Archive for May, 2009

Website Cleanup for Nonprofits

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

computer-screenNonprofit organizations (NPOs) need every advantage they can get. Fundraising is a constant challenge. Finding new volunteers and board members is, too. And then there’s the day-to-day management of running a nonprofit: employee issues, client challenges, regulatory headaches and grant writing.  

If there are ways to make it easier, why not take advantage of them?  Tools are available to make your website more engaging—and could make other aspects of running a NPO a little (or a lot) easier, as well.

Look at your nonprofit’s website with a critical eye. Check each of these areas and consider how well your current site is working for you, and where you see a need for improvement:

Newsletter/information sign up: Ideally, this feature should appear on your website’s home page. Don’t make interested parties search all over to give you their contact information! Make it easy for users to engage, so you can start a long-term relationship through newsletters or email updates.

Donations: If there is no tool on your current website for donors to give to your NPO, that is a big no-no. These days, online is only way millions of people shop. And it’s the way millions prefer to give to charity. When it comes to online donations, if you don’t build it, they will not come. They will go away and your NPO will lose that donation.

Easy answers: Can visitors easily find good information about your organization? Is the site well organized? Do you have an FAQ page or area on the site? If a visitor comes away with more questions than answers about what your NPO does, what it stands for, whom it serves, and what you need, then the site has failed at least that person. They are unlikely to come back, or tell their friends about your NPO’s work. And there are likely many, many more who’ve had the same experience.

A Compelling Story: Is the website making a personal connection? Do visitors get a sense of the ways your organization improves the lives of real people? Or is visiting the website a dry, impersonal experience? Tell the stories of the lives your organization has touched. Use photos of real people (not real clients, of course, if that would be inappropriate or legally risky) to make a human connection with your website’s visitors. Tell them what you’ve done well, the challenges you face, and what you need.

Updated Information: Is your website still featuring an event that occurred last week? How about last month or six months ago? Get rid of that old information—nothing makes a website staler. Visitors expect fresh content each time they enter your site. Why would anyone come back if it contains the same story month after month? Consider adding a blog, which can be updated frequently with stories, events, successes, and calls for action. And, if you can’t update your website yourself, then it’s time for a redesign. Ask around your community of donors and volunteers for someone with programming experience who would be willing to build a simple content management system (CMS) for your website. 

Fresh content, easy sign-up, well-organized information and compelling stories are just a few ways to add a lot of punch to your nonprofit organization’s website. You’re sure to see an increase in traffic, engaged users, volunteers and donors as a result!

Remember that thorough volunteer screening will help you recruit and retain the best volunteers for your organization.

Online Fundraising Contests

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

pile-of-money on volunteer screening blog

A quick trip around the internet reveals that online fundraising contests are more popular than ever. It’s easy now for even smaller non profits to have a big presence on the web, spreading their message to more interested people and increasing their support base.

Mega-retailer Target is currently holding a contest where Facebook members get to help decide how the Minnesota-based retailer splits $3 million among ten charities. Target has long advertised that it gives away $3 million every week, but this is the first time it has created an interactive method of distributing the money, which will be according to the percentage of votes received by these then charities: National Parks Foundation, Feeding America, the Salvation Army, Breast Cancer Research Foundation, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, HandsOn Network/Points of Light Institute, Kids in Need, the PTA, Operation Gratitude, and the American Red Cross.

The Bullseye Gives contest, which runs through May 25, is a great way for these organizations to mobilize their supporters to vote for them and affect the amount of money they will receive. It stands to reason that the charities with good social networks and channels in place to quickly and easily communicate with their base will lead in voting.

By almost forcing organizations to utilize digital communications and social marketing, a contest like Target’s can help even smaller non profit organizations (NPOs) put tools in place that will ultimately improve their fundraising efforts for the long term.

GlobalGiving is an online clearing house that connects donors with community-based projects that need support. Their current offering is a contest called the American Open, which gives U.S. nonprofits the chance to be featured on the GlobalGiving website, increasing their fundraising opportunities. In addition, the site offers these NPOs connections to a network of donors, corporate giving programs, and foundations.

Two celebrities recently announced online fund raising campaigns using Twitter, the popular online message service. In April, actor and Oscar ceremony host Hugh Jackman created a Twitter contest asking his followers to convince him (in Twitter’s signature 140-character messages) why their favorite charity should receive a $100,000 donation from him. He ended up splitting it between Operation of Hope and Charity Water. And Bob Woodruff, the TV news reporter seriously injured while covering the Iraq War, hopes to raise over 1.5 million dollars over Memorial Day Weekend using Twitter. The money will go to his foundation, which aids injured veterans and armed service personnel.

Smart non profit executives keep their eyes open for contests like these, which pop up on both the local and the national scene. Online contests and initiatives can be an easy way to add funds to charity coffers—even in tough economic times like these.

Remember that thorough volunteer screening will help you recruit and retain the best volunteers for your organization.

Featured Corporate Volunteer Program: Cisco

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

cisco-citizens on volunteer screening blogCisco CEO John Chambers believes giving back is not only the right thing to do, but good for business, too. The entire management team believes Corporate Social Responsibility is the foundation for their business—and it shows in how they treat their employees, the environment, their customers, and their communities. Cisco really makes a difference through their employee volunteer program, called Cisco Citizens.

During fiscal year 2007, Cisco employees volunteered over 168,000 hours in their communities and around the world. From one-day team building projects to long-term initiatives, Cisco Citizens are busy volunteers! Many projects are researched and planned by their Civic Councils, teams of employee leaders who are passionate about giving back to their communities. The Civic Councils also develop partnerships with nonprofits, coordinate product donations, and facilitate grants.

Cisco’s Volunteer Connection Tool is a matching system that brings employees and volunteer opportunities together. This powerful tool matches employee skills with nonprofit organization (NPO) needs. NPOs can register online and request Cisco volunteers for specific projects, jobs, or even mentorships. It also allows volunteer coordinators to recruit, track, manage and communicate with their volunteers from Cisco quickly and efficiently.

The Cisco Foundation matches employees’ time donations with cash contributions to qualifying NPOs. The Foundation encourages all Cisco employees to volunteer at least one day a year to qualified charities in a company-wide effort to strengthen employees’ ties to their communities.

In other displays of Corporate Social Responsibility, Cisco supports boardnetUSA, a website that helps link interested community leaders with nonprofits that need board members, and holds an annual Holiday Global Hunger Relief Drive. These two programs educate Cisco employees about issues in their communities and around the world, and show them how they can make a difference—all with the staunch support of their employer.

As Cisco demonstrates, corporate volunteer programs are good for the communities they serve and for business, too. Customer good will, employee loyalty, and positive press coverage is priceless for any size company.

Remember that thorough volunteer screening will help you recruit and retain the best volunteers for your organization.

Volunteer Coordination: Plan to Succeed

Monday, May 4th, 2009

volunteer_shirt on volunteer screening blogVolunteers can lighten the load on your Non Profit Organization (NPO).  If your organization has been forced to lay off staff, you may need to start a new volunteer program—or ramp up the one you have.  Volunteers can be a solid foundation to help your NPO survive the current economic downturn.

Why are Volunteer Coordinators Needed?

Too many NPOs are short on personnel, with individuals taking on more work than they can handle. Volunteer coordinators fulfill an important role by easing the demands on staff, helping the organization save money, and increasing community awareness. If possible, it’s best that the volunteer coordinator position is not combined with any other job title. If the coordinator is spread too thinly, the entire volunteer system can collapse. 

Planning for Success

Patience and good communication skills will go a long way toward succeeding at the volunteer coordinator’s job. First, they must know the needs of the organization and staff.  It won’t do any good to create a receptionist position when a driver would be much more useful to the staff. Interviewing staff members is a great way to determine where the holes are, what work is piling up, and where they need the most help.  Be sure to clarify which jobs and tasks will remain with staff, and which will be performed by volunteers, so that everyone understands their roles.

Communicate Expectations

Every volunteer’s job should be an imperative part of the organization, with specific tasks and responsibilities.  Give them a job description to follow. Determine whether it is a short- or long-term (lasting at least a year) position, so the volunteer knows what to expect. Check in and find out if they are enjoying the work; if not, help them transfer to a position they’re suited for.

What Do Volunteers Need?

First, all of your volunteers should know the purpose and mission of the organization. Share the goals the board has established. A volunteer may be the first and only contact a potential client or donor has with your agency, so it is vital that they know how to communicate this information clearly. Plus, they will feel empowered to properly perform their job and help the organization meet its goals. Volunteers want to feel useful! Give your volunteers complete attention, and keep the lines of communication open. Let them know their importance to the NPO, and how their work benefits everyone. Be available for questions and be extra patient for the first few months, as everyone learns their new roles.

Recognition is important, too. The entire staff should make volunteers feel welcome and supported.  Occasional treats, small gifts, and special acknowledgement for a job well done can go a long way to keeping your volunteers interested and engaged in the organization’s ongoing mission.

Taking on volunteers is a big step for a non profit. Planning well makes it easier and more effective for everyone.