Apr 21, 2011

Your Nonprofit Website: Does It Truly Welcome Volunteer Help?

Two fabulous seminars came to the Bay Area this week: One by Kivi Leroux Miller, an expert on nonprofit communications; and one by Ted Hart, ACFRE, an expert in online as well as traditional fundraising.

Athough the two presenters covered completely different topics ("Three Stories Every Nonprofit Should Be Telling," and "Social Networking and Online Fundraising Success," respectively), both had strong opinions on how nonprofits can improve their communication with prospective volunteers.

Ted Hart placed "Recruit and manage volunteers online" right on his list of "Online Basics" - the seven things that every nonprofit should make sure its website includes. (Without these seven, said Ted, "You have no business asking for money online.") But, Ted added, although recruiting and managing volunteers is an important bottom line issue, "Most charity websites don't even mention volunteers."

Uh oh.

Kivi, meanwhile, in invoking the power of good storytelling, says, "Anywhere you ask someone to do something, tell a story about someone else doing the same thing." That can apply to many calls to action in many formats, of course, but imagine how including a story on your website could help people who think they might be interested in getting involved with your group in some other way than making a donation -- but feel uncertain about what volunteering with your group would really be like.

Uncertainty can be a huge hurdle to overcome.

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Just imagine the questions a volunteer who's never actually visited your organization, or met anyone there, might have: "Will they think I'm too young/old? Will the work be too hard/boring? Will the people in charge be friendly, or order me around like I'm at the bottom of the pecking order? Will I actually meet anyone I can talk to, or be stuck in a back room with a teenager completing the terms of his probation?"

Now imagine how implicitly welcoming it would be if your nonprofit website featured an article authored by, or profiling, a volunteer who has been with your organization for a while. Maybe that volunteer helped your nonprofit with some important achievements, loved the work so much that he or she moved up to more responsible work or spearheaded a project, or, I dunno, married a fellow volunteer. It's all good information for the prospect. Add photos, too.

Don't wait -- take a look at your website. Is there a "Get Involved" or similar tab well placed on your home page? Does that page make "Volunteer Opportunities" easy to find? And is there a dedicated page describing volunteer positions, which makes them sound appealing, and includes a story such as the one described above? If not, this little bit of effort could pay off in a lot of increased volunteer help.