In a taxi heading to Louis Armstrong Airport after three days of inspiration, I met Angela. She was a driver in her early 40s. A freelance operator. Her husband suffered from bipolar disorder and was struggling to get meds. He had also recently had a heart attack and was homebound. For Angela, that meant 12-hour days in a rundown cab – days made even longer in the summer heat of NOLA and a cab lacking air conditioning.
And yet, as I saw again and again in NOLA, for Angela things were only looking up.
“I know all about all the good that volunteers are doing in our city,” she said, weaving the cab in traffic heading out of town and still managing to catch my eye in the mirror. “We’re learning how to take care of our own selves. New Orleans people know how to survive, and we always bounce back.”
It was a great reminder for me of the potential of service – especially how communities can take ownership of their problems, turning the bad stuff in our lives into opportunities to connect with each other, lean on each other, and learn together.
The spirit of New Orleans was definitely alive and present at this year’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service, where more than 4,500 participants came together to learn about ideas and innovation in service. Volunteer champions, national service leaders, local heroes, and stars and innovators in social enterprise, philanthropy and corporate involvement were all on hand… a stew pot of social good as delicious as any jambalaya.
Eleven of us from VolunteerMatch came out (Click here to see our “messaging map”), and we quickly fanned out to meet our friends, partners, clients, and members and catch up. For us, that meant our Client Relations team connected with our corporate audience to hear about CSR and Employee volunteering. Our education team got involved in the Summit on Advanced Volunteer Engagement and other critical conversations about volunteer engagement and capacity building. Our marketing and communications folks sat down with the growing group of brands and brand marketers who are involved in volunteer-related campaigns. And we all got to hear from the most inspiring stories in service this year.
The “southern stars” were also out at three big general sessions. Civil rights activist Ruby Bridges talked about how service enriches not just our communities, but souls too. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour talked about shared responsibility in disaster response. News star Soledad O’Brien talked about reaching children one child at a time. Branford Marsalis, Percy Sledge and many other musicians helped keep the beat (and keep our blood flowing in the 92 degree summer swelter. And New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu shared a heart-felt thanks for how the nationwide community of volunteers and nonprofits have helped NOLA regain its swing.
More Sessions than a Bourbon Street Jazzman
And in between all the fun we also learned and developed our skills. The conference provided 170 different sessions on nearly every topic related to volunteering under the sun. It was encouraging to see so much attention being paid to the needs of the organizations, schools, and companies we work with to engage volunteers in nonprofit missions. Among the session topics that we were most interested in, a few that stand out included:
Measuring and reporting volunteer engagement impact
Preparing your organization to meet the demand of volunteers
Pro bono service models
Corporate-nonprofit partnership best practices
Disaster relief and social media
Online community building
Building sustainable programs
The upcoming tenth anniversary of the 9/11 Day of Service
And these are just the start of the many great topics and workshops in New Orleans.
Next Year in Chicago
At the close of the event was the news that 2012’s conference will take place June 18-20 in Chicago, a great American city and home of our current President. We even got to see a video greeting from new Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, sharing his excitement to host next year’s event and inviting everyone in for a little Chicago soul.
Follow the Notes
Where else can you go to find out how NCVS in NOLA went? For starters, the NCVS blog has lots of great recaps as well, and you can get there from here. You can see official photos the conference here. Videos are available on the conference website. And Twitter is chock filled with tweets and links by leading voices from the conference, making it easy to follow the NCVS hashtag to all kinds of great posts from @myimpact, @lauragonzo, @pointsoflight, @servedotgov, our very own @volunteermatch, @createthegood, @socialcitizen, @repair_dan, @handsonnetwork and many, many more.
Did you go to NCVS this year? Share you story with us here. We’d love to hear it.
Robert led VolunteerMatch's communications until 2014 and is editor of Volunteer Engagement 2.0. Today he lives in Kathmandu, Nepal, where he works with VSO, the leading INGO involving volunteers in the fight against poverty.