If Not Your Home Page, Then Where?

By Susan J. Ellis

In all the discussion of the impact of Internet technology on volunteer management, one very important opportunity is often overlooked: making use of your organization's own Web site to foster volunteering.

If I surfed to your agency's home page right now, would I immediately see that volunteers are involved in any aspect of your work? Would I find information on what volunteer positions are open and how to apply if I'm interested? Is there an online application form? Would I at least find the name, e-mail address, and telephone number of someone to contact about volunteering? If not--you have work to do!

Yes, it's useful to register your volunteer opportunities with the online registries proliferating around the Web, but ultimately even those sources will direct prospective volunteers to your organization's own Web site. Will a visit to your site continue the recruitment process or become a dead end with no information?

The beauty of the online environment is that people self-screen their interests. If someone sees the volunteer "button" and doesn't care, fine. But when someone selects the volunteer page, offer further information for those who want to go into even more detail. By the time the person has read all the available pages, s/he will be well-informed and eager to express interest in volunteering. Here's an example of the multi-layered approach:

Home page: Mentions volunteer involvement and has a hotlink button for "more about volunteers."

Volunteer main page: An overview introduction to volunteers at your organization: what they do, who they are, how they are chosen. For each point, offer the choice to "learn more." Further clicking might show:

  • actual job descriptions for openings available now
  • a wish list of skills or schedules needed
  • photos of volunteers at work (showing diversity of age, race, gender)
  • data on volunteer achievements
  • personal testimonials from volunteers in certain assignments
  • specific ideas for students
  • specific ideas for groups or teams and more!

Recruitment of new volunteers is not the only reason to design pages on your Web site. Think about the possibilities for recognition! For example, post photographs of volunteer activities immediately after they occur (or during--if you have a digital camera). Not only does this make those individual volunteers feel appreciated right away (why wait until the banquet months later?), but it reinforces the idea of volunteers as active, year-round contributors for any site visitor, including paid staff, donors, clients, and--yes--prospective volunteers. By the way, this changing kaleidoscope of photos also enlivens the site, avoiding the "cobWeb" effect of stagnant pages.

The Web site is also a place to communicate with current volunteers. Ask for some pages to be designated for "volunteers only," either by password entry or at least by specific URL address. Here is where you can post updates to the volunteer handbook, share materials from the last training event, offer tips from other volunteers, etc.

OK. If you feel proud of how you introduce volunteering on your Web site, please respond and give us the URL of your site so that everyone can go take a look. Make sure to tell us what to look for as we are browsing. If you utilize your site for other volunteer-related purposes, share those ideas, too. We want examples! That way, colleagues will have "ammunition" and samples for approaching reluctant Webmasters, executives, or other obstacles to Web visibility for volunteers.

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