How to Turn Your Organization into a Volunteer Magnet

In early May we held a workshop taught by facilitator Martin J. Cowling, CEO of People First – Total Solutions and an expert in volunteer management.  Martin hails from Australia; we first welcomed him to Victoria three years ago when he taught two half-day workshops for us on topics related to managing volunteers.

Since Martin was very well received here in 2007, (his first time training in Canada!) we asked him to come back this year.  He delivered a full-day workshop entitled “How to Turn Your Organization into a Volunteer Magnet” to 37 participants, who all have roles managing volunteers at their organizations.

The workshop is based on a free e-book of the same name, a resource to which Cowling and other experts in volunteer management have contributed.  It’s full of dozens of articles organized around the themes of volunteer program administration, recruiting volunteers, supporting and retaining volunteers, attracting diverse volunteers, and being “magnetically imaginative.”  It is a great read for anyone involved in managing a volunteer program.

At the workshop – and drawing on the analogy of a magnet – Martin took participants through a host of information and exercises designed to make us analyze our own volunteer programs.  For example:  magnets attract, so how do we attract volunteers to our programs?  How could we unknowingly be repelling them?  Once we have attracted volunteers, how do we hold them fast and keep them motivated?  How do we produce “electricity” in our volunteer program and encourage brilliance?

Learning how organizations could unknowingly be repelling potential volunteers was very eye-opening.  Martin quoted a 1999 U.S. study carried out by Hobson & Malec in which 500 charitable organizations in Chicago were called by researchers posing as potential volunteers.  The researchers found the following:

  • Only 49.3% of the callers received an offer of assistance (e.g. “May I help you?”)
  • 69.3% did not receive the name of the staff person answering the phone
  • 26.4% were not referred to the appropriate contact person
  • When the contact person was not available, only 48.7% were asked for their name and phone number
  • Only 30% actually received callbacks
  • In 16.1% of the phone calls, prospective volunteers were not thanked for calling the agency*


What do these results mean for today’s volunteer-driven organizations?  They highlight the fact that organizations have to be constantly aware of how they present themselves to potential volunteers.  They need to consider how best to attract volunteers to their agencies and how not to turn them away.

Learning how volunteers are attracted or repelled, held or “electrified” is crucial to enhancing an organization’s volunteer program and ultimately the organization itself.  Martin J. Cowling helped workshop participants start to make changes in this direction.  One participant from the workshop said it all:  “Great, useful, practical information.  We left feeling like we were ready to change our organizations.  Thank you!”

For more tips on responding to potential volunteers consult the Colleague Connections section of Volunteer Victoria’s Winter 2008 newsletter.

*Source: Steve McCurley article “Reverse Polarity and the Volunteer Magnet”, located in e-book mentioned above.

Volunteer Victoria has Spirit – Wins Gold for 10th Year in a Row!

Executive Director Val Green and Employee Campaign Chair Lori Elder proudly accept the Community Partner Spirit Award on behalf of their staff and volunteers.

Executive Director Val Green & Employee Campaign Chair Lori Elder proudly accept the Community Partner Spirit Award on behalf of their staff and volunteers. Photo credit:

Left to right: Sylvia, Marjorie, Connie, Jean, Margaret, Shelagh, Shannon. Front left to right: Louise, Geoff, Kelly. Missing: Chris, Betty and Nancy.
Our valued volunteers/campaign supporters from left to right: Sylvia, Marjorie, Connie, Jean, Margaret, Shelagh, Shannon. Front left to right: Louise, Geoff, Kelly. Missing: Chris, Betty and Nancy.
Left to right: Val Green, Lori Elder, Bonnie van Volkenburg, Tara Macdonald, Nick Lyons, John Kay. Front left to right: Louise Keith and Lornna Olson. Missing: Beth Cougler Blom and Bob Gilmour.

Volunteer Victoria's staff from left to right: Val Green, Lori Elder, Bonnie van Volkenburg, Tara Macdonald, Nick Lyons, John Kay. Front left to right: Louise Keith and Lornna Olson. Missing: Beth Cougler Blom and Bob Gilmour.

For over ten years our amazing staff, board and volunteers have come through for those in need in our community. In each of the past ten years, Volunteer Victoria has earned a gold bar in recognition of our ability “to build organized capacity to improve people’s lives in our community.”

I have had the pleasure of being our Employee Campaign Chair for the past four years, and am very proud of our amazing team and accomplishments. In this, our 35th year of serving our community, we have also won the coveted Community Partner Spirit Award!

What does this mean? Here is how the United Way describes it:

Spirit Awards are presented to those volunteers and organizations in the community who have put forth an exceptional effort on behalf of the United Way during the annual community campaign, mostly in workplaces. Thanks in part to their hard work, the community raised $6.7 million.”

Congratulations and sincere thanks to our small but mighty team, and to all of you in our community who gave so generously, especially during these challenging fiscal times. Our community needs us all now more than ever.

Our Loaned Representative Wyatt Marchessault (BC Pension Corporation) was also a very valued team member.

Thank you United Way for recognizing our team in this way. It means a lot to us.

We are looking forward to another fun and successful campaign next year!

By: Lori Elder
Employee Campaign Chair, Volunteer Victoria


Does your organization have a workplace campaign? Not yet? You can make a difference too! Go to to learn how you/your team can be part of the solution.


Investing in Emerging Non-profit Leaders

 This post first appeared in Volunteer Victoria’s E-Link newsletter.  Sign up for E-Link and keep current with news and information from Volunteer Victoria. We welcome your feedback and suggestions.

As most of us already know, there will be a significant exodus of long term non-profit leaders over the next 2-5 years as the Boomers move toward retirement. This is true, not only of our community, but also throughout North America.

So how prepared are we for the next generation of leaders to take the helm? Well, according to recent studies, forums and on-line discussions – not very.
There are a number of themes emerging with regard to the barriers and needs identified by emerging leaders. On barriers, emerging leaders are looking at the role of current non-profit Executive Directors and flagging concerns such as remuneration, lengthy hours, lack of work-life balance and the constant struggle for funding.

Emerging leaders are also highlighting the lack of mentoring, which is critical for advancement and development. A further challenge identified is the lack of a clear career path within their organization. Thus future leaders must build networks and relationships externally in order to build their career.
Studies point to the fact that the business sector fills 60 – 65% of their positions internally, while the non-profit sector fills only about 33% of their positions internally.
With regard to their career needs, future leaders have universally identified mentoring and support as a critical aspect of career development. Mentoring and coaching is widely employed within the business sector, but far less so in our sector.  

Also referenced, is the desire for ongoing caring, candid and open developmental feedback so that they can better advance their careers. Opportunities to grow and learn about the organization as a whole, as well as training and access to other roles are also seen as extremely important.

Younger non-profit staff are often slotted into one field when they come into a non-profit, whether marketing, training or development, and then have difficulty moving beyond that specific field. Thus opportunities for cross-training and exposure to other leadership roles are key in career development.
In addition to the challenges, there are also some bright spots. While younger potential leaders may move between organizations or even out of the sector as they build their career, the sector is seen to provide meaningful work that provides an opportunity for bringing about social change. Two recent US studies, including one that surveyed over 6,000 individuals, reveal that 33% of the survey participants aspired to become an Executive Director.

by Val Green,
Executive Director Volunteer Victoria

Share your thoughts with us!  Stay tuned for future blogs on this topic as we explore Emerging Leaders in the Non Profit sector.

Social Media Project

In the Youth Program , we work with people under 30. Our approach to connecting with them generally relies on meeting face-to-face in classroom presentations, at career/volunteer fairs or when they drop by the office. Over the past year, we have realized that we need to start connecting with youth where they are at. Knowing that many youth under 30 are using Social Media made our decision to start the Social Media Project a no-brainer!


There are so many tools to choose from, but our research suggests that Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, YouTube and Flickr are good tools to get started with. We hope that having a presence on sites like  Facebook and Twitter (YouTube & Flickr coming soon!) and creating this blog will help us reach out to both youth and adults in our community. We know that our member agencies  also really value knowing how to use social media to engage people in their organizations. Through our Social Media Project we have been able to help them get started as well.

This six month project covers social media research, assessment, development, implementation and outreach to both youth and agencies.  We were able to hire two staff (Nick and John) through the JCP program to develop this project.

We found this great video on YouTube and thought we’d share it with you. The Social Media Revolution video

Nick has been actively engaging with youth to see what social media tools they are using, why they use them and how they may use them to learn about volunteer opportunities in their communities.  We will use this information to continue to develop our social media sites and this group of youth volunteers will continue to contribute regularly to our social media sites in their area of interest (i.e. writing, photography, films, etc.)

Nick and John have also been connecting with member agencies to learn about the sites they use and are supporting members who are just getting started. Be sure to connect with me if you are a member agency and would like some social media support, as Nick and John finish up their contracts at the end of December 2009!

Stay tuned for updates on how we are engaging with our community through social media and be sure to post your comments in the area below!

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