PMD Turns 30!

Since November 7, 1992, more than 10,200 awesome people have volunteered for 1,390+ one-day PMD community service projects, helping 153 charities and their clients in Greater Boston and beyond. PMD’s database records that these 10,200+ people have volunteered nearly 20,000 times, and this means that most have enjoyed a homemade cookie or meal-That’s A LOT of yummy cookies!

The very first PMD volunteer project only had nine volunteers, one consumer, and one charity partner (11 people total), but everyone cleaned an mental health clubhouse for Riverside Community Care for a marathon day (9 hours!). Since then, we’ve learned to schedule shorter, less ambitious/exhausting volunteer projects 😉 offering shifts when possible.

Although the covid-19 pandemic eliminated PMD’s in-person volunteer projects for five months when gatherings were not allowed in 2020, and we pivoted to some remote projects when we could, we’ve been organizing mostly outdoor and virtual volunteer opportunities since 2020, gradually aiming for pre-pandemic levels. Interestingly, the only volunteers who have not yet returned in force are corporate/employee volunteers, probably since they don’t work together in the office as a daily practice anymore and since omicron infections, illnesses, and other surges mean that more people stay home when they are sick to minimize exposure and cross-infection.

PMD’s new website quietly launched last month after a massive volunteer efforts by webmaster Phil Cartagena and UX/UI Designer Sarah Kuo, along with board member Ian McEmber and me updating its content for individual volunteer as well as (new!) potential corporate and charity partners. There are even a couple short, introductory videos by Girl Scout volunteer Melanie Clark. Hopefully visitors will find more useful information beyond the link for joining PMD’s private email list and then never returning to the website, which was the case for the first 25+years…. 😉 We still need help with SEO, so please contact me if this is your expertise and you can help out-Ty!

Hip Hip HOORAY 30 YEARS TODAY

Please Volunteer January – October

It’s very tempting to volunteer during the holiday season (November and December), but unless you already have a tradition/regular gig, I strongly encourage you to create a new tradition and volunteer January-October since

  • It’s much less hectic at local charities during the non-holidays.
  • You’re generally needed more at other times of year, particularly winter and summer when people are away on vacation.
  • You will enjoy the experience if you’re able to focus on it rather than squeezing it in among your many “to do’s.”

Throughout the year, PMD organizes one-time opportunities for you to “test drive” different volunteer activities if you’re unsure where to start.

More than 80% of the partner charities we help have no ongoing volunteer programs or dedicated staff to run their own, ongoing volunteer programs, so you will be helping where you’re really needed.

Delicious, Local Chocolate that Makes a Difference

I was very impressed by the free samples and information about Harbor Sweets‘ new Gather, honey-infused chocolates since

  • They taste great! I’m particularly partial to the unique Sesame Crunch and Caramelized Honey ones covered in rich dark chocolate.
  • A portion of sales (2.5%) is donated to the Pollinator Partnership charity that educates and advocates for best beekeeping practices for honeybee protection.
  • They are handmade in Salem, Massachusetts.
  • Until 12/14/16, save 10% by using code GATHER4FUN.
  • They have given People Making a Difference (PMD) a sampler box with all six flavors, to give away to a lucky PMD volunteer.
Six Gather Chocolates

For a chance to win a box of these chocolates ($12.50 msrp), volunteer for PMD’s Sunday 9/18 volunteer project helping the Boston Local Food Festival, 1:15pm-6:15pm, rain or shine, on Boston’s Rose Kennedy Greenway. More details at https://www.pmd.org/popup.phtml?id=828. Sign up by this Friday 9/9 at https://www.pmd.org/s/091816.htm. You must participate for the full project in order to be eligible to take home this free box of rich and delicious, honey-infused chocolates.

#HarborSweets #Gatherchocolate

Forward-Thinking Charity Partners Wanted

When the Boston Globe headline read “Volunteers unwanted” above the fold on the front page on Wednesday 3/25/15, I had to respond in case people got the wrong impression, since volunteers are very much needed in the nonprofit sector, and this is the premise of PMD’s business model.
Yet the subhead “Nonprofits often fear what corporations want to give” had some truth to it.

So I wrote a Letter to the Editor that was published today*, adjacent to a nice letter by Community Servings’ CEO David Waters, who reminds us that contributed services are a valuable resource that can greatly expand charity impact when done right.

Another critical part of PMD’s business model is that we rigorously plan and prepare for PMD service projects, making site visits, mobilizing expertise, and buying, transporting, preparing materials, and setting up the tools and materials so that volunteers can become productive quickly AND learn about the context of their contributions. It can sometimes take 40 manhours of preparation in order for 50 volunteers to help out together for one hour; luckily when we repeat service projects like assembling Lego science kits, we can reuse the training slides we’ve carefully developed and refined over the years.

One last plug about PMD corporate partnership projects: our partners (Novartis, EMC, VMware, etc.) donate to PMD to ensure that everything is ready to go for their private groups, “much the way some organizations have an event planner orchestrate their holiday party.” PMD is currently planning summer and autumn service projects, so call me to learn about options for your business.

*Due to space limitations the only thing that was left out of my letter was my specific example, so I’ll share that part:

Now planning its fifth year, exemplary Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts (BCBSMA) makes $5,000 grants to its 40+, vetted charity partners to pay for materials and staffing, fosters communication/clear mutual expectations during a four-month planning period, as well as assigns its own staff to make site visits in advance and help lead 3,000+ employee volunteers participate in its annual, company-wide Service Day: One Community. One Blue.

Note: PMD was a BCBSMA charity partner with the MIT Center for Environmental Health Sciences, assembling protein science kits in September, and we have applied to expand this project in 2015.)

Enforcing the “Lines” for Volunteers

Last week, I heard on the “news” that celebrity Lindsay Lohan showed up 40 minutes late for her required training for her court-mandated community service, so was sent home (before she was later incarcerated for violating the terms of her parole). Kudos to the charity which enforced its standards rather than accept any effort as better than no effort.
While I’m certainly not Lindsay Lohan, as I attempt to do more, I increasingly run late despite my best attempts to allocate enough time, and it seems that this is not uncommon for others. So when I personally volunteer, I must make a huge effort to overcome my tendency to run late, so that I don’t cause more harm than good, such as delaying meals for many diabetics who must medicate and eat on-time.
As volunteers increasingly take responsibility for critical tasks for nonprofits, nonprofits need to set and enforce appropriate boundaries that reinforce the high standards of their charitable missions. While incarcerating any PMD volunteers who arrive late (or unprepared) is not an option, this year I’ve begun enforcing our basic requirement to call in absences by the day before, by revoking volunteer privileges, so we don’t compromise our services. When volunteers arrive so late that we’ve already scaled back expectations for the group (thereby doing more harm than the good we originally planned), we send latecomers home. And when volunteers arrive unprepared, such as being improperly/unsafely dressed, we also send them home.

This may seem like overkill to some, but we’ve already drawn reasonable, publicly-revealed “lines,” and now we’re actually enforcing them because they are significant to the good we strive to accomplish.

Why Does It Take So Long to Post PMD Project Descriptions and Send Project Details to Volunteers?

Simply said, because I’m waiting for all the details needed for a successful volunteer experience, whether it’s signing up to volunteer and the project itself matching expectations/pr or the details being complete and correct. Since PMD partners with many charities, most of which don’t have staff dedicated to running an ongoing volunteer program, it takes time for us to work out these details together, sometimes longer than expected.

My related TSNE article on nonprofits must prepare to recruit volunteers has gone live today. It’s relevant whether a charity needs a volunteer to help for only two hours one time or needs many volunteers to help for several hours a week.

Humor and stories help people understand/retain key points on engaging volunteers.

Although People Making a Difference (PMD) is often thought of as being the group for individuals and businesses to go to for fun, well-organized, hands-on volunteer opportunities helping community-based charities and their clients in need, PMD also provides needed training and pro bono consulting services (and serves as the fiscal sponsor and leads the Directors of Volunteer Administration (DOVA) ) so that more charities can engage more volunteers effectively.

I’ve been a regular presenter at the annual conferences of VolunteerMaine and the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network, plus the Technical Development Corporation (TDC) and the Nonprofit Net (where they recorded my 90+minute seminar) in Greater Boston. (Since the United Way abandoned volunteer management training when it reorganized two executive directors ago, PMD has been trying to fill the void.)

Earlier this month, I offered data, insights, and advice on enabling volunteers to make a difference to a packed workshop organized by Jackie Cefola and her team at Third Sector New England, as part of its free, Bottom Line training series. Originally planned for just 35 participants, it filled beyond capacity within two days of being advertised, and 50+ people actually participated. I suspect that there is such a huge interest in volunteers since donations of time and treasure distinguish the nonprofit sector, everyone is trying to do more with less during the recession, and a typical American’s volunteer involvement has become just 1-2 times a year. Fyi: I began with trends in volunteer (mis)management and had participants base their thinking on key volunteer motivators balanced with their charities’ prioritized needs, followed by targeted marketing approaches/tools. (Email me if you’d like a copy of the handouts.)

Attendee feedback from this workshop was quite positive, and I was delighted to learn that many people appreciated my humorous approach. While I don’t typically think of myself as a funny person, I guess I do use humor when sharing stories of nonprofits and volunteers, particularly cautionary tales, beginning with my own story as a 10-year-old, novice violinist “serenading” captive/immobile residents at my great grandmother’s convalescent hospital.

In my subsequent high school years as Key Club Governor and Lt. Governor of the California-Nevada-Hawaii District, I mostly shared lists of facts and dry logic during trainings and presentations I gave, so I’m glad that my presentation style has evolved to integrate relevant storytelling and humor. People really do remember stories, not isolated information, and humor helps us deal with difficult subjects.

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