How to Attract More Volunteers, Increase Program Participation, and Create Better Experiences Using Online Tutorials

Now Serving 900+ Communities

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Who is this for?

If you work with volunteers in a Parks and Recreation department who wants to give more people a chance to participate in your programs without adding to your own workload…

If you want to improve the quality of your events and programs while easing your own stress...

If you want to get your mojo back…

this is for you.

Core Concept

It’s possible to get more volunteers, more program participants, and create better experiences for everyone without working more hours or losing your sanity. Most parks and recreation departments struggle to make that happen, though, because they don’t have a good way to make sure every volunteer gets exactly the training they need or a simple way to make their programs available online.

Most parks and recreation departments rely on in-person training for volunteers. People who can’t attend the orientation for whatever reason either don’t get trained or can’t participate. Making interactive training always available online solves this problem, letting more volunteers participate and get exactly the training they need. Similarly, having a simple mechanism for making interactive programs always available online can create dramatic increases in participation.

Niche Academy is the only company providing a complete training and online program solution for Parks and Recreation departments.

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Our Story

Niche Academy's Founder & CEO, Jeromy Wilson, was only 4 years old when his dad helped start Dynix, a company responsible for the software system that replaced library card catalogs. Growing up, Jeromy tagged along to countless library conferences and events. After graduating from college, Jeromy also took a job at Dynix. After a few years, he began to notice a different problem: despite the increase in available online resources, they just weren’t being used to their potential.

So in 2013, Jeromy set out to find a better way to engage communities digitally, and that’s where the idea for Niche Academy was born. He started out on his own, but soon recruited the help of former Dynix co-worker Jared Oates. Together, they were able to get Niche Academy off the ground. It wasn’t long before they found a whole team of people who believed in their idea and its cross-industry potential.

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Jared & Jeromy

Seven years later, we are now a team of 34 (and counting!), and are trusted by over 900 communities (including libraries, IDD service providers, parks & recreation departments, and more!) all across the world. 

After getting our start with just a few short library tutorials, we’re now helping to build the future of niche training and community engagement. 

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A Better Way

Old Approach

Volunteer training and interactive programming is only available in-person or at a specific time.

New Approach

In addition to live offerings, training and interactive community programs are made available online to accommodate any schedule.

Old Result

Many potential participants get cut out or just don't get trained. It’s hard to verify learning for individual volunteers. Training gaps negatively affect the quality of events and programs. Many people who would be interested in programs don’t get a chance because of schedule conflicts.

New Result

More people can participate. Volunteer training is consistently high quality for everyone. You can verify mastery of the material for each volunteer. Programs like classes and craft projects are always available and still allow for real interaction between instructors and participants through quizzes, polls, discussions, and activities.

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You can increase the number of volunteers & program participants, and the quality of the experience you give them, by making training always available online.


Old Approach

Volunteer training or programs that are presented online as static content or as videos on social media.

New Approach

Training is embedded directly within a main page of your website as a click-to-open image, a carousel, or even an icon.

Old Result

Because training takes up a lot of website real estate, it's usually hidden behind multiple clicks. It often gets out of date because updates require changes to the website. Interactive components (quizzes, activities...) require separate software. Videos are often hosted on YouTube or Facebook which have built-in distractions. It’s hard to get stats and reports on specific training or programs.

New Result

Volunteers find the training easily. They have immediate access to training and never have to leave the context of your website. You create the impression that volunteering is easy and that you've made an effort to create a smooth experience. You can see reports on usage and learning outcomes. You can update the training at any time without the need to touch the website at all.

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You can increase the visibility of your programs and strengthen your department's reputation by using embedded interactive tutorials instead of static web content.


Old Approach

All inquiries about volunteer opportunities and community programs get routed to a few people who make that their focus.

New Approach

All public facing staff have customer service training and know how to get prospective participants to the information they need.

Old Result

Inquiries by prospective volunteers and program participants are met with routing delays and occasional misinformation because they are subject to the availability of one of the experts.

New Result

Community members get immediate answers to most questions and have a way to get additional detail when necessary. They often discover additional opportunities beyond their initial inquiry.

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Public-facing staff can become your best ambassadors to volunteers and program participants if you make the referral easy and reliable.

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To Increase Number of Volunteers & Program Participants and Improve the Quality of Experience for Everyone:

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Options

Do It Yourself

At a minimum this system will need to incorporate video hosting, a clean and simple-to-use content management system, interactive patron-facing elements, website integration, and good reporting mechanisms. The best user experience will come from a custom-built software solution.

You can build a less elegant content delivery platform by cobbling together a mix of free and paid solutions like the following:

  • Content management system (Wordpress, Drupal, Wix, Webflow…)
  • Video hosting service (YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, Wistia…)
  • Interactive patron-facing elements (Google Forms, Survey Monkey, JotForm, Qualtrics…).
  • Reporting system (Excel, Google Sheets, Google Analytics, Facebook analytics…)

Result: 

  • Custom-built software is out of the question for most parks and recreation departments. A self-made solution will usually require a steep learning curve for content creators. This limits the number of people who can contribute to putting programs online. In most cases, one or two trained staff members will need to do this work.
  • Free video hosting solutions like Facebook and YouTube present distracting unrelated content and ads. They also pull patrons away from your website.
  • Interactive elements will generally be created separately.
  • In a cobbled-together solution, the usage report data will come from diverse sources and will require an ongoing manual effort.

Price: 

  • A custom software solution with this scope will cost at least $500,000 to write requirements, develop, test, and deploy. You should expect to invest about fifth of the up-front development cost each year in ongoing maintenance and product refinement based on customer feedback. The cost of a mixed solution will vary depending on which components are selected and how much labor is required to assemble and maintain the solution, as well as create content on the platform. Conservatively, you should plan on $1000 for annual subscriptions and software development and a full-time employee salary at around $50,000.

Timeframe: 

  • Once you have the requirements defined, you would need to budget at least 18 months for development of a minimum feature set on a custom software project with this scope.
  • A cobbled together solution can be researched and assembled in as little as 2 months.

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Niche Academy is the only parks & rec-focused solution that includes simple content management, video hosting, interactive patron-facing elements, and baked-in reporting.

 

Result: 

  • Anyone tech-savvy enough to send an email can create content, which greatly expands the number of people that can participate in making programs available online.
  • It’s not unusual for libraries using Niche Academy to have staff in every department to create online versions of their programs on their own.
  • Programs hosted on Niche Academy can be seamlessly embedded into the library website.
  • The library’s brand is the only one presented to users. There are no distracting content suggestions or ads. Ever.
  • Interactive patron-facing elements like quizzes, polls, and activities are integrated directly into the experience.
  • Usage statistics and reports are baked in and always up-to-date.

Price: Based on city population. Subscriptions start at as little as $500/yr

 

Timeframe: You can have your own academy up and running in 10 min.

 

Niche Academy is for parks and recreation managers who want to recruit more volunteers, increase program participation, and create better experiences for everyone in the community.

Case Studies

Hillsboro Parks & Recreation

Began working with Niche Academy in June 2020

Before Niche...

Scheduling conflicts made it difficult for all prospective volunteers to attend the few scheduled in-person training and orientation sessions, which resulted in some not being able to participate.

When the pandemic hit, it became difficult to continue offering programs to the community, because of the inability to host them live and in-person.

 

With Niche Academy...

Orientation can be done online and can fit anywhere into the volunteer's own schedule, resulting in higher participation rates and less wasted talent. 

Since implementing Niche Academy, Hillsboro has seen equal turnout in volunteer numbers, despite the pandemic preventing the ability for in-person sessions. Popular programs like Grassroots Hillsboro and the teen camp counselor program can remain available to the community.

 

“There's no other division that is equaling the same amount of numbers and people served. 

And Niche Academy has allowed us to do that.

 

...I definitely didn't expect to use Niche Academy in public facing ways as much as we have. And it has been the greatest tool for that.

It was the most unexpected surprise."

Download Case Study

"I've actually told a lot of people about Niche Academy ... and I have been approached by our aquatics group and things about Niche Academy. And so I would tell them to give it a try, definitely give it a try because it's working for us and I truly enjoy it.

...For me, I haven't found anything else that's as easy to create, you know, presentations and things as I have with Niche, and I can send it out to specific people. I can send it out to a mass amount of people and then I can track what their usage is. It's been pretty nice."

 

Marshalltown Parks & Recreation

Began working with Niche Academy in August 2020

Before Niche...

Training was done live and in person, which restricted participation and required many sessions to accommodate different schedules.

Progress was being tracked manually in a spreadsheet and many things ended up falling through the cracks and never being recorded.

 

With Niche Academy...

Tutorials can be accessed at any time, meaning more people are able to participate. Marshalltown has seen great success with their online after-school programs, especially the TaeKwonDo class.

Now, usage of both online programming and staff training can be tracked, and staff, coaches, & community members can refer back to it at any time.

Marshalltown intends to expand their online offering this year to include more programs for kids, as well as first aid training for lifeguards.

Download Case Study

Norwalk Parks & Recreation

Began working with Niche Academy in July 2020

Before Niche...

Kids' sports programs were losing participants to travel teams and Norwalk was interested in expanding its programming but didn't know where to begin.

Many coaches and volunteers were not familiar with rules, general information, expectations, and guidelines, so these were often distributed on sheets of paper that were getting mixed up or lost. This caused staff to receive repeated questions regarding subjects covered on the handouts and took time away from their other responsibilities.

With Niche...

Programming can be offered online so that members of the community can access it and participate on their own time.

Training information, rules, guidelines, and other information is now fully accessible online through various tutorials so that coaches and volunteers can easily find and refer back to it when needed.

 "I'm happy with it. I've had far less coaches, reach out and be like, "Oh, hey, what about this?" Or, "Hey, I need another set of rules. Hey, I need another set of, you know, this.

...

It's hard to make it any easier than to put all the information right in front of every coach and every parent."

 

Download Case Study

Niche Academy Helps You...

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Increase program participation

 

check Increase number of volunteers

 

checkImprove experience of all participants

 

check Reduce your own workload

 

check Reduce number of complaints

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How It Works

Making Training and Programs Always Available Online

Program creators can create both live and online versions of programming. Patrons can access videos on their own time, which means these programs can then reach a much larger audience over time and garner much more participation.

Making Programs Easily Accessible From Your Website

Programs can be presented with simple branding or embedded directly into your website. All colors, logos, etc. reflect your brand, and there is no distracting suggested content or prompts to navigate away from the page, which keeps viewers within the site's environment. It also allows community members to access more information using less space on your web page, and the videos can easily be updated without having to make changes to the rest of your website.

Training All Public-Facing Staff to Direct Community Members to the Online Training and Programs

Inquiries from community members are routed to online training and programs where they can find immediate answers to their questions, saving you time and resources. Training is uniform, learning is verified, and programs are able to reach many more people.

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The Value of Niche Academy

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Our Policy: No price increase upon renewal. 

Niche Academy did not increase prices in 2020 due to COVID, but we expect a price increase for new customers in the second half of 2021. If you subscribe before then, you’ll be locked in and will not see a price increase. 

 


 

COVID has created a focus on online programming and training. This is an opportunity.

Our Guarantee: If you use Niche Academy to offer interactive library instruction within your campus LMS, we guarantee results. If you’re not completely satisfied with your results in the first year, we’ll credit you a full year’s subscription.

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Questions?

Q: Are accessibility features available?

A: Yes. Niche Academy is compliant with the WCAG 2.1 standard at the AA level. This is something we work hard to maintain as we continuously update the platform. If you spot anything that’s slipped through our testing, please let us know. A thorough enumeration of our compliance level is available in the Niche Academy Accessibility Conformance Report.

 

Q: Are we limited to a certain number of training and support hours?

A: No. A Niche Academy subscription includes unlimited professional support. See the answer above on what’s included in the price.

 

Q: Are there limits on the number of users?

A: No. One of the essential advantages of our cloud-based architecture is the ability to add resources (more memory, more processors, faster processors, more storage...) should the demand on our servers ever require it. We have active alarms in place to alert us if we ever begin to approach our usage thresholds. We keep our readily available resources comfortably above our observed usage patterns. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, we saw an eightfold increase in usage within a matter of days without any degradation in the responsiveness of our service.

Q: What maintenance & support is included with a Niche Academy subscription?

A: Niche Academy provides live technical support during business hours. There is no additional charge levied for Niche Academy support and there are no support tiers. Small customers get the same thoughtful attention as everyone else.  

All aspects of initial onboarding are included in the Niche Academy support offering including:

  • The creation of customer academies and initial population of appropriate tutorials from the Niche Academy marketplace.
  • Basic configuration of tutorials within each customer academy including invitation of learners, the addition of custom links, and showing or hiding available tutorial elements appropriately for the intended audience.
  • The implementation of LTI integration with your campus LMS
  • Live training calls with all customer staff that need to learn how to use Niche Academy.

 

Q: What’s the process for reaching Niche Academy support?

A: Niche Academy support specialists can be reached by phone, by email, or through questions submitted within the platform itself. In addition to the live support, Niche Academy provides a searchable knowledge base and a collection of self-paced help tutorials covering basic administrative tasks and the process for tutorial creation.

More questions? Check out our FAQ page.

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