In my recent research interviewing over 50 executive directors of nonprofit organizations, the overwhelming majority of organizations were not fully utilizing volunteers as a resource for growing their organization. There were some larger organizations that clearly had developed strong and scalable volunteering programs, but many smaller or younger organizations failed to see the potential for growth that volunteers are able to provide.
The power of social media can enable your volunteers to become internet ambassadors for your organization. Social networking tools such as Twitter, Facebook, and Yelp allow your organization to tap into the social networks of their volunteers. Many organizations I interviewed mentioned that they now have younger volunteers in high school that are completing their community service hours needed to graduate high school. While perhaps your retirement-age volunteers may not be on board with social media, your younger volunteers are more than likely well versed in it. This is an asset that you can use to help grow awareness and your volunteer base.
Encourage your volunteers to ‘check in’ on their social media sites when they volunteer. Three of the most popular sites that allow you to ‘check in’ are sites like Yelp, Facebook, and FourSquare. Here, we focus specifically on Yelp and provide five simple and free tips for using Yelp to make the most of your volunteers.
Yelp was founded in 2004 originally to help people find great local businesses like dentists and mechanics. It has blossomed into a site that provides reviews from everything from restaurants to stores and of course, nonprofits. In May 2016, Yelp had an average of approximately 145 million unique monthly visitors with over 102 million reviews by users affectionally called “Yelpers”.
Yelpers are able to freely review businesses and provide ratings from 1 to 5 stars for businesses. The typical Yelper is anywhere from early 20s to late 40s, see an older sample breakdown of Yelpers’ ages here. Yelp also provides a way for Yelpers to ‘check in’ to locations using GPS technology in smart phones. Yelp awards badges to its Yelpers based on the types of places they check in to, see the full badge list here. Yelp also awards “Dukedoms” to Yelpers who have the most check ins at certain locations. Women are “Duchesses” and Men are “Dukes” (I personally am proud to say I was the Duchess of Abandoned Pet Rescue when I lived in Fort Lauderdale). Yelp also provides incentives for its Yelpers who post popular reviews by something they created called the Yelp Elite Squad.
So how can Yelp help a nonprofit? Here are a few tips for making Yelp work for your nonprofit.
1. Make sure your organization is listed on Yelp.
Go to yelp.com and type in your organization’s name. You might be surprised what you find. The next step, whether you are listed or not, is to sign up for a Yelp business account, which you can do by clicking here. You will want to set up your business on Yelp, or if you already listed, claim your listing. Yelp business accounts allow you to update your organization’s contact information, history, description, and even allows you to see how many people are visiting your Yelp page every month.
You can also sign up for check in deals if you provide a product or service for a fee. It works like this, if a Yelper checks in to your location on their smartphone, they will automatically see a deal available to them. An example may be a museum gift shop that offers Yelpers a free t-shirt with a $25 purchase or the museum could offer a 2 for 1 admission deal. The Yelper simply shows the deal to the cashier and marks it as used.
2. Post a sign on your volunteer board or check in sheet asking volunteers to check in on Yelp.
Imagine if your volunteers checked in to your organization every time they volunteered and shared their check in with their social networks? For example, when a Yelper checks in, they have the option of posting to Facebook about their check in. The average Facebook user has about 330 friends, see statistics here, so when one volunteer shares their check in, 330 people potentially see your organization’s name in their Facebook news feed. That exposure alone is worth the effort.
3. Ask your volunteers to post reviews about their volunteering experience on Yelp.
A growing trend is looking up businesses on Yelp prior to visiting. Nonprofits are no exception. Additionally, if someone types the name of your organization into Google, Yelp’s search engine optimization techniques often places its listing of your organization in the top 3-8 results. Admittedly, there may be a volunteer who has a bad experience and shares it on Yelp. Do not be afraid of this! Negative feedback represents an opportunity to improve . Even if the review is a bad one, that is information you can use to better your processes. Additionally, Yelp allows you to contact the reviewer directly and try to make amends.
4. Host a “Dukedom” Contest.
Offer a small prize to the volunteer with the most check ins at the end of a month. This provides added incentives for volunteers to check in and may also create a sense of camaraderie among your volunteers. Yelp provides many ways for Yelpers to connect with each other through messages, compliments, and following.
5. Create a Yelp Event.
Yelp allows Yelpers and business owners to create events on Yelp. They appear in Yelpers’ news feeds and on their home pages when they visit the website. Post your fundraising events on Yelp for added exposure and you can share the event link with others via Facebook, email or your website.
Efforts like being active on Yelp may turn 10 people familiar with your organization into 1,000. By providing volunteers with a platform to further spread their enthusiasm for your organization, you can enjoy the power of word of mouth multiplied.