An Interview with Sharon Pollock from Rebuilding our Community Sonoma County

At VolunteerLocal, we’re lucky to work with organizations making a real difference in industries, countries and cities all over the world.

Today, we’re spotlighting Rebuilding Our Community Sonoma County, a group providing much-needed support in Northern California. We caught up with Volunteer Coordinator Sharon Pollock to hear more about how her organization is helping to coordinate recovery efforts for survivors of Sonoma County fires.


When did ROC Sonoma County begin working with fire survivors? What prompted your founders to start the organization?

In response to the devastating Sonoma County fires of October 2017, Rebuilding Our Community (ROC) Sonoma County grew out of the catalytic efforts of many local agencies that had the experience with communities facing the impacts of disasters to understand the resources needed to promote long-term recovery. These agencies included VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters), FEMA, CA Office of Emergency Services, and many others.

The founders of ROC Sonoma County saw the need to establish and maintain a network within and on behalf of non-profit, governmental, faith-based, business, and other organizations and agencies to provide a coordinated recovery effort for Sonoma County fire survivors. The ROC Resource Center is a hub from which fire survivors can access a direct path to these local human service entities.


What are some of the roles your volunteers play in your organization?
Our volunteers support the ROC Resource Center in these roles:

  • Client Intake and Resource Specialist: These volunteers gather initial information from fire survivor clients, enter client information into the tracking system, assist clients with paperwork, and refer clients to local resources for assistance. They reduce the intake and referral tasks for disaster case managers, which enables those manager to spend more time assisting clients and improving program effectiveness.
  • Data Entry: Data Entry volunteers mainly enter client information into the tracking system. This is a key part of maintaining client records, which assists all organization members that access this information.
  • Reception/helpline: These volunteers greet visitors, answer phones, provide basic resource guidance, research client status, assist clients with paperwork, and schedule appointments. The benefit of having volunteers performing these administrative tasks is that it enables staff members to spend more time assisting clients and improving program effectiveness.


What most inspires you about your volunteers?
Their dedication and passion to assist fire survivors, their enthusiasm in learning complex systems and processes, and their willingness to devote their time for the long term.


Anything else you’d like to add about your organization?
Since the ROC Resource Center opened in July 2018, its staff and volunteers have assisted more than 1,000 community members that were affected by the October 2017 Sonoma County fires. In addition, the Resource Center serves as a central meeting place for ROC committees and partner agencies, hosting more than 30 meetings per month. As the community continues to recover, the ROC Resource Center will continue to serve as the hub that provides a direct path to the assistance our neighbors need to return to the lives they had before the fires.



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Community vs. Student Volunteers

Volunteers come in all stripes. As coordinator, it’s your role to empower them all to help achieve your organization’s goals. Students and community volunteers might have different motivations, schedules, communication styles and levels of experience that impact what they bring to the table. While volunteers from either group should certainly be seen as individuals, here are a few questions to ask:


Training: Come to you, or go to them?
When you’re working with community volunteers who may be connected as individuals, on-site trainings tend to be best. But if you’re working with a big corporate team, or a large group of students, it can be nice to reserve space on their campus for your volunteers’ convenience. Or, build in a little extra time into the beginning of a shift for “just-in-time” training on your site.


Skilled volunteers, or power in numbers?
Oftentimes, groups of students are used for low-skill, heavy lifting kinds of jobs, and seasoned professionals are recruited to fulfill more skilled roles. Especially with marketing tasks, it can be tough to recruit from a professional pool. Don’t overlook the potential in students, who might be eager to gain experience in everything from graphic design to writing press releases. Same goes for retirees. Some might not be up on the latest social media trend, but they could have project-related skills to contribute. If you have 500 T-shirts to fold, you might want to ask who has experience in retail.  


Who gets copied in the email chain?
If you’re working with a group of student volunteers, it could be helpful to copy in a contact from the school – be that an advisor, coach or community engagement professional. Retention of student volunteers is strongest when there’s continuity in the contact, since students move in and out every few years. If you’re late in the game and still recruiting volunteers, ask your best community volunteers to forward your needs to others in their network – perhaps fellow Rotarians or Chamber members.  


Here for the service hours, shirt or something more?
Recognition can definitely help with volunteer retention. An excellent student volunteer might benefit from a letter of recommendation for a scholarship. A community volunteer, rather, might be touched by a personal letter sent to their home.

Working with student and community volunteers isn’t very different. It all comes down to building relationships and playing to a volunteer’s strengths.




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Volunteer Managers Share The Lessons They’ve Learned

Many volunteer managers stumble into the position, and wind up learning on the fly. We asked a small group of volunteer managers for some of the most important lessons they’ve learned in their jobs so far.

Caryline manages 100+ volunteers for the American Cancer Society in communities across Iowa. It took her a long time to learn to trust her volunteers to help her accomplish the organization’s goals – and find some semblance of balance in the process:

“It’s so important to let the volunteer feel valued and to give them the tools to be successful without doing the job for them,” she says. “That’s how they stay connected to your organization’s mission and that’s how you as a staff partner ensure a healthy work-life balance. I worked from home my first few years so it was easy to stay working late into the night and on weekends. By working like this, I was not only hurting myself but also my volunteers. They didn’t feel empowered because I was trying to micromanage them. I was so focused on hitting my goals and being successful in my job that I was stepping on all of their toes. It took me a couple of years of learning from my co-workers and building trust with my volunteers before I realized my errors. I started to let small things not stress me out and I took up yoga.”



Joy works with United Way of Central Iowa, an affiliate of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, and has found communication preferences to be different with her volunteers in the 55+ demographic:

“Many older volunteers use email and social media, but prefer phone conversations and face-to-face meetings,” She says. “I find a fair number of volunteers will reply to an email with a phone call. Flexibility is key. Using a singular method of communication with this age demographic won’t get the message across to everyone. It is truly being thoughtful of all methods of communication and using it efficiently. It does mean your message may reach one person twice in different forms, but it helps ensure you reach everyone. And while technology is pushing us to more virtual communications, I’m prepared to have a longer phone conversation with these volunteers.”


Chris, who has held roles in community engagement and volunteer management at several large nonprofits and currently works with the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, says his biggest takeaway has been how integrated volunteer goals need to be with the mission and work of the whole professional team:

“The entire staff – those who work with volunteers every day and those who may only work with them a few times a year – need to be a part of engaging them, and if the leadership is not role modeling that behavior, then we are just wasting our time,” he says. “In my time in volunteer management, it is evident that few Presidents/Executive Directors or Boards are truly aware of the potential available from a strong volunteer program. Or if they’re aware, they ask too much but do not show support. Resources like money, staff time, etc. are always nice, but if volunteer engagement is not a priority that ALL staff commit to, volunteer engagement/retention will matter very little. If the volunteer manager is the only one doing it, we are just spinning our wheels.”





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Finding New Volunteers

Since you now know all about the importance of new volunteer recruits, how do you find these magical unicorns (also known as new and passionate volunteers)?

Some of this depends on your organization and location, but many of the same strategies apply no matter where you are when it comes to finding new volunteers. The two biggest things to remember for volunteer recruitment are simple: ask and access.



The simplest way to recruit a volunteer is to ask them to join you. It sounds almost too easy, but it can often get overlooked.


Invite people you know to join your cause or event, and you may be shocked to find that they’ve already been curious or interested in helping. Maybe they didn’t know you needed or wanted more volunteers, or didn’t realize the options to volunteer were varied. Asking someone directly is not only flattering, but also calls for a response. When a prospective volunteer has to stop and consider how they might be able to volunteer with an organization, they can visualize the possibility much easier.


After you’ve made the ask of people you know, invite your board, staff, and current volunteers to do the same. Those who are already involved in the event can speak to the importance of it, the value volunteers provide, and the fun they have while doing it! They can share about the role they have, and identify friends and colleagues who may be able to fill a different position on your team. As the volunteer coordinator, you don’t have to make a personal plea to every prospective volunteer, but you can certainly ask others to do some recruiting on your behalf. In some ways, their connections and conversations may be even more effective in recruiting new volunteers. It still starts from an ask on your part–ask those around you to join in volunteer recruitment efforts.



With any prospective or current volunteers, you need to provide them easy access to sign-up to volunteer.


So often, when people are looking to volunteer or get involved, the first place they look is your website. Make it easy and clear to see when and where they can volunteer and how to get started. Depending on your onboarding process, maybe that means starting with a contact form or email address or maybe you integrate VolunteerLocal with your website so volunteers can pick their job and shift right away! Regardless, you want to build on the forward momentum of their interest and make it as quick and painless as possible for people to start volunteering.


Outside of your website and organization, be accessible where volunteers already are. Contact local companies and colleges to see if they have a database to post volunteer opportunities. If you have corporate or media sponsors, make sure your volunteer opportunities are posted and promoted through those avenues as well. If you have a ticketed event that volunteers can attend for free, provide a link to the volunteer sign-up page alongside ticket sales information. Seek out feedback from current volunteers or brainstorm with your team on ways you can be more easily accessible to volunteers.


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New Year, New Us! New Feature Recap

Check out the brand new functions we’ve added to each package upgrade in VolunteerLocal in 2018. These updates are made year-round, of course – if you’d like to be kept in-the-loop on new feature launches, join our “Features, Please!” newsletter.

For Everyone

Live Chat

We’ve integrated a live chat option under the “Support” tab inside all VolunteerLocal accounts. The live chat is available from 9a-5p CST Mon-Fri.If you miss us, leave a message (inside the live chat) and we’ll get back to you right away.

Event Logos

Add your logo to the event under Events->Your Events->Event Detail. These logos will also populate on the Public Landing Page (

Offline Preview

You can now preview your event without going online by using the [Offline Preview] link listed under your event’s URL (on the Your Events page).

Overlapping Shifts

You can allow volunteers to register for overlapping shifts, if you’d like (go to Events->Your Events->Event Detail).

Submit Button

You can change the wording on the Submit button at the bottom of your event page (go to Events->Your Events->Event Detail).

Uneditable Preview

When restricting admin users’ permissions, admins with limited access cannot click on any links that they have not been granted access to (i.e., the Jobs or Shifts link will be grayed out if they can’t Manage Events).

Confirmation Emails

If group registration is activated, additional volunteers can receive their own confirmation messages. These messages will include profile links, alongside job and shift summaries!

Linked Volunteers

Volunteers sharing an email address will be given their own profiles that are “linked,” and any messages sent will be sent to all volunteers to the same inbox but with their own names, registration info, shift summary, etc.


Grow Plan Features


Import Jobs/Shifts

Yes, you read that correctly. You can now import jobs, shifts, locations, and even shift descriptions into an event. We will provide a dedicated migration specialist to help you import this data into VolunteerLocal upon request and at no charge.

Check-In/Out Tool

Editing those time-stamps has never been easier. You can now include AM or PM designation, too!

Create Applications

Have you ever wished you could create an event without jobs or shifts? Now you can. Go to Events->Create a New Application to build registration forms without the scheduling component at the top. Volunteers will flow into a hidden “job” called  [Auto] Online Applicants inside the Report. From here, you can manually assign volunteers into special positions after reviewing their profile data and special qualifications.


You can now sort volunteers by last name inside the Report for any Application you’ve created. The Rolodex appears at the top of the Report when you expand the “job” called [Auto] Online Applicants.

Volunteer Profile Pictures

Volunteers can now upload profile pictures at the time of registration. These pictures populate inside each volunteer profile, and in thumbnail preview in your Report, under Volunteers->Report.


Conquer Plan Features


Leader/Captain Access

You can now restrict registration questions from Leader/Captain access. This data can be made visible but uneditable, visible and editable, or invisible (completely hidden). Go to Events->Your Events->Volunteer Information and you’ll see this new feature in-action underneath every question on the form. It’s called “Leader/Captain Access.”

Field Settings

Click on “Field Settings” at the top of the Report page (under Volunteers->Report) to determine which data points should be displayed underneath each volunteers’ name without requiring you to open each volunteer profile. Common fields to display include phone number, volunteer rating and birthdate.

T-Shirt Summary

You can now see a t-shirt summary by job with just one click. Inside the Report (under Volunteers->Report), click on the three-dots icon next to each job name. The summary will “unzip” underneath the job.

Responsive Questioning

Create questions that only appear when/if a certain job is selected. For example, you can require the volunteer to upload his/her medical certification, but only if that volunteer selected a shift within the job “Medical Tent” at the top of your sign-up page. This setting can be activated under Your Events->Volunteer Information.

Volunteer Name Badges

Customize unique templates for volunteer name badges inside VolunteerLocal. We’ll spin out your volunteer sign-ups into a PDF with die-cut lines for the printer. You can try it today under Volunteers->Export. Check the box that says, “Create printable name badges.”


Want to schedule a demo of anything you see here, or request a feature we should build in 2019? Contact us today at

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How to Grow Your Volunteers into Brand Ambassadors: Part II

Let’s keep talking about brand ambassadors! In our first post on growing brand ambassadors, we talked about putting together intentional steps to help move your volunteers from people who work with you occasionally into people who are fired up about what you do and talk about you even when they’re not volunteering. (If you missed the first post, go ahead and catch up! We’ll be here when you’re done.)


Today we’re talking about letting go. You’ve done the hard work of instilling knowledge and experience. Now it’s time to give a little guidance and let them do their thing! On the day of an event, you have the unique opportunity to observe your brand ambassadors in action and cheer them on. Take a look at a few ways you can set them up for success.


Offer Final Instructions

Repeating organizational language and ideology is extremely important as you communicate with your brand ambassadors in between events. As an event approaches, think through how your values and mission statement are played out in this specific instance and share that with your volunteers. This way they can visualize your mission in action.


This is also a great opportunity to give last minute guidance before the event begins. Think through the probable situations your volunteers may encounter and train them with best practices before they head out to work. For instance, my current employer throws a three-day fall festival each year. The first night is reserved only for families who have children with special needs. It’s a special night of celebration, and volunteers are usually eager to get involved. However, it also requires a few tips to help them be prepared to do their jobs well. We offer examples of positive phrases to use, ways to modify activities, people to contact if they need help, and reminders to slow down and enjoy the night together. These final pieces of information make your event better while also empowering your volunteers.


Give Official Gear

When asking volunteers to step into a broader role, help them get into a confident mindset by giving them official apparel to wear throughout the day. There’s just something about wearing a uniform, right? It makes us remember why we’re here and helps us stay engaged throughout the long event hours. This can be as simple as creating lanyards or creating volunteer shirts and hats. If your budget allows for new apparel every year, gift these items to your volunteers! Just another way to remind them of the great work your organization does after the event is completed.


Be Encouraging

When you see your volunteer embracing the role of brand ambassador, tell them as soon as possible! Call it out in person, text, or email to reinforce those great actions and attitudes. If you’re running a group text thread for your volunteer team, send encouragement and affirmation there. These little comments don’t take much time, but they help create a culture of encouraging each other and grow camaraderie among your team. Plus it offers an easy medium to address problems as soon as possible.


These steps are simple ways to equip your volunteers and release them into their role as brand ambassador. As they grow in their skill, experience, and passion, you’re able to shift into a support role and watch them be awesome—a true win for you both.


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