Shared wisdom: Technology and volunteer efforts
20 November 2006
by Brian Satterfield

Volunteers are the lifeblood of the nonprofit sector; without them, most budget-conscious, understaffed organizations would lack the resources to do their work.

Whether your nonprofit is looking for new volunteers or just needs a more efficient way to manage and contact your current ones, technology can play an important role. Of course, the last thing you want to do is waste valuable time and money implementing a system that doesn't produce the desired results.

In the third installment of our ongoing Shared Wisdom series, several organizations share their online-recruitment success stories and talk about the tools they use to keep volunteers informed and engaged. Check out what these folks have to say about the intersection of volunteers and technology; their anecdotes might give you ideas that you can put to good use at your nonprofit.

Contact many Volunteers with Two Clicks

Our organization recruits adults age 55 years and older to volunteer with more than 100 local charities. We started a Web site about five years ago in the hope of recruiting more — and younger — volunteers.

The Web site lets us update our volunteer opportunities easily. In the past, we've updated the site using volunteer resources, but since it is a simple cut-and-paste operation, we can update it in the same amount of time it takes to forward it to a volunteer over email. We get more than 500 hits per month, and while it hasn't been a screaming success for recruiting new volunteers, it has had a big impact on our current volunteers picking up a second or third volunteer job.

Currently, we use Volunteer Reporter software to track our volunteers and their efforts. This application not only allows us to maintain our volunteer database and service records, but it also lets us easily contact all of our current members with email addresses at once. This has been a huge help; we use it to send out last-minute volunteer requests and reminders about events, as well as to forward information of interest to seniors.

Using Volunteer Reporter, I can email the volunteers or the volunteer stations — the nonprofits where we place volunteers — with two clicks. The software has some neat little features such as labels, the ability to export all data into other formats, and built-in federal reports. I wish all of our members had email, but being able to contact a third of the membership in two clicks is wonderful.

— Susan Reehl
Program Director, WestArk Retired and Senior Volunteer Program

HTML newsletters keep volunteers engaged

The City of Columbia Office of Volunteer Services manages approximately 2,500 volunteers annually for the departments in our local government. Email has become an important communication tool with our entire volunteer pool. We send monthly emails of general interest to our entire list but will also send recruitment requests to those with specific interests or follow-up messages of appreciation and evaluation to those who have volunteered for us.

About three years ago, we saw the need to upgrade our email communication and began using an HTML service called Constant Contact. The service was within our budget and allowed us to add graphics, photos, and color to what were otherwise boring text emails. Constant Contact also allows volunteers to politely opt out of receiving future messages and gives those interested in receiving future emails an opportunity to learn more about us before going through the volunteer application process.

Capturing email addresses from volunteers is a critical part of making this type of campaign effective, and we have addresses for approximately 75 percent of our volunteer pool.

HTML messages have greatly improved our communication with volunteers, and I am glad we made the investment to find new ways to stay in touch.

— Leigh Nutter
Volunteer Coordinator, City of Columbia Office of Volunteer Services

Habitat for Humanity: Successful recruitment via the Internet

Three years ago, Habitat for Humanity's Global Villages program began allowing people to volunteer online for its domestic and international house-building trips. It took a while for us to institutionalize this system, but currently, we get about 200 online applications in a good week.

For the most part, I think the large number of online applicants is due to Habitat for Humanity's overall popularity and respect. Plus, we have a wide constituent base, from individual adventurers, to schools doing service learning, to churches doing mission trips, to civic clubs wanting to broaden their base of service. Word of mouth plays a great part as well.

I have seen the Global Villages program move from all-paper volunteer applications 15 years ago to 90 percent online applications today. It works!

— David Minich
Director, Habitat for Humanity Global Villages

Habitat for Humanity's Home Delivery
Operation Home Delivery is not unlike any other Habitat for Humanity International Program or affiliate; in order to accomplish our goals we rely on a steady stream of volunteers to build the homes needed in the Gulf Coast.

Since the Hurricane Katrina and Rita disasters last year, we have recruited approximately 40,000 volunteers on our own Web site. To help increase visibility, we placed an Operation Home Delivery graphic on Habitat's main page, along with a hyperlink to our volunteer page.

I have also used online recruitment services 1-800-Volunteer and VolunteerMatch. Both services let you find volunteers [or volunteer opportunities] by ZIP code, and VolunteerMatch lets you search the entire country. It's just another way that we can recruit volunteers on a national basis, and right now, we need 500 to 800 volunteers per week in the Gulf.

— Tom Porter
Volunteer Manager, Habitat for Humanity Operation Home Delivery

As these stories illustrate, non-profits can use their own web sites and various online services not only to find volunteers, but to keep them. And if your organization is like many other budget-constrained non-profits, it's likely that you can never have too many helping hands.


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