Recruiting Board-Level Volunteers

PMD can always use help from more talented people who believe in our mission. We have done a good job of describing our mission and strategic plan as well as delineating the expectations for board directors and specific officer positions online in various board bank postings.

In the past week, I have spoken with three people who expressed interest in joining PMD’s board. All three are excellent candidates who have the experience and skills to fill specific roles and needs of our small board of directors. One seems especially motivated, whereas another has already (hopefully temporarily) withdrawn from consideration due to workload and the perception that he doesn’t have enough time.

We estimate the time commitment as 8-10 hours per month on average, but this is event-associated and no current members are contributing at this level currently.

The most common reason that people decline is that they say they can’t make the hypothetical time to doing the best job they could do…. Sometimes I feel like telling them that it would even be great to have 50% of the best job they could do since it would make a big difference to PMD compared to not having a position filled at all! After all, no one expects them to make PMD their second job or the top priority in their lives like I have. And, of course, I wonder why folks who don’t have enough time bother to contact me.

I wonder if it is better to underestimate the amount of time a volunteer position will require in order to attract more potential candidates, or to wait to fill needed positions until we identify appropriately talented people who really can put in the time we think it will really take.

Volunteer Leaders Should Not Feel Like Sheep Dogs

Great volunteers make commitments to participate when they are sure that they can be available for the entire time. Volunteer leaders should not feel like sheep dogs, searching and gathering volunteers repeatedly and then not letting them escape before planned.

In my personal life, I tend to run late when I’m rushing, trying to do too much in too little time. Yet, I manage to pull myself together when other people are depending on me. Despite their good intentions, late volunteers, including PMD project managers and volunteers who depart early, inconvenience countless others who they claim to want to help.

Each time I schedule a PMD project from time A to time B, I depend on all people who sign up to commit to the entire duration in order to complete all of the planned tasks. (And for PMD’s volunteer project managers, this also means arriving earlier at a set time, cleaning up, and returning the PMD backpack and reports at a set time.) I don’t “pad” the starting and ending times, so the times advertised are the real starting and ending times planned to complete all of the needed tasks.

PMD projects have experienced chronic volunteer lateness this autumn. At last Saturday’s Family Fun Day in Cambridge City Hall, half of the group failed to check in 9:45-9:55 as directed so that orientation and assignments could begin at 10 AM. We were hugely understaffed, and our stressed-out project manager was understandably in crisis mode and calling absentees. Some late volunteers eventually arrived at 10:30 AM, but that was in the midst of many families (since the event itself was 10:30-3:00). Besides wreaking chaos with the staffing of literacy activities, latecomers missed important orientation and the opportunity to hear from and question a representative of the Cambridge Family Literacy Collaborative, which spearheads this annual event.

While public transit can sometimes be blamed (like Red Line busses in gridlock this past weekend or legendary blizzards that caused people to arrive as much as two hours late), PMD depends on responsible participants planning ahead for travel, parking, and even getting lost in an unfamiliar neighborhood. PMD always provides site addresses, maps, and directions in advance, which is no small feat for Greater Boston neighborhoods.

Please don’t schedule your next activity so close to the end of a PMD project that you need to leave the PMD project early in order to get to your next activity. Volunteers departing before the advertised ending time, before the project manager concludes the day, has become another problem. Unless one becomes ill, it is unfair to leave the rest of the group to finish and to clean up, and very disrespectful to the recipient charities and volunteer project managers who count on everyone so that the whole group can reflect and conclude the project together.

CORI Confusion & Sometimes Disappointment

With autumn come misunderstandings and frustrations about the authorization of Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) checks to protect some of our society’s most vulnerable people.

PMD requires authorization of CORI for recipient charities whose policies mandate them, OR PMD conducts its own CORI checks when the people served are elderly, disabled, and/or under age 18.

If you think that you will someday volunteer with PMD on a project serving people who are elderly, disabled, and/or under age 18, I strongly recommend that you proactively complete the authorization form and submit it to me at PMD with a copy of your government-issued photo identification so that this time-consuming step will not impede your future participation.

If you are unsure whether you already have a CORI check on file with a recipient charity or PMD, then quickly contact me so that I can look up what’s been filed. Several people are unable to participate in PMD projects every Sunday before Thanksgiving due to their confusion over what is required. For example, if you previously authorized a CORI check for Little Brothers-Friends of the Elderly or another charity to volunteer for a PMD project assisting that charity, then you are only able to participate in Little Brothers-Friends of the Elderly or the other charity’s volunteer activities and may still need to authorize PMD to conduct a separate CORI since the laws specifically prohibit disclosure of CORI between agencies.

Background: A decade ago, the state legislature mandated that charities serving elderly and/or disabled people must screen all potential volunteers by conducting a CORI check prior to acceptance. Before this (and legislated again in 2002), charities were already required to do so if there was potential for unmonitored access to children under 18.

Then in June 2005, new regulations required collection of additional information (height, weight, eye color, hair color, birth place, copy of government-issued photo identification, etc.) in addition to name and date of birth to verify a potential volunteer’s identity. Although providing social security numbers remains optional, it is a more reliable way to ensure that the information accessed belongs to you and not someone with a similar name and same birthday. PMD follows the laws specifically mandating confidentiality of this sensitive information.

More information about CORI can be found online.

Communicate About the Details

PMD focuses on short-term volunteer commitments. However, we also strive to develop ongoing relationships with the charities we help. Over time, the charities and I learn how best to work together, whether it is understanding what we’re good at (or not) and the activities that are really suited to our help and skill sets. 

Communicating about the details is key to project organizing. During our initial service projects, a charity may not understand or appreciate that it must communicate whether it really can follow through on the lists of tools and materials that it agreed to provide. As a result, we sometimes don’t have all the tools and materials that I estimated that it would take to complete the planned tasks, which really frustrates the volunteers and me. Had I known in advance that the charity could not purchase or borrow a wheelbarrow, tamper, etc., then I would have taken it upon myself to get it or to modify the work expected. 

After we’ve worked together on a few service projects, it becomes easier due to repetition and due to fewer communication barriers about what we each really need, whether it’s meeting a deadline for up-to-date literature about the charity or providing particular tools and materials. 

Since we have openings for projects on December 2 and 9, I hope to hear from some of the charity representatives who lurk on PMD’s email list. We haven’t worked together yet, but they’ve skimmed PMD’s weekly project announcements to develop a sense about the kinds of service projects that PMD organizes. Then when potential service project opportunities arise at their charity, these folks call and discuss them with me. There is no required application form/bureaucracy since we aren’t even sure yet that we can work together. 

Volunteer Levels/Structure and Rationale

With more than 3,200 participating volunteers who have generously given their feedback at every PMD project, plus many years professional work at local charities, I have a good sense of expectations versus reality. So I continue to provide local charities with training and consulting services about volunteer management, particularly as they relate to matching people’s talents and interests with charities’ needs, as well as common sense practices that encourage volunteers to stay and possibly to do more.

Lately, it seems like the charities I’ve assisted have wanted to know how to structure their volunteer programs, so I thought that I would share how things have worked best for PMD.

There is a distinct progression in the relationship between our volunteers and our organization. Everyone who manages projects for PMD has been a regular volunteer participant. Everyone considered for the board of directors has personally volunteered for PMD service projects.

We think small and discrete when it comes to initially volunteering. PMD’s 3- to 7-hour projects allow people to pick and choose and to avoid taking responsibility for anyone other than themselves. Even if the activity is not as enjoyable as they thought it would be, their only commitment is 3-7 hours, not 6-24 months. People have the option to participate as much as they wish to “opt in” as long as they can reliably follow through as expected. Thankfully, communicating our volunteer opportunities to 900 people on our private email list is usually sufficient, so I don’t have to “draft” any friends to participate and thus all participants are motivated to be there.

When things click, people tend to volunteer for more PMD projects. When they have gained wider experience and shown themselves to be enthusiastic, reliable, and responsible, some are invited to train to become PMD Project Managers who lead groups of other volunteers four times a year. Others who have needed skills like fundraising, bookkeeping, etc. and express interest in longer-term participation are invited to work on board-level activities and then to join the board of directors if they can address a specific need and make a 3-year commitment. 

It makes sense that no one skips the basic act of volunteering in our core program. Occasionally I have been lured into thinking that we could overlook this requirement, but in each case I have come to regret it. The allure of someone who says s/he will do amazing things for PMD at the management level has caused me (and board members) to give an untried person too much responsibility too early in the relationship, and they have been unable to “jump in” and sustain that level of involvement to our (and their) disappointment.

Directors of Volunteer Administration (DOVA)

This year (2006-7), I am president of the local Directors of Volunteer Administration (DOVA), a local professional organization for people and nonprofit agencies involved in volunteerism and volunteer administration in Greater Boston. I have been a DOVA member and sometime officer for more than a decade, and have found the networking and learning opportunities helpful at all stages of my career.

This Thursday, 9/28, 9:30-11:30 AM, at the Emmanuel Gospel Center there will be a great program about “Successful Recruitment Strategies for Specific Communities” with panelists Penn Loh, Executive Director, Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE), and Tracy Stanley, Manager of External Relations, Big Brothers of Massachusetts Bay. If recruiting more diverse participants is a goal, don’t miss this program. R.s.v.p. to Debbie Barr, DOVA Program Vice President,

On Tuesday October 17, join us at 3:30 PM at Grendel’s Den for a Happy Hour/Late Lunch networking and discussion about “Screening Volunteer Applicants, from CORI to References.” Grendel’s is extending their special $3.95 express lunches for DOVA attendees. This is a “pay for yourself” gathering. R.s.v.p. to me by 10/13.

Everyone can join DOVA for $35 per individual per year, and enjoy six professional development and networking programs; job opportunity postings; and membership directory. Non-member can attend meetings for $10 per person.

For membership information, contact Michele Mitsumori, DOVA Membership Vice President,

Youth Volunteers & Resource on Raising Charitable Children

PMD periodically receives inquiries from adults seeking to raise charitable children. Since PMD projects are geared primarily for individuals who can take responsibility for reliably committing their time and independently getting to/from PMD projects, only a handful of PMD projects are appropriate for youth to volunteer. So I often refer parents and youth to online sites like just announced the new e-Book Raising Charitable Children by Carol Weisman, MSW, CSP, MOM. To paraphrase Susan Ellis’ description: This is a collection of real-life stories from all over the world of how families, teachers, Scout leaders, friends, neighbors, etc. have either initiated or supported ways to teach children how to give back to those in need. And after each story, Weisman offers specific steps to help anyone translate these ideas into action. The online excerpt worked for me. Parents, please let me know about other web sites and/or whether this e-book is helpful.

Exceptional Summer Volunteers, But Ready for R&R

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.

Keystone deadheading

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!
BTC serving

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!                              






Use Engine & Support PMD

CompuMentor/TechSoup drew my attention to how a search engine can rally PMD volunteers and supporters to raise money for PMD programs without any cost to PMD.

Use to search the Internet. First select People Making a Difference (or another registered US charity or school) so that every time you search, you’ll raise money to support PMD service projects. 

Kudos to whoever had the forethought to pre-register PMD back in February–I’ve submitted more info.

This site is powered by Yahoo! so you’ll get the same quality search results. What’s unique is that they have developed a way to direct money to charity with every search, not just ad clicks as in the past.

The more people who use this site for legitimate searches, the more money will support those in need. If the 900+ people on PMD’s email list perform one per day, they would generate nearly $3,300 to support PMD programs in a year.

So please spread the word about and PMD to your colleagues, friends, and family. Thanks!

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