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Why It’s Important to Understand Volunteer Interests
If you’re like most nonprofits, you depend on your volunteers. However, you also might be having trouble retaining them. The average annual volunteer retention rate in America is only 65%. Understanding volunteer interests and incorporating them into your volunteer matching process can help boost this rate and the volunteer experience as a whole.
Volunteer matching can be defined as a conscientious endeavor by a nonprofit to consider volunteer interests, hobbies, passions, personalities, professional and personal skills, and habits when selecting a candidate for a volunteer role or during the process of creating volunteer roles. Simply put, it is making sure that the person doing the job wants to do the job and is satisfied in their role.
The question is, how do you navigate the process of understanding volunteer interests and ensuring that your volunteer matching process is effective? Until recently, it was quite difficult! Technology has made it much easier, though, with advances in automation, which should be integrated into nonprofit strategies.
Golden, for instance, is a volunteer management software that streamlines matching and helps volunteers self-identify with causes and opportunities that align with their skills and interests. The result is so effective that dozens of top nonprofits are using the tool, including Habitat for Humanity and the United Way.
This way, you’d don’t have to do your volunteer matching by hand anymore - computer algorithms can understand the profiles of who your current and prospective volunteers are, and show them your opportunities that are best suited for their interests and qualifications.
Three Reasons Why Volunteer Matching is Critical
First, it is good to ensure that you fully understand the reasons why matching volunteer interests is critical to nonprofits.
- Volunteer matching improves retention and engagement. You want to do better than 65%. If one in three volunteers is leaving you, you have to constantly focus on new recruitment and training, and budget more for your administrative work toward that end. The better you can match interests and skills to the role, the more likely the volunteer will be engaged in the work and want to keep coming back to help!
- The process of matching volunteer interests leads you to create more meaningful work experiences. Most jobs can be made meaningful and fulfilling, even if they seem simple. For example, you may be recruiting volunteers to help you with food service at a fundraising event. The direct output is manning positions and ensuring that the food is served in a timely manner to each table. If you take the time to understand the volunteer interests and skills within your team, you might learn that one of your volunteers does flower arrangements as a hobby. They would probably be best suited to setting the placements and organizing centerpieces, while another person who appreciates routine work helps in the kitchen. Your event will function more smoothly because you are best allocating your resources and ensuring that your workers are fulfilled in their roles.
- Volunteer matching helps you fill gaps in service more easily. If you factor volunteer interests in your job postings and use appropriate keywords that relate back to those interests, you will connect with the most relevant people and fill the role more easily. Let’s say that you need help fundraising. These roles are always difficult to fill. Instead of saying you need a volunteer fundraiser, think about the type of person who you want to attract and what their interests might be. A better way to post the job could be: “Looking for an outgoing, persistent personality ready to help us connect with others”. Those are the traits, skills, and interests you are looking for to fill a specific job role.
Knowing your volunteers’ interests matters. To streamline how you handle your volunteers, there’s nothing better than an app like Golden!
Some Examples of Volunteer Interests and Skills
Volunteers may look for roles based on their interests, their professional and personal skills, or their passions, as in what types of causes they really want to connect with. It’s important to consider all of these layers when assessing volunteer interests and devising ways to facilitate volunteer matching. Having appropriate keywords in your volunteer opportunity listings can make it easier for the computer to match those and related keywords to potential volunteers.
Volunteer Interests: different types of actions and work roles with which the volunteer would like to be involved.
- Mentoring programs
- Working with children or youth
- Supporting other specific demographics, such as refugees or women in need
- Food preparation and relief
- Fundraising, such as helping with nonprofit event planning or peer-to-peer programs (such as marathons)
- Outdoor activities
- Working with animals
Volunteer Passion: what is each person’s vision of the future, and how do they fit into it.
- Supporting specific demographics, such as refugees, children and youth, LGTBQ+, seniors, or women in need
- Responding to disasters, either local, national, or international
- Helping improve schools and educational resources
- Helping the environment through climate action, conservation, or biodiversity support
- Advocating for the underrepresented
- Supporting arts and culture organizations
- Supporting events
- Improving health and wellness
- Golden calls this “Purpose” in the Golden Opportunity description fields
Volunteer Skills: the abilities that a person has that qualify them for a specific job.
- Educational attainment
- Work experience
- Soft skills, such as leadership capacity, working with teams, or customer service
- Language skills
- Certifications in first aid
- Driver's license
- Accounting experience
- Construction abilities
5 Steps to Match Volunteer Interests to Job Roles
Now that you understand the importance of matching volunteer interests, you are ready to ensure that it is a central part of your volunteer recruitment strategy. Here are 5 steps to follow.
- Make sure you screen your volunteers (good news, software can do this for you now). Screening was, historically, the critical first step to matching volunteers. You may want to make sure that volunteer interests and skills align with your needs before you commit resources like training. Many nonprofits like to interview candidates, which is a great way to learn more about volunteers. You can ask them directly about their interests if you choose to do so, and discover if they are passionate about your work and have the appropriate skills to be effective. We recommend you create a public opportunity for new volunteers to discover your organization without any requirements, and you can use that first interview opportunity to place the volunteer in a skills-based group if they are qualified or put them in a general audience group if you would like to upskill them progressively. Depending on the type of role, you may need to ensure they pass an appropriate volunteer background check.
Tools like Golden can help you automate all of these processes. Golden’s volunteer background check software is the only front-facing one available on the market. This means that volunteers pass the check before they even get on your list as potential candidates. It can also automate your screening, asking them to check off an eligibility quiz of your handcrafted design to make sure that they have the right mix of skills, passion, and interest to work with you.
- Design a questionnaire for volunteer interests. You want to collect the appropriate data, which you can do through a questionnaire. Again, this can be automated through a software system like Golden. You can ask the volunteer to provide you with a list of their interests and skills with simple drop-down menus that can easily collate to datasets. You can also use a system proactively to market your job opportunity to people who have already self-identified as having certain skills and interests. This way you can market directly to potential volunteers who have an interest in your cause, such as animal rights, and ensure that you are only attracting people with a high potential for engagement.
- Put all of that data into a great database that you can use across your programs. A tool like Golden will take the data from your questionnaires and automatically enter it into a searchable database. You can use that data to better understand your volunteer pool and organize your programs and opportunities. You might even see trends that move you to change your direction and use volunteers in new ways. Maybe people who have been helping you with bookkeeping love to run, but you have never even considered a marathon fundraiser in the past! It’s integral to understand all of the potential resources available to you to use your volunteers in the most effective ways possible.
- Use your data to write effective role descriptions. You need to focus on available skills and how people frame those skills in their own datasets to ensure that you are attracting the best applicants. Writing well-defined job roles will also ensure that the people applying to your roles have the appropriate skills and background experience. A tool like Golden will ensure that anyone who is not qualified or does not pass background checks will be made ineligible for your role, streamlining your process considerably.
Check your database and see what skills overlap which passions and interests, and write your roles accordingly. If you are looking for someone with cashiering experience to help you run your secondhand clothes shop, you might frame the role description as “Looking for a detail-oriented extrovert to help us help women in need”. Attract the person who is passionate about your cause first, and then make sure they have the right skill set. List clearly that a person with cashiering experience is preferred. It’s possible, though, you could fill that role with a person who just has retail experience or a person willing to learn. Finding the person with the right passion is probably the most important.
- Use the data to streamline communications. Nonprofits have been guilty of collecting data only to never use it to advance their cause. New tech tools have solved this problem. You can use a tool like Golden to automatically generate reports and contact lists for the people in your volunteer pool who have particular interests and skills, and even automatically invite them to your new volunteer roles and opportunities. You can use that same data to help you fundraise from your volunteers, and also to engage them in helping you recruit even more volunteers and donors across their personal and professional networks.
It will help you target your outreach to them, as well, so you only send invites to the most appropriate opportunities. People appreciate it when their communication from you is meaningful. A tool like Golden helps you communicate across multiple types of platforms, as well, including text, texting apps, email, and any other of a number of communication systems. The volunteer can receive information from you based on their preferred media. This takes volunteer interests to a new level!
Matching Volunteer Interests is Not a Suggestion But a Necessity!
If you want to attract the right people, you have to understand them. This seems like a simple enough idea, but nonprofits are often overwhelmed by competing tasks and interests to ensure that their volunteers are being utilized effectively and are fulfilled with their roles.
That’s why it is so important to engage technology tools to help with data management and integration in regard to volunteer interests. Golden stands apart from the rest for its innovative screening technology. It is also different because of its engagement capacity. Volunteers on Golden can compete against each other for “Karat” rewards for their work, making it easier for nonprofit managers to recognize and reward their efforts. It also seamlessly integrates communications across different CRM platforms, helping you analyze different data sets for volunteer potentiality and vice versa.
Many nonprofits do not realize that their best potential donors are their volunteers. Some 87% of volunteers say they give to the organizations where they volunteer. Conversely, donors are likely to volunteer if you ask them in an appropriate way. If you can cross-reference these data sets for interests and skills, you can target your communications to raise more funding while also boosting your volunteer pool.