The Power of the Hub!

It was a cold and stormy night…. Nope, not the start of yet another horror story. In fact this story is the exact opposite. At 2 AM on a chilly Bangalore night, there I was typing responses into an online spreadsheet. And feeling pretty good about it. But let me start at the beginning…..

In the summer earlier this year, TJ Warfield put up a wish-list for an Event check-in tool for nonprofits on the Power of Us Hub (The Hub, as it is sometimes called, is an online community for Salesforce.org customers, certified partners and staff). Caroline Renard, who knew of our work in the mobile app space for nonprofits, brought us into the conversation. Over a lively discussion on the Hub involving multiple people, a detailed list of functionality came up. Looking at that list, it seemed to us as something we could deliver, given that we had so much of the Salesforce and mobile infrastructure already. So we took it upon ourselves to deliver an Event add-on to our V4S Kiosk product over the next couple of months. That started a hectic round of design, development and testing internally, running into September.

Come the end of September and it was Dreamforce time. And time for virtual conversations to become real. At the Amplify breakfast, I met  with TJ and Caroline and spoke about what we had done with the wish list for Events. It was truly exciting for all of us to see how a conversation in the Hub had turned into something concrete.

Back home after Dreamforce in mid-October, we connected across the world, our team in Bangalore with TJ in San Francisco and Caroline in Seattle. And we were back in the virtual world to review the Events add-on. TJ was very happy with what we showed and graciously offered to demo and test the add-on at the Salesforce.org Open Source Community Sprint, held in Portland, OR  (#SFDOsprint) in end-Oct.

We were of course thrilled with the idea, but we were also very aware of the many things that could go wrong. TJ had seen the app near-complete, but the last 10% takes 50% of project time, right? Our team in Bangalore worked pretty much round-the-clock to put together a demo org for the Sprinters to use. We made sure there was a reasonable amount of data, a clear set of instructions and other resources for the Sprinters and a shared Google spreadsheet to collect suggestions and feedback.

The Salesforce.org Community Sprints are amazing events. Participants discuss everything from best practices to general experience to solution requirements. Working in teams, participants go all the way to produce solutions with documentation, code and data models. And everything produced by the teams goes back into the Community, making the whole ecosystem better for everyone. The Portland Sprint had that same terrific energy and enthusiasm. With 130 people at the event covering the Nonprofit and Higher Education sectors, we had a large number of people trying out the Event add-on.

With our mobile app still in beta on the iTunes Store, we did some pretty hairy

Across the world on a mission for nonprofits
Working for a mission

back-and-forth using the iTunes TestFlight platform to get our friendly Sprinters in Portland on board. It was incredible seeing the Sprinters in Portland, our awake-at-midnight team in Bangalore and the Test flight platform (wherever that is hosted :)) all coming together for a good cause. Watching from across the world as multiple Sprinters installed V4S Kiosk via TestFlight was awe-inspiring, to say the least. And as suggestions and feedback came flying into the Feedback sheet from the Sprinters, it truly felt great to be typing in responses at 2 AM :).

Kudos to all the Sprinters who dedicated their own time to test and review the Events add-on, all for the cause of enriching the product range for Nonprofits. Thanks to these hard-working Sprinters, there’s now a terrific set of feedback and suggestions that we will add into the product. A product that nonprofits can use to raise money, manage volunteers and deliver education. Which goes to prove that “All for One and One for All’ is not just the Three Musketeers slogan but a way of life for a lot of people!

Reward, recognize and retain your volunteers.

Volunteers are the lifeblood of most nonprofit organizations. Most of them dedicate their time to volunteer for a cause that they believe in. And that is rewarding in itself. For nonprofits, volunteers are priceless. They add value to your organization, bring new ideas and enthusiasm and connect your organization to the local community. The success of your volunteer program depends completely on your ability to retain and celebrate volunteers.

Recognize and reward volunteers
Recognize and reward volunteers

Volunteers not only need to feel valued, but really should be valued. They need to be respected and recognized in order for your volunteer program to function effectively. Knowing the financial benefit of the work that volunteers do, will justify the costs of volunteer celebrations and rewards.

Recognizing volunteers is one of the easiest things to do that has really high impact. But it often gets overlooked because of the difficulty of tracking what volunteers are actually doing. This happens even in the best organizations. When everyone is over-worked, it’s easy for things to slip between the cracks. That’s where volunteer time tracking can make a huge difference, ensuring that all volunteer time is tracked and transparent.

Volunteer Tracking and Rewards
Volunteer Tracking and Rewards

If your volunteers are tracking their time every time they come in, you have complete insight into who’s active and how much time they are spending with you. You can easily set up automatic milestones like 50 hours, 100 hours. When your volunteers reach those milestones, give them a small gift. Maybe a pin, a certificate, coupons for cookies, perhaps just a public mention of the milestone.  Nominate your volunteers to the President’s Volunteer Service Awards. Any of these will make your volunteers feel special. Knowing that someone else knows what they are doing makes it all worthwhile.

When volunteers track hours and that progress is visible to everyone, it makes a volunteer fell connected to the organization and to other volunteers. Post a volunteer leader-board in your newsletters, on your websites, at a central position in your organization. Kindle a little competitive spirit among your volunteers. Give your best volunteers a huge morale boost.

Engaging young volunteers

Last week, I watched my 12th-grade son manage a pretty large initiative

Engage young volunteers to your cause
Engage young volunteers to your cause

to feed 5000 under-privileged kids a special meal. He got a quick-service-restaurant on board to provide the meals with a great discount, he raised the money for the effort, all fairly easily. But where he really seemed to have trouble was to get enough other kids to work with him on the effort. He pulled it off, but since then I did some research and reading on engaging young volunteers. And it looks like there are some answers for him and for others looking to engage with young volunteers.

  1. Appeal to the social leader. Young people enjoy participating in volunteer activities with their friends. According to the Dosomething.org Index on Young People and Volunteering, an astounding 75.9% of those whose friends volunteer on a regular basis, also volunteer. If key influencers are convinced about your cause, they automatically bring in other friends in. Allow this peer-camaraderie to develop naturally.
  2. Appeal on their terms. Young people are born tech-savvy. While they are on their phones all the time, very few young people actually make calls or check their emails on their phones. They also intuitively do their own stuff on mobile apps all the time. So you definitely need to let young people set their volunteering schedules and preferences on their own through a mobile app. Give them ways to share status updates and pictures on their favorite social media. Not only does this bring more awareness of your cause, you will definitely have more young volunteers from their social circles.
  3. Involve them in the issues that they care about.  From that same
    The issues that teens care about
    The issues that teens care about

    Dosomething.org Index, the top 3 issues that teens care about are Animal Welfare, Hunger and Homelessness. While the percentages for each of these vary across regions, overall these are main issues. If your volunteer opportunities are in these areas, you’ll definitely see a lot of interest from younger volunteers.

  4. Use young people as fundraisers. Overall, fundraising is the top way that most young people volunteer. 38.5% of young people who volunteer have fundraised for charities. Can you think of anything more potent than a passionate teen asking an adult for a donation for a good cause? Believe me, it’ll work much better than that cold call or the flyer that you were thinking of. Young people can be the best ambassadors of your cause.
  5. Lighten up the rules. Young people work differently. Bend your rules slightly to deal with the way that they work. They may come in late, leave early and seem remote. Give them work that they could thrive at. They’re naturally tech savvy. So anything to do with tech, music, sports, working with younger kids, they’ll love. Young people complain that they get jobs that no one else wants to do. Give your young volunteers jobs that give them responsibility and a sense of achievement. Give them things that they can do as a group and you’ll never be short of helping hands.
  6. Find different incentives. The single largest concern for most young people is college. If possible, offer them volunteer opportunities that help with college admissions. If you want to give them incentives, make that something that works for admissions too. T-shirts (though always welcome) may not be the best incentive. Find out what the latest little gadget that kids seem to be hankering for. See if you can make that the gift for your volunteers.

By better understanding how to engage and retain young volunteers, you are laying the foundation for the next generation of your long-term volunteers.

How to manage volunteer no-shows

You are all set for your big summer event. You’ve spent hours training your volunteers getting them up-to-speed, you’ve assigned them to shifts optimally based on their choices, you’ve even sent out email reminders to make sure that your volunteers know when and where they need to be.  Your big day turns around and some of your volunteers haven’t showed up. Sound familiar?

So how do you the Volunteer Manager pick up the pieces? Here are some strategies to help you cope.

  1. Build a buffer with Floater staff. No-shows happen despite all your efforts.
    volunteer tracking
    Managing Volunteers

    Better to buckle down and be ready for it. So you are going to need some extra bodies. Build a 10 – 15% buffer of additional volunteers into your schedule. There’s always extra work at events. So even if you have fewer no-shows, you can put your extra volunteers to good use. Monitoring deliveries and vendors, crowd control, clean-up crew – all good last minute duties for additional volunteers.

  2. Train volunteers and show them the importance of their job. Train volunteers properly and know that they are doing. They are more likely to stay engaged with your organization. Ensure that volunteers understand the importance of their job and how it affects the organization. Share stats of how much volunteer time means to the organization in dollar terms.
  3. Recognize your volunteers. Track volunteer engagement with your organization diligently. Make sure that your star volunteers are recognized. Use simple software to keep track of the hours that your volunteers spend with you. This is undoubtedly the best way to keep your volunteers coming back and working assigned shifts. You don’t need to give out big gifts. Just a simple thank you note from your Executive Director or coupons to a coffee shop should be sufficient.
  4. Make it easy for volunteers to communicate with you. Give your volunteers as many ways as possible to communicate with you. Phone calls / emails / text. Use volunteer management software that allows volunteers to Cancel / Reschedule their shifts online or on their mobiles. If it’s easy for a volunteer to Cancel on their mobile or online, they will. If they need to call someone to Cancel, they may not.
  5. Monitor check-ins. You need to be tracking who’s on site. The best way is to use technology where your volunteers can check themselves in, when they arrive. If you are using paper lists, make sure that your volunteers report to a central location where they can be checked in. That way, you can quickly scan the list and know who’s there. If it’s a large event with multi-locational check-ins, keep in touch with your supervisors to know if there are no-shows. Send your floater volunteers to however needs them the most.

The bottom-line is that paper lists and spreadsheets don’t allow for flexibility and adaptability. Use good volunteer management technology to help you adapt to situations quickly and seamlessly.

Of memories and management.

A couple of weeks ago, I met up with a group of friends. I was astounded by the eidetic memory of one of them. As she showed pictures  from 37 years ago, one of the women was able to rattle off dates, events, anecdotes of people. Down to even the names of the dogs at one of the houses.

I’m pretty sure that one of the reasons that those memories were so strong was that the exchange program was so seminal in her formative years. But what of less influencing events? How do we manage those? How do we ensure that we actually do everything that has to be done, complete all the tasks and activities of our daily work life. And that of our home life. Can we rely on just our memories to carry us through all of that ever-expanding domain?

Fortunately, there’s a range of technology to help us get through the daily grind. I

Mobile and wearable technology
Mobile and wearable technology

remember my dad’s to-do lists. Every morning, his first task would be to make a list of all the things that he had to through the day on a sheet of paper. He would tick off tasks as he got them done. Today, with To-do lists on our ubiquitous mobile phones and wearable technology, it’s easy to organize and get work done efficiently. With multiple calendars on our mobile phones, you can set up all your meetings and timed activities on your calendar with reminders to make sure that you don’t miss a thing.

Moving on to our own domain of volunteer tracking and management in the

V4S Management Dashboard
V4S Management Dashboard

resource-constrained non-profit world. Technology becomes key to handling large numbers of volunteers who come in at different times to do different tasks. You can use technology to post your volunteer opportunities on mobiles or on the web. It’s not just McDonalds that can get people to self-serve and clean up after themselves. Volunteer tracking software allows your volunteers to sign up for those opportunities at their convenience, either on their mobiles or on the web. Automatically send out registration confirmations, event reminders and thank you emails. Generate online / mobile-based signup sheets and rosters. Volunteers can check in/out of their assignments to track the time spent and send you feedback online. You can use volunteer tracking to identify your star volunteers and recognize them.

The return on investment includes reduced workload for harried nonprofit staff, greater convenience and better engagement with volunteers, and the ability to ensure that the right number of volunteers are available for your projects. So for those times when just memory does not suffice to recall how many volunteers actually showed up for an event or how long they actually worked, volunteer management technology is definitely the answer.