Archive for February, 2009

Avoiding Dishonest Volunteers

Friday, February 27th, 2009

volunteerscreeningblogWe’ve all heard the stories of nationally-known religious leaders who defrauded their churches for large sums of money. But there are countless untold stories of volunteers who damage smaller organizations in big ways. They range from PTA presidents to phony CPAs; from Board treasurers to thrift store cashiers. Their victims are programs designed to assist children and teachers, or the homeless, or youth sports associations. Nationally, non profits suffer great financial losses from corrupt volunteers.

Some dishonest people are on a mission to steal: they volunteer to gain access to an organization’s financial records. Others just find it too easy to take a little off the top when nobody’s looking. Some have gambling addictions; others steal for the thrill; still others just need the cash. Their communities and friends are always shocked by the criminal actions of these seemingly good people.

Fraud is a concern for all organizations—and you simply cannot tell a person’s character by appearance. Even articulate, outgoing, well-dressed, and happy-to-help volunteers can be deceitful—and folks who are good at lying can hide some very scary secrets. Luckily, fraud can be avoided with proper controls and procedures.

Volunteer screening is the first defense against fraud. Background screening is routinely performed by smart employers when hiring new staff. But it’s just as important for non profits recruiting unpaid help. The volunteer recruiter’s responsibility is to prevent monetary theft from the organization and to protect the people it serves, its staff, and its other volunteers. Volunteer screening is an easy way to protect the organization from those potential volunteers who have personal profit on their agendas, as well as those hiding violent or predatory pasts. It’s vitally important to screen potential volunteers for all of these issues.

Help prevent fraud in your organization with background checks. Proper volunteer screening will help keep your organization safe.

Reaching Donors With a Smaller Budget

Friday, February 20th, 2009

When government budgets are slashed at local, state and federal levels, it’s a triple whammy for non profits. Add to that your donor base’s reduced ability to give and you cannot escape the pressure to cut your own budget. Look for cost effective solutions to find new and retain existing donors, and you’ll weather the economic downturn, no matter how long it lasts.


Don’t stop reaching out to donors. You must replace those who fall off your rolls—and new donors will be worth even more to your organization in years to come, so get them involved now.


Direct requests for donations, rather than paid awareness campaigns, are a better use of scarce marketing dollars. But do be creative and involve the media whenever you can.  Even better, leverage the power of the Internet and Social Networking to raise awareness for your non profit. You can easily create a blog and a Facebook page for your organization—you’ll be surprised at the response! People are much more responsive to messages and donation requests when they’re delivered by their friends. And best of all, it’s free!


Review your existing marketing materials, especially your website. Do you make it easy for donors to find your website?  To donate to your cause? Ask for help in optimizing your website (Search Engine Optimization, or SEO) so search engines can easily find it. Put a “Donate” button (also known as a “widget”) front and center. Make your website work harder for you by making it easy to give.

Now is not the time to be lazy. Are you sending out regular e-newsletters? Or did you let that task slide right off your desk?  Dust off your email list and get busy again.  Keep past and future donors aware and informed, and your organization will stay top of mind.  And again—it’s free!

There are lots of online resources and tips on how to get started and be successful with online marketing for non profits.  Spend some time getting familiar with them, then get started!  It takes initiative, but you can successfully fundraise on a smaller budget.

Learn more about keeping your volunteers safe with background checks. Proper volunteer screening will help you recruit and retain the best volunteers for your organization.

Volunteer Retention

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

Good volunteers can be hard to find—so retaining those you have should be a top priority in any charitable organization. Establishing procedures to improve volunteer relations is key to this ongoing challenge.


Wondering where to start? Let’s look at some basic steps to improving retention. Clear communication is key to smooth relationships; this is just as true with volunteers as with paid staff or anyone else in our lives.  Nobody can read minds, so be very clear about expectations and responsibilities. Explain how each volunteer’s role fits into the organizational mission. Keep them informed with newsletters and send event invitations to your volunteers.


Get feedback.  Ask your volunteers how they’re doing, what they need, and how you can be of service to them. You may find out more than you bargained for, but your effort will likely be appreciated. For more extensive planning, consider a formal survey of current and past volunteers. Streamline existing procedures or implement new ones based on the results.


Be sure your volunteers receive adequate support. From simple things like proper tools and sufficient supplies, to educational materials and development seminars, help your volunteers do their jobs and continue to learn. Engaged volunteers are more likely to stick around.


Show appreciation. Everyone wants to feel appreciated, but we all receive messages differently. Some folks need plenty of attention, encouragement and applause. Others shy away from the spotlight—just keeping them busy and respecting their time is enough.  Get to know your volunteers, find out what they need from you, and you’ll learn how you can best appreciate and motivate them.


An often-overlooked aspect of retention is safety. Do you provide a safe environment for your volunteers? Older volunteers, while usually in good health, can be more vulnerable to workplace hazards. Provide a physically safe environment for them to work in. Turn off the loud music so they can hear and interact better. Keep sidewalks and interior walkways clear. Provide plenty of exterior lighting and accessible, clean restrooms.


Most important, keep your volunteers safe by performing background checks. Proper volunteer screening for criminal or predator status will ensure that everyone’s safety is uncompromised. Make screening a standard procedure—it will help you recruit and retain the best volunteers for your organization—and keep them safe!

Proof that Volunteering is in Vogue

Friday, February 6th, 2009

During his run for the Presidency, Barack Obama called on US citizens to step up and serve our country, saying, Everybody’s going to have to pitch in. On January 19, he and his family participated in Martin Luther King Day of Service, boosting the program’s press and awareness, and helping make 2009 its most successful year ever—with over 13,000 projects completed!


And then mega-coffee chain Starbucks unveiled its mega-volunteer campaign, I’m In, on Inauguration Day. The program makes it easy for folks to pledge five volunteer hours to their community. Helped along by an Oprah plug, the initiative took off, exceeding the goal of 1,000,000 hours pledged nationwide. The Pledge5 website’s total hours ticker was at nearly 1.3 million hours a few moments ago, and it increases by five every few seconds as another person pledges.


What could this mean to you?  Simply put, more volunteers. Of course, that’s a great thing! More volunteers means more brain and muscle power—and a lighter workload for everyone.


But before you send a volunteer out into your community representing your organization, ask yourself, “Who is this person?”  Even if you think you know the answer, consider online volunteer screening. It’s a quick and easy way to ensure the safety of your community and credibility of your organization.