Archive for November, 2010

Featured Corporate Volunteer Program: REI

Friday, November 19th, 2010

screening volunteers, background checkREI is the nation’s largest consumer cooperative. What began with 23 mountain climbing buddies has become three million members strong. REI specializes in outfitting consumers with everything they need to enjoy the outdoors, selling gear and accessories for camping, climbing, biking, skiing—and much, much more.

Since its founding in 1976 REI has given nearly $29 million to nonprofit organizations. The cooperative’s annual giving budget is about three percent of its operating profits.

REI can also brag it’s been on Fortune Magazine’s list of “100 Best Companies to Work For” every year since they began it in 1998. One reason people like to work for REI could be the cooperative’s commitment to stewardship, both social and environmental.

Here are a few ways REI employees give back through volunteerism:

  • Employees identify local programs that need help and that can qualify for over $1 million in grants. REI’s grants program is focused on communities where the co-op is located, where the employees live and where they volunteer.
  • In 2008, that support tallied up to $3.7 million, and over 250,000 individuals donating over 2 million hours of volunteer service.
  • REI employees volunteer thousands of hours each year in service projects to increase accessibility to public parks, trails and waterways. In 2008, they groomed, improved and maintained 14,481 acres of land and 6,500 miles of trails.
  • In 2008, REI’s Charitable Action Campaign raised $1.25 million for nonprofit organizations around the world by matching every dollar (up to $1,000) donated by an employee to non profit. 1350 employees participated, donating $677,000 of their own funds to local, national and global organizations. REI’s contribution of $582,000 took the fund to a record high—even in a tough economic environment.
  • Perhaps the most unusual way REI gives back to the communities that surround its stores while creating future outdoorspeople is through programs that support recreation access and help kids become more active. REI’s Passport to Adventure Program strives to make it easier for children to experience nature and become more healthy for life. The program is growing, with nearly 24,000 kids participating by registering and picking up adventure journals at their local REI store—this is an increase of 71 percent over 2007. Kids can draw pictures, play games and write about hikes and bike rides that REI employees help them plan.

For REI employees, giving back to local nonprofit organizations, helping keep the outdoors accessible, and giving kids opportunities to be outside lines up perfectly with the co-op’s mission and values.

Quick Fundraising Communications Tips

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

volunteer screening, background check volunteerToday we’re sharing a potpourri of easy-to-remember tips to keep in mind when creating nonprofit fundraising communications pieces: emails, newsletters, direct mail or blog posts.

Be Interesting: People will read your communications piece—if it interests them. Make it easily scannable, with bold headlines and pull quotes to draw the reader in.

Don’t Focus on Features: Focus on benefits. It’s an old sales technique that really works. You can say “we distributed 500 pounds of food last week,” but it’s more effective to relate a fact with a benefit: “we helped 35 elementary school kids stay alert and improve their test scores by providing a good breakfast.”

Aim for Variety: Mix up your message with some facts and figures, some from-the-heart stories, and some straight-up appeals.

Tell Them What You Want: Don’t send out a communication without a call to action. You don’t want people to say “So what?” after reviewing your message.

Get to the Point: Journalists know that the most recent, most important stuff needs to go first. Don’t fall into a trap of leading up to your important points—put them front and center to grab the reader before your piece ends up in the recycle bin.

Keep your Audience in Mind: Try to narrow down to whom you’re really speaking. A broadly-written piece will appeal to exactly nobody.

Don’t Ignore the Envelope: Adding a headline or appeal to the outer envelope gives the recipient a reason to open it.

Update Your Website: This may seem to have nothing to do with a communications appeal, but think about this: if you’ve done your job and grabbed the reader, they will likely head to your website. If it’s out of date or doesn’t “match” the appeal they just received, you’ll have a disconnect that could end what might have been a beautiful relationship.

Keeping Volunteers Motivated

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

screening volunteers, background check volunteersNon-profit executive Nancy March found herself playing the role of volunteer coordinator as staffing cuts made her volunteer manager a thing of the past. “I need easy ideas to help me more effectively manage both the non-profit and its volunteers,” she said recently.

Here’s what volunteer coordinators know about keeping volunteers motivated and clients happy:

How you say it is more important than what you say. It’s all in the delivery. Communicating critiques or instructions well requires knowing how, when and where to do it. Especially when it comes to handing out necessary criticism to volunteers—who don’t have to be there—it’s important to gauge the person’s feelings before you start. If you need to correct a volunteer who’s failing at a task, make sure she’s not having a bad day already. Ask how she’s doing and listen closely. You may need to wait until another day.

Offer compliments more than criticisms. Catch volunteers doing something right—and offer immediate praise. Keep track of how often you do it. Karen Awashka, a volunteer coordinator in Madison, WI, starts her day with six dimes in her pocket. Her goal? To transfer each of them to the other pocket before the day is over. Each time she compliments a volunteer with “you’re such a help to our organization,” or “I really appreciate the way you reorganized the bookcase,” she transfers a dime. Why dimes? “Because they’re small, light and they don’t clang together too much,” said Karen. The idea is to find a way to remember to balance criticisms with compliments.

Lead by example. Don’t put off tasks onto others that you can do yourself. Don’t compromise on quality of service delivery or on the brand promise of your organization. When volunteers see leaders digging in and working hard alongside them, they are reminded they are part of an important team.

Ask for feedback. Lauren Bailey, volunteer manager for a youth services organization, suggests asking volunteers what three things could be improved in the organization. “I try to ask each volunteer this question at least once per quarter,” she adds. “It gives them a sense of ownership that we are all looking for solutions to our common problems. And they have great ideas!”