April 4, 2024

Episode #104: The WOW! Volunteer Experience 

In this episode of the Volunteer Nation podcast, Tobi Johnson discusses the importance of providing a wow volunteer experience. She emphasizes that beyond traditional methods of appreciation, designing a well-run program plays a crucial role in volunteer satisfaction. 

Tobi also shares a personal story to illustrate the impact of outstanding service and introduces the ‘WOW’ acronym to break down the components of a great volunteer experience: Warm, Optimistic, and Well-designed. It’s an insightful discussion that shows you how you can create memorable and exceptional volunteer experience for your organization! 

Wow Volunteer Experience – Episode Highlights 

  • [01:33] – Designing an Exceptional Volunteer Experience 
  • [03:44] – Personal Story: Exceptional Service During Hard Times 
  • [06:31] – Creating a WOW Volunteer Experience 
  • [06:44] – The WOW Acronym Explained 
  • [10:02] – Optimistic and Well-Designed: The Other Elements of WOW 

Wow Volunteer ExperienceQuotes from the Episode

“When we think about a well-designed volunteer program, it’s a program or an experience that we have taken steps to simplify and create something very elegant and easy to move through.” 

“To really encounter an exceptional service experience from a customer service perspective is pretty rare. If you can do this for your volunteers, you start to stand out as a kind of organization that’s above the fray. You become the organization that people talk about. You become the organization that people can’t wait to serve.” 

About the Show

Nonprofit leadership author, trainer, consultant, and volunteer management expert Tobi Johnson shares weekly tips to help charities build, grow, and scale exceptional volunteer teams. Discover how your nonprofit can effectively coordinate volunteers who are reliable, equipped, and ready to help you bring about BIG change for the better.

If you’re ready to ditch the stress and harness the power of people to fuel your good work, you’re in exactly the right place!

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Have questions or suggestions for the show? Email us at wecare@volpro.net.

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Episode #104 Transcript: The WOW! Volunteer Experience 

Tobi Johnson: Welcome everybody to another episode of the Volunteer Nation podcast. I’m your host, Tobi Johnson, and we are celebrating Global Volunteer Month. It’s April, it’s National Volunteer Week, the third week in April here in the States, and globally, we are celebrating Global Volunteer Month. It is a better way to celebrate this month than to think about how we can give volunteers the best gift of all, and that is a well-run program. 

Certainly we can do thank you letters and gifts and giveaways and luncheons and all that good stuff we do during this time of year, but to say thanks to those who contribute their time and talent to our organizations, but we also want to think about what are more meaningful and really significant ways we can make volunteers lives better. 

And part of it is making sure that the time they spend with us is top notch, best in class. Top of the world, world class, whatever you want to say. So today I wanted to talk a little bit about what that WOW Volunteer experience might look like. And, you know, as I like to say, the best volunteer recognition is a well-run program, which starts with designing an exceptional volunteer experience. 

So, think to yourself, when was the last time you experienced a world class Ritz Carlton type of experience. A service experience that you wanted to talk to people about. One that you wanted to share with others. One that blew your socks off. It’s hard to think of one, isn’t it? Because service has kind of gone downhill lately, wouldn’t you agree? 

Things are just harder. Things don’t seem to be the same. as nurturing as they used to be. People are hassled. Things are getting cut. We have economic woes. There are all kinds of reasons why this might be happening. But to really encounter an exceptional service experience from a customer service perspective is pretty rare. 

And so, if you can do this for your volunteers, you start to stand out as a kind of organization that’s above the fray. You become the organization that people talk about. You become the organization that people can’t wait to serve. Again, service experiences, excellent ones, are hard to come by. So, when they happen, we sit up and take notice. 

So, think again about the last time you had an exceptional customer service experience. What elements made it stand out for you? Was it because it was surprising? Was it because it was unexpected? Was it because people were kind or compassionate? Was it because it was easy and hassle free? Or because it delivered more than you expected? 

Those are all reasons why we think the service is better than expected or why a service experience might be exceptional. Currently, or you know, if you know anything about where I’m at right now, my husband and I got flooded out of our house. We had to move out. The whole house was ripped apart. All the, we had a full tear out, all the flooring, parts of the walls, our insulation, our cabinets, pretty much we had to move all our belongings. 

And we’re in our house in the Pacific Northwest, all our belongings in our garage. And just a couple days ago, my husband decided to write thank you notes or letters to email to our insurer. for the two adjusters that visited our home over the past couple months and to the adjuster that’s helping us with our personal property. 

Now why would anybody take time out of their busy day especially when they’re stressed and we are now in our third, just about to move to our fourth temporary residence. We are one week away or 10 days away from moving back into our home, but we still have a week to go and have to have a place to live. 

So, we’re not at our best selves, it’s not like we have extra time on our hands or we’re not lacking stress, but why are we doing this? Why did my husband take time to do this? Because he felt and believed he had encountered exceptional customer service. And that’s what we do. We say thank you when we feel like we’ve experienced something that’s above and beyond. 

And so, for that experience, all our insurance adjusters really helped us. in a lot of different ways. One way was just helping us understand the process because when you’re going through the trauma of being dislocated out of your home, your brain gets kind of foggy because you’re trying to manage and juggle a lot of things and you start to worry and they were able to help us understand and continue to help us understand next steps, what we need to consider. 

The other thing that was exceptional is the level of detail. and the willingness to explain that detail to us. That was helpful from our insurance adjusters. The other piece was compassion and just humanness, right? You don’t expect that from an insurance adjuster. You kind of think somebody, they’re going to be a little standoffish when they come to your house and start assessing the damage, but they were very warm and friendly and real human beings. 

So, those are some of the things my husband put in his thank you note to our insurer or notes to our insurer to just give those folks kudos. So even in the most traumatic or stressful times, we can recognize an exceptional service experience. So today I want to talk about what is a wow. volunteer experience. 

How do we create customer service or just an experience for our volunteers with that customer service lens? From that customer service lens, I’ve got three different areas based on my WOW acronym, W O W. So, the first W is warm. I believe that volunteers want to have a warm experience. And what I mean by that is that They feel like they are welcomed. 

They feel like people are excited to see them. They also feel like they belong, that they have a meaningful part to play. You know, if you think about when we feel like we belong to a group, it’s not that we want to freeload with that group. It’s what we want to be a meaningful partner, a meaningful contributor, a meaningful producer. 

When we belong, we are part of and not apart from. The other thing about warmth is really feeling seen and heard, that their opinions are valued, that people see me as a contributor, people see me as a human, people see all of me and accept me. That’s part of a warm volunteer experience. So that’s the first W of the wow experience. 

You know, I did a volunteer nation episode number 19 way back when on how to improve the volunteer experience with a journey map. You can use this framework to think about your current journey. Volunteer experience, whether it’s welcoming and whether it’s warm at each step of the way. So, check that out and see, you know, are you meeting volunteers’ emotional needs? 

Because when we think about a warm experience, it is all about emotions. And so that is it. episode, I break down how to, a framework for how we analyze and how I work with my clients to analyze that experience step by step. And, you know, commitment is a process, not a destination. So people’s emotions change as they deepen their engagement with your nonprofit. 

And so, they also change some of their, their emotions change and their emotional needs change. So, think about that warm experience. And I’m going to be right back after the break with my O and my W of the W. O. W. acronym. So don’t go anywhere. I’ll be right back with two more ways to create a W. O. W. 

volunteer experience. So don’t go anywhere. If you’re enjoying this week’s episode of Volunteer Nation, we invite you to check out the Volunteer Pro Premium Membership. This community is the most comprehensive resource for attracting, engaging, and supporting dedicated high impact volunteer talent for your good cause. 

Volunteer Pro Premium Membership helps you build or renovate an effective volunteer program with less stress and more joy. So, you can ditch the overwhelm and confidently carry your vision forward. And it’s the only implementation program of its kind that helps your organization build maturity across five phases of our proprietary system, the volunteer strategy success path. If you’re interested in learning more, visit volpro.net 

Okay, we’re back with our conversation about how to create a W. O. W. volunteer experience. Remember, I’ve got my acronym, W. O. W. W. O. W. The first in the W. O. W. is warm, creating that warm experience, making sure people feel welcome and part of the team. 

The second word in the W. O. W. acronym is optimistic. optimistic. So, when folks feel optimistic, they have high hopes that something’s going to work out. So, for volunteers, that means that the goals that they’re working towards feel doable and that they’re pulling together to complete them. So, it’s not about, I’m trying to do this all on my own, but that I’m, I’m feeling part of a team, I’m feeling support, and I know this can be done. 

They feel like it can be done. That’s part of being optimistic. The other part of being optimistic is about remaining positive, even in the face of great odds. Now, I remember back in the day when I was working in direct service nonprofits and social service agencies, where we would come across grim situations with some of our clients, some of the service beneficiaries, challenging things going on in their lives. 

I worked with some expert MSWs or master’s in social work, social workers who just understood how to keep it light and not have this become a heavy burden because it wasn’t helpful to our clients and the folks we were trying to serve if we were felt victimized by their trauma. Right? We don’t want to be victimized by other people’s trauma. 

Now certainly secondary PTSD can happen, but if you’re a professional, you’re working hard to with your self care and your boundary setting to make sure that you don’t experience that secondary PTSD, or if you do, you’re addressing it right away. And so, we must work as professionals to remain positive. 

That’s part of our job and when we lead volunteers. So optimistic is about that positive framework and about leading volunteers around that as well. The other area of optimism is our mindset. We have an abundance mindset versus a scarcity mindset. You know, it’s easy to look at all the things we don’t have. 

Especially in the nonprofit sector, which is a lean sector, we work on, you know, the leanest margins possible to get our work done. But abundance, if we don’t keep our head up, then we can’t see opportunity. And so, if we believe that there is nothing out there for us, there are no resources out there, then we won’t see them.  

But if we believe that there is an abundance of resources out there, and all we need to do is look in the right direction and do the work to find them, then opportunities start coming our way. And we need to impart this to our volunteers as well. Volunteers want an optimistic experience. They want to believe that their work has meaning and that can result in actual change. 

And so, optimism is so important to a wow volunteer experience. You know if you want to learn more about creating an exceptional volunteer experience, I talked about it in Volunteer Nation episode 62, 10 Ways to Create an Exceptional Volunteer Experience, and I talk about becoming the architect of the volunteer experience, and part of that is architecture is really to help create an optimistic and upbeat and progressive moving forward type of experience for volunteers, which is what we want to do when we create a wow volunteer experience. Okay, my final of the three Letters in the WOW acronym for the WOW Volunteer Experience are well designed, well designed. 

You know, when we think about customer service, if we’re buying a product or experiencing a service, we are often evaluated on a few different criteria. And it may impact, you know, if we go on Amazon, for example, it may impact how many stars we give something or whether we do something again or buy something again. 

Or whether we share it with others about how we were so excited about this thing we were involved in. So, there’s a few ways we think about that. One is, does it do what it said it would do? Just simply, that’s sort of the baseline, right? Does it do what it said it would do? So, for volunteers, does the volunteer experience do what it says, or what was promised, which is meaningful work, impact and transformation. 

You know, when people say they want to change the world, what they’re saying is they want to see transformation. They want to see positive change. And so, we need to make sure that they can see that now in some of our organizations, that positive change is quite incremental. Be very small, especially if you’re working in advocacy and legislative change. 

Some of those issues take forever to change, but we’ve got to show progress and we’ve got to communicate that progress to our volunteers. Another way we evaluate a service or product is, does it make my life easier or at the very minimum, it doesn’t make my life harder. So, we sort of evaluate, does it make my life harder? 

So, we want limited hassle and bureaucracy for our volunteers. Now certainly we have things we need to do behind the scenes, but for risk management, for making sure we’re bringing on the right people, we’re doing our vetting, we’re making sure that we have done our due diligence when it comes to our volunteer workforce. 

But how can we limit this bureaucracy? Because for volunteers, it’s about people, not paperwork. For the organization, it might be about paperwork, but it can’t be about paperwork for volunteers. That’s not why they’re volunteering. And so, when we think about a well-designed volunteer program, it’s a program or an experience that we have taken steps to simplify and create something very elegant and easy to move through. 

And I know that’s hard, it’s very difficult to do, but if you think about, for example, if you’re an Apple product, I’ve been thinking about Apple lately. If you’re an Apple products person, you think about how simple the interface is. And from the very beginning, I remember when the very first smartphone, Apple smartphone came out and no one had used a smartphone before. 

So, nobody really knew, I mean, people use flip phones. Flip phones, they used blackberries, et cetera, but they hadn’t used a smartphone with a video interface the way that the smartphone was set up, and I remember way back when, this was years ago, they had a little COI pond graphic sort of. video game and you could put fish in it, and you could feed the fish. 

My nephews used to love playing with my phone when that first came out. But what made the experience amazing was that it took almost no time to figure out how to do it. So, you could start immediately having fun with your phone. And so, we want to make sure that volunteers are immediately having fun in their volunteering and that it’s almost effortless to join and get involved. 

And I know that takes work. It’s harder than it looks. Simplicity is harder than it looks, right? Okay. I want to remind you now what we know about our WOW volunteer experience or how do I define a WOW volunteer experience. So, WOW volunteer experience is warm, optimistic, well-designed. And when we have those three elements, we can really give people the type of service that they deserve for giving service to our community. 

And I want to also add, I have an upcoming webinar coming on April 16th or April 18th. You get to choose between those two dates. You can go to vol pro.net/magnet to save your spot. I’m going to talk about how to. develop an exceptional volunteer effort in this webinar. It’s called how to become an irresistible magnet for today’s volunteers. 

So, in this webinar, I’m going to show you how to recruit and retain committed volunteers with the right mix of skills, experiences, and attributes. Plus, as a bonus, Bonus, you’ll get access to our brand-new baseline volunteer strategy success path assessment. This assessment we’ve been working on for the past few months, and it’s actually been a dream of mine for a long time, for a few years now, to actually digitize our volunteer strategy success path. 

Make it digital so that you can get a score out of it. And so, we’re using an app called ScoreApp where you can actually score yourself and your volunteer strategy. So, you’ll get that as part of this webinar and in the webinar, I’ll teach you how to read your results. So, when we want to. assess our volunteer experience and our volunteer program, you’ll be able to do it with this score app assessment, but also, and the actually the only way to get access to it is to sign up for our free webinar. 

So, I hope you’ll join me for that. And I want to wish everybody a really happy National Volunteer Week and Global Volunteer Month. Your work is amazing. There are not very many things in the world that you can call, uh, amazing. that bring community together, that, uh, are not monetized, and that bring out the best in people. 

It’s a pretty cool feeling to be part of. So, I hope you feel that as well. I hope you’re proud of your work and the work of your volunteers. And don’t forget to give your volunteers a wow volunteer experience. Warm, optimistic, and supportive. And well designed. So, thanks for joining me today. I’m going to be here next week. Same time, same place. 

If you like this episode, share it with a friend. It’s how we reach more people with our message on building the types of volunteer experiences and the types of volunteer strategies that our world deserves. So, take care, everybody, and I’ll see you next week on the Volunteer Nation.