Using Volunteers - Online Chat with Tobi Johnson

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Phase:  

Beginning

On May 30, 2012, the Aging Network’s Volunteer Collaborative presented its first online chat, featuring Tobi Johnson, who presented our webinar series for volunteer program leaders (download webinar materials). Tobi answered participants’ questions on recruiting, social media, resources, and more.


Questions and Answers:

  1. Recruiting Techniques
  2. Social Media
  3. Explaining Background Checks and Keeping Recruits Engaged
  4. Managing Overambitious Volunteers
  5. Increasing Attendance at Orientation
  6. Volunteer Handbooks
  7. Websites that List Volunteer Positions


Question #1:  Recruiting Techniques

Leslie
What type of unique recruiting techniques can you share?  I feel like we have tried many and just can’t seem to get a great response.

tobi
So there are several things that get in the way of a good connection with volunteers — 1) Do your materials speak their language and are you going where the folks are that have the skills you need? What types of skills are you looking for, Leslie?

Leslie
Drivers for Meals on Wheels

tobi
All right — so they need a good driving record, yes?  What other qualifications do you require?

Leslie
No criminal background, somewhat of a people person, reliable, somewhat of a flexible schedule.

tobi
So, let’s think about people with driving skills—perhaps people with their CDL license?  And who have a flexible schedule, maybe folks who have recently retired or work differing shifts.

So, for our first step, finding the right place to look—What comes to mind for me are folks who drive for a living or have recently retired from driving jobs.  What about contacting local trucking companies, or local companies who use drivers regularly, like grocery chains.

A corporate partnership might be an interesting thing to consider…also, what about retired teamsters who are looking for a way to get back. Contacting the local union or retired teamster assn might be another place to look

Next, take a look at your materials.  Do they appeal?  Are they compelling?

Video testimonials make your appeal more compelling.  Interview your Meals on Wheels clients—they have stories to share about how volunteers have helped. How would you rate the look and feel of your appeals, Leslie?

Leslie
Appealing.  I like the video testimonial idea.

tobi
Make sure they are free from jargon, etc.  Make them short and sweet, but with links to more detail.  Also, make sure it’s posted as many places as possible.  Does your agency home page feature volunteers?

Also, does anyone else have a recruitment tactic that has worked well for them?  Please share!

Andrea
It’s all in the message.  Know your audience and appeal to what motivates them.

tobi
Absolutely!  Find people with the skills you need and the passion for your mission.  Look for those natural connections to people who are already involved in what you do—i.e., in Leslie’s case… people who drive.

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Question #2:  Social Media

Patricia
Posed to me by someone who participated in your webinar, Tobi. Can you recommend 2 specific new ways to use Social Media?

tobi
I’d say Facebook is really underutilized for volunteer engagement and teambuilding.  Why not set up a page that volunteers can use to keep in touch and where you can give them kudos?  Separate from your agency Facebook account.

I also think nonprofit organizations could make better use of blogging as a way to connect with potential volunteers. For example, if you are looking for Medicare counselors, why not create a blog about Medicare issues for the public to follow.  The, you’ll start to generate a following and can start to send out appeal for volunteers to a group you know already has a vested interest. It’s a way to use content marketing to start to attract a number of supporters

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Question #3: Explaining Background Checks and Keeping Recruits Engaged

Patricia
Another question from your webinar participants is: how do you keep someone interested when the process for engagement can be long?  How do you explain the background check process?

tobi
Great questions. First, training and onboarding should start on day 1.

Patricia
Can you explain onboarding quickly?

tobi
If there are small things you can give people to get started and they acclimate (onboard) to your org, that’s a good thing.  Remember, they are still checking you out and they want to make a difference. So, give them something to do also, that will make a difference in their eyes.  Let them know right away how they can fit in. Onboarding is basically how you help someone acclimate.

Patricia
So even while the background check is going on, begin training?

tobi
No.  Your screening process should be completed BEFORE you start onboarding and officially accept a volunteer.

In terms of explaining background checks, as a volunteer myself I’ve had to get and pay for fingerprinting and an FBI check.  I had no issue with it.  The organization simply explained that it was an important step to protect their clients. I actually respected the organization more for watching out for vulnerable people.

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Question #4: Managing Overambitious Volunteers

Sharon
I would like some ideas on how to deal with volunteers who monopolize all trainings and meetings they come to.  These two volunteers have been volunteers for a long time, but they continue to make mistakes and they’ve been known to mislead new folks.

tobi
Great question, Sharon!  I’ve seen it before.  The first thing to remember is that you are responsible ultimately to your mission and your clients. So, supervision is key.  First, make sure you have a handbook and code of conduct that they agree to and sign.

Next, make sure they have a job description that describes their scope of work and minimum expectations. When you notice folks are not living up to their end of the bargain, it’s time for some coaching and feedback. Perhaps training is the issue or something else.  You need to figure out what is getting in the way of great performance and help remove it if possible.

tobi
Be clear about expectations and what behavior needs to change.  Clearly describe what it looks like and then ask them to partner with you on a solution.

In terms of meetings, a talking stick helps. I pass one around and set a ground rule that no one talks unless they have it, and they have the power to pass it to the next person, whomever they choose.  The group then becomes the facilitator.

Lauranne
You may want to use their “steam” as a method to continue the conversation and educate.  Ask other volunteers how they would handle the situation or what they would do.  Discussion is one of the best educators.

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Question #5: Increasing Attendance at Orientation

Linda
How do we encourage volunteers to attend orientation session? We do information and orientation to policies and procedures as a “one shot” process—do you recommend separating out these 2 sessions?

tobi
Food always helps!  LOL! Orientation to the org should be separate from training on how to do the work in their job descriptions. Are these separated out in your training, Linda?

Linda
We do only one session prior to taking applications—training is on the job.

tobi
Orientation includes mission and vision, org chart, why volunteers matter, who does what, safety, client confidentiality, etc. How long is your orientation?

Linda
One hour approximately.

tobi
That’s reasonable!  So, perhaps the issue is commitment to the volunteer position to begin with.

Linda
I agree; we need to select volunteers match our mission.

tobi
Maybe take a look at your recruitment & screening processes to make sure you’re attracting and accepting committed folks first. The other issue might be scheduling—is the session convenient? As in, if folks work and it’s during the day, it’s a no go for them. Or, if it’s after dark, it might be hard for folks.

Another idea to get folks committed earlier is to have them matched with a mentor who will help them train on the job and who makes a phone call to introduce themselves and remind them of the orientation.

Linda
We are looking at a pilot project for mentoring—that has been raised as an issue and I like the idea of the introduction!

tobi
Also, if you can have folks take a smaller step toward commitment, like signing a pledge or agreement BEFORE the orientation, they will be more likely to show up. Yes, get that human connection right from the start!

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Question #6: Volunteer Handbooks

Patricia
Can you recommend a resource, or place to go, to get an example of a good volunteer handbook? I know your webinars have some resources, too…

tobi
Yes, go to the resource section of my web page www.tobijohnson.com.  There is a sample table of contents for a handbook.  Also, check out the blog post I just wrote about Handbooks—http://tobijohnson.typepad.com/tobisblog/2012/05/volunteer-handbooks-a-simple-guide.html.

Patricia
The Volunteer Collaborative has just awarded the Loudoun County Area Agency on Aging a “What’s Working – Effective Practices” award for their comprehensive volunteer handbook. They’ll be doing a webinar and creating a guide to handbook development over the next few months. We’ll hopefully be scheduling their webinar for later in the summer.

tobi
Handbooks are critical for so many reasons—risk management being only one of many….

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Question #7: Websites that List Volunteer Positions

Tomika
Suggestions for websites for listing open volunteer positions.

tobi
Volunteer Match, Idealist, Create the Good, Sparked (for skilled), county governments, serve.gov…folks can chime in…. And DON’T forget your own website.  Make sure you have a landing page for prospective volunteers. Put your testimonials, videos, application, handbook, thank you letters from clients, training calendar, etc.

Patricia
Create the Good is AARP’s volunteer listing site.

Sharon
What does landing page mean?

tobi
Landing page is like a website within a website, so it would be your program page within your org’s website. It should link to your organization’s home page, but can also be accessed directly and should be self contained.  You want to put a link to it in your volunteer postings.

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