Earlier this month, the non profit that I started, Florida Disability Access and Awareness Foundation, was awarded it's 501(c)(3) charitable organization tax exempt status. As it happened, at least in part, thanks to a great program that Linked In started for charities and because I believe that if it wasn't for the invitation that I found in my mailbox one day I wouldn't be talking about the foundation and its plans today, I wanted to share some of my thoughts and some of my experiences on ways it worked for us. In a nutshell, Linked In gave nonprofits a platform to recruit talent and to network. You get invited to a seminar and then get a posting guide with a link that allows you to look for volunteers for your position in their system, which is either free for approved organization or heavily discounted (last time I heard they were doing 90% off). You submit a posting pretty much the same way you file a job offer, although they do require you to put the word Volunteer in front of the title, even if linguistically it makes more sense to often put it elsewhere and may cause confusion- when we were looking for a "Volunteer recruiter" people assumed that we we need a recruiter of volunteers rather than it's a voluntary position. Because the listings show up among regular job offers and there is no way to distinguish them, but for the title and body people often get confused. And let's be honest. Although Linked In is a network of professionals and the idea is that they give their time and expertise there is a difference, time and commitment wise what you can expect from a volunteer versus someone with a paid position. We've learnt that everything simply has to take longer and keeping people motivated and excited is that much harder. It comes with the territory. Some people apply without reading, some assume that although it says volunteer it's actually a negotiation, some are unemployed and although they say they want to volunteer they will drop you as soon as they get a job. I've had candidates that didn't have the talent, skill or background; I've had postings that didn't produce any good candidates at all. And some where I had more people I wanted to use than things I could use them for. It takes time to get the right talent, try and try again. Also, my experiences taught me that unless you need people with you somewhere physically- it's good to post for other regions as well.
A few weeks ago Meg Garlinghouse from the program encouraged us to share positive experiences with the program. Here's mine: At the time Linked In for nonprofits launched I was ready to give it up. Sure, we had a great mission, that I felt extremely passionate about- but what is it worth if you don't have the resources (and you feel like your stuck and going in circles). We were never going to make it- and then the program came along. We've recruited a lot of people. Most of them didn't stick around, but many gave us that extra inch to push us a little bit more to get to us to that goal. One thing I've learnt about volunteers- they need structure. A lot of new organizations don't really have it and the impulse is to have a new person come in and do it for you. People don't work well that way and I feel we wasted a lot of good talent- because if that makes sense- we were figuring ourselves out and we wanted an external person to come in and figure out some of those things for us. But here's the real story: Then Jazzy came along. She applied for the position of the web designer , which I'm not sure but it may have been one of your predrafted ads. She is now our creative director. Ten years ago I moved from Poland to the US where I hoped my disability would be less of an issue and I became a lawyer. Jazzy/Jasmina is Polish. I didn't know that, I didn't pick her- one of my other team members did. She didn't know she'd be networking with a Polish person either. Her portfolio came highly recommended by our Board- I recognized the Polish last name and much to her surprise I replied in Polish. As it turned out she had just moved to Florida. She worked on big campaigns in Europe (as a marketing/creative person), launching a big budget video game and Mercedes on that market. She said she doesn't really volunteer (and hates "portfolio building opportunities) but something about that ad made her click it. From that point on we've been talking as much as 3 hours a day, she was able to pull products and programs out of our mission. And put them on a strategic timeline. It makes more sense now - how project clearly flow from one to the next and she made that happen. We've met on Linked In, we wouldn't have otherwise, now we're friends. FDAAF still struggles with the website- I have volunteers popping in and out- some as early as a week after they applied and interviewed and haven't really been active - because they found a job or just were looking for a more traditional setting. But I think that sometimes it's about meeting that one person that sticks. Effectively 2 people are still with us nearly a year later. But now we have a much clearer vision, better materials, a 501 (c)(3) status (we were fiscally sponsored by one before) so I do think great things are to come. And it's all because of Linked In. And our website may not look like anything today, but we'll get there.