Wednesday, November 02, 2011

How are frogs like processes?

Both can make amazing leaps. You can too if you don’t needlessly weigh yourself down.

Let me begin by quoting a portion of a blog by Aleem Walji, Head of Global Development Initiatives,

“Mobile is growing faster in Africa than in any other part of the world. While levels of internet penetration are well below 5% for the continent, nearly 40% have access to mobile phones and Nairobi sends more text messages in a single day than New York (a statistic frequently quoted in the region).”

You see, because land-line telephones have not typically reached rural Africa, there is no legacy system in place to act as a boat anchor – nothing to hold them back from adopting something new and better.

I have been aware of this phenomenon for some time, but it resurfaced in a very real way for me while presenting at the Asia Pacific Regional IAVE conference this past weekend. My presentation was on the Mission Points model of measuring the Return On Investment of volunteer engagement. The Mission Points model looks to supplant the outdated Wage Replacement model of measuring ROI, with something more aligned to the needs of today’s volunteer sector.

What fascinates me is that, although there were some concepts in the Mission Points model that the Asian participants will want time to digest, there was no sense of struggle with – or resistance to – the ideas presented. I can’t help but to think that the reason for this is similar to cell phones taking off in Africa. The Asian participants have not adopted the whole Wage Replacement model in the same way that the volunteer sector has in parts of the western world. Without an anchor to hold them back, they were free to look at something new and judge it solely upon its own merits; and they did not have to be concerned about what might be left behind in order to get it. (More information on the Mission Points ROI model can be found here at:

So the point is, be very cautious of the “that’s-not-how-we’ve-always-done-it” attitude. While it is certainly true that not everything new is necessarily good, we should always be on the lookout for old processes that prevent us from looking forward.

Cloud computing is certainly one of those things that many people are wary of because it is a software model that they are simply not used to… yet. The writing is on the wall, and while I would never make a silly claim such as “it will be with us forever” (because nothing is these days), it is clearly the direction we are headed in for the next while.

At Volunteer2 we asked ourselves questions around this ten years ago, when we chose not to develop a desktop version alongside our cloud based software. In retrospect, I am thankful to my team for convincing me that generating a desktop model would have been our own boat anchor – slowing down the development of what we know today as Volunteer Impact.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Calculating the ROI of volunteer engagement for internal performance monitoring

While working with leaders of volunteers at conferences, or one on one, I have repeatedly heard that the contribution of volunteer time is highly valued; but that this value has been difficult to measure.

There are a variety of ways to measure the effect of volunteer engagement, and each approach has its own specific purpose. Some methods look at the benefits that volunteering brings to the volunteers themselves. Some look at the monumental vision of how volunteerism shapes a community – or bigger yet, a society. Many approaches look only at wage replacement value in relationship to the number of volunteer hours contributed.

This last method, although perhaps helpful in the past, has become less useful as the sector has come to recognize volunteerism as something more than just hours. The Mission Points ROI model treats the number of volunteer hours consumed by an organization, as an expense. Viewed as expenditure, we would value volunteer time in the same way that we value money: we would spend only to the degree necessary, to best reach the mission of our organization. Consuming more volunteer hours might mean more gets accomplished – or it may mean volunteer time is being wasted.

The Mission Points ROI model allows us to see volunteer contributions as an expense, and in turn encourages us to manage our incredibly valuable volunteer resources more effectively.

I would like to thank the many conference participants that have helped shape the vision of the Mission Points model through offering their input during workshops and presentations. I would also like to thank some very knowledgeable individuals who have, in one way or another, supported my pursuit of developing this model, and/or contributed directly to it. This includes Susan Ellis, Steve McCurley, Andy Fryar, Martin Cowling, Rick Lynch and Rob Jackson.

Volunteer2 is happy to announce the launch of another free online resource for the volunteer sector: the Mission Points ROI calculator, designed to help you measure the Return On Investment associated with engaging volunteers at your organization. I invite you to explore this concept further, by downloading the Mission Points ROI manual, and giving the concept a try at If this sounds interesting to you, please feel free to share this information with your peers. As we develop the Mission Points ROI model further, we welcome as many suggestions as possible in order to improve and refine it as a vital Volunteer Management resource.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Leaders in the volunteer sector reinforce bad practices

Jayne Craven just posted UN Volunteers, IFRC, ILO & others make HUGE misstep. and the news she brings us is not good.

Quoting Jayne,"The measurement so many of us have been campaigning to end - or at least not make the primary measurement of the value of volunteering - is being officially embraced by UNV and IFRC."

I agree with Jayne that there are more useful and quite frankly more accurate ways of measuring the value of volunteer engagement.
To Jayne's list of ways we can talk about the value of volunteers at the community level, I would like to add one at the organizational level.
  • To what degree does the engagement of volunteers lead to the accomplishment of the organization's mission? 
I see a use for calculating a value for the time a volunteer contributes but given that it is a resource that is consumed in the process, it ought to be treated in a similar fashion to money being spent. It is a part of how something gets accomplished and not, as the UNV/IFRC position views it, the accomplishment itself. An organization spends money and spends volunteer time in pursuit of a mission. In a well run organization the value of what it accomplishes outweighs the grand total of both types of expenditures.
In the next couple of weeks I'll be introducing an ROI (Return on Investment) calculator for volunteer effort. It does not look at the big community/global picture such as the enlightened ways Jayne describes volunteering can be valued.  This calculator is designed as a management tool to help nonprofits allocate resources in a manner that maximizes the accomplishment of its mission. Common to Jayne's view of valuing volunteer effort, the focus is not on the accumulation of hours as goal. It is being sponsored by so it will be available to use at no cost.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

5 tips for keeping emails to volunteers from getting trashed or spam filtered

With the launch of version 3.0 of our software we added some tools to help us look at the performance of the software so that we can tweak things to make them better. One of the things that we have learned from this is that our servers are handling over 8,000,000 emails a year! With this kind of volume and the relationship that we have with the very large email and internet service providers, we can see the effects of email writing that triggers spam filters. With that in mind I’ve dug up some advice from various sources on how to write emails that will get delivered and get read.
  1. Only send mail to the people that ought to receive it 
  2. Avoid spam triggering words and phrases
  3. Use subject lines that let the volunteer know what the email is about 
  4. Avoid large attachments and certain attachment types
  5. Remove bad addresses from your database
1. Only send mail to the people that ought to receive it 
Yahoo’s mail service reminds us that spammers write to many people who don't want their mail, so their anti-spam filters are designed to identify that behaviour.  One of the patterns they consider to identify a spammer is too high a percentage of respondents that choose to move the email to the spam folder. 

To avoid being perceived as a spammer, don’t send out an email to all volunteers with many different messages intended for different groups of volunteers. Filter the list to send only the pertinent information out to the right people in each email. Volunteers would rather receive two emails with separate messages where both pertain to them, than one long email with a mishmash of information, some of which has nothing to do with them.

2. Avoid spam triggering words and phrases
One of our clients had an email treated as spam  by more than one of the large internet mail providers because she included the phrase “Free tickets”. It was a totally legitimate offer she was making to her volunteers but too many spammers have used similar wording. tells us that “Unfortunately, there is no complete list of spam trigger words. Further, it is not always the case that your email will end up in the spam filter simply by using a so-called trigger word. The key thing to remember is that a spam filter is trying to remove commercial advertisements and promotions. So generally, words that are common in such emails should be avoided or used sparingly.” has put together 100 Spam Trigger Words & Phrases to Avoid in subject lines.

3. Use subject lines that let the volunteer know what the email is about
So if your email gets past the spam filters you still have to prevent it from being mistaken for spam or unnecessary information and deleted without so much as a glance. suggests that we treat subject lines a little like newspaper headlines. “A newspaper headline has two functions: It grabs your attention, and it tells you what the article is about, so that you can decide if you want to read further. Email subject lines need to do exactly the same thing! Use a few well-chosen words, so that the recipient knows at a glance what the email is about….Of course, just as it would be ridiculous to publish a newspaper without headlines, never leave the subject line blank. Emails with blank subject lines are usually spam!”

Mail Chimp analyzed over 40 million emails sent from customers and found that 9 of the top 10 highest open rates had the company name in it

Really Bad - Subject: Free donuts
Bad - Subject: Free donuts at orientation
Good - Subject: Volunteer orientation 10:00 this Thursday
Very Good - Subject: Anytown Museum volunteer orientation 10:00 this Thursday

4. Avoid Large Attachments and Certain Attachment Types
In general, .jpg, .gif, .png and .pdf attachments are safe to send, provided you include some content in the email as well. However, executable attachments such as .exe, .zip, .swf, etc. should be avoided entirely. suggests “Don’t attach large files to an e-mail; anything over one or two megabytes shouldn’t be sent via e-mail. E-mail attachments consume inordinate amounts of e-mail server space and network bandwidth and are often the culprits behind virus outbreaks.” Because of their link to viruses, emails containing attachments can have a greater chance of being treated as spam if other elements of the email are similar to spam. Many sources online agreed with limiting the file size of attachments, not only in a single attachment but as a total as well. Some email inboxes have limits to their capacity; emails with large attachments can claim too much space to be kept.

5. Remove bad addresses from your database
Spammers list typically have a larger percentage of bad email addresses than legitimate lists. One great way to look like a spammer is to include bad email address in your bulk emails, especially when you keep sending to that address.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Interestingly Useful Resources for Nonprofits

Last month I read a blog post by Heather Mansfield entitled 22 Fun, Useful, and Totally Random Resources for Nonprofits. Even as a person working in technology I find it a challenge sometimes to keep up with all that is new so her title caught my eye. The whole blog is worth a read when you have the time. For now I am sharing some of Heathers thoughts on a few of them and adding in one of my own.

5. BrainyQuote - Heathers’ comments: “A directory of quotes by famous people, this websites list thousands of inspirational quotes useful for Tweeting and Facebook Status Updates. A good quote is certain to garner your nonprofit Retweets and thumbs up on Facebook any day of the week.”

I am including this in my list because I like how random thoughts can sometime help us become creative in solving problems that are completely unrelated. For the few seconds it takes first think in the morning or going into a lunch break it a great way to stimulate new thoughts.

13. Internet Archive Wayback Machine - Heathers’ comments: “This resource is always good for a laugh. Simply plug in your nonprofit’s website URL and you can see cached versions of your site going back to 1996. Love it!”

For fundraisers it is also a good way to look at what organizations a potential sponsor has funded in the past and perhaps why. It’s also a good reminded for us all that what goes online, potentially STAYS online.

16. Square - Heathers’ comments: Part-smartphone app, part-hardware device, Square enables the processing of credit card payments on your smartphone. Great for farmers’ market vendors, silent auctions, and fundraisers on the go!

Although there might not be much use for this in the world of managing volunteers (and only available currently in the USA) I have included it here as an example of one of the vast number of ways that cloud* based technology is going to change our lives. Does your nonprofit and your volunteer management strategic plan include moving to the cloud? If not you will likely spend more on technology than you need to and get less back from it. (*data and software stored on servers on the internet rather than on our desktop or company servers)

19. Twitter Mosaic - Heathers’ comments: “A website that allows you to create an image with a mosaic of your Twitter Followers’ avatars. Useful for web campaigns, Twitter Mosaic also provides the ability to create t-shirts that include your nonprofit’s Twitter name and your mosaic of Followers.”

Aside from a cool way to show your sense of community I have included it on my list as yet another reminder to us all about how many creative ways there are to share data.

22. Worldometers - Heather’s comments: “A website that provides world statistics updated in real-time in categories ranging from world population to stats about energy and water consumption.”

This one really fits under the random and fun headers in the blog title and should only be visited when you have a few minutes to be amazed and process some highly thought provoking information.

My addition - Our Shared Resources – It doesn’t have the broad reach that Heather’s pick have but it’s great for those in the volunteer sector. This is a free service where those who work in the field of volunteer management can add useful resources and others in the field will be able to access them. It currently has almost 900 registered users (you don’t need to register to access materials) from over 30 countries and more than 300 resources.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A new take on job displacement/replacement?

This posting is based on a post entitled A new take on job displacement/replacement that Rob Jackson made to the UKVPM forum. I'll start with Rob's thoughts.

“Hi all. I came across a situation recently that I'd welcome your thoughts on. An organisation currently delivers a service to its clients through freelancers. These self-employed people are engaged by the organisation to deliver a specific, time limited service direct to their clients. Due to changes in funding etc. the organisation is looking to deliver the same service through volunteers in future, rather than freelancers.

Now, if they people were currently employees and not freelancers I guess some people would raise concerns about job replacement.However, because they are self-employed freelancers engaged for a specific task would you have the same concerns?”

Rob raises a great question. I have come to believe that the sector looks at this issue with both conviction and intense polarity. We all know of examples where volunteers are restricted from doing the work otherwise done by a unionized employee. In some cases this restriction can exist in the absence of a union as well. On the other hand, I have come across many postings looking for volunteers to build a nonprofit’s website. In doing so, the organization is taking away the opportunity for an independent contractor or small business to earn revenue. Why do we look at these two so differently? I think Rob’s posting provides some direction to the answer to this while asking the question, should it be this way.

Would you reduce someone to part time because you found a volunteer who could make a long term commitment to take on a portion of a staff member’s job? Would you stop using an outside accounting service because you found a volunteer who could make a long term commitment to fill the role? If yes, would that change if you knew that the decision meant that someone at the accounting firm you were using would have to reduce someone to part time?

If you would not reduce a staffer to part time but would switch to the volunteer accountant, why? A good accountant could, like a staff member, become part of the team that helped make the organization strong.

If you would not switch to the volunteer accountant, would that decision be supported by your organization’s mission statement in that you are giving up the opportunity to use the saved funds to apply directly to the achievement of your mission? Is an organization’s moral obligation to fulfill its mission to the best of its ability or to provide employment? Certainly in most cases employees are required for an organization to fill its mission but in many cases there are particular roles that go either way. In those cases what should guide an organization, providing incremental employment or accomplishing more of what was created to do?

What are your thoughts?