Archive for September, 2009

Charities: Don’t Stop Screening Volunteers Due to Lack of Funds

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

volunteer-with-kidsMany charities and non profit organizations (NPOs) think that they are not equipped or lack the resources to screen all volunteers that apply to help them. Especially in our down economy, when fund raising is more difficult and budgets have been slashed to the bone, volunteer managers might be tempted to skip this important step in the recruiting process.

What a mistake! Every organization has way too much to lose each time an unknown entity is put into the community on its behalf. Depending on the situation, a charity could face losses ranging from its good reputation, to a monetary loss from damages, or even the destruction of the entire organization—solely because it failed to conduct a criminal background check.

Especially at risk are those agencies serving vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, physically and mentally disabled, and children. Unfortunately, the general public contains far too many predators that target these groups specifically. How can a volunteer coordinator know who is safe—and who has the potential to ruin innocent lives and the organization itself?

Professional, thorough interviews of volunteer applicants is the first step to protecting your NPO. Ask the right questions, and ask the same of every applicant. Consider whether the person is appropriate for interacting with clients, or doing behind-the-scenes or event-only tasks that minimize their contact with the public.

Proper background screening is next. If funding is an issue, consider the potential losses to the organization if an unscreened criminal harms a client, and the value of background checks becomes clear. Don’t forget that credit checks can prevent financial losses.

Reference checks are also crucial. Ask references if they would want the potential volunteer taking care of their child, parent, or loved one. This question tends to make people think—and answer honestly.
And finally, for every new volunteer, the screening process must continue through proper training and supervision. This ongoing effort is necessary—even if the volunteer passed the background screening. You cannot be too careful.

If you are a non profit volunteer coordinator, remember that now, more than ever, proper procedures, including background checks, are essential to minimize the risk to your organization!

Non Profit Organizations on Twitter

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

twitter bird on volunteer screening blogWhat is Twitter? How does one tweet, or join a twibe?  Where is your town’s next tweet-up? If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here are the details: Twitter is a social media platform that allows users to communicate with each other in short updates, or “tweets,” of 140 characters or less. It is an online phenomenon, with over 21 million unique users in June, 2009—compared to only one million a year prior (according to The Nielsen Company). Users segment themselves into large groups, or “twibes,” by industry, interests, or any number of distinguishing features. It’s easy to find other tweeters in your line of work, or who share hobbies or an interest in the same cause—like charities. And often these folks get together to network or socialize face-to-face, at “tweet-ups.”

Studies show that more and more non profits are turning to Twitter as a way to spread their message, raise funds, and recruit volunteers. The American Cancer Society twitters. So does Lance Armstrong’s LIVESTRONG Foundation. In fact, Lance announced the recent birth of his son via Twitter.

In Santa Barbara, CA, an executive with the local American Red Cross chapter met resistance when she suggested the group should have a Twitter presence. She was allowed to test it for two months, in the middle of which a major wild fire broke out. She was able to send out instant information about the location of the fire, evacuation plans, and locations of shelters. The number of Twitter users following the Red Cross rose quickly—and kept climbing—from under 200 to over 700.

People expect quick answers these days—and in the case of an emergency such as a wildfire, they expect an organization like the Red Cross to provide it.

Other non profit organizations with a presence on Twitter include the World Wildlife Fund, PETA, the Nature Conservancy, UNICEF, and Save The Children. The Humane Society of the United States engages their followers by asking for feedback and commentary on news items involving animal rights and animal cruelty, while The National Wildlife Federation offers energy conservation tips and facts about animals.

Twitter is an easy and effective way for non profit organizations to expand their support base, engage with their donors and meet new ones, recruit volunteers, and even raise funds as they raise awareness. Plus, there is so much information and advice out there, just for the asking. Where else can you have the ears and expertise of thousands of plugged in people at once? Even more important, you can gain valuable insight by listening to your followers and building relationships. Learn how to get started on Twitter, then sign up for an account and start tweeting!

Featured Corporate Volunteer Program: Target

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

target logo on volunteer screening blogHere’s an impressive statistic: since 1946, Target has been giving 5% of its income through community grants and programs that support education, the arts, social services, and volunteerism. Target’s giving totals $3 million per week—both to local community and national organizations.

Because of the company’s belief that the arts bring communities together, celebrate cultural diversity, and help people see a perspective that may differ from their own,
Target supports arts activities, music festivals, and concerts all across the country. Thousands of children and adults who might not otherwise have access to museums and theaters take advantage of free or reduced admission days, sponsored by Target.

Education is a high priority for Target’s giving programs—because it’s a high priority for the company’s customers (which Target calls “guests”). TO that end, Target seeks programs that combine art with education, such as those bringing arts into schools or that make it affordable for youth and families to experience cultural activities like symphony performances, artists’ workshops, and theater.

Target’s education initiatives put the focus on teachers, classrooms and early childhood reading. Take Charge of Education® and Target Field Trip Grants are national school fundraising programs that awarded more than $18 million to schools across the country since January of this year. Take Charge of Education provided $14.7 million in undesignated funds—so they can be used for whatever school need most. Target Field Trip Grants give 440,000 students the chance to learn outside the classroom—in places as unique as convalescent homes.

Target also sends volunteers to revamp school libraries, filling them with new furniture, shelves, computers and books. Additionally, Target’s 1,700 stores grant $500 book awards to schools in their communities. From cash grants to reading and writing contests, Target places a high priority on getting kids to read early and often!target-team-members-volunteer

Target’s belief in strong communities has led to a commitment to fund programs that strengthen the families that every community is made of. Target has chosen three core areas for support—family violence prevention, disaster preparedness, and relief and safeness—and provides badly-needed cash to The Salvation Army, American Red Cross, and the United Way.

target-house on volunteer screening blogAnother way Target supports families in need is through providing apartments free of charge to families of children facing major health challenges. Just this week, a 10-year celebration will be held at Target House, a housing facility for families of patients at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. Celebrities such as Shaun White, Scott Hamilton, and Amy Grant will help former and current Target House residents celebrate in style. Families are allowed to stay as long as they need, with some residing in Target House for as long as three years.

The list of Target’s volunteer and community giving goes on. Team members have volunteered literally millions of hours to programs in their communities. The company provides opportunities to team members at each stage of their employment. Delivering food to the needy, responding to disasters, and helping renovate school libraries are just three examples of the thousands of ways Target’s employees work in their towns and cities.

Target embraces service to its communities as a core reason for being in business. Through cash grants, volunteer hours, and innovative programs, the company helps improve the lives of millions of kids and adults across America.

Keep Communicating to Your Non Profit’s Supporters

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

communication on volunteer screening blogMy friend Kathryn recently joined a local non-profit board, on which I used to serve. She asked if for ideas for improvement, so I shared one. As a former board member, donor, and major supporter of the cause, it seems logical that I would receive frequent updates in the form of newsletters (online or in the mail), invitations to events, and other information. Because I do not, they are missing out on additional support—monetary and otherwise, that I could be providing, if only they were top-of-mind. As far as I know, they don’t even exist anymore!

This non profit organization’s outreach needs a lot of improvement. How about yours? How many supporters do you have who feel like I do? Who don’t hear from you enough?

As a non profit director or manager, you serve two masters (or mistresses, as the case may be!): your clients and your support base. To under serve either is a misstep. So, take a look at your outreach efforts:

  • How often do your supporters hear from you? If it’s just once a year when you ask for a donation, consider increasing the frequency of your contact–and your message.
  • How do your non profit’s supporters prefer to be contacted? You may be mailing printed newsletters to super-green folks who hate junk mail and wish you’d provide an online newsletter delivered to their email boxes.
  • What are you sharing with your supporters? Believe it or not, they want to hear what you’re up to! Share success stories. Profile a client, employee, or volunteer who deserves praise. Communicate a particular need. You may be surprised at the response you receive!
  • Are you saying “thank you?” If you let your supporters know that you appreciate their past support, they will be more likely to give again—whether it is of their time or their money.

What is your community saying about your charity? You can have thousands of fans and evangelists for your cause, who tell everyone they know about the work of your non profit origination, or you can have people who say nothing—because they simply don’t have any information to share. Give people something to talk about—keep your donors, volunteers, and former board members informed!

Count on for your volunteer prescreening services. Protect your staff, clients, and your community with background checks.

Using Technology to Recruit Volunteers

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

email-icon on volunteer screening blogThese days, nonprofits are more dependent on volunteers than ever. You probably cannot imagine running your nonprofit organization without them. So where do you go when you need new volunteers as a result of reduced staff, increased workload, or volunteer turnover?

Think technology! Check out these tools that can make this important task much easier:

1. Software: Volunteer Reporter is one software program you might try. It’s designed to help streamline volunteer management with reports, spreadsheets, templates, and other features, based on a powerful database model. Find the volunteer with the right skill set for a particular job in minutes, or prepare a custom report for a board meeting .The software’s online subscription service integrates with your website, and allows volunteers to log in from home to track hours, and you to post opportunities and accept applications online.

2. Newsletters: keep volunteers updated and informed with simple online newsletters. You can try a template-based online program, such as Constant Contact, for free, and if it works for you, pay a fee for ongoing use. Simply input your information, load your database of email addresses, and the newsletter is delivered instantly. Links to yours or other websites, photos, and interactivity are all part of Constant Contact’s offerings. Remember to ask volunteers for their email address so that you can add them to the list! Keep former volunteers engaged and encourage them to volunteer again with regular contact.

3. Register with an online volunteer database: Try VolunteerMatch or 1-800-Volunteer.  These services will help you get noticed and match your organization with appropriate volunteers in your area. You can easily match skills with needs, manage your volunteers, and compile reports through 1-800-Volunteer. And both services will put your organization’s name, mission, and needs in front of thousands of interested volunteers every day.

4. Use online classifieds: Think of as a free online classifieds section of the newspaper. In fact, many newspapers’ classifieds sections are becoming increasingly skimpy, thanks to Craigslist’s emergence as the dominant place for buyers and sellers to meet. And, Craigslist is where employers and employees are finding each other, too. So take a cue from savvy employers and put your volunteers needed ad right where your potential volunteers will see it: Craigslist. It’s easy to get started, update, or delete your posting, so give it a try!

Using technology to recruit volunteers is easier, faster, and more effective than ever. Give these tips a try and you’ll see what we mean.