Episode #068: Match Volunteers for Joy & Purpose

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.

Welcome to another episode of the Volunteer Nation podcast. I’m your host Tobi Johnson, and I’d like to talk about how to match volunteers for joy and know. Have you ever wanted to have a pair of shoes? Bought that pair of shoes, wanted them so much to fit you properly, but you kind of knew in the store that they didn’t really fit just right, but you kept wearing them anyway because you loved them so much, but you ended up building up blisters. Have you ever had that happen? I have. The shoes are so cool. I want to wear them, I want to keep them, but they don’t fit my feet.

Well, volunteering is a little bit like that. Sometimes your volunteers want to help you so badly, but the role you have them in is not a good fit. It kind of chafes. It’s kind of uncomfortable. They’re not finding their way properly. It feels like a struggle. And we don’t want our volunteers to feel like that because sooner or later what happens to that pair of shoes? Yeah, you might put on bandaids over your blisters, but after a while you’ll just say, I’m not wearing these shoes anymore. Same thing goes for volunteers.

If the role isn’t right for them, at some point they’re going to say, you know what, this just isn’t for me and they’re going to leave. And we don’t want that. We want our volunteers to be able to live into their best versions of themselves when they’re volunteering with us. And so I want to make sure that we’re getting our talent matched with the right roles. To match volunteers properly takes some time and thought and so I want to give you some ideas for how to do that. Certainly we don’t just bring on any old paid staff member and just set them up with a job and get going. No, we go through an interview process, we go through a hiring process. We take time to analyze their role and their key skill sets that they need, those kinds of things.

So why wouldn’t that happen when it comes to volunteers? Well, of course it would if we’re doing the job to properly match volunteers. So let’s talk about how to do that. So learning to match volunteers isn’t rocket science, but as I said, it takes a little bit of forethought. You need to know specifically what you’re looking for and find out what each volunteer has to offer. So it really is a two way street. What can help make a perfect match and give volunteers more joy and thus more purpose? Because they’ll feel connected when they feel like they are getting traction, meaning and purpose is directly related to progress. Let me say that again, volunteer meaning and purpose is directly related to progress, to their perceived progress, or the perceived progress of the cause itself and their contributions to it. So first off, they need to feel competent in the role.

So you want to make sure when you’re having roles that you’re offering volunteers that you understand what are the basic skills that a volunteer needs to be really solid in that role and feel like that’s something they want to offer? That’s also important. Volunteers have lots of skills to bring to the table, but it doesn’t mean they want to offer all of them. If they’re using that skill, for example, 40 hours a week, maybe they want to use something else, maybe the more creative side of their brains. So we can’t even assume when volunteers have a specific job title, that that’s the kind of work they want to do. For us, most people want to try something else out in their leisure time, and volunteering is leisure time y’all. So we need to remember about that. So the first step is to really understanding the knowledge, skills, and abilities, or what we like to call in the learning development business, KSAs. So knowledge, skills and abilities or KSAs, are the foundation from which you can understand what you’re needing and then communicate what volunteers would be expected to do for that particular role.

So you develop a specific set of KSAs for each role for which you’re recruiting. Now, there are some basic KSAs that are important for your organization as a whole. So let me give you an example of those. Consider these KSAs like buckets. And there’s about three different buckets of knowledge, skills, and abilities. One is that basic skills that every volunteer should have. There are also people skills that are about effective relationships and interpersonal relations and technical skills related specifically to the volunteer role at hand. So we’ve got basic skills, people skills, and technical skills.

And so those are the three buckets that you want to identify for each volunteer role that you have available. People don’t have to have all of these skills when they’re coming to you, as long as you’re willing to provide training to help people build competency around them and that volunteers are willing to learn. So you’ve got two sides again, so let’s talk about basic skills for a minute. Basic skills are things that pretty much you’ll want for most of your volunteers. So there’s a lot of overlap in the basic skills category or bucket, when you’re writing up role opportunities. One is an example of a basic skill is demonstrating commitment to their volunteer role. So I think you’d want that in every volunteer opportunity, right? Maintaining a positive attitude. Again, wouldn’t you want that in every opportunity? Yes, of course you would.

And then using self care strategies to handle stress. So if it’s a particularly stressful volunteer role, you want people to have some self care strategies. Now again, you can train people on self care and really pinpointing if they’re on the verge of burnout, how to prevent burnout, how to maintain professional boundaries, all that good stuff, if that’s related to their role, right? So those are basic skills. People skills are about our interpersonal skills with one another, whether it’s between staff, volunteers, with the community, with the people we serve. Interpersonal skills covers all those areas. The examples can be deescalating. Angry people, if you happen to the volunteers are going to be working with angry people, they better have this people skill. Again, it can be trained, they don’t have to come with it, but they also need to be willing to learn it.

Another area is maintaining proper professional boundaries. As I just mentioned, that is a basic innate skill if you’re good at it. But for many of us we had to learn that from expert social workers around us. I remember when I learned about professional boundary setting when I was early into working and running programs in social service agencies. And I was lucky enough to work with some MSWs who were really good at training this stuff for us. So we got to understand how we actually needed to compartmentalize a little bit when we’re working in the helping professions and how when we don’t, we actually can burn ourselves out and cause harm to not only ourselves, but those we serve. And so maintaining professional boundaries for any time volunteers are in a helping type profession is really good and most don’t come with those skills. So I would say that’s a trainable and then effectively teaching others to do something one on one, that’s a great people skill.

It’s a great people skill for volunteers who are going to train others, volunteer, mentors, tutors, et cetera. And again could be trained. And then the third bucket is technical skills. Technical skills are things like using a computer, like being able to get on the internet, using specific software platforms, posting to social media. It depends on the volunteer role. But technical skills are specific to that volunteer role. So if a volunteer isn’t going to use the computer for you, then they don’t need to know how to use the computer, right? But most of the time we want our volunteers to log in and at least log their hours. So yes, probably basic computer skills will be required.

Write and again you could train that writing and designing communication materials using plain language. Maybe you have a volunteer team who are working on your communications and your marketing so that technical skill would be specific to that role. Or operating a vehicle safely. Maybe you have some meals on wheels drivers, whether they’re driving their own car or your vehicle, doesn’t matter. You don’t want anybody getting in accidents. So that’s a technical skill. And I would say that was a minimum skill. And I would say you should not be the one training people on how to drive unless that’s your mission.

All right? So if you can come up with a set of basic skills, people skills, and technical skills for your volunteers, you can communicate the requirements of the job and what will be trained. And you can also offer volunteers the opportunity to choose a role where they might want to grow or where they feel comfortable and confident that they’re going to bring those skills to the table. And that is going to bring more joy and purpose and comfort to their role. Now, be sure not to overwhelm volunteers by requiring too many KSAs. Focus on only a few of the most important, or you’ll start intimidating people and they’ll feel like they don’t have the needed ability or competencies that you need, and you’ll have a hard time recruiting people. So this isn’t giving people a laundry list. It’s focusing on the top three ish in each of those three buckets. Maybe five-ish, but no more than that per bucket.

All right, so we’ve got our baseline established, we know what the KSAs are for our volunteers, we can communicate those, and volunteers can decide which opportunity. Now, you want to have a variety of opportunities with a variety of skill sets, right? So you can attract a variety of people because everybody has their own special, unique skills. All right, the second thing you also want to do is match volunteers with their unique interests. I talked about a two way street to match volunteers properly. It is a two way street, right? So in addition to matching volunteers based on competencies and capabilities, it’s a good idea to check with them about their personal preferences and interests. So this is really simply just doing something beyond just asking when they’re available or what role they want. We usually start with that, when are you available? What role would you like to apply for? That’s not really what this is. Why not dig a little bit deeper? Why not ask them to complete an interest questionnaire so you can give them a little self assessment and you can make it fun? Like, which volunteer role is right for you? It’s sort of like a cosmo quiz, right? Take the quiz and find out.

So this self assessment can help you better understand how volunteers would like to share their skills and talents without making assumptions based on their experience, past experience or profession, or even lived experience for that matter. We don’t want to make assumptions about what level of skills and what people want to give based on their lived experience, based on their professional experience, based on their learned experience. We cannot assume. So we need to ask. So there’s some things you might want to ask, and there’s four domains or four areas that you might want to ask around. One is personal style. Personal style. These are questions like how do you handle situations that come up in everyday life.

How do you deal with surprises? So you’re trying to get a sense of people’s personality. Now, these questions, there’s no right or wrong answer. You’re just trying to better understand how this person operates, right? Another great question for personal style how do you figure out your goals, how do you go after them? That’s just a fascinating couple of questions just to hear from people or how do you go about solving problems in your life that arise? These are just really interesting questions to have a conversation around and kind of figure out how this person approaches what’s their operating system when it comes to life, right? So it’s kind of interesting. The second bucket or domain you might want to understand about a volunteer is their personal attributes. So I like to do you could do this again in a quiz. It’d be really interesting. So which of the following describe you thinker? I like to generate innovative ideas, define strategies, think creatively, and engage in planning. So maybe that’s their personal attribute.

Or what about doer? I like to follow plans, have a strong attention to detail, and I’m anxious to get things done. So not bad. It’s good to have a mix of these people, right, feeler I want to make sure that there’s a good group harmony and I’m usually attuned to what’s going on in a group under the surface. So you want those folks with high emotional intelligence to be able to feel a room and be able to go support people when needed. Or they could be a person who represents a diverse community. So we have our thinkers, our doers, our feelers, or our people that represent diverse perspectives or community. I’m not just like you and I have a unique way of being and seeing the world than most people. So it might be somebody who has a very interesting take on the world based on their life, their lived experience or something else, or just their personality.

So I like that bucket as well as a personal attribute, you could either be and you might be a little bit of all these things, thinker doer, feeler or represent diverse perspectives. So we’re not asking people to pigeonhole themselves. So you don’t want to force people if you do this in a quiz, you don’t want to force people or a little self assessment. You don’t want people to have to choose one that’s kind of telling people know, well, we don’t expect you to be diverse or complex. We expect you to be only one of these buckets. That’s not the case. But if you’re having a conversation about this, you can say, tell me about that, I want to know more about that. So you’re really curious about your volunteers and the talent they bring.

The fourth domain of understanding your volunteers and understanding their interests is really going back to that skills and talents, professional and personal so asking them what talents, knowledge, skills, abilities, and special training would you like to contribute to the group? So there’s also volunteers who are bringing talent that they can share with other volunteers. Think about that. So as you’re bringing in new volunteers and you want to match volunteers, you want to see what the resource is, because every human is a vast, deep, wide, complex ball of resources. Really, they are. We don’t call it human resources for nothing, and we don’t call volunteers volunteer talent for nothing. Every person that comes to you has unique talents and skills. And it’s your job when you match volunteers to figure out what those are. So you’ve got to set up a process and time to have these conversations.

So we’re not treating people like widgets, we’re treating people like people. Okay, so the fourth bucket or area where we want to understand our volunteers is resources they want to share. So we might ask, what resources do you have access to that can help the team? This could be people, facilities, materials, supplies, et cetera. Each person comes with a vast, deep, wide, complex set of experiences and skills. You might not see them on the surface, but they’re there in each and every person. And our job, if we want to match volunteers so that they have joy and they have purpose and they are staying and contributing to our nonprofit for the long term, we want this to be really meaningful and to be a good match. So we really want to understand what they have access to, what they want to give. So when we think about this, we don’t always have to think about their time.

There’s also all the other networks and access and facilities and materials and all the inkind that they might want to bring. Now we are just figuring out, just understanding. We as the organization that’s bringing on talent, we’re trying to understand our talent. We’re not expecting people to give a lot more. At this point, we’re just asking to understand and we want to share the mission of our organization, what we’re trying to achieve, and where maybe some of our gaps are at this point, people can help brainstorm and co create together with us, it’s an opportunity to have that conversation. So that’s something we want to speak with our new volunteers about when we want to match them. All right, let’s take a pause for a quick break from our discussion about how to match volunteers. And when we come back, I’m going to give you a few more tips, particularly on things to ask during an interview when you’re having a deeper conversation with volunteers.

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Okay, we’re back with our discussion about how to match volunteers for greater joy and purpose. Isn’t that a great aspiration? Rather than just finding people to fill our shifts, that’s not very exciting. How about finding places for people to live through their greatest aspirations, their greatest potential? What if your organization became just a conduit for maximizing human potential and volunteerism was the method to do that? I think that’s a fantastic aspiration, and in the end, I think you’re going to retain more people and have more productivity.

Just saying. Anyway, I promised I would talk about how to go deeper with an interest interview, so let’s talk about that. So you can explore volunteer interest during an interview either with or without the interest questionnaire I talked about earlier. So note that these interviews are focused more on getting to know the volunteer and less about finding reasons why they should be screened out. We’re not about to match volunteers. We’re not about asking people questions so we can determine that they’re unsuitable. That’s not what this is about. Now, I know some of you need to do background checks with volunteers, and we want to make sure that that is happening if we are protecting vulnerable populations.

We also want to make sure that if we’re not the right fit in terms of mission or values or organizational culture, that we help that volunteer find another opportunity. So we still want to have these conversations, but the real goal behind having interviews or conversations with our prospective volunteers is to figure out where they’re going to find the most joy in our organization and where we have need that they can really support and amplify the results. So those are some things that we’re thinking about. So while interviews can be held face to face, phone interviews are also acceptable, as well as interviews via zoom. And they’re a great time to ask if there’s an issue with the background check or there’s missing information on the application. You can also ask for clarity then. And you can also ask people to share more because on their application or in their information, you might find clues about their skills and interests that you’re curious about. So you also want to gather information during this interview about their key motivations and keep it in their file so that when you’re ready to appreciate them or reward or recognize them, you can go back to their file and understand what motivates them.

You’re preparing for the future here as well, right? So here’s some questions that might help you better match volunteers. So I also have a full list of in depth questions if you check out our article on Tobijohnson.com called Volunteer Matching finding the Role for Every Volunteer. And I’ve got a full list of questions to ask volunteers and you can check that out, I will post a link in the show notes. There’s also a more robust list of volunteer knowledge, skills and abilities, or KSAs. So it’s like this blog post but on steroids. So check that guide out and I will post a link to it in the show notes. So let me give you three or four different questions that are fun questions to ask volunteers in an interview and to see if there are roles that might be a good fit that might be of interest. So obviously, you can always kick off an interview with tell me about yourself, your hobbies interests, past or present, your career, et cetera.

That’s always a great opener. It’s a low ball question, it’s a softball question and it gets everybody comfortable. And if you have similar interests, then it is an awesome way to build rapport. Oh, you know what? I’m into that too. For example, then you might want to ask people, what do you like about volunteering and what do you dislike about volunteering? That’s a great question. To really find out if they were perhaps in a role in the past that wasn’t a good fit, because it will be something they did not enjoy, I can guarantee you, if it’s not a good fit, they did not find joy. They did not find joy and we want them to find joy, right? So we want to find what gives you joy when you volunteer, what gives you a sense of purpose and what erodes that, right? What makes it more difficult. Here’s another question I like to ask.

In addition to helping out, what are you hoping to gain from your volunteer experience here? And I always like to kind of couch this a little bit because people, oh, no, I’m not here for me, I’m here for other people. And volunteers don’t want to talk about any of their own needs. So you can say what would make your volunteer experience particularly fulfilling? Are there any needs you have? Are you hoping to get some experience on your resume? Do you want to meet new people? You can give them examples as well. This isn’t an exam where you’re trying to not give people answers, right? This is getting to know you, right? And then the other thing I like to do is just lean in and ask and just say, tell me more about that. Tell me more about that. So you can see this is really a conversation. I like it over tea or coffee. I think you should set aside time.

And you know what, gang? You can get volunteers that are well trained to do this work and to get to know and form relationships with your brand new volunteers, you can set up a volunteer welcome team. This does not have to be done by the volunteer coordinator. 100% does not. And folks need to take good notes, and you might want to have them job shadow for a while with the volunteer coordinator until they get comfortable. But these are conversations. So anybody who’s sociable, who has the skill, the gift of gab and the gift of listening more than anything can do this. So that’s just a little bit about what type of questions to ask. So when you think about matching volunteers for joy and purpose, really focusing on that, yes, certainly we’re trying to check for suitability, but most of the volunteers who are coming your way are suitable for your organization.

There’s very few who aren’t. And we want to make sure that we get them matched with the right role so that they can really shine. And when they shine, they want to stay around because it feels good. It really feels good to be to make progress, to have purpose, to make a difference in the world, to see that difference happening from our own efforts, and to feel connected to other people who are doing this as well. So it’s the enterprise of volunteerism that keeps people going, and so we want to make sure that they are as productive as they can be and in the role that makes the most sense. So we want to do that by identifying first identifying the knowledge, skills and abilities of the KSAs for each role and communicating that with volunteers. We want to be able to understand volunteers own interests and personality traits, and we also want to dig deeper into what is specifically and particularly driving their volunteer engagement and how we can create an exceptional experience for them. So those are just some different ways to think about matching volunteers.

That’s different than the way it’s usually thought about in our nonprofits. So I hope that helps. If you want to learn more about proven frameworks for engaging volunteers recruiting, engaging, supporting, onboarding, and sustaining volunteer talent at your organization leveraging Volunteer Talent check out our Volunteer Management Fundamentals course. It takes participants through our five phase volunteer Strategy Success path and prepares them with a solid framework in what’s working. Now. The doors are always open, and so if you have new volunteer coordinators or you are a volunteer coordinator who is wanting to really level up your practice, this is absolutely the best option for you. And it is really an implementation program. You will learn and you will implement with our tools and templates.

So go to volpro.net/begin if you’re interested. Again. That’s volpro.net/begin. So that’s it for our show this week. I hope this episode has really helped you think slightly differently about how to match volunteers and how to maximize the potential of volunteer talent. And if you’d like this episode, I hope you’ll share it with a friend or colleague and be sure to rate and review us. We would love it if you would leave a review, leave a comment, and we would love it if you would give us a five star rating that helps us reach more people. And you can help us do that by being an active listener with us.

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