internal communications

5 Quick Ways for Meaningful Connections with Volunteers

Today's guest post comes from Jen Guynn, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Pebble Tossers, Inc., a youth development organization which empowers and develops youth into responsible citizens and lifelong volunteers. So, when I wanted to talk about the subject of working with volunteers, she instantly came to mind. Pebble Tossers holds multiple activities every month, which means she's used to a steady stream of do-gooding volunteers.

Buckle up—you're going to learn a lot from her!

5 Quick Ways for Meaningful Connections with Volunteers

One of my favorite quotes from General George S. Patton says, “Do not tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their ingenuity.”

This idea can be a great way to connect with volunteers in your organization. Whether you run a nonprofit, a faith-based organization, or a social enterprise, you will need champions and advocates for your cause. You need volunteers.

When first reaching out to anyone outside of your immediate circle of trust like your roommates or family, it helps to have a few guidelines in place:

 

1.     Have a Clear Vision

Have a clear vision for what you want done or need to accomplish. If you need volunteers for a specific project, take the time to set some standard operating procedures (SOPs) and think through all the nitty gritty details of possible mishaps or misunderstandings. When you share your vision, your mission, and why this project is important, you engage volunteers on a different level. You bring them along with you on your journey and enable them to help you reach your goals. Allowing them to see themselves as a part of helping achieve that mission empowers them to be even more meaningful volunteers.

 

2.     Communicate Effectively

If you need five volunteers to show up a 5:45 a.m., be specific and tell them why.  Also tell them where to park, what to wear, what the weather will be, and provide a job description or project overview. I have learned that volunteers appreciate you anticipating their questions and providing the answers in advance. This makes their experience easier and allows them to be more effective.

Also, double check emails and social media posts. You may think that post looked fine at 1:37 a.m. when you wrote it, but trust me—it’s best to double check each darn line for accuracy and clarity.

 

3.     Don’t Micromanage

This can be tricky if you do not have a set plan of action in place. The quote from Patton comes in to play here—allow for some ingenuity when people attempt to complete a task.  Provide your volunteers with a comprehensive orientation or training of the task at hand, but allow for creative execution of those tasks. You may learn that there is a new way to spread mulch, write code, or play “Jeopardy.” 

It is key that volunteers enjoy what they are doing. Allow for those fun moments to happen. Your volunteers may not completely finish the task at hand, but if they had fun attempting it, they may come back another time to finish! If you bash their efforts, you will lose them forever. Understand that their help moves the mission needle, and gets you one step closer towards meeting that mission.

 

4.     Bring Snacks

Do not anticipate that people will have eaten before arriving to help. Life gets in the way and, if you live in Atlanta like I do, you know that even 20 minutes sitting in traffic can make you “hangry.” Have something healthy like protein bars or apples. However, know your audience! If you have youth volunteers, add Munchkins, a box of clementines, and hot chocolate. Or if you have a Millennial crowd, add happy hour fare or make arrangements to meet afterwards at a local establishment. (Cheers!)

 

5.      Recognize Your Volunteers

We have seen that there are now “national days” for anything! Well, there are actually 15 days that are dedicated to thanking volunteers. Even though many volunteers do what they do for the good of it and not for the recognition, this is still a key element for managing and retaining your volunteers. Taking the time to sincerely thank each person validates their efforts and helps them feel appreciated. No one likes for their work to be summarily dismissed. 

Volunteer retention is highest with organizations where volunteers feel wanted, cared for, and appreciated. Pebble Tossers used to present a Youth of the Year award, but we learned that volunteers (and their parents) did not want to self-nominate. They did not want to seek attention or seem boastful. So, we have found that recognizing volunteers with the President’s Volunteer Service Award is subtle and private, yet very meaningful. Volunteer recognition should be honest, sincere, and frequent. The recognition can spark conversations, create new connections, and build new brand ambassadors for your organization. 

 

These five tips help connect volunteers with your mission. You are gifting to them your organization’s vision, and inviting them to take that gift and create ripples which share that mission throughout their communities. This may be the reach you needed to grow your organization or solidify your reputation. This reach, when coming from people other than yourself, not only validates you and your mission, but the effort of all the other volunteers as well.


Jen Guynn of Pebble Tossers

Jennifer Guynn is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Pebble Tossers, Inc., a youth development organization which empowers and develops youth into responsible citizens and lifelong volunteers. In 2016, she was appointed by Governor Deal to the Commission for Service and Volunteerism for the State of Georgia.

An Atlanta native, Jen attended St. Pius X High School, graduated from Furman University, and resides in Dunwoody with her husband, Mike, their three children, and two rescue dogs. Find Pebble Tossers online, and via Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You can find Jen on LinkedIn and Twitter.



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Whether you run a  nonprofit , a faith-based organization, or a  social enterprise , you will need champions and advocates for your cause. You need volunteers.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


How to Gain Authority and Trust at Your Organization

Welcome to week two of the "small business resolutions" series! Last week, we talked about seven simple tools that build a strong small business foundation. Like they did for me, those resources will help you look more professional to those you interact with, giving you a leg up on your competition and giving your customers and donors more confidence in you. 

This week, let's address one of the biggest issues I've seen at nonprofits and social enterprises: poor internal communication. It's a proverbial elephant in the room, isn't it? We're often so focused on communicating with would-be customers and donors that we don't get our own houses in order. And, yet, everyone knows that it's a problem.

This behavior leads to all sorts of problems, like confusion, distrust, and frustration. In fact, I'm guessing that an example or two has already popped into your mind. We've probably all worked at (or lead—yikes!) organizations where the internal communication left a lot to be desired.

So, it's time to make a change. This is too important. After all, you'll only see more cracks and flaws as your organization grows. And think about it this way . . . your nonprofit or social enterprise has a cause that it's fighting for. It has a mission, a purpose, a problem to solve. So, why would you want to do great things externally while, internally, your employees are confused, mistrustful, and frustrated? That's not only counter to your mission, but will stunt your growth.

But here's the good news: it can be fixed. You can gain authority and trust at your organization through a healthy culture of communication, and I'll show you how.

How to Gain Authority and Trust at Your Organization

The Effects of Poor Communication 

I think there a couple of reasons why internal communication isn't addressed more frequently. First, it's hard to measure. You can't directly see a correlation to sales and donations, so it's shoved to the back burner until it's a real issue. Second, it's usually dictated from the top down, whether intentionally or unintentionally. So, if your organization's leaders aren't very good at communicating or have unhealthy communication habits, that's likely to dictate the culture. (And no one wants to confront the boss.)

Both of these instances can make creating a healthy culture of communication really difficult. However, good communication practices, habits, and systems can mean the difference between having internal support, cohesion, and cooperation—and not having it. With proper communication, your employees and teams will feel united. Without it, they'll be divided. Isn't that enough reason for a change?

Communication Establishes Trust

Think about your significant personal relationships. One of the commonalities between them is trust. And one of the reasons you trust each of these people is because they communicate with you. The same principles should apply at the office.

However, I usually see leaders taking two routes with internal communication. The first is that they withhold information. This may be because they don't feel like it's applicable to others, don't want to overwhelm them, or sadly, may use it as a control tactic. And the second route is where people save up information over time and then dump it all on employees all at once, which leads to overwhelm.

So, instead, make a point to communicate regularly. Proper and consistent communication shows that you value others by keeping them in the loop and respect the part they play at the organization. It shows that you want their involvement. In fact, the people in your office who are good at communicating are likely the ones who are the most trusted. We all trust those who demonstrate that they value us.

 

Communication Establishes Authority

Consider this: one person is the actual leader but communicates poorly with their team. Another person isn't in charge, but is great at acquiring information and distributing it to the team. Who would you go to if you had a question?

The second person may only have perceived authority, not actual authority, but it can be more powerful, can't it? If you're the leader, ask yourself honestly if you're also the perceived authority. If not, what can you do to change that? It likely has to do with your communication style. Be the person who has the information, shares it, and then takes the extra step to follow up when necessary. Your authority will skyrocket.

Create a Culture of Communication

If you don't create a culture of communication, one will be created for you. They can evolve naturally or intentionally. And if you're the leader of a team or entire organization, you can't afford to lose authority and trust to poor communication because it directly relates to the health, well-being, and growth of your organization.

Think in terms of both the "how" and the "when." How you'll communicate can include both in-person and online. You might consider regular staff meetings for face-to-face time. I believe these are best done in-person if everyone is local, but can also be done through platforms like Zoom and Skype if all or part of the team is virtual. Staff meetings don't have to be long, but are a great chance for everyone to hear about large initiatives, get caught up on other's activities, and weigh in on important topics.

You should also think about how your team or organization communicates online. Email is the go-to, of course, but some people work better in programs like Slack, Facebook Groups, or Google Sites. If you're going to be changing systems dramatically, it would be great to get feedback before selecting a new option. Likewise, make sure everyone is adequately trained. You can't blame a system or employees if no one properly showed them how to use it. Give this some time to get up and running, then evaluate and see if you should keep moving forward or try something new.

Lastly, communicate the "when." Outline for people when they'll hear from you. Will you have monthly in-person updates and weekly email updates? What works best for your organization? What will you try, and then adjust as needed?

Set intentional expectations regarding company communication, and remember to be consistent. Tell everyone what they can expect from you, and what they should do with the information. Then follow-up to make sure questions are answered and next steps are taken.

Depending on your situation and the size of your organization, it may take a while to get everything rolling. But you should start to see the difference that can be made when internal communication becomes consistent and intentional. Your employees will certainly notice a difference. And, as a result, you'll gain authority and trust at your organization.

 

Read the other posts in this series:



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

Let's address one of the biggest issues I've seen at nonprofits and social enterprises: poor internal communication. It's a proverbial elephant in the room, isn't it? We're often so focused on communicating with would-be customers and donors that we don't get our own houses in order. This behavior leads to all sorts of problems, like confusion, distrust, and frustration.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.