SXSW Panel: The Future of Volunteers

000_0003If you want to engage more people as volunteers, you must do two things. So says a panel of nonprofit execs composed of (left to right) David Neff, American Cancer Society; Ford Cochran, National Geographic; Patricia Goldman, March of Dimes; and Randal Moss, American Cancer Society.

The two things you must do are to first  create opportunities for  your  volunteers, donors,  and other constituents to interact with your organization, online as well as in  the real world.

The second thing is that this interactivity should be built around storytelling.  Take a look at these six  Web sites and you’ll see that they meet both criteria.

National Geographic’s My Wonderful World
National Geographic’s Photo Camp
National Georgraphic’s Web site   where you can be the photographer and upload stills or videos. The best get spotlighted.
March of Dimes Share Your Story site
American Cancer Society’s
Second Life, home to many nonprofits, inclusing the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life, which last year netted $100,000+

Randall Moss pointed out that if you want to recruit volunteers, you must find their communities and go to them there. This reminded me of an earlier panel called "What Teens Want Online" where the teens said they were in MySpace and Facebook and that that was how they communicated with each other.

If you want to reach out and engage new volunteers, figure out a way to allow them to interact with you and to be able to tell their stories to you and others (while you’re telling your organization’s story to them). David Neff had some further advice:

  • Be honest
  • Be responsive
  • Spot trends
  • Speak up

Interactivity and storytelling. Those are your keys to success.


  1. Thanks, Glenn, for doing such good blogging from SWSX.

    I didn’t even think of Nat Geographic as a nonprofit. For such a venerable institution they sure seem to be keeping up with technology and culture.

  2. I was very impressed with the Web sites NG uses. Very up to date and interactive. Any NP should visit them to see the current standard.

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