Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Make Your Volunteer Events More ‘Social’ Via Online Networks

by Tom Austin, web content development manager, NeighborWorks America

If you’re not already integrating social media into your volunteer events, now might be a good time to start. After all, it's National Volunteer Week (April 18-25), which draws attention to the huge contributions made by volunteers in communities.

Whether your neighborhood project is a fix-up, paint-up, plant-up or even a fundraising event like a 5k race – online social networks are where people are hanging out in growing numbers, and not just tech-savvy teens and 20- or 30-somethings, but older folks too.

These websites not only include popular channels like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, but also websites that match volunteers to opportunities.

What I find most promising for NeighborWorks and other local community development nonprofits is the potential to attract more people, particularly those starting their careers, to local activities that are transforming communities, and that includes engaging volunteers on service projects through social networks.

Here are a few ideas for using social media before, during, and after your volunteer events. If you’ve had some good luck using the tools mentioned below, or other social tools, please share your comments below.

Before Your Volunteer Event:

  • Even if you don’t have that many Facebook followers yet, put your “Wall” to work by promoting your events, and in an inviting way that encourages comments and “thumbs-ups” from your followers.

  • Some local nonprofits are beginning to create their own customized social networks on Ning that can easily be used to rally volunteers, but it does take some time to set up and engage a community in this kind of multifaceted website.

  • Create a short video about your organization and event for upload to YouTube, then include the video on your website, Facebook page, or blog.

  • Promote your volunteer events on a few of the many social network websites that match volunteers with volunteer opportunities. AllforGood is the result of a major collaboration between nonprofits and tech companies like Google and Craig’s List and integrates well with other websites and social media. MeetUp is another popular site to gather a group of people quickly, around affinity interests, including volunteering. Some of the other reputable websites that match volunteers with the organizations that orchestrate volunteer events are;;; (volunteers category);;

  • Post your event photos on websites created by your local television station. Also, be on the lookout for other online social networks that post volunteer events, such as those sponsored by civic associations, libraries, and local government community affairs offices.

During Your Volunteer Event

  • Capture your event with video for posting to YouTube or photos for posting to Flickr. You can link to these from your website. Once you have the images posted, your volunteers may share them on their own social networks, attracting even more volunteers to your events.

  • Encourage use of Twitter during your event. Twitter also has ways to share photos, which work well with snapping shots of volunteers from Smart Phones. You may want to even take your Twitter tweets and make a scrapbook out of them to promote future events.

  • Does your organization have a blog? Consider a live blog of your volunteer event. Better yet, have one of the volunteers do a “guest blog” on their volunteer experience.

  • When your volunteers register, give them the opportunity for them to share their email, so you can follow up with them by sending them links to photos, video, blog posting, or other content relevant to your event.

After Your Volunteer Event

  • Show your online followers and fans who did not volunteer what they missed by posting photos and video, etc.

  • Use your social network to thank those who participated in the event by sharing photos, videos, etc.

There are obviously lots of possibilities for nonprofit project managers willing to experiment. Which of the tools do you see working best for your organization?

Also, if you’re looking for more on trends in volunteerism, check out the upcoming symposium, hosted by NeighborWorks America in Phoenix in May at