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How To: Create Virtual Volunteer Opportunities

May 12, 2010

In the age of the Internet, there are a a variety of ways that your volunteers can help any organization from the comfort of their own homes. According to the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, virtual volunteering means that volunteer tasks are completed, in whole or in part, via the Internet and a home or work computer. Virtual volunteering allows agencies to expand the benefits of their volunteer programs by allowing for more volunteers to participate and by utilizing volunteers in new areas. Additionally, virtual volunteering enables people that cannot volunteer outside of their homes with the opportunity to make a difference in your organization.

Many volunteers can accomplish their work without the need to come into your office on a day-to-day basis, especially if you are running out of room! Here are a few virtual volunteer opportunities that can save both you and your volunteer valuable time and money:

  • Grant Writing
  • Website or graphic design
  • Raising money online, e.g., E-bay
  • Translation services
  • Research: grants, potential donors, community partners, content for newsletters and press releases, and much more
  • Copy editing: grant proposals, press releases, newsletters, advertisements, news paper columns, website content, letters, and other documents
  • Professional consulting expertise: accounting, management and legal issues, or developing a strategic plan for a particular department
  • Advocacy: Posting information to appropriate online communities (newsgroups, lists, etc.), preparing legislative alerts to be sent via e-mail, or keeping track of legislation that could affect an agency’s clients
  • Multimedia expertise: Preparing a PowerPoint, Hypercard, QuickTime, or other computer-based presentation
  • Designing: Newsletters, brochures, logos, a marketing strategy, a technology plan, or a database system using an agency’s in-house database software
  • Inputting an agency’s volunteer opportunities into online databases
  • Advanced web site programming
  • Volunteer management assistance: Managing other volunteers in the aforementioned activities, providing an online orientation to all volunteers with Internet access (whether or not they are onsite or online volunteers), surveying volunteers via e-mail about their experiences with an agency or program, keeping track of volunteer hours, and entering volunteer opportunities into online databanks

    In order to figure out what you and your organization need, ask yourself these six simple questions:
    1.)  What is your program’s role in your agency’s mission?
    2.)  What is the paid staff’s responsibility?
    3.)  What could you NOT do or could NOT do as well without the help of volunteers?
    4.)  When do these tasks really need to take place?
    5.)  Where do these tasks really need to take place?

6.)  What skills, personality traits and other qualifications do volunteers need to accomplish these tasks?
And we would like to add one more – What do you NOT have the time or resources for?

For more information on virtual volunteer opportunities or how to develop and implement a virtual volunteering program, please see the following:

Planning at


The Takeaway: The How & Why of Nonprofit Communications

May 6, 2010

We had two workshops back-to-back this Wednesday, the first on “Tapping Technology Resources” for nonprofits and the second on the changing media landscape, presented by Thom Clark from the Community Media Workshop. The first workshop, which I hosted, included a wide range of web-based tools that organizations can use to become more efficient and increase their impact. The second highlighted how nonprofits can market themselves in this post-paper age. So this version of The Takeaway is a limited-edition double feature:

From me, Mike Ewing, Seven Steps to Tapping Technology Resources Online

1. Get Organized– Services like Doodle and Remember the Milk can help you work more efficiently with others and manage your own time better.

2. Listen– Set up a Google Reader account, and connect it with Google News search and Alerts to create the ultimate nonprofit listening dashboard. Services like Addictomatic can also generate one for you from a basic search term. This is essential for staying up-to-date with the latest resources and monitoring any mentions of your organization. (Feed My Inbox can also send these feeds to you via email).

3. Set Up Shop– Set up profiles with consistent information on the social media sites that audiences you are targeting use on a regular basis. Facebook pages and WordPress blogs are great options if your website is out of date. You should also update your profiles on the major “nonprofit portal pages,” like Charity Navigator and Guidestar.

4. Get Noticed– Tap into content that you’re already producing to promote yourself in the social realm. This includes: Flickr for photos, YouTube for videos, Scribd for PDFs, Delicious for bookmarks, and Slideshare for PowerPoints. Services like Posterous can make adding this content to social media a breeze because they are based on e-mail. E-mail newsletter services help you manage your contacts, publish content, and measure results; Mail Chimp and Constant Contact offer free services for nonprofits.

5. Connect– Use social media to connect with key audiences in spaces that they use on a regular basis. You can also link all of the content sharing services listed above to Facebook, Twitter, and many other social media sites.

6. Make the Ask– Many free fundraising tools are available online, and organizations can use these to both gain individual donations and encourage people to become fundraising advocates for them. Visa’s Givecard is one way people can integrate this into their daily lives, while services like JustGiving provide tools and templates for people to organize fundraising campaigns.

7. Measure– Services like SociafyQ help you measure the progress of your social media efforts. Link shorteners allow you to track click-throughs from across the media spectrum. E-mail marketing programs also let you monitor open rates and other valuable statistics.

There’s even more information and resources on a new, special Wiki page for the workshop.

From Thom Clark, 4 Myths and 4 Tips for Nonprofit Communicators

1. Myth: Communication is not part of what we do.

Reality: Effective communications will help you gain your goals.

2. Myth: We just do not have the time and resources to do communications.

Reality: A little bit of work here & there will move your agenda forward.

3. Myth: Spread the word about your good work as widely as possible.

Reality: Who is your audience? Go deep, not broad.

4. Myth: Give people the facts.

Reality: It’s not about the facts. It’s about the story.

For more on the importance of storytelling, check out Tom in this video:

Thom Clark on the Importance of Storytelling

The Takeaway is a series of blog posts with helpful tips and resources shared at the workshops presented by The Volunteer Center of Northwest Suburban Chicago. For more information on TVC’s workshops and trainings, including a schedule of upcoming events, visit our website.

2010 Impact Awards

April 26, 2010

Winners of this year’s Impact Awards were acknowledged at an awards ceremony and reception on Monday, April 12.

2010 Award Recipients

Emerging Leader Award: Lisa Koenig
Lisa is being recognized for her outstanding work with The Bridge Youth and Family Services and the Baan Jing Jai Orphanage in Pattaya, Thailand. The Award recognizes young volunteers who are destined to make a difference in the community and the nonprofit sector in the future. Read and watch Lisa’s story here.

Community Champion Award: Ann Marie Nordby
Ann Marie is being recognized for her unique ability to support Women In Need Growing Stronger (WINGS) through organizing fashion shows to promote their resale shop. The award recognizes volunteers who consistently make a difference through innovative volunteer roles. Read and watch Ann Marie’s story here.

Karleen Suhrbier:RSVP Lead with Experience Award
Karleen is being recognized for her vital role in supporting the volunteer program at Hanover Township Senior Center. The award recognizes RSVP volunteers that consistently use their experience and leadership skills to make a difference. Read and watch Karleen’s story here.

Christine Stepelton:Committee’s Award for Inspirational Achievement
Karleen is being recognized for her ability to overcome disability while working as a volunteer at Passages Hospice. Awarded by the selection committee, this award recognizes an individual whose example inspires others to make a difference in the community.Read Christine’s story here.

LeasePlan: Team Impact Award
The LeasePlan Cares Committee is being recognized for their ongoing dedication to Shelter, Inc. The award recognizes a team or group who identified a need and made a demonstrated impact on the community. Read and watch their story here.

Palatine Emergency Response Agency (PEMA): Volunteer Program of the Year Award
Tom Smith of the PEMA program is being recognized for his outstanding ability to engage volunteers on an ongoing basis. Awarded by TVC, this award recognizes volunteer programs for outstanding achievement in utilizing volunteers to address a community need. Read and watch their story here.

Zurich NA: Community Partner Award
Zurich is being recognized for its ongoing commitment to volunteering and its support of organizations in the community. Awarded by TVC, it recognizes companies, agencies, and individuals who have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to community organizations. Read their story here.

Impact Awards Finalists
We would like to thank everyone who nominated a volunteer or was nominated for this year’s awards. Award finalists for this year included:

Bruce Cruz, Arlington Heights Senior Center
Helene Detzner, Rainbow Hospice & Palliative Care
Myrtle Klebe, Des Plaines Community Senior Center
Jean Kohmstedt, Elk Grove Park District Sheila Ray Adult Center
Lynne Leonard, Twp Dist. 214 Community Education Read to Learn Adult Literacy/Volunteer
Robyn Mendelsohn, The Bridge Yourh & Family Services
Peter Ninchich, Teen Justice & Service
Liliana Olalde, Marklund
Kathy Pfleeger, Escorted Transportation Service Northwest
George Webster, Marklund
Positive Action Group, Leaseplan & Shelter, Inc.

The Takeaway: 9 Ways to Reduce Stress

March 15, 2010

The Takeaway is a series of posts about important lessons, insights, or stories that we’ve learned from our professional development workshops at The Volunteer Center.

Our latest workshop at The Volunteer Center was presented by Jerry Pinney, who is a professional coach and . The workshop was all about how people in the non-profit world can reduce the amount stress both in their lives and in their workplace. His lessons seemed especially valuable in our current situation, with so many organizations facing rising needs for their services but decreasing funding from state and other sources. Needless to say we’re all just a little bit stressed. So, here were nine things that Jerry said everyone can do to reduce stress every single day (along with my comments on some of them):

1. Stop Arguing

– One of his best tips was trying to control the volume of a room. If someone else is speaking at an elevated volume, don’t do the same. Either maintain your lower volume or, if things get too heated, just walk away and approach the issue later.

2. Stop Giving your Unsolicited Opinion

– People at non-profits definitely operate with a herd mentality. One of my favorite jokes is to ask people what their job title is at a non-profit, since everyone wears so many hats. Sometimes though, people reach for a hat that isn’t theirs, and that creates more stress for everyone. It makes a simple kind of sense: if no one asks for your opinion, don’t give it.

3. Stop Reacting when Others Speak Angrily

4. Stop Requiring Perfection of Yourself and Others

5. Stop Trying to Please Everyone

6. Stop Trying to Make Everyone Like You

– Non-profit people are in the business of serving others, and we do tend to ask for everyone’s opinion and try to make their voice be heard.  So I think #5 and #6 can be a real challenge. Especially when it comes to your expertise, sometimes you need to dig your heels in and say “no” or express your opinion. While this might feel stressful in the moment, it avoids one of the biggest stressors there is: regret. Which leads to #7:

7. Stop Grieving About Past Mistakes

– So your “Donate or Else” campaign didn’t work out as you planned, or your outdoor chocolate fundraiser was meltier than you expected. Life goes on. Learn to laugh about it, or even see how you can benefit from it.

8. Stop Worrying About What Might Happen

9. Stop Researching & Analyzing and Start Doing

– #8 and #9 present some of my biggest challenges on a day-to-day basis. Especially as someone who is new to the sector (not to mention the professional world), I have definitely found that I over-Google and over-research things, for fear that it may go wrong. But ultimately we learn so much more by doing, and nothing really gets done if you spend more than half your time preparing for what is to come.

Do you have any secrets to reducing stress on the job? Yoga? Squeeze toys? Please share any insights in the comments below. If you don’t have anything to say, don’t stress about it.

Jerry Pinney is a professional coach and TVC’s Board President. You can sign up for his regular newsletter here. If you’re interested in attending future workshops and professional trainings, visit our website for more information.

VISTA Update from Chile

March 1, 2010

One of our VISTAs was on vacation during the earthquakes in Chile, and while we were all worried for a while, she’s doing just fine. We received this update from Lisa over the weekend and thought we would share it in case anyone who has worked with her was wondering. She’s currently still stuck in Santiago, but we look forward to her return. Here’s what she wrote:

Hi everyone!

Thankfully, we survived the 8.5 earthquake that hit Santiago. I was actually further away from the capital and up in the Andes mountains for a 2 day excursion (4 hours away from Concepcion where the earthquake hit the hardest). It was 7.5 there but it definitely felt a lot stronger. I’m back in Santiago now, but unable to leave because the international airport is currently closed for the next 72 hours. The bridge to the airport and the tower were severely damaged during the quake. My flight is cancelled and cannot be rebooked until further notice about the status of the airport. I will keep everyone posted on how things are going. We are having continued aftershocks, so I’m not sure if I will continue to have access to the internet (many parts of Chile currently don’t have electricity or running water!) Please let everyone at the office know I’m OK if they ask. I won’t be in on Monday and will keep you all posted!


How to: Write an Effective Volunteer Opportunity Listing

February 26, 2010

This is the first post by Olesya Salnikova, who works for TVC as a grant writer and Americorps VISTA. She is also the primary author of our “Volunteer Management Monthly” newsletter, from which this blog post is taken.

Volunteer recruitment is increasingly relying on the internet, as more and more individuals look for volunteer opportunities online. It is therefore critical to know how to design effective volunteer listings that have a clear description of the opportunity in a positive and appealing way. The advantage of such a written description is that the duties, expectations, and responsibilities of both the volunteer and the organization are outlined clearly. Knowing the requirements of volunteer jobs in advance simplifies the selection, recruitment, and the management of volunteers. Be sure to include ONLY one opportunity per listing when you write your descriptions. Here are some more tips to help you with this task:

  • Don’t forget the title – In some ways, you can think of the title as the most important element of your listing since it is usually the first thing that a volunteer notices. Make your title not only informative, but compelling and fun, so that the volunteer will be as excited about the opportunity as you are!
  • Keep it brief – Your job is to get the volunteer’s attention in as few words as possible. According to research, a listing should be an average of 100 words. At the same time, you should still include all the pertinent information about your organization and the volunteer opportunity.
  • Simplify, simplify, simplify – Use terms that the volunteer will relate to and make your opportunity easy to understand. Avoid using any complicated words or industry jargon that the volunteer might not understand. Keep your sentences short and succinct. Individual paragraphs should not be more than three sentences each and it is advisable that your listing should have an average of five total sentences.
  • Make an impact – Describe the mission of your organization and how it makes an impact in your community. Be especially clear about how your volunteers play a role in it.
  • Provide direction and support – Volunteers want to know that they are needed, so be sure to give them information on training, location, etc.
  • Make it visually appealing – Include a picture or a graphic that would intrigue the volunteer and draw their attention to your listing.
  • Edit – Always check for spelling and grammar. Have someone else read through your opportunity before posting it.

With these tips, you are now ready to write your volunteer opportunity. Be sure to include the following elements in your description: position title, supervisor, goal or purpose of the position, major responsibilities, time commitment, qualifications (both required and desired), work location, benefits to volunteer, and the date of the position design. If you need more help constructing successful volunteer opportunity listings, please visit the following websites:

Is anything missing from this list? Does anyone else have suggestions on how to attract the attention of potential volunteers and get them to sign up? Then leave a comment below!

This story is taken from our Volunteer Management Monthly Newsletter. To sign up to receive the newsletter, contact us at

Social Media Policies for Non-Profits

February 18, 2010

If you are involved with a non-profit that uses social media, or if you’re looking to venture into that arena with your organization, it’s important to have a common-sense policy in place that gives your employees some idea of what’s appropriate and what is not. While the policies may seem common sense, having an official stance on what’s appropriate and what isn’t can prevent plenty of headaches.

Adapted from comments on a post on “Beth’s Blog,” the policy points listed below are originally from the Easter Seals. It’s a policy can easily be used for any non-profit, especially when there’s no formal one in place. At the very least, they’re things to keep in mind as you move forward in your own blogging endeavors. Here they are:

1. Be Responsible. Blogs, in addition to other social media sites that are not officially branded as part of our organization (unless specifically authorized) are individual interactions, not corporate communications. Organizational staff and volunteers are personally responsible for their posts on our sites and on social media throughout the Web.

2. Be Smart. A blog or community post is visible to the entire world. Remember that what you write will be public for a long time – be respectful to the company, employees, clients, corporate sponsors and competitors, and protect your privacy.

3. Identify Yourself. Authenticity and transparency are driving factors of the blogosphere and social media. If you’re comfortable doing so, list your name and when relevant, role at our organization, when you blog about topics that are related to our mission.

4. Include a Disclaimer. If you blog or post unofficially to an online forum other than our sites that’s within the realm of our mission, make it clear that you are speaking for yourself and not on behalf of the organization. If your post has to do with your work or subjects associated with our organization, use a disclaimer such as this: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t represent [my organization’s] positions, strategies or opinions.” This is a good practice but does not exempt you from being held accountable for what you write.

5. Respect Privacy of Others. Don’t publish or cite personal details and photographs about our clients, employees, volunteers, corporate partners or vendors without their permission. Any disclosure of confidential information will be subject to the same personnel policies that apply to wrongful dissemination of information via email, conversations and written correspondence.

6. Write What You Know. You have a unique perspective on our organization based on your talents, skills and current responsibilities. Share your knowledge, your passions and your personality in your posts by writing about what you know. If you’re interesting and authentic, you’ll attract readers who understand your specialty and interests. Don’t spread gossip, hearsay or assumptions.

7. Include Links. Find out who else is blogging about the similar topics and cite them with a link or make a post on their blog. Links are what determine a blog’s popularity rating on blog search engines like Technorati. It’s also a way of connecting to the bigger conversation and reaching out to new audiences. Be sure to also link to our website.

8. Be Respectful. It’s okay to disagree with others but cutting down or insulting readers, employees, bosses or corporate sponsors and vendors is not. Respect your audience and don’t use obscenities, personal insults, ethnic slurs or other disparaging language to express yourself.

9. Work Matters. Ensure that your blogging doesn’t interfere with your work commitments. Discuss with your manager if you are uncertain about the appropriateness of publishing during business hours.

10. Don’t Tell Secrets. The nature of your job may provide you with access to confidential information regarding our organization, its beneficiaries, or fellow employees. Respect and maintain the confidentiality that has been entrusted to you. Don’t divulge or discuss proprietary information, internal documents, personal details about other people or other confidential material.

(Thanks @BethKanter)

Does anyone else have their own social media policies, or are there other important things to include? Are they successful? Do they go to far? Feel free to share your thoughts.