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Let’s pretend volunteers are a type of consumer. They search for a volunteer experience that fits for them, kinda like looking for that certain shirt for the next Zoom meeting. Organizations advertise volunteer jobs in an O2V (organization to volunteer) model. Orgs basically say, “Here’s what we have to offer, take it or leave it. Go ahead, shop around, there’s nothing better out there.”

But, social media has changed everything. Customers now can buy direct from one another in a C2C (customer to customer) model. We are seeing this shift in our sector as volunteers bypass formal volunteering and mobilize directly through social media. They’ve cut out the cumbersome organizational middle man in an new, V2V (volunteer to volunteer) model.

But now, businesses are seeing an additional shift to a C2B (customer to business) model. In this model, customers’ value increases. Customers offer businesses talent for hire through numerous websites such as Upwork. Customers with a social media following advertise products. Customers review products online and participate in surveys and by doing so, add value by helping design the next product.

But how would a V2O (volunteer to organization) model look? Can we adopt this growing trend or are nonprofits stuck in an archaic model that sells their volunteering experiences in a take it or leave it fashion while the world moves on?

The point of V2O: Recognizing and embracing volunteer value.

Demonstrating volunteer impact is one way of showing volunteer value. Embracing the additional ways volunteers add value takes us into a V2O model.

For more on volunteer value also see:

Older posts such as the volunteer investor or the value of a volunteer is $#.@S

So, how do we adopt a V2O model without breaking the system?

Soliciting Feedback:

Encourage volunteers to review their experience. But wait, what about negative comments? Here’s the interesting thing about negative reviews. Businesses have found that negative comments do not deter customers, it’s the way businesses respond to negative comments that turn people off.

So, that volunteer comment that states, “I didn’t like my assigned job,” becomes an opportunity for the organization to respond, “thank you for your comment and we are committed to improving volunteer roles. Let us show you other roles that may be a better fit for you.” The negative comment becomes a vehicle for the organization to advertise their dedication to working with volunteers. It’s a powerful opportunity.

Focus Groups, Surveys and the like

Volunteers offer diverse opinions. Many volunteered because they also benefited from mission resources and are a wealth of information on the mission experience. (see more in The Disruptive Volunteer Manager) Volunteers have a wide circle of influence and bring in breaths of fresh air from the communities we serve.

Volunteer In-demand Talent

Freelancing is here to stay and volunteers are moving from committed volunteering to freelancing. It’s time we sought out volunteer candidates on sites such as Linkedin. Remember the old, but true survey result that the number 1 reason people didn’t volunteer was because no one asked? Well, it’s time we paid attention by searching out the people we feel would add value and ask them to volunteer.

Volunteer-generated content

Volunteers are an untapped, rich source of content. In a study by TurnTo, USG (user generated content) bests traditional marketing by influencing 90% of consumer purchasing decisions. Whuh-what?

Organizations shy away from “letting” volunteers speak on behalf of the organization. “But, we can’t control what they will say.” This iron fist clinging to the message is short-sighted. As with negative comments, organizations can quickly correct any misinformation given by a volunteer (or staff BTW-let’s not pretend staff give out correct information all the time, am I right?) on sites. By holding tight to messaging, organizations are missing the marketing content volunteers provide.

And think about this for a minute. If a volunteer says their organization is doing good work, it’s more convincing, considering the volunteer is unpaid and not afraid of losing a job (whereas a staff member is perceived as having to be biased).

V2O is simply embracing volunteer value in ways that sustain volunteering. As leaders of volunteers, we can move towards V2O by:

  • recording and analyzing volunteer impact
  • seeking out volunteer candidates who add value
  • soliciting volunteer opinions, testimonials, quotes, etc.
  • advocating for volunteer voices
  • streamlining volunteer onboarding
  • using volunteer focus groups to create new volunteering opportunities
  • reaching out to volunteer grassroots groups
  • partnering with fellow volunteer leaders in our communities to form coalitions that speak with one, strong voice and share volunteers, volunteer resources etc. (more in the Disruptive Volunteer Manager)

Leaders of volunteers are tuned in to the ever-changing volunteer mindset and are adapting practices based on what today’s volunteers want. As volunteers leave the organization to volunteer (O2V) model, we can create a volunteer to organization (V2O) environment that engages modern volunteers.

Or, we can just continue to be a V-Mart. (“go ahead, shop around, we may not have the volunteer experience you’re looking for, but nobody else does either.”)