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033 – The secret to successful volunteer engagement with Karen Knight

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In this episode, David interviews Karen Knight, a consultant volunteer relationship expert! This episode will be all about volunteering, how to approach potential volunteers, how to manage them, and how to make them feel recognized and valued in your organization to keep them engaged.

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David: Welcome to the Nonprofit Digital Success Podcast. I’m your host, David, and today I have Karen Knight on the show, allow me to introduce her. Karen is a consultant volunteer leadership expert and professional speaker as district director of Toastmasters International, Karen oversaw, budget of a quarter million dollars with 20 leaders directly reporting to her and then another 80 or so underneath there, all volunteers. Karen currently serves as the vice president of the board of directors of the Kamloops, Therapeutic Riding Association. That’s a bit of a mouthful.

She used her 25 plus years of experience as a leader and mentor in the nonprofit sector to develop a proprietary framework for turning volunteers into an enthusiastic, reliable and committed team. It sounds so amazing. Karen, thank you so much for joining us on the show today.

Karen: Thank you so much, David. And we usually call it KTR; it just makes it so much easier.

David: KTR awesome. Big shoutout. All right. How’s it going today? How are you doing?

Karen: Great. I’m doing absolutely fantastic. And it’s so much fun to be on here.

David: Happy to have you. Absolutely. So if you’re ready, let’s dive in, and we’ll jump in.

Karen: Awesome.

David: Let’s do it. All right. So how did you get involved in the nonprofit field?

Karen: It went from a long time ago. I’ve been, I’ve volunteered since I was a child. I’ve been with Toastmasters. That’s a volunteer run organization. So I’ve been involved in that for twenty-five plus years. I’ve been on served on boards of directors. I’ve done all this sort of thing, but my trade was that of a cabinet maker and I build kitchen and bathroom cabinets and things like that. But a while ago I had a bit of an epiphany if you like, but this isn’t what I want to do with my life.

My job is not to make rich people’s houses fancier. I wanted to go out and make a difference in the world. And so I thought, well, with all my experience with working with volunteers, this, this would be the thing to do. So I started up and now I’m, I’m, I’m a business owner.

David: That’s amazing. It’s always great to, and I think this is why a lot of people work in nonprofits, not necessarily even just volunteer, but as their career, they work in nonprofits too, to give back and to feel good. And to, and to know that you’re making a difference.

Karen: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. Just add so much more purpose to your life.

David: Absolutely great. So, so going on from there, you know, this is, this is the nonprofit digital success podcast. So how would you use or recommend your clients to use forms of technology?

Karen: Around volunteering there’s, there’s a few different things. First of all, there’s, there’s dozens of marketing tools, or not marketing tools, but management tools out there: Keela, Better Impact, all of these programs that can help you schedule your volunteers and track their hours and all the rest of that. And those are, can be really popular, but no matter what program you use or don’t use keeping track of your, the volunteers hours and shifts and things like that is, is essential in the easiest way. If nothing else put it on an Excel spreadsheet so that you can keep track of everything. So that’s one way, another thing is any volunteer or volunteer run organization or organization that uses a lot of volunteers and needs to be on the internet, have a website, have a social media presence. It’s a wonderful way, especially with volunteers to show appreciation.

So one of, one of the four pillars of showing volunteer appreciation is to have shout-outs to them on social media or on, on your website. You could have like a, a volunteer of the month and show their face and say, this is about what they’ve done. And this is why we’re highlighting them this time. Yeah. I mean, you have to check with them first. Not everybody wants their face splattered all over the internet, but that’s, that’s probably a really good way for a volunteer organization to use technology, especially because it gives you two things. It not only shows appreciation to your current volunteers, but it shows any prospective volunteers how much you appreciate your volunteers, which, which is a really attractive quality for bringing new volunteers in.

David: Absolutely. I, I completely agree with obviously like, Wow Digital, this is what we do. We do web, so completely agree with making sure you have your website and, you know, just taking that one step further, right? Having, you know, profiles of volunteers, photos of the volunteers, or like a bigger group of volunteers talking about what they do. If you have, you know, a volunteer of the month or volunteer of the year awards like that, you can show appreciation with a little bit of a gift certificate to something along with that potentially, but putting it up on your website, we’ll, you know, get that person, obviously, if they’re okay with it, they’ll probably share it with their networks. Right. And get you as, as your organization, a little bit more brand recognition and a little bit more sharing and things like that, which would potentially lead to more volunteers. And I with, you know, the ultimate goal, some additional donations in that as well,

Karen: Right. The final thing that every organization wants is to move their mission forward. And if that means more volunteers, more awareness in the community, more, like you said, donations, that sort of thing is huge.

David: For the most part, I found that volunteers are working with an organization that there’s some kind of connection to, right? Whether it’s a, if it was for like Parkinson’s research or, you know, like there’s some kind of personal connection that they have, they’re not just there for the hell of it and getting them to be your brand ambassador and help get your mission out there and help move you forward is really key to exactly what you were just talking about.

Karen: Right, exactly.

Your volunteers are your best ambassadors because they’re in it for a reason. They’re not there for the paycheck. They’re not there for any other reason. It’s because they really believe in what you’re doing.

Anybody who’s passionate can share that passion with other people it’s contagious. So the happier you keep your volunteers, the better your entire organization will be

David: A hundred percent. And you mentioned this a little bit, a few, maybe a minute or two ago is about social media. So how, how can an organization leverage social media to attract volunteers?

Karen: The way we were talking about just now is the best way. Is to talk about your volunteers and have your volunteers talk about you. Tag things, make sure that they have links to, to all your social media pages and that they go on and like posts and things like that. Just, just to keep their entire network aware of your organization and what you’re doing. And just having, if you post regularly on whatever media site that your people are, are listening to, or, or watching, it just keeps you top of mind. And then every time somebody has some extra time or some extra cash, you’re top of mind, you’re there and you’re going to be one of the people that they think of, or one of the organizations they think of whether they want to volunteer or, or donate.

David: Yeah. And especially over the last, you know, two years with COVID, if somebody is listening to this in like three years from now, hopefully COVID is not around anymore. And they’re like, oh yeah, I forgot about that, hopefully. Over the last two years, a lot of stuff has been shifting to virtual. People are working remote, you know, have you seen, and do you have any insight as to how nonprofits or charities can leverage like a virtual volunteer?

Karen: Oh, absolutely. I could go on for hours. I won’t, it’s huge. I am a huge fan of bringing in virtual volunteers because there’s so many benefits to it. There’s just the fact that now you have opened up the world to volunteering in your organization. People keep talking, are there aren’t enough volunteers, there aren’t enough volunteers, but if you keep yourself really central, well, yeah, you’ve only had a limited pool to draw on, but if you’re, if you’re offering virtual volunteer, volunteer opportunities, you’ve got the entire world to draw from. You’ve got billions of people. So for example, say if you run a, an entry Indian Cultural Center here in Canada and you want someone to teach traditional dance, you can go and get some, an expert, right from India to teach online. When people think about virtual volunteering, they tend to think about technology skills.

“Okay, we need a social media poster. We need someone to work on our website” And those are great, yes. But you can do just about anything virtually now with the technology we have. Yeah. You can teach online classes like dance classes, something that you can actually see. You can, you can bring in subject matter experts from anywhere in the world for a fraction of the cost, because you don’t need to pay for travel. Right. You can, you can bring in lecturers on, on a particular issue from anywhere in the world. It’s yeah. It’s just amazing. There’s just so many things you can do. When I was in Toastmasters as a district director, I had a finance manager and that finance manager lived in a different city than I did. So we did just about everything virtually. She was my finance manager remotely, right?

I had a virtual finance manager and it didn’t matter once a month. She sent me a packet of checks to sign and everything else we could do online, it was so much, it was so easy because then I could get really skilled people. And your volunteer coordinator can be online unless you have somebody have a lot of volunteers that have to be in one place then yeah, your volunteer coordinator could be virtual as well. All, most management positions can be because yeah, if you want, oh, I can.

Like I said, I can go on and on and on. But one of the things that really makes me fall in love with virtual volunteering is the opportunity it offers for people who would otherwise not be able to volunteer, perhaps they’re housebound for any, for a particular reason, whether, whether it’s COVID or, or maybe they have mobility issues or there’s anxious in, in crowds and would rather stay home. These people are people too, and they want to, they want to volunteer. They want to help in more ways than just monetarily. And this virtual volunteering gives them that opportunity. It’s just an amazing opportunity for anybody. Every, every not-for-profit should find some volunteers to do virtually cause it, it makes a world of difference there.

David: Yeah. Yeah. One of the things that it’s important for organizations to think about is making sure that they have a platform that they can leverage to manage the volunteers from like an HR kind of perspective. In Ontario, our high school students, they’re looking for volunteer opportunities because they needed to graduate. They need to have so many hours of volunteer experience. This really being virtual opens up, you know, they can be anywhere in the world and, and volunteer and get those service hours that they’re looking for. So it, it, it’s, it’s an incredible experience for sure. Is there anywhere specific that you would maybe recommend for organizations to look for virtual volunteers?

Karen: One of the places I suggest is a platform called Charity Village and there are, in Canada it tends to be the top one. And it’s a place where you can post staff positions or volunteer positions and you, and there’s, it’s perfectly searchable by city and what you want to do and all this sort of thing. And it’s one that really gets out there and then just post about it on social media and ask your friends to, to spread it because, or your other volunteers to spread it because very few of us anymore have all our friends in one place like in one city. I mean, I, because of the stuff that I’ve done, I have close friends all over the world, so yeah, I can, I can spread it to my friends. They can say, “oh wow, that’s a really good opportunity, here I am sitting in Saudi Arabia. I can help somebody in Canada”, so.

David: And it doesn’t matter. It makes no difference. Right? You can move across the city, volunteer for the same organization. You can move provinces or states or countries and still provide those volunteer efforts that like, it’s one thing if you were, you know, working at a hospital and you were helping people with like a feeding program or, or that type of thing, obviously you can’t do that remotely. We don’t, we don’t have good enough robots to deal with that just yet, just yet. You know, it’s, it’s, it’s definitely important. And especially now with people being at home for the better part of two years, being able to have those kinds of social connections, I think that’s a volunteer opportunity in and of itself just to connect with people who are part of an organization, just a social check-in like once every few days, “Hey, how’s it going?” You know, and just talk about life even. it can do wonders for, for an organization’s perception in the community.

Karen: Exactly, exactly. And I’m seeing a lot of that happen. Now. A lot of my clients are reaching out more, not only to their clients, but also to their volunteers because their volunteers are stuck at home. So if you, if you have volunteers and you’re worried that they might not be coming back when this is all over, because they’ve gotten out of the habit or, or you’re no longer top of mind because they can’t be there. A phone call once every month or every couple of months and just say, “Hey, how’s things going, this is what we’re doing here. Sorry you can’t be here, but here’s an idea where you can still help at home. Or anyway, I just wanted to check in and say hi”, right? Little things like that can make a massive difference. And like you said, with everybody at home, including volunteers, a phone check-in on, on seniors or, or people who are in other ways at risk. Yes, it’s brilliant. And I’m seeing a lot of organizations doing that now.

David: Are you seeing any trends in volunteering that you think our listeners should be aware of?

Karen: Yes. There’s one big one. I mean, all the COVID and online stuff that’s in the media all the time. There’s one that isn’t really talked about that is really affecting us. And I don’t think many people are really aware of it or aware of what they can do about it. Now there’s two kinds of volunteers. There are people who go and volunteer for an organization, people who work for the red cross or, or the Kamloops Therapeutic Riding, but there is another group. And this group is growing that are volunteering without being associated with an organization or an agency. These are people who just say, they’re sitting here and thinking, you know, I should phone my, the neighbors and my, or the seniors in my neighborhood while COVID is on just to do it. So they just take it on themselves to start volunteering.

So is formal versus informal volunteering. Now, any volunteering is wonderful. You are making a difference in the world and we worship you for that. But a lot of times, so for example, I saw someone posting on social media the other day about the importance of getting your cat spayed, or neutered, right? This was a big thing. And they, they post it, they were really passionate about it, but they weren’t in any way associated with an animal shelter or the SPCA or anything like that. They would just, this is something they believed in and they just went out, did it. And that’s great. Unless you are, say somebody who is trying to run MSBA SPCA, spay, and neuter clinic, and you can’t get enough volunteers to run it. Right? So you need to be able to find those people who are passionate about your cause, but aren’t volunteering.

Find out why, are there mobility issues? What reason are they not going through your particular organization? Why are they doing it just on their own? Is it because they have more flexibility? They don’t want to sign up for particular hours or whatever, but in Canada, if I’m remembering my stats, I don’t have them right in front of me, but 78% of Canadians have volunteered in the last year. And that’s a huge number compared to other countries that I’ve seen. We are far and above the most, the most willing to volunteer for any kind of work.

David: We’re the friendly nation, right?

Karen: We are, we are, we’re a very helpful nation.

David: Let’s just build up the stereotype, we’re the friendly nation.

Karen: But that is all volunteers. The formal volunteers are dropping in that number and the informal volunteers are growing. And I think a lot of it, excuse me. A lot of it has to do with the fact that there’s more flexibility. They can do it when and where they want, how often they want in the way that they want. Whereas if you volunteer through an organization, you may be restricted in some ways. So that’s something that organizations need to consider. How much more flexible can you be in what you require from your volunteers or how you require it so that we can keep the volunteers coming? Because we don’t want to lose them all to informal volunteering, because it just makes it too shotgun approach, too scattered. And you, you need, if you want to make a real change, you need to be focused and you need to have everybody moving in the same way. Not everybody hitting, going off in tangents. So if we can focus more, we can make a bigger difference. And usually agencies or organizations are the way to do that. But only if they’re well-run and are flexible with their volunteers,

David: I think the same is very true for staff as well, right? There’s a certain level of flexibility that needs to come in order to keep the staff at the organization that, that keeps the organization running that have been there for a long time and to keep them engaged really, and to make them feel like they’re still part of, of the goal and the mission of the organization. Absolutely. Do you have any suggestions for leaders, for volunteer leaders to get their volunteers, to become ambassadors of the organization?

Karen: Mostly just ask, like I said, most of your volunteers are passionate about what they’re doing and they want to help. That’s why they’re there. And if you just draw a line and say, listen, if you post on your, on your network about us and what we’re doing, that helps us, that helps us in a big way. I, if you just let them know, this is how to do it, make it easy for them. Maybe give them sample post ideas or whatever for them to do, give them something, something to, to write it. Not everybody’s great at writing that as well, or can’t come up with ideas or whatever, just give them a list of idea. Post about X, Y, and Z this week. And then they go, “oh yeah, I can talk about that”. And then off they go, so make it easy for them and just ask them a lot of people don’t realize they can do this. You give them permission to say, “Hey, spread, spread the word”. And then they’ll think, “oh yeah, I can do that”. Cause they love you. That’s why they’re there.

David: Yeah. And I say this not all the time, but fairly frequently, you know, you need to get the inside onside. Right. And just like, you need your staff, your executives, your C-suite level. Right. They have to be ambassadors of the brand in the organization, spread the message. That’s why they work there because they care, same thing with volunteers. Right. And I think it’s important to let them know as long as they’re not, you know, taking pictures of, of patients or anything like that, where there’s like personal identifiable information or anything like that, have them take a selfie in front of your building and post it, or, you know, you know, if you’re delivering food, right. Meals on wheels or something like that, right. Being able to, to show, you know, what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, like, you know, a day in the life of a volunteer, what is it that they’re doing? How are they helping? Who are they helping that type of thing.

Karen: Exactly. Exactly. And people like to see more than just a headshot. They, they want to see that what exactly you’re doing. And so, yeah, you’re carrying a bag of groceries up the stairs or a new, and, and either someone’s waiting there, they are okay with having their picture in the paper or whatever. You can tell how old I am, picture in the paper. Picture on your social media!

David: I didn’t say it. I didn’t say it. Yeah, you know, like that, that’s exactly it. Right. But coming off in an authentic way, right. You don’t want it to be like, oh yeah, I have the feeling, you know, they hired a, the organization hired a photographer and staged things, right. It really needs to be real and authentic, and the person who they are and their personality. And then like, as an organization, I think it’s also important to interact with those pieces. So a volunteer takes a picture, right? Have somebody in the organization, it could even be a volunteer. It could be the same volunteer. Shh, nobody needs to know like our little secret. Right. They go in and they follow back or they comment on as the organization and try to create a little bit of dialogue around there to create a little bit more what I would call momentum behind the post to get a little bit more coverage.

Karen: Exactly, exactly. Have them go in and do that. Another thing organizations can do is study what makes things go viral and see how you can do that. There’s a wonderful book. I’ve just been introduced to that called Contagious or, yeah, Contagious. I can’t remember who wrote it, but it was, it was a plug to them. It is even though I can’t remember their name, but he talks about why things go viral. And if you just put a little bit of thought into what you do, make sure it has emotion in it that makes sure there’s, it shows it, it shows meaning for it. People, people take that and they’ll share it and they, and it can spread like wildfire and then just make sure it’s carefully tied to your organization.

David: Yeah. It should be obviously on point, like as, as your organization, right. It needs to be on brand and on message and all of that. But one of the, one of the key things that I see with this is that it humanizes the organization, right? It’s not just a building. It’s not just, okay. we help animals, shelters or whatever, whatever it is that the nonprofit is doing, but it brings like a face to it. Right. And really tries to connect on an emotional level. Right?

Karen: It’s not an organization. It’s people.

David: Exactly. When you connect with people on an emotional level, that’s when you’re going to really connect with them and get them to understand what you do, why you do it, who you do it for, and then evoke those feelings and, and try to get them to be a part of it as well.

Karen: Exactly, exactly. A hundred percent

David: Awesome. This has been so great. Thank you so much for being on the show. I’ve, I’ve picked up some great tidbits from you in this that I’ll take back to the clients that we meet with. And I hope that people listening have, have learned some stuff as well, that they can help create some vibrant conversations around their organization and leverage their volunteers, not in a-

Karen: Manipulative way?

David: Yeah, exactly. Let’s not use them to manipulate, but let’s use them to, to help become authentic pieces of the organization. Absolutely. If anybody wants to get in touch with you, what do they need to do?

Karen: It can be reached most easily on my website, which is Karenknight.ca and CA because I’m Canadian, and Karen Knight as in K-N-I-G-H-T, like shining armor.

David: Yeah. Awesome. So we’re going to have links to your website. We’ll put a link in there as well for the book. So we’ll get that on there as well. And for anybody listening, just head over to wowdigital.com/podcast, we’ll have this whole episode transcribed with the links, as I mentioned, and we’ll see there, feel free to post comments on the podcast episode as well. And yeah, thanks again so much for joining Karen. It’s been great having you on the Nonprofit Digital Success Podcast and until the next episode, keep on being successful.

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