Episode #015: Recruiting Volunteers Online with Jennifer Bennett

Welcome to the Volunteer Nation Podcast, bringing you practical tips and big ideas on how to build, grow, and scale volunteer talent. I’m your host, Tobi Johnson. And if you rely on volunteers to fuel your charity, cause, membership, or movement, I made this podcast just for you. 

TOBI: Okay everybody! You are in for a treat because I’ve got my really good friend, Jennifer Bennett from VolunteerMatch, joining me today. Jennifer is my co-host on the Time+Talent podcast.  

She is an awesome trainer, an expert in volunteer engagement, and we are so lucky and pleased to have her today. So let me tell you a little bit about Jennifer before we get kicked off.  

Jennifer joined VolunteerMatch to formalize and manage the organization’s volunteer engagement program. With her breadth of experience, she is well-qualified to help VolunteerMatch’s community of nonprofits better recruit and engage volunteers.  

She shares her knowledge with volunteer managers through the webinars found on the learning center, in newsletters and blog entries, and at conferences around the country. She also co-hosts the Time+Talent podcast with me, as we just mentioned, or as I just mentioned. 

She contributed to the book The New Volunteer Manager’s Toolkit and The Guide Volunteer Engagement 2.0, and she is the current editor/co-editor and contributing author of the 4th edition of Volunteer Administration Professional Practice. And so, any of you who are CVAs, you know that textbook well.  

She is a strong believer in the importance of engaging volunteers in meaningful work and was certified in volunteer administration in 2009. So she’s been a CVA for a long time. She also served on the board of the Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration from 2012 to 2018, and was the chair from 2015 to 2018.  

She currently volunteers with the Justice and Diversity Center and Project Homeless Connect in San Francisco, and with the Social Justice Sewing Academy. And I will just plug, we did an interview in the Time+Talent podcast with the executive director of the Social Justice Sewing Academy. So, I will link to that podcast episode in the show notes.  

So fantastic! Jennifer, welcome to Volunteer Nation.  

JENNIFER: Thanks Tobi. I’m excited to be here.  

TOBI: So today, I invited Jennifer because first of all, she works at VolunteerMatch. And if you don’t know what VolunteerMatch is, it is a matching site that matches organizations with volunteers. And it, I think it’s the biggest one in the world.  

JENNIFER: Yeah, I think it is too. I mean, we, you can figure out how you count all those things, or manage all those things, but we’re definitely, you know, a lot of activity is happening on VolunteerMatch, connecting people to organizations.  

TOBI: So, we’re going to talk, we’re going to dig into this. About what’s been happening, the trends, some tips and tricks on really attracting volunteers online well. But before we get into all of that, and in case our listeners haven’t had the pleasure of listening to our Time+Talent podcast or knowing you personally, Jennifer, tell the audience a little bit about yourself. How’d you get into volunteerism? Tell us a little bit about the work you do, too. 

JENNIFER: Yeah, I think like so many, I am an accidental leader of volunteers. I did not start with this in mind. I got my start in the wildlife rehabilitation and conservation field. Totally not what I went to school for. Thought I was going to go to law school and then had like a quarter-life crisis and found myself…like, right? Money, whew!   

I found myself working with animals, which was my sort of first passion. And I, sort of those prompts that like when you were 10, what did you think you were going to be doing? And I thought, for sure, I was going to be a veterinarian. 

And so, I was going back to school to do some post-bac work and like o-chem and all that kind of stuff. And looking at vet school and started working at a wildlife center, essentially as a vet tech. And just really found that volunteers were coming in poorly screened and poorly trained and poorly matched for the work. And we were working with several hundred volunteers a week, especially in the summer.  

500, 600 volunteers coming in every week. And so, my need to coordinate chaos kicked in, I think. And I found myself putting together trainings, speaking at conferences, on working with pro bono volunteers like veterinarians, and ended up actually not going to vet school and ended up really pursuing non-profit management and volunteer capacity-building instead.  

So, from the wildlife center, I went to the Bar Association of San Francisco, where I worked as the membership director and help coordinate pro bono activities for member law firms, which is how I still am with the Justice and Diversity Center, which is a pro bono arm of the Bar Association of San Francisco. I still volunteer with them.  

And then I saw this opportunity at VolunteerMatch, which was really a little bit of volunteer management, but a lot of training and resource development, which was where my passion sort of sits in this space. And here I am today, I’ve been at VolunteerMatch for almost 15 years, I think. Is that right? It’s June. Yeah. So, 15 years.  

TOBI: Well now I know why we’re such good friends. Cause you know what? I used to want to be a veterinarian too. In fact, I started undergrad studying sciences and I quickly got booted. I mean, I was like, I didn’t get booted, but I quickly learned it wasn’t for me.  

JENNIFER: Oh yeah. For me, regular, just like physical chemistry was great. And I was like, oh, this one chapter, I don’t really understand. And then I got to o-chem and that was the whole class of that stuff I didn’t understand! 

TOBI: Girl. I couldn’t even get to calculus! So, but here we are helping the helpers, both of us. It’s good work. It’s fantastic work.  

So, let’s jump right into things. Volunteer engagement clearly took a hit over the past two years. What trends are you seeing, or did you see during the pandemic, and where do you think we appear to be headed right now based on user data and research at VolunteerMatch? 

JENNIFER: Yeah. So, we did a bunch of surveys in 2020, which maybe some of your listeners participated in. And so, we were really tracking some of those hits. Pretty much overnight, new opportunities on VolunteerMatch dropped by over 50%.  

So just the difference between February and March and then March and April of 2020 was a pretty big hit. Interestingly, we did not see such a big hit in volunteers coming to the site looking for opportunities. I think a lot of people were looking for those pandemic opportunities wanting to help, but we definitely saw opportunities from nonprofits essentially get cut in half.  

And it really stayed that way until the summer of 2021. So that sort of first, once the vaccines were out and people were feeling more comfortable, we started to see increases in opportunities and increases in connections. And so, while volunteers were visiting, they were not connecting with opportunities at the same rate during the pandemic until about last summer.  

And now I have to say, really exciting. We’re sort of back to actually better than pre pandemic numbers. I think people are tired of being in their house. I think there’s non-profits are back up if not to full capacity, at least to like 75 or 85% capacity. So, the opportunities are up, visitors are up, connections are up.  

And just this last week we had over our pre pandemic numbers, about a hundred thousand active opportunities, both in-person and virtual.  And back up to about a hundred connections an hour, which was where we were before the pandemic. 

TOBI: Wow. That is fantastic to hear. You know, I’m hearing anecdotally that people are starting to re-engage, but you know, you have such the massive aggregate numbers to, you know, the data to back it up. That’s fantastic to hear.  

JENNIFER: Yeah. One of the things I would say I had hoped for more was more virtual opportunities. And we did see an increase in virtual opportunities, a small increase, definitely not enough to make up for the sort of cutting and half of in-person opportunities.  

It just never got there. And now we’re starting to actually see virtual opportunities leave the site as well. So, you know, it’s so much promise that I know how hard it is and it’s just a lot of moving parts and a lot of moving pieces. 

And I’m, I’m still hopeful though, that some of those organizations that tapped into virtual or remote volunteers during the pandemic are going to keep trying it or maybe work, you know, to iron out some of those kinks in the, in the, the process.  

TOBI: Yeah. I wonder if it’s indicative of sort of the digital maturity of the organization rather than the lack of interest in the volunteer. Are you finding, I don’t know if you know this or not, I’m, I’m just, this is out of left field, but are the virtual opportunities that are being posted, being answered by volunteers?  

JENNIFER: I don’t know that off the top of my head. I have aggregate numbers. I’m not looking at, I can tell you sort of what percentage of opportunities are virtual compared to regular. So right now, it looks like we have just over 102,000 opportunities that are active. 91+ thousand of those are in-person local, and just over 10,000 of those are virtual. So about one in ten is a virtual opportunity.  

TOBI: So there is way, way there’s room for growth here. You know, in our Volunteer Management Progress Report, we’ve been tracking digital maturity for about three years. We started pre pandemic. We didn’t know pandemic was coming our way. We were just interested in, you know, our is our annual state of the industry survey.  

I’ll link to it in the show notes, but you know, we, we track self-assessed digital maturity as well as the different tools people are using. And of course, matching software like VolunteerMatch is one of the top tools as well as online applications, things like that.  

But you know, it’s really had mixed results. You know, the first year, not as, as I, and I don’t have the exact data, but, and I’ll link to the report in the show notes again, but it was low. Then it had a little bit of a spike of self-assess digital maturity when it comes to engaging volunteers and then dropped again the second year of the pandemic. So pre pandemic, then it spiked the first year of the pandemic. And then it dropped. 

What I think might be happening is people starting to realize all of the potential out there. And then they realized that, wow, we’re not even taking advantage. So why do you think that it’s important that organizations gear up their digital communications right now?  

JENNIFER: Oh, good question. I think that’s just where we’re going as a society. Right? I have always talked about one of the opportunities of leading volunteers, especially a more diverse volunteer corps is the opportunity to be fluent in so many different communication styles. Right?  

I have high school volunteers that I text with or chat with. I have older volunteers that maybe I call on the phone or that will read their emails. In fact, when the high school students, you know, start their day as volunteers, that’s what we tell them. I sometimes, I have to tell them, read your email. I sent you an email. 

And it gives us that opportunity to sort of meet our volunteers where they are, and to be really creative and really flexible in our communication style, early adopters for some of these. And I think that when we don’t do that, when we sort of fall into our patterns of, well I just always do it this way, first we’re sort of underestimating our volunteers’ ability to try new things or embrace new communication styles.  

But it also may mean that we’re leaving out a bunch of volunteers who, that’s not their favorite communication style. So, I think when we lean into things like Slack or, you know, online messaging or whatever that might be, that we have this opportunity to remove some of those barriers for volunteers who maybe don’t read their email or would never answer a phone call.  

So, you know, I think it’s important to embrace it. It may not work for you. It may not be the best solution, but to try it out and see if it works and get feedback from volunteers on, on how communication is working, which is really, I think the key to volunteer relationships, right?  

It’s that, how are we communicating? How are we managing and setting expectations? How are we providing feedback on the work that’s being done and, and sort of continuing that relationship?  

And I, I hope that one of the things that comes out of the pandemic is that communication and relationship building doesn’t have to just be face-to-face. I mean, Tobi, you and I see each other so rarely, and yet I feel like we’re super close, right? Yeah. And it’s, we’re not in the same place and you know, it’s great when we can do it together for a cocktail, but it’s also nice to be able to just, you know, shoot…I was going to say “shoot the shit.”  

TOBI: Oh, you can say that. It’s not broadcast TV.  

JENNIFER: You know, have that conversation. And I know it’s a little bit off track of where we’re going with technology, but I do think that that piece, right, of being able to understand how people are connecting, how people are sharing.  

So many of our volunteers are comfortable doing that. Whether it’s like TripAdvisor or zoom with family now, like we can tap into that. It’s not this digital divide, I think, that it was for so long or that people thought it was for so long. Even our older volunteers are comfortable in a virtual and online space.  

TOBI: Yeah. I mean, I think technology can be used to build relationships, you know, and it’s not, we used to think of technology as something that was impersonal, but it really isn’t. And it’s something that you can use to build very close relationships.  

According to, I want to talk about what, what you might think a digitally mature organization might be. You know, our, our Volunteer Management Progress Report, we found that 67% used digital platforms like VolunteerMatch to post open opportunities. 

Now that seems like a big number, but then I look at there’s 23%, like almost one in four are not. And that kind of blew my mind. And I actually have in my notes here, the ratings for the agency’s overall digital strategy, rating as “maturing” or an extensive use of technology, was 18.4% in 2022, in the fall of 2021 but our 2022 report.  

It was 24% the year before, in the middle of the pandemic. But the year before the pandemic, it was 13%. So, it went from 13% up to 24% and back down to 18.4%. So, we’re not on the rise when it comes to digital maturity, per se.  

So for you though, let’s, let’s talk about what digital maturity might look like.What does it look like? What does it mean to you?  

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JENNIFER: So I think we, I mean, obviously the numbers that we’re counting or the organizations that we’re looking at are already at a certain level of digital maturity because they have a VolunteerMatch account. 

And even if they’re not actively posting, they did at one time think that they were going to actively recruit online. But I will say that some of our additional tools, the ways that we allow for organizations to build relationships with volunteers, sort of through the technology platform or automatically, and some of the additional storytelling tools or prequalification tools are definitely not well used on our site. 

So if we think about, I mentioned those hundred thousand plus opportunities, only about half of them have pictures, photos of volunteers at work, or even just any sort of representation of volunteering.  

Again, just over 9,000, have a video embedded in their VolunteerMatch opportunity. And only 5,000 are using our custom questions, which allow you to ask your prospective volunteers questions about qualifications or availability. And so those are pretty, pretty low numbers.  

TOBI: Yeah. So people might be using the tools, but they’re not even using them fully.  

JENNIFER: Or we see them like cut and paste position descriptions into the body of the VolunteerMatch opportunity. And then there isn’t that marketing messaging or any of those supplemental pieces that go with it.  

I think it’s a missed opportunity, especially the custom questions. I love those custom questions. When we recruit at VolunteerMatch, mostly skills-based volunteers, we’re looking for people with really specific qualifications.  

So I might ask like, cause like Survey Monkey, you can pick all kinds of different question types to put in there. And I’ll, I might ask like, how experienced are you with this software tool? Like SQL how well do you know this? Like one might be, I’m a beginner, but I’m excited to learn. And then I would have two and three would be like a little bit, but I still have some questions, or I still need to look stuff up and then five would be like, I’m an expert, you know?  

And so, I get that information when that volunteer is expressing interest. So I can sort of set my expectations or maybe prioritize who I’m going to call back. And it’s really simple. It’s really easy to set that up and not very many people are doing that kind of thing, you know, and I don’t, I don’t get it.  

I, you know, if you have a full online application, maybe you’re pointing people there, but I sure would like to know a little bit more about my volunteers before I talked to them or before they come to an orientation.  

TOBI: Yeah. I mean, it’s also a great way to build relationship. I mean, you could ask fun stuff, like what’s your favorite kind of ice cream? I mean, or are you, you know, it could be like chocolate, strawberry, Neapolitan, you know, anything Ben and Jerry’s, or I’m lactose intolerant. I mean, it would just be fun. You know, you could build, that’s the kind of fun stuff you can do to build relationships.  

Let’s, let’s jump in a little bit into posting opportunities online because I hear volunteer managers complain that they will post opportunities and all they get is crickets. So, you know, they’ll quickly jump to the conclusion that people aren’t interested in volunteering anymore.  

And of course, you know, a debate ensues when people tell me that. So, we know that’s not the case. So, what are the most effective organizations doing to get traction when it comes to recruiting volunteers online?  

JENNIFER: I talk about this, and I think we’ve even talked about this. And I know that for some reason, the idea of marketing your volunteer opportunities feels like a dirty little secret. And we don’t want to touch on marketing, that it makes it less authentic. But honestly, figure out how to tell the story of how volunteering can make a difference for your organization.  

And that two-way street, like what’s in it for the volunteer. If you just post a long laundry list of tasks that volunteers need to do, and you don’t talk about your mission and you don’t talk about your clients and you don’t talk about why a volunteer, to volunteer with your organization, you’re probably not going to get people because some organizations are doing that, and doing that really well.  

And as I said, you know, there’s a hundred thousand plus opportunities on VolunteerMatch right now. Like, people have choices. They don’t have to pick an opportunity that doesn’t excite them, or doesn’t make them feel like it’s going to be a good use of their time.  

I think time is our volunteers’ most valuable resource. They’re choosing to give it to an organization. There needs to be something there, an impact, a story, something that can pull them in. And I see less of it, but I still see, you know, “volunteers needed” as the title. And then we need someone to do X, Y, Z for this many hours and no context, no story, nothing.  

And understanding your volunteers and who would be a good volunteer for this opportunity, to designing your volunteer personas, telling your story to them, what do they want to know? What are those deal-breakers for you for them? You know, do you have to be a certain age? You have to go to a certain place. You have to go through a background check, really painting that picture.  

I also think we see a lot of formal language, you know again, cutting and pasting position descriptions or very like official, full sentences. Very, you know, and this is like having a conversation, right?  

Digital communication, online communication, you know, you hear all the, the, you know, the generation Z saying you, my mom ends all her texts with a period. And I think she’s mad at me.Right?  

Like the, and that’s not to say we should have spelling errors and things like that, but that we need to take a more colloquial tone with our recruitment message online, more friend to friend, or the way you’d have that conversation in person than in like official brochure language or, or, you know, that kind of piece. I think that a better understanding online communication is I think a huge step towards being a better recruiter of volunteers online. 

TOBI: Yeah. Yeah. I would agree. I, I often tell folks, people are not looking for places to work for free, like, but we, you know, often we’ll, we’ll advertise or promote our opportunities in a way that looks like a job that somebody is working for free.  

And I’m like, no people aren’t looking for ways to work for free. They’re looking for a new meaning in their lives. They’re, they’re looking for ways to live out their values. And if they don’t see that type of language in an opportunity, and they don’t feel an emotional connection of some kind, they’re onto the next one. Right?  

JENNIFER: Absolutely. And we know that the average volunteer that visits VolunteerMatch connects with two or three opportunities per visit. So, they’re not going to volunteer with each of those organizations. Most of them will connect with one, you know, they’ll follow through with one of the connections that they make.  

So, it is competitive. You have to, it’s not hard work, but you have to spend some time. I would also say this is an awesome volunteer opportunity. We have large organizations, national organizations as well as mid-size and small organizations, that have volunteers running their VolunteerMatch account. And it’s something you can do from anywhere, right? It’s a great virtual opportunity.  

As long as that volunteer has access to what you want to post and you, you know, give them, make them an administrator. They can do that in the evenings or when the kids are napping or on their lunch break, or whenever. You know, it’s not something that takes a lot of time, but for a marketing professional, it could be really a good fit for delegating to bring volunteers into your volunteer engagement strategy.  

TOBI: I mean, Hey, y’all, that’s such a great idea. It is a skill, you know, it’s copywriting. It’s a skill. Good copywriting is a super skill. It’s a super power. So why not, you know, find a skilled volunteer who, you know, has some, you know, maybe somebody who, who is a freelancer who has some time to devote a little bit of pro bono work. I think that’s fantastic.  

JENNIFER: And we love to see people experiment. It’s so easy to update. You could change your title. You can change your call to action, do a little bit of like what works better post two and see which one people respond to for the same opportunity.  

We see organizations do that all the time. Again, figuring out who is this a good fit for? We are looking for young professionals who want to build skills. We are looking for retired professionals who want to share their professional level skills with us, but don’t want a full-time job. We are looking for whatever that is.  

And it could all be for the same opportunity, but you craft that message slightly differently. There’s no limit to how many opportunities you can have in your VolunteerMatch account. You could have 50 if you wanted to, but really figure out what resonates and then, you know, put your time and energy into the message that brings you the most volunteers that are like the volunteers you’re looking for. 

TOBI: Yeah. I love that niching in your, you know, calling out to your niche in your subject line. So how are organizations embracing digital storytelling to build and engage a following of volunteer supporters? And you talked about a digital storytelling tool of VolunteerMatch. Talk a little bit about that, how people are using it.  

JENNIFER: So, I always recommend that if you’re putting a photo in that it’s volunteers and action. People want to envision themselves doing that work. We see a lot of like volunteers at the end of the day, like in their matching t-shirts with arms around each other.  

That’s, you know, that’s great for your annual brunch. This is more like, what does this look like? What does it look like to work with clients? What does it look like to work for this organization? How are you connecting or what’s the outcome of this work?  

And then you can also put a video in your VolunteerMatch opportunity. And if you’re not thinking about how you tell your story through video of volunteer impact or volunteer engagement, I think that is a huge missed opportunity.  

It doesn’t have to be, you know, we have such tolerance now for amateur produced video. It does not have to be perfect. It does not have to be scripted. It does not have to have polish and looks like it comes from an ad agency. It just needs to be your authentic story.  

And what is it like to be a volunteer? And what do volunteers contribute to your organization? And what’s different or better because volunteers are there and either organization wide or for a specific opportunity. Again, another great way to bring in a skills-based volunteer, you know, with so many tools on our phones, on our computers already, video editing doesn’t have to be something that costs a fortune or is out of reach.  

I also always think that done is better than perfect, right? So, you know, what’s that minimally viable story. And next time you do it, it can be a little bit better, but just to put something out there. Again, people want to feel that connection. It’s I think it’s all about relationship building from minute zero, right?  

That it’s, we don’t wait to build relationships when a volunteer finishes orientation. That relationship starts before the volunteer even knows about your organization, or knows about the opportunity that you’re already sort of having that warm welcome that you’re outlining, who’s going to be doing what and why it matters and how you’re going to get support as a volunteer and how you’re going to be helping the organization.  

And that happens really when a volunteer connects, whether it’s through VolunteerMatch or through a friend, or they just come to orientation. Not that we have to be thinking about that relationship before the volunteers in front of us. 

TOBI: What’s your number one biggest piece of advice when it comes to recruiting volunteers online? We talked about building story. We’ve talked about being speaking at a more human level. Anything else you’d want to add?  

JENNIFER: I would say my number one thing that I see that I think prevents connection is jargon. We know our stories, we know our acronyms, we know our shorthand. People who find you, unless they already know about your organization, aren’t going to know what that means.  

And I use this example. I feel okay using this example. The Red Cross has a role that they often abbreviate as DAT a in a lot of titles and in opportunities that they’re recruiting for. And that stands for Disaster Action Team. And why would you not use “disaster action team,” which are such great words? Instead you say DAT, or I don’t know, maybe they pronounce it. “DAT volunteers.” When you can talk about being a member of the disaster action team!  

So, you know, we definitely want to use everyday language. I oftentimes encourage people to talk to their volunteers and have them tell the story to you that they tell to their friends and family. 

So when somebody says, oh, you’re volunteering with this organization, what do you do there? And they will tell you in everyday language what they do and why it matters. And then we can echo that back. It doesn’t mean that we leave out the more formal language. It just means that we explain it a little bit better, or we put it in context for the average person to understand. 

So, I would also sort of follow up that by saying, have someone outside of your organization read your opportunity, a spouse, a friend, you know, a coworker who doesn’t really do that kind of work, but doesn’t know all the details of what volunteers do.  

What questions do you have? What questions got answered? Do you understand what we’re asking? Do you understand why this work matters? Again, a little bit of marketing, get some market research, get some feedback and then update those opportunities.  

It doesn’t take a lot of time. It doesn’t take a lot of effort. And I think the payoff, you know, I don’t have hard numbers on that. Although I can tell you that opportunities, that don’t get connections that are, have those crickets, 80% of them have spelling errors. And 80% of them have grammar errors and a hundred percent of them have spelling errors in the research that we Done.  

So, it really is about sort of putting your best face forward, but not putting up barriers, you know, really creating that connection. We have some resources on VolunteerMatch, and I think we’ve done a session for you guys too on sort of crafting that message. And maybe you can link to that.  

Yeah. In fall in our VolunteerPro Community, if you’re a VolunteerPro Community member, I believe, I believe we have training from Jennifer on this. I’m going to have to look into that. So interesting.  

I know it’s funny. I will go, my husband, when we first got married, he would come with me. I remember, I think we were in Baltimore at a training or a meeting. And I had him come out to dinner with me and my group of fellow program directors. And this is what he heard all night: “wa-wa-wa-wa-wa.” Could not even, he’s like, I have no idea what you all are talking about and he’s a geologist. 

So, I went to a geology conference with him, and we all went out to dinner with a bunch of geologists. And I told them, you know what, I heard all night “wa-wa-wa-wa-wa.” So, you know, it seems so obvious sometimes in the language we’re using the shorthand, but the general public has no clue. 

And, and often doesn’t even have a clue about how non-profits operate at all. Yeah. You know, so we, you know, we can’t make any assumptions about what people understand about who we are. What we can do though, is make clear, compelling statements about the big why about why volunteers matter. It, it is that everybody understands that. 

JENNIFER: Yeah. And I would say, start your story in the beginning. What are, what do you do? What does your organization do? How do volunteers help your mission? Don’t just jump to, we need somebody on Wednesdays to come in and file, you know, from one to four, that’s the later part of the conversation, if not even goes in your recruitment message, you know,  

list of tasks should come at some point, but not the first thing. Right. Really creating that connection call to action impact statement from the beginning of your story, not to the middle of the story.  

TOBI: So this has been awesome, Jennifer, this has been great. Thank you so much for joining me today and giving me and our listeners some great tips and advice on recruiting online. I have one more question as we wrap up, what are you most excited about in the year ahead?  

JENNIFER: That’s such a good question. Look, I think I’m excited to see numbers coming back. I’m excited to see people thinking a little bit differently, maybe taking some of those hard learned lessons from the pandemic and moving them forward.  

I hope that we will continue to see more creativity and that the dips that we’re seeing in both your numbers and my numbers are not permanent. That maybe it’s just a little bit of regrouping and getting some strategic planning done. Yeah. So that’s, that’s where I am cautiously optimistic.  

Maybe that we can shift some of the conversations that it feels like we’ve been having for a while in this space and really start to make some progress.  

TOBI: That’s fantastic. I’m in agreement, cautiously optimistic. I’m hearing though, you know, there’s there more and more I’m hearing from people lately that they’re really wanting to come up with plans to re-engage at, at one point I was a little worried because so many organizations had been unable or had really significantly reduced their volunteer engagement and they had transitioned a lot of those tasks to paid staff.  

And I was concerned that they would just say, you know what, we’re not going to return to volunteerism. And I know for some organizations that is the case, however, I’m hearing more and more now folks are realizing that is just not a sustainable way to go.  

And that even it’s even impacting, you know, the, for example, the quality of their patients experience or their client’s experience or their customer’s experience, that that really is, there really is a reason, a compelling reason that they are engaging the community in their organization’s work.  

There are many good reasons beyond just a pair of hands, you know, so I’m really happy to hear people starting to, you know, we’re starting to come out of our caves and say, oh, all right. All right, we really can’t do this on our own. You know, so I I’m in agreement,  

JENNIFER: I’m hopeful there. I’m also hopeful again, as I said, some hard learned lessons for organizations that did sort of dismiss volunteers and cut off communication and even lay off their volunteer managers, that there may be seeing the error of that.  

We just a few weeks ago, did a whole sort of new session for us at VolunteerMatch around retention. And what does that mean? And I was really excited to hear people’s feedback and to hear what came out of that, that there’s been sort of a level setting on what success looks like.  

So, you know, staying forever and being, you know, wheeled out is not that necessarily that level of retention that people are aiming for that if people have a good connection in the mission, have a good experience, even if they only come once that that is a success for a good percentage of the people that came to this session.  

So that’s hopeful for me too, that maybe we’re letting go of some of those traditional benchmarks that were not probably never existed. Right. It’s still, it’s all nostalgia, right? But you know, to having to understand that a volunteer leaving is not a negative, especially if they’re going on to do paid work or graduate school or to pursue their next exciting volunteer adventure, that’s a success story and should be celebrated.  

TOBI: Plus, gang, they can continue to contribute in other ways like financially or just being an advocate for your organization. ‘ 

JENNIFER: Advocacy is so important. And I think overlooked as a value for volunteers, community building.  

TOBI: I mean, folk people are with you for a reason or a season and it’s okay. Yeah. Okay. On that note. Fantastic. Thanks so much again for joining me. We’ve had a great time folks again, too. Just a reminder. Come join us over at the Time+Talent podcast as well. 

We’re just planning our next seasons or really excited about that. So, Jennifer, how can people learn more about VolunteerMatch, the learning center, and get in touch with you if they’re interested in learning more?  

JENNIFER: Yeah. The learning center is always a good way to find out what I’m doing learn@volunteermatch.org. We also have a blog that you can find, Engaging Volunteers, where we’ve got good stuff going on there. LinkedIn is a great way to reach me. I’m on LinkedIn. You can find me. I think it’s Jenn Bennett CVA is my profile, but it will probably put it in the show notes, or email me directly at VolunteerMatch.  

I’m always happy to talk to people. If there’s things you want to hear, or things you want to me to promote or highlight in the learning center, if there’s a new topic, I’m always excited to hear about that. Or direct questions, whatever. So please feel free to reach out to me.  

TOBI: Fantastic. Thanks again for joining me and gang. If you like what you heard today, I hope you’ll share it with a friend who might need a little extra inspiration themselves.  

And if you would, make sure you like and subscribe, you never know when a bonus episode might come out and we won’t advertise it anywhere else. So, we’ll see you later and see ya next week. Same time, same place at Volunteer Nation.  

The Volunteer Nation Podcast is produced by Thick Skin Media. Be sure to rate, review, and follow the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. For more tips and notes from each episode, check us out at TobiJohnson.com.