In anticipation of my workshop at VolunteerMaine’s annual, statewide Blaine House Conference on Service and Volunteerism in Orono next week, I’m guest blogging about how to prepare for and start partnerships that support volunteer programs.
Archive for the 'corporate' Category
Check out my guest blog today on VolunteerMaine!
I’ll be presenting a workshop all about episodic volunteering at their annual conference next week.
Jenny Hibbard blogged about “Volunteer Hoards: More Work Than Help” and Brad Feld blogged about “Saying No in Less than 60 Seconds” this week, so in this spirit of of maximizing the time/effort that one spends on what’s important, I think more volunteer managers need to educate the public as to what their charities need AND say “No” quickly and often, so they can spend time on potential and current volunteers who could/do make a difference to their charities, rather than distracting offers to do unrequested, less needed things, unless, of course, all current volunteer needs are addressed.
First, more charities need to think and plan their volunteer programs critically:
- Assess and articulate their volunteer needs using comprehensive position descriptions
- Determine and allocate charity resources to support a volunteer program that engages volunteers who will address these needs
- Target groups/places with the most likely candidates (rather than a random, shotgun-like approach), using real marketing techniques
- Encourage people to self-select, to apply for specific roles, based on sharing the criteria of each, specific volunteer need
- Maximize staff time spent on people most likely to become (or who already are) great volunteers and be (or keep them) satisfied in these roles
Beyond the aforementioned volunteer program “must haves,” this means learning how to quickly intake and assess nonstandard offers*, and to thank but reject: “Thanks for your kind offer, but your
*This probably means eliminating a general volunteer application form as a first contact a potential volunteer has with a charity, since these forms tend to create more work, like requesting more information, unless a charity has sufficient staffing to review and respond to the volume of general applicants quickly. Lately, I’ve been recommending tailoring forms for specific positions AND only offering them to applicants who have attended an open house or have already completed an unskilled volunteer task for the charity, and thus already learned the basics about a charity and its needs.
If you volunteer for a few PMD projects a year, it’s tempting to focus on the tasks for these isolated activities, not what PMD is doing throughout the year. (The PMD board and project manager volunteers govern and lead year ’round, so they have a better sense of this bigger picture.) Plus, PMD annual appeals (and I when I’m planning a service project) focus on direct services and details, like feeding the needy and helping the illiterate through specific, ordered steps.
PMD is much more than a clearinghouse (or an online database), connecting volunteers with existing service opportunities. PMD plans the tasks, amasses the tools and materials needed, as well as recruits, prepares, orients, and manages the volunteers who participate in service projects that serve 2/3 of the charities with which PMD partners, since these charities have no ongoing volunteer programs with staff and resources to support them–with these limitations, the 20+ charities PMD serves annually cannot engage volunteers effectively.
PMD also mobilizes its volunteer recruitment tools (i.e., web site, email list, blog, and Facebook Group and Cause) to assist established volunteer programs at the remaining 1/3 charities (~10/yr) when they have seasonal volunteer shortages. PMD is building awareness of these neediest times so that people will develop new volunteer traditions beyond Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Furthermore, PMD sees its service projects as opportunities to help all programs improve their volunteer programs by more effectively engaging episodic/one-time volunteers. PMD has collaborated to produce Standards of Excellence for individual volunteers, group leaders, and charities to clarify key elements that contribute to mutually successful volunteer experiences for the faith-based community and others, and provided targeted, pro bono training (see 11/22/08 blog post) and consulting services to help established volunteer programs near (like the National Braille Press behind Boston’s Symphony Hall) and far (like RightRides For Women’s Safety in NYC) adapt specific strategies that PMD has developed during its 16 years engaging nearly 4,000 volunteers and 23 businesses who have directly helped 109 charities and their clients.
While current economic problems may make many in the nonprofit sector want to oppose, not adopt, most business practices at for-profits like American automakers, many entrepreneurs have good practices that make sense. Brad Feld highlights Ted Rheingold at Dogster (where you can learn more than you ever want to know about Vesta, Ben, and the late Nyx) makes a great point about hiring slow and firing fast (#9).
Most of us in volunteer management focus on recruiting volunteers, so it behooves us to make a real effort to ensure there is a good fit between potential volunteers and our needs and agency cultures, particularly during the screening/selection and probationary periods. Otherwise, as I have heard from countless charities complaining about “problem volunteers,” we waste precious time and energy trying to salvage situations rather than aiming high at the beginning. Instead, we should focus our post-recruitment resources on recognizing and thanking our excellent volunteers so that they stick around and help us attract additional volunteers like them.
A huge satchel of groceries was stolen from the curb in front of the Anna Bissonnette House (ABH) in the South End on July 14th. This heavy bag contained $60 worth of spinach, cheese, butter, summer squash, apricot nectar, crackers, and tomatoes that volunteers from British Telecom Conferencing were going to use to prepare lunch for the 40 frail and formerly homeless elders who permanently live at ABH.
The satchel was on the curb for less than a minute, and was taken when volunteers were distracted by a bus melee while I parked three car lengths back. We discovered that it was missing after we had divided up the dishes to be cooked and were looking for the missing ingredients. (fyi: I filed a police report due to the outrageous nature of this theft, stealing from the needy, but don’t expect that anything will come of it.)
The seven volunteers and I adjusted the menu and someone rushed out to purchase some replacement groceries, only delaying lunch by 30 minutes and causing the cancellation of pre-lunch bingo.
We always say that our volunteers should be flexible and that our volunteer project managers should expect the unexpected, but the egregious nature of this theft really surprised me.
I thank the volunteers who made a delicious meal despite the early setback, and the understanding elders who understood why lunch was delayed and why we held a drawing instead of playing bingo as planned.
If you want to make a real difference, then you have to be contributing more than the resources you are consuming in the process. Otherwise, awareness building aside, it would be more efficient for charity staff to carry out the tasks.
Volunteer time + donations > staff time + resources used
Today’s Wall Street Journal article about the “Helping Hordes” straining New Orleans charities that the volunteers purportedly seek to help describes problems that are not, sadly, unique to the Gulf.
I am fortunate to work with individual volunteers and select companies that really understand this. Every time PMD cooks a meal, we use donations from the actual volunteers and our other donors to purchase all of the groceries from top-notch purveyors. This removes the burden of time and funds a charity would have to spend grocery shopping so that volunteers could cook a meal. Most charities simply cannot accomplish this unless they employ a full-time cook and supporting staff for their kitchens, and since PMD tends to help the small, grassroots charities, our resource-committed role is essential to feeding hungry people.
In April, McKesson did a great job with its annual Community Day for which PMD organized the volunteer projects for their Newton, MA, employees. Together, we planned for and provided all of the tools and materials, as well as feeding lunch and giving t-shirts to the nearly 60 volunteers and the dozen charity staff who worked with them. We had funds remaining in our materials budget, so we purchased needed items that recipient charity Cradles to Crayons identified on the regularly updated, ”Top Ten Most Needed Items” on its home page.
This weekend with PMD’s organizing help, Cornerstone Research’s Boston staff will converge to give a “yard makeover” to a residence for frail, formerly homeless, elderly women, followed by a do-it-yourself ice cream social that will enable volunteers and the women to interact after several hours of hot, yard work. I’ve spent quite a bit of time purchasing all of the materials (flowers, composted manure, mulch, etc.) and tools for 30 people to garden simultaneously. And I’ve become quite the penny-pincher since I want to get as much value as I can for each dollar Cornerstone is contributing.
I could share many more PMD examples since PMD chooses to work with companies that believe in creating more net value. Unfortunately, I spend a lot of time attempting to convince other companies that this is The Way to do things. Many businesses just don’t get it, and want to believe that participation from their group is enough, despite the obvious associated costs, even their internal organizing capacity. I find it odd since they seem to reserve this thinking for their volunteer activities and not their meetings and business activities, yet expect even greater productivity and enjoyment from their volunteer activities. Maybe this is like childish wishing one can “get something for nothing”?
I’ve really enjoyed working with some special volunteers this summer, yet I still welcome time off from email and voicemail beginning at the end of the week. (Yes, PMD will be closed August 18-27.) More than 400 people have already volunteered with PMD this year–Thank you!
Thanks to their dedicated staff, the following PMD Corporate Partners truly made a difference. What they have in common is that
- They give paid time off to enable their busy employees to volunteer
- Internal staff do a good job recruiting participants and keeping me updated about expected attendance
- They pay for needed tools, materials, and other resources
They exemplify exceptional teamwork, camaraderie, and positive attitudes about the tasks, each other, and the clients.
During the final hours of the latest heat wave, 18 Keystone Partners employees bravely undertook a massive yard makeover for nine, elderly, frail and formerly homeless ladies. In addition to weeding, pruning, planting, and mulching energetically, they purchased all of the materials and a delicious ice cream sundae party for all from Lizzy’s Ice Cream.
Besides their enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers, what made this project easy for me was that it was under the direction of their manager of community development, someone on staff whose responsibilities include planning and implementing volunteer projects for the company. She allocated funding for materials, refreshments, and my time, as well as communicated and coordinated everything with their staff so that they were able to show up and “hit the ground running.” Thanks, Ruthie!
For the past few years, PMD has brought corporate volunteer groups to help restore these massive gardens created by a late tenant. Six Harvard Pilgrim Health Care (HPHC) employees visited twice to install a brick patio and to plant a new garden in the backyard after a room was added to the house. I work closely with HPHC to offer a variety of hands-on volunteer opportunities for its employees, who receive paid time off to volunteer. Thanks, Mike & Doug!Since 2000, Bingham McCutchen LLP has organized its summer associates, partners, and support staff to assemble braille books and to learn about Braille literacy. This year nine folks checked 511 copies of Just Enough to Know Better, a print-Braille workbook that teaches just enough braille to sighted parents to read along with their blind children. Thanks, Amanda & Neal!
Last week, 12 BT Conferencing employees and a family member prepared and shared delicious appetizers and lunch with 40 formerly homeless elders at the Anna Bissonnette House where PMD volunteers have been cooking since 1997. They also ran a rousing bingo game and generously purchased many, needed bags of food, health and beauty items, and first aid supplies for the outreach program geared for homeless elders. Thanks, Howard & Jim!
I look forward to working with additional motivated volunteers at the food bank on Wednesday and after Labor Day!