The 4R's of Engagement Professionals

Think for a moment about a recipe that you’ve been making for years. It’s a good recipe, perhaps handed down through generations, like a taste of home. In fact, nothing has changed about the recipe since probably long before the first time it ever hit your taste buds.

And it’s good?  But just good.  It’s worked all this time, but you know it could use something to push it over the top and take it from just good to amazing.  

Then one day, you take that recipe and decide to play with it. Before you know it, voila!  You’ve created a masterpiece!! You found that perfect secret ingredient to really make that recipe sing.  

It’s still got the foundation of goodness from what it was before. But this. This makes it amazing!  This makes it special. This takes it to another level.

The Three R’s... for now.

If you're a nonprofit Engagement Professional - a fundraiser, a volunteer manager, an educator, a communicator, or executive leadership - your world is governed by a sweet little treat known as the 3R's: Recruitment, Recognition, and Retention.  

Handed down from professional to professional, it’s a recipe that we all use to drive our nonprofits forward in our goals to grow and deepen the time, talent and treasures necessary for each of our missions.

You know this threesome well because, like for all of us, they were ingrained in you from the beginning of your profession. A delightfully simple model, it’s how we get people (Recruit), we acknowledge and celebrate those people (Recognize), and then leverage opportunities to keep them around for the duration of the event or over long periods of time (Retain).

In some ways, this model is an independant cycle - one that can be used time and time again as needed such as in event-based or in spontaneous situations.

Leveraged in other ways, it can be a kind of concentric cycle, with each of the elements having a distinct influence on the others, helping to grow all of the 3Rs simultaneously - as with traditional donors, board membership models, volunteer programs or with annual educational or communications efforts.

But on and on it goes. A model older than any of us, honestly. So we think it's time for an upgrade, don't you? And we think it’s time to make this group a foursome. It's time to add a new ingredient: Refinement.

Why Refinement?

*clears throat* The Webster's Dictionary defines Refinement in three ways:

  1. The process of removing impurities or unwanted elements from something.
  2. The improvement or clarification of something by the making of small changes.
  3. Cultured elegance in behavior or manner.

Every day, Engagement Professionals are Recruiting donors or volunteers or board members or the public and then working very hard to Retain and Recognize these individuals. We are making this recipe like clockwork, practically able to make it with our eyes closed.  As we all know, this process is effectively and essentially endless under our control, creating a cycle of effort to build communities and networks of engaged individuals.

But is it always under our control? As a cycle, it can sometimes feel like a loose wheel rolling downhill, taking place, but hard to catch or evaluate. And where are you making room to grow? To change your efforts or designs? To confirm this model of best-practice is really the best it can be for you and your nonprofit's needs?

Adding Refinement solves this problem.  

With the addition of Refinement, you’re taking a classic recipe and giving it a modern, delicious twist. Adding a missing ingredient to a system of practice that has aided us well, but never really expected more from us. The 3R's don't inherently push any of us to think critically about evaluation, improvement or repair as a fully integrated part of the process.

That is, until something dramatically fails.

And only then, when something breaks or fails or isn’t producing, do we pause and reevaluate our efforts. Only then do we take a critical look. And that has to change. Once and for all.

We need to build in systems of evaluation, we need to look more closely at each of the outcomes and impacts related to the first 3Rs in order to even know if they’re connected thoughtfully and/or are supporting one another effectively. That’s done with Refinement.

Adding Refinement isn't just revolutionary, it's evolutionary. It's all of us as Engagement Professionals advancing and taking a new level of responsibility within our systems of management.

Where does Refinement fit?

Since Recruitment, Recognition, and Retention is a cycle-based model, we're suggesting that Refinement creates an internal cycle that offers a dedicated review of your practices and processes to improve, change, and evolve your models of engagement impact.

So technically Refinement goes everywhere. To support this theory, in the weeks ahead we will be taking deeper dives around Refinement’s efforts within several Engagement Professional roles: Volunteer Management/Human Capital, Fundraising, Communications and Executive/Board development.

 <<< In fact we've created a little image to represent this concept here. >>>

It's time to think differently.

As you’ll learn in the weeks ahead, adding Refinement forces you as an Engagement Professional to take on some of the onus of the successes of your program, but with a constant eye to improve and identify struggles too, pushing all of us to seek improvement and become more effective in our core industry goals.

Our theory of a 4R model will help you problem-solve any number of issues with your intended audiences including the deadly attrition, apathy, discontent and decline. These issues plague us all and now we’ll have a model that progressively addresses them as part of the overall experience.

The 4R's; Recruit. Recognize. Retain. Refine.

Refinement has been the missing ingredient. The “cultured elegance” our programs deserve. And it's the future of Engagement professionalism.

NEXT BLOG: Join us to learn how the 4Rs impacts Fundraisers and the Development profession. 

- Ben & Kathy

Volunteer Talent + Time Tracking: The Future Of Volunteer Programs

NOTE: This blog was originally featured on the Engaging Volunteers Blog w/ VolunteerMatch.


Series Introduction

As a centuries-old global institution, volunteerism started to finally become a thing that was “managed” in the early 1700’s with the design of Benjamin Franklin’s volunteer firehouse. A management model that’s still in existence today by almost 70% of all fire departments. In the last 300+ years, we have seen volunteerism and volunteer management transform, grow, and refine itself. And now in 2017, we feel it’s time for another evolution.

As part one of a three-part series, volunteer thought-leaders Ben Bisbee and Kathy Wisniewski are introducing a simple but paradigm shifting idea they think could be ground-breaking: what if we tracked volunteer time and talent more dynamically?


Part One

You’ve just been asked by leadership to contribute volunteer information to your “Annual Community & Donor Report” — no problem. You had a banner year, leveraging volunteers in a wealth of organizational efforts, events, and for day-to-day support. Excited about the year’s accomplishments, you are more than happy to share your volunteer contributions in the report and fire off a quick email to leadership in response:

This past year we had X volunteers volunteering, with X total number of hours contributed to the organization. *click send*

Woah. Stop. No.

How are you tracking your volunteer contributions? Just in hours and numbers of individuals? That’s like only tracking employees by who clocks in and how many people are on shift. And of course this is the norm. After all, it’s what’s expected of you — barring the occasional narrative or promotional story.

But in 2017, it’s painfully limited. And assuming you really are excited about the year’s accomplishments by your volunteers, we think it’s time to consider new and fresh ways to more powerfully track your volunteer time and more effectively showcase their dynamic contributions.

Why? And how?

Beyond the power of telling the story of your volunteers and their contributions more effectively, there is also the monetary value that organizations use to enhance nonfinancial assets and showcase grant and funding potential. As you probably already know and utilize, Independent Sector has estimated that a volunteer’s time is valued at $23.56 per hour, on national average.

But let’s note the word “average”. As you can imagine, depending on the roles and tasks your volunteers are performing, the rate can be a little less or dramatically more. Moreover, we think the rate should increase. And be reported. And be leveraged.

Think about it. You don’t pay your administrative assistant the same amount as your marketing executive, do you? So what if you took the intent behind the Independent Sector’s model of an “average” volunteer’s hourly rate and instead started tracking volunteer hours based on specialized and skill-based volunteers at their appropriate hourly rate as determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics?

No, really. And we’re here to help do that exact thing in 4 easy steps.

First, think about the volunteer roles of your organization as a spectrum of specialized skills. Some of them are probably performing “average” roles. But what about the ones who are not? What about the volunteers who are focused on key and specialized roles? With those volunteers in mind, create a set of defined volunteer roles reflective of your nonprofit’s volunteerism. To get you started, we’ve created an example list below:

  • Educational Support & Leadership
  • Fundraising Support & Leadership
  • Operational Support & Leadership
  • Administration Support & Leadership
  • Management Support & Leadership

In each of these examples, you probably have volunteers who are contributing a wealth of time and talents that on average are supporting well over the “average” rate of $23.56 an hour. Which leads us to the next step…

Second, associate each defined volunteer role with an hourly rate reflective of their role, easily found on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website. This will allow you to show all your stakeholders the depth of the impact that your volunteers, and therefore your organization, are making. But wait! We decided to save you some time and created a handy little chart ourselves (click the link to see chart):

<<< Volunteer Talent + Time Tracking Chart >>>

*Let’s talk for a moment about the hourly rate range. To create the range within the chart we searched the Bureau of Labor Statistics within the categories or key terms associated with each defined volunteer role and/or title and showcased the core median pay ranges.

Why a range? As you’ll see in the Bureau of Labor Statistic link, there are variables based on types of roles and the depth each of role. So your volunteer’s fundraising position could be extremely entry-level (like making solicitation calls) or they could be far more dynamic and skill-based (like a board member or pro bono grant writer). So our handy little chart helps you not only see the range, but think about your own target hourly rate based on the role or roles your volunteers are contributing. Does this mean you should create tiers or distinctions within the defined roles themselves? Where does the madness stop?! Our feeling is that it should depend on two factors:

  1. Do you have enough volunteers working in the defined roles to create tiers? If you are talking about dozens or hundreds of volunteers, maybe. If not, we suggest picking a median or average hourly rate to associate their time.
  2. Are we talking about general volunteer support or skill-based volunteerism? If we’re talking about highly skilled volunteer contributions, that is another factor to not only consider but highlight more dynamically overall. So much so, we’re covering that in Part Two of this blog next week.

Third, create a new way to track the hours of volunteers and volunteer roles associated with each of the specialized skills within your spectrum. There are many good systems and platforms available that will allow you to successfully accomplish this. Find the one that appropriately fits your organization and the process of properly tracking volunteer time and value will be made quite easy. In this model you’ll want to ensure:

  • Volunteer hours and their specific roles are tracked
  • Specific roles are tagged or can be tracked against their individual financial contributions

And fourth and finally, sing your new tracking system from the rooftops and proudly share with the world the number of volunteers you have, the amount of hours they worked, and the real life roles and impact they make within your organization. This is going to have to be a process you’ll need to institutionalize and build buy-in for because it will seem revolutionary to some and odd to others.

Like any paradigm shift, you don’t want to just create the methods to track these kinds of volunteer efforts for your organization, you want to also think about how to culturally adopt this information within a variety of organizational models including your annual report, your monthly updates, and ways to recruit, retain, and celebrate volunteers. By utilizing a method like this, you will be able to demonstrate the benefits and impact that volunteers have on your organizational mission in a much more holistic way — and that is worth its weight in gold (pun intended).

Final thoughts for Part One

In one way or another, volunteers are helping you accomplish your mission. They volunteer for your organization because they genuinely want to be there. They volunteer out of the kindness of their hearts and can often have a greater stake in the organization than your paid employees. Surely, we can do better and owe them something more meaningful than reporting on only the number of volunteers involved and hours served.

And moreover, it’s time to stop thinking of volunteers as just “one of many” and instead as individual, diverse, essential, and effectively categorized human capital for your organization. It’s time to track them smartly, value their individual contributions more powerfully, and showcase those contributions proudly.

Next week with Part Two?

We’re going to take a deeper look at the rising trend of skills-based and pro bono volunteerism and how volunteer talent and time tracking is not only an essential part of the equation of effectively tracking their efforts, but is also essential in creating your skills-based model and recruiting highly invested volunteers for your skills-based and/or pro bono volunteer program. And in Part Three we’re going to address the power of volunteer talent and time tracking associated with volunteer recruitment, retention, and communicating transparently about both broad and specific volunteer contributions.  

- Ben & Kathy

Volunteer Talent + Time Tracking: Skills-Based Volunteerism Made Smarter

NOTE: This blog was originally featured on the Engaging Volunteers Blog w/ VolunteerMatch.


Welcome to part two of our “Volunteer Talent + Time Tracking” blog series. If you remember at the beginning of part one, we talked about how volunteerism began to formalize with Benjamin Franklin’s volunteer firehouse. But let’s look a little deeper at that model for a moment.

Did you know on average it takes 2-3 years of planning and training to become a firefighter? Volunteer or paid, the position requires about 24 months of fire academy training and over 200 hours of EMT training to qualify for duty. That’s quite the skill-building and skills-based experience. This means that, while we often think of “skills-based” volunteers (SBVs) as something relatively new, if you look historically and closely at the industry, SBVs have been around almost as long as volunteerism itself!

As part two of a three-part series, volunteer thought leaders Ben Bisbee and Kathy Wisniewski are continuing the introduction of their talent + time tracking model and using it to showcase one of the biggest buzz-issues facing nonprofits: planning for and engaging SBVs and pro bono volunteers. You’ll see how leveraging a talent + time tracking model powerfullysupports the design of a skills-based program and how to use it to recruit, track, and retain contemporary SBVs and pro bono volunteers for your organization with unparalleled success.  


Part Two

Sometimes it’s hard to think about tracking volunteer contributions with time and talent when you don’t really have the time to spend thinking about the talent equation of volunteerism.

“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve.” —Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

This is one of our favorite quotes about volunteerism, but it’s also sometimes a less-than-kind reinforcement to one of the nonprofit industry’s more negative attributes: mindlessly considering volunteers as a kind of organizational widget.

If you don’t know, a “widget” is a small gadget or mechanical device, especially one whose name is unknown or unspecified that makes things happen more effectively. Remember all of those word problems you had in middle school math and how they often revolved around widget factories? Why do you think the word problem writers (does that job really exist?) used widgets as the variable? Because they were unknown and unspecified; much like a thingamabob or a doohickey. This is the same idea, only more formal. And if you really think about it, widgets are important, often essential pieces of a machine, but they go unnamed or relatively unknown because they could be anything and they can often be interchangeable.

Kind of like how the industry tends to think about volunteerism. Important, but interchangeable.

Ouch! We know…

But this blog post isn’t about making us feel guilty or to address the plight of our unintentional behaviors toward volunteers or how to fix those issues (that’s for part three!). No, part two is about how the idea of volunteers as widgets often prohibits us from thinking about SBVs as we should: as dynamic and skilled volunteers who can serve to move us forward, not just help to carry us along. Sort of like how widgets in word problems actually serve to deepen our knowledge of the mathematical concept at hand.

And the secret to this revelation? You guessed it: talent + time tracking.

Ok, so we’ve already convinced you in part one that talent + time tracking is not only good tracking, but lucrative tracking. You now know you can look at your volunteers within a spectrum of specialized skills and how those specialized roles can be leveraged against fundraising targets, grants, and financial offsets.

Now let’s go a level deeper. Let’s talk about how this model can help target organizational needs and then help to design a program model that allows you to promote, recruit, retain, and leverage highly skilled volunteers that advances your mission and vision.

No really. Are you ready? Here we go…

Why does it often seem so difficult to think about the management of SBVs? We think it’s because we’ve over-complicated the idea by not actually focusing on the obvious: skilled people want to offer their talents for free.

Stop and think about that for a moment. What if we took out the “for free” part? Skilled people want to offer their talents. How else do we engage these kinds of individuals? We hire or contract them. And in order to do so, we look at our organizational needs such as technology support, fundraising design, executive coaching, supply chain management and so forth, and build formal full- or part-time positions or contractor/consultant roles.

We then take these needed roles and develop job descriptions, objectives, and goals. We assign managers and timelines. From there, we establish orientations, trainings, and evaluations processes, and in some cases, finite or end expectations. And then we recruit, interview, confirm, and place the chosen individuals into these created roles.

Why? Because that’s what’s necessary to make these positions effective and successful. And in doing so, we have convinced ourselves that only paid positions are worthy, that the financial investment in staff or paid individuals is implicit, while financial investments for volunteers are burdensome.

This is so true, in fact, that when skilled volunteers present themselves to us as passionate, interested, and willing individuals, we find ourselves suspicious of their offerings. After all, they could and should be paid for this work elsewhere, so why are they offering their skills to us for free? And ultimately, we begin to feel conflicted and anxious about how to best engage SBVs, because essentially, they are blurring the lines we hold on to so closely with a death grip.

So let’s start thinking differently.

To us, the collection of paid vs. unpaid labor is far too limiting. We like to think of the entire human-driven organizational labor umbrella as “Human Capital”: a collection of individuals representing all the knowledge, talents, skills, abilities, experience, intelligence, training, judgment, and wisdom of your organization. Your organization’s human capital showcases the capacity of your people — paid or unpaid, contracted or volunteering, employed or with term limits, representing a form of wealth which can be directed to accomplish the goals of your organization in every aspect of need.

At its core, Human Capital models are about talent and time, so your trick is to figure out the best ways to track it, and then make sense of whether it should be a paid or unpaid role. To do this, we’d like to introduce the IDEA model of talent + time tracking for Human Capital:

  1. Identify the Need: What are you trying to accomplish within your organization — what are the needs, outcomes, and goals?
  2. Define the Role: What is necessary within the role and its design? How will this person be expected to fulfill the needs, outcomes, and goals within a position?
  3. Explore the Possibilities: once you have designed the role, how can it be fulfilled? By a paid staff member? A contractor? A board position? A volunteer?
  4. Attract the Talent: Now it’s time to promote the role within the correct circles of interest such as online recruiting portals, corporate skills-based volunteer forums, and/or with organizations like VolunteerMatch.

Identifying, creating, and filling roles are not new to most of us, but let’s take a closer look at “E”, which stands for “Explore the Possibilities”. Human Capital models take more than just a new way of thinking into account, they also take potential coordination, collaboration with your HR department, and education and buy-in with your leadership and team. As we talked about with time + talent tracking, this is about identifying a spectrum of specialized skills. Except now, it’s time to leverage that spectrum for future staffing and placement needs.

Oh no, collaboration?!

Yes, but in the best ways possible! Your HR team has to find talented individuals who can fulfill a variety of full-time, part-time, contracted, and consulting roles. And likewise, you have a pipeline of talented individuals who can fulfill a variety of roles — but who are willing to do this for free. This kind of inter-organizational collaboration offers a wealth of amazing side-effects:

Creates organizational synergy: Creating streamlined position descriptions across all needs is smart and savvy and allows you to develop unified orientations, departmental trainings, and shared management roles in new and powerful ways.

Saves your organization money: One of the first areas you can save money on is with contractors and part-time roles, two roles that are often limited in scope, finite, and ripe for SBVs.

Develops organizational empathy: Organizations that invest in Human Capital models are able to thrive outside of silos and barriers, offering a fresh and balanced way of meeting organizational needs with a variety of stakeholders. It creates a culture that fosters networks of people who care deeply about the organization and how they can be their best selves in any role they are interested and suited for fulfilling.

Talent, check . But what about time?

Supporting a new organizational position with SBVs instead of a paid position such as a staff member, contractor, or consultant means you need to consider time devotion and timelines differently. Thinking about roles as full- or part-time or with a limited contract has a massive time-related impact on the role, its goals, and intended outcome. So, when you’re “E — Exploring the Possibilities”, this needs to be addressed based on the type of individual you want to explore helming the role.

We wish there was an easy mathematical equation to support best practices on defining the time commitment of SBV roles, but that is as varied as the positions themselves and will be different in each case. As you know, the national average value of a volunteer’s time changes from year to year, so the roles you design need to be true to its needs and reflective of a volunteer’s involvement.

For example, if a role demands 40 hours a week, for ever-and-ever, then a paid, full-time position is ideal and would make for a difficult SBV position. However, if the role is more limited in scope, short-term skilled, of a consulting nature, or could be broken into several roles or efforts, the timelines associated with the role are far more flexible and variable and would make for a successful SBV role.

Overall, our advice is to think creatively with an eye toward flexibility when addressing and filling organizational roles. If you are in a position where you can exchange the time it takes to complete a project in order to save on the financial output, that’s perfect for SBV opportunities. This idea of exchanging time for talent is a game changer. Remember in part one when we suggested that tracking volunteer time in just hours and numbers is a little insane? This is also why. It prohibits you from thinking about the level and depth of talent your organization can support. It also tricks you into thinking time is money, when in reality, talent is money.

Final thoughts for Part Two

The topic of SBVs is not going anywhere — and that’s a really good thing! There are people who want to offer their time and talents for the good of our organizations for free. The trick is to develop a model that welcomes and smartly leverages these individuals within a larger framework of what it means to contribute to your organization’s day-to-day operations. A Human Capital model does this for everyone — paid and unpaid alike.

But this takes collaboration across your organization and a fresh way of thinking. Thinking about your organizational “workforce” as a spectrum is a skill. That skill takes a variety of new ideas, invested stakeholders and some healthy planning. But the outcome is rich and dynamic, saves your organization money and makes you a stronger, more empathetic organization. Things we all want. Things a time + talent tracking mindset can provide.

Next week with Part Three?

In our final blog of the time + talent tracking blog series, we’re going to inspire you to continue collaborating and thinking differently, this time, concerning your volunteer recruitment, retention, communications, and stewardship efforts.  

- Ben & Kathy 

Volunteer Talent + Time Tracking: Recruitment, Retention, And Recognition

NOTE: This blog was originally featured on the Engaging Volunteers Blog w/ VolunteerMatch.


Welcome to part three of our “Volunteer Talent + Time Tracking” blog series — our introduction to the concept of progressive volunteer and human capital talent tracking. As you’ll recall, we began both parts one and two referencing Benjamin Franklin’s volunteer firehouse as both the organizational forefather to modern traditional volunteerism and skills-based volunteerism (SBV).

In part two, we also began by highlighting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quote “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve.” — a well known and powerful statement about volunteerism and service. But as we expressed, it’s also sometimes a crutch that indirectly reinforces the idea that all volunteers are “equal” and potentially “faceless”.

And this is where we want to begin our final post on talent and time tracking. Before we do, we want to thank you for reading this series and conclude by exploring and inspiring you to think very differently about another layer of the volunteer management experience: recruitment, retention, and recognition. Ways that, at first, might feel unrealistic and uncomfortable, but (we promise) will help bring your program into the 21st century.

Part Three

We believe Dr. King’s quote serves as a reminder that service and volunteerism are opportunities for everyone. And as we expressed in part two, oftentimes this quote gives us and our organizations the continued license to look at all volunteers as “the same”.

But we get it; thinking of our volunteers as a body of one is comforting. It’s also easy. But it’s also lazy.

Did we say lazy?

Yeah, sorry. And hey, while we love the idea of oneness, we think it should stem from a very different quote: “unity in diversity,” an idea that dates back to ancient times in both western and eastern cultures based on an understanding that each of our differences enriches our oneness and our human contributions and interactions.

If you think about it, in the nonprofit sector, we’ve been practicing “unity through diversity” with a certain contributing group since the beginning of our existence: that’s right, donors.

Let’s talk about the universe of donors for a moment (we promise we’re headed somewhere enlightened).

In the realm of development, no donor is alike — or at least — all donors are never alike. We have major gift donors, online donors, planned giving donors, legacy donors, corporate donors, foundation donors, family foundation donors, in-kind donors… the list goes on.

And in most organizations, there is a threshold in which a donor is considered a “major” donor, whether it be for a $500 gift, $1,000 gift, or whatever dollar amount the organization chooses. Once a person reaches “major donor” status — either as a one-time gift or in a monthly/sustainer model — the relationship changes, morphing into something that is viewed as somehow more important, more valuable, more worthy of our attention. Major donors are often sent different types of communications than other donors. Their phone calls are immediately accepted. They are invited more lavishly to events and special occasions. They have crossed that great divide into “VIP” status.

This isn’t just an industry norm, it’s smart relationship management. It’s good to pay attention to people who choose to invest a large amount of money into our organization. It’s beneficial to the future of the relationship to send them targeted communications that explain the impact the organization is making because of gifts like theirs. It’s wise to take their phone calls and involve them in as many organizational events as possible to show off more of your organization and keep them passionately invested.

But why is this model only practiced with donors?

As we addressed in part two, we have once again convinced ourselves that only financial contributions are worthy, that supporting donors is implicit, and still, that relationship investments for volunteers are burdensome because they are “free”.


Thankfully, this is where the practice of talent + time tracking intends to open minds and doors, and change the way we see volunteerism.

We believe it starts (and as the third and final blog post of this series — ends) with the classic 3Rs of volunteer management:

  • Recruitment
  • Retention
  • Recognition

It should come as no shock that recruiting volunteers by simply saying “Hey, we need volunteers!” may return a few volunteers for your effort, but not many. We also know retaining volunteers by saying, “You’re such a great volunteer — here are a few free cheeseballs and a fridge filled with diet soda,” may also work for a while, but doesn’t offer much inspiration for them to continue supporting your mission. While recognizing volunteers by saying “Hey, every volunteer at xyz organization, thanks for everything you accomplished this year!” is short-sighted and lazy.

We promise, there is a better way! Just as is done with the solicitation, retention, and recognition of a major donor, there is a level of intention, planning, and management necessary to develop and sustain relationships with volunteers. This same donor methodology should apply to volunteer programs.


Your organization is in need of volunteers for various assignments. You’ve taken the time to explore where you need additional help, you’ve talked to the appropriate staff members, you know exactly what those positions are, and you’ve drafted the position descriptions. The avenues you choose to recruit volunteers to fill these positions are endless. Maybe it’s attending a volunteer fair, or posting on your website, speaking at a community event, or utilizing a volunteer recruitment site like VolunteerMatch.

But how you draft that call for volunteers will make all the difference in the world. It’s much like reading an ad for a job or a donation solicitation. Do you want to apply for a job that says “Hey, we’re looking for a Director of Marketing. You should come work for us!  Apply today!”  Probably not. And would a donor be compelled to donate just because you say “Our organization is great! Donate today!” Unlikely.

Like with any invitation to “join” an organization, individuals want insight into the organization’s needs, the impact that the organization makes in the world, and how they factor into all of this. They want to know why working for or donating to this organization will enrich their lives as well as the life of the organization.

Volunteer recruitment is no different.

Our vision of talent + time tracking invites you to consider the following:

  • Use the current and projected contributions of your volunteers to showcase thoughtful details and hard facts as to how your volunteer program impacts your mission and how you envision that impact growing with the addition of more or specific volunteers.
  • Allow the stories and successes of your volunteer program to invite potential volunteers who may already be inherently drawn to your cause.
  • Don’t just describe the role. Showcase the great work volunteers have done, how many people have been helped, how much money has been raised, and how their particular expertise will benefit all involved — including themselves.
  • Extend the invitation to become a veritable partner with your organization and you are sure to win the hearts of a multitude of talented new volunteers.


Retention can be a tricky thing to figure out. But from our perspective, looking at how we treat donors showcases an organizational pathway to success that’s clear and simple. It’s easy to see that if someone donates to an organization, and the donor never hears from the organization again, it’s likely they will not donate again. Donors want to know how their money is being used. They want to visualize their impact.

Smart organizations keep individuals informed and involved, updating them on accomplishments, creating “touch points” throughout the year, and strategically showcase how their contributions allow for a vision of future projects.

For volunteers, it should be the same.

Not to use the “L” word again, but lazy retention efforts in maintaining your volunteer corps will often put you in a place where you’re always recruiting because you’re rarely retaining. Our vision of talent + time tracking invites you to consider the following:

Go beyond the traditional but generic “thank you” with your volunteers, and use the tracking of key volunteer efforts and performance measures to showcase the amazing work your volunteers do on a regular, consistent basis.

Strategically find new ways to showcase volunteer efforts, hours, and key projects throughout the year — not just at an annual gathering or during National Volunteer Week.

Just as you’re using organizational information and inspiration to recruit, use these same tactics to retain your volunteers with great frequency.

Consider it your other-other job to prove to them that their investment has real-world meaning every day and in a variety of transformative ways.


This is our favorite area of all. Your volunteers are a fantastic group of people — unlike any others. They have done amazing work for your mission and your cause. They are making you money, they are saving you money, and they are a human extension of your mission and model. They deserve to be recognized smartly, strategically, and openly.

Like donors again, how volunteers want to be recognized is generally different from volunteer to volunteer. Some want very public recognition with medals and shout outs, their “name in lights” so to speak. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Others don’t require or quickly shun any recognition at all. And that’s ok too.

So we propose an approach that ensures you’ll please recognition seekers and non-seekers alike. Our vision of talent + time tracking invites you to consider the following:

Show them their impact! Yup! That same information, those same numbers, those same stories of information and inspiration that you used to recruit and retain are the very same building blocks for recognition.

If you’re the type of organization that gives out physical awards based on hours, consider highlighting the volunteer’s role and individual talents as well.

But if you’re not the kind of organization who likes to call volunteers out by name or spotlight them online or in your newsletters, this is where you can utilize their roles and those associated talents to speak more broadly about their contributions without having to name names — just name titles and roles.

Fine. Sure, but can we get an example? Sure!

Old Method: “Thank you to all our volunteers! You make our organization what it is each and every day!”

Talent & Time Tracking:  “We have a rich and diverse volunteer base. Our horticulture volunteers — all 28 of them — have been contributing 4 hours a week, supporting over 1,300 hours in the educational gardens this quarter alone engaged in weeding, planting, and educating visitors. And our 45 manor volunteers have given over 1,000 hours in tours so far, delighting people with over 2,000 hours of information and history! These combined volunteer efforts ultimately helped save our organization nearly $8,000!”

Final Thoughts

For literally hundreds of years now (thank you Benjamin Franklin!) we’ve been successfully and virtually exclusively tracking the hours contributed by our volunteers. The only change we hope to introduce for a modern volunteer program design is the additional art of tracking associated talents too. Yes, it might feel disruptive. Yes, it might seem strange at first. It might even bring on a sense of guilt (more on that in a moment). But it’s time.

The talents of our volunteers are often the virtual foundation and building blocks of our organizations. Their time is just that — hours devoted. It’s like we’ve been singing the praises of the miles driven, but never the car or the trip itself. That has to change. It’s time. (See what we did there?)

We know that on the surface, it might seem somewhat counterintuitive to attribute variable monetary values to volunteers. Or it might feel taxing to think about tracking talents when some of us still struggle with the basics of tracking time. But we need to stop avoiding the opportunity to grow and evolve just because we want all of our volunteers to feel equally special and equally valued or because new management tactics can seem daunting.

And we would even go so far to suggest that some of you aren’t even worried about those elements, and are instead feeling a certain sense of guilt about the transparency of asserting variables of value from volunteer to volunteer. But remember, no one feels guilty about the marketing executive making more money than the administrative assistant.  And no one feels guilty about distinguishing between one-time donors, major donors, or five or six-figure level donors. In the same way, it’s ok to value one volunteer’s time higher than another based on the work they are doing in their role for your organization. The trick is to place the value on the roles, not necessarily on the individual. The value of each volunteer is the same. The value of their work is different. And rightfully so.

If implemented and managed, talent + time tracking will help to:

  1. Showcase the accurate and growing spectrum of financial contributions to your organization.
  2. Help you build a world-class SBV and human capital organizational model built on leveraging volunteers for a wealth of new cost-saving and money making roles.
  3. Take the associated talent tracking and use those metrics to dramatically enhance your recruitment, retention, and recognition efforts like never before.

Talent + time tracking is about elevating our volunteer programs to lucrative new heights professionally and organizationally. It’s about appropriately leveraging concrete evidence when speaking with stakeholders. This is information that can be reported back to your Board of Directors in an impressive way. This is information that can be included in annual reports and lists of accomplishments. This approach strongly demonstrates the value of your program as well as your value and progressive approach as the volunteer program manager. This builds the culture of unity in diversity. It’s a win-win situation where everyone not only feels valued, but is valued.

It’s time to stop making our industry just about time. It’s time to finally, to proudly, to professionally showcase our talents, too. Talent + time tracking will do this powerfully. We’ve always known that the secret to the successes of volunteer professionals has been our talents. And at the end of the day, we feel that time has finally come.

- Ben & Kathy