteers. (Unexpectedly relevant, given the effects of Hurricane Harvey currently hitting the Gulf region.)
Two more articles will complete this issue: part 2 of the Training Design on how to teach adults to train teenage volunteers; and how a special track at the recent Summit on Volunteer Engagement Leadership convened funders and practitioners to "make the case" to funders to invest in volunteer engagement. As always, the articles from all past issues remain available in the journal
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Copyright-free Graphics about Volunteerism
Did you know we have created copyright-free graphics to use as you wish in motivating volunteers? Here's a sample. Visit
our Pinterest page
to see this board and more images we collect for you.
Susan's Quick Tip Continued...
The benefits of an exhibit depend entirely on where you place it. Being one of many booths at a large public event can bring increased visibility (which might be great if you're a new organization), but you must accept the fact that only a small percentage of the people who come by will be interested in your work. On the other hand, you can look for events already
to the skills and interests you need in new volunteers. For example, if you need craft hobbyists to run recreational programs for clients, an exhibit at a beading, scrapbooking, or woodworking show can prove very successful because you will be meeting a large number of people with the potential of being "hot prospects" for you.
Creating and staffing a booth - or even a table top exhibit - takes time, talent, and effort. Weigh the cost (in money and people) against the likely payback. The key is correctly assessing if the people you will meet at a site or event match your needs.
On the plus side, the great thing about putting up a recruitment table at an already-scheduled community event is "piggybacking" on the work of others to get out a crowd! Then, adapt your exhibit as much as possible to each location, such as changing photographs to show scenes of greatest interest to that specific audience.
Tips for Creating Your Exhibit
Whether you are the only exhibitor or one of many other booths, your goal is to create an exhibit that represents you well. Although you can spend a great deal of money on display boards, it is possible to design a low-cost exhibit that does the job for you. (As always, start by looking for a volunteer with some experience in creating promotional materials and you will not have to struggle alone.)
Here are some things to consider:
Focus Your Message
- Will you be staffing the exhibit all the time or will the materials be unattended? If unattended, what will make people want to stop and look? Can you have a video or self-running slide show along with printed materials to take away?
- How can you make the exhibit elements portable, lightweight, and durable? (You will want to use the basic exhibit materials as often as possible.)
- Will the public be walking all around the exhibit or just in front?
- How can you get some height in the materials so that the display will be visible from a distance?
- How can you create banners or posters that are adaptable to different ways of being mounted?
- Which parts of the exhibit will be relatively permanent (not changed for each venue) and which can be tailored each time to match each audience or specific volunteer opportunities?
Exhibits need to communicate quickly to people who usually are simply walking by. So, the challenge is to focus your message.
If recruiting volunteers is your main purpose, find a "hook" to generate interest. Remember that my advice is always to avoid proclaiming "Volunteers Wanted!" That attracts no one. Going back to the craft hobbyist example, you might post something like this: "Love your hobby and wish you could devote more time to it? We'll give you the chance!"
Even today, it's vital to have printed materials that visitors to your table can take away with them. Rarely will people take the time to read everything on the spot. You can also give people the option of signing up for more information to be sent later. This gives you the benefit of obtaining their names and addresses for more personal outreach and follow up.
Always include your Web site URL on everything
, directed to a specific page that discusses volunteering in your organization.
Is your exhibit trying to accomplish more than one thing, such as introducing the organization's services to prospective clients as well as recruiting volunteers? These are very different messages to different sets of people. Design the exhibit to communicate as clearly as possible. For example, perhaps you can divide the space so that your volunteer recruitment message is separated from the other information.
"Volunteer Fairs," in which many organizations exhibit together specifically to recruit volunteers, are often sponsored by a local Volunteer Center or by a host company or college. The idea is to generate interest in community service by a neighborhood, group of employees, or student body.
Although you will be one booth among many, all of whom are trying to recruit volunteers, the "competition" is less than it seems. Visitors to the fair will usually self-screen the booths they visit based on their personal interests. So if you have volunteer opportunities for working with children, people who really prefer helping seniors will bypass you while those wanting to work with children will stop and visit.
Quick Tips come from Susan J. Ellis, President of Energize, Inc.
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