People Make the Difference: The Joys of Discovery

Each day, people discover ways they can make a difference. And as the VolunteerMatch network grows, so does our impact.You may have noticed lately that we’ve been highlighting the data and stats in our 2013 Annual Impact Report. And these numbers are exciting, don’t get me wrong. We’re data nerds with the best of them.

But data isn’t the whole picture, especially when we’re talking about social impact. The truth is, there’s no substitute for the stories behind those numbers. These are what show us that each one of us – staff member, employee, volunteer, company, nonprofit – can make a difference. Hearing about real-life stuff going on in the network is what inspires us to take action.

So as you browse the Impact Report, take a look at some of these great micro stories that showcase the amazing work happening in the VolunteerMatch network. You’ll see how technology, and your organization’s use of it, creates real change in the community.

Each day, people discover ways they can make a difference. And as our network grows, so does our impact.

Keep up the great work!

Has VolunteerMatch made a difference for your nonprofit organization? Share it on social media using #vmstory, or submit the full story here!

Has VolunteerMatch made a difference for your company and employees? Share it on social media using #vmstory, or submit the full story here!

How to Cultivate a Spirit of Service

Guest post by Scott Miller, Garden Spot Village

How to Cultivate A Spirit of ServiceGenerally speaking, retirement communities are desperate for volunteers. Overworked staff and lack of resources often leave administration with plenty of work to hand out to volunteers.

That’s not the case at Garden Spot Village, an active retirement community in the heart of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

“The acts of service that happen at Garden Spot Village are both large and small,” says Steve Lindsey, CEO. “The value of service manifests itself in countless ways, but it all starts with a value for people, for community and for relationships – and that,” he says, “is what makes our culture very special.”

An Intentional Change

While Garden Spot Village has managed to foster a spirit of service, it didn’t happen by accident. It started in 2001 when a major expansion to the community incurred unexpected costs. Determined to maintain transparency and address concerns, the staff looked for ways to increase accountability, and the idea of service came up in several meetings.

In 2002, the community refined its mission statement and values, and “service” was listed along with teamwork, excellence, stewardship and integrity as one of the core values that provide a framework for how the organization functions.

A Top-Down Movement

This addition was a primary step in creating a top-down movement to prioritize volunteering and service. Staff members set an example by volunteering around campus in activities beyond their scope of employment. It isn’t uncommon to see the CEO or board members step up and help out in different ways.

“Our goal is to create a sense of community where people can live lives that have meaning, purpose and value…, a community where we show love to one another in practical ways as an extension of who we are and what we believe,” says Lindsey.

The example of senior staff members didn’t take long to trickle down. Soon residents began using their gifts and talents to benefit others on campus in new and unique ways. Not to be limited to their own community, they began reaching out into the greater community, serving in the local schools, churches and other nonprofit organizations. Eventually this grew to the point that residents were making a difference in the lives of people they had never met, who lived in other parts of the country or around the world.

A Contagious Attitude

Almost fifteen years since the addition to the mission statement, the number of volunteer organizations within Garden Spot Village has skyrocketed. Anyone new to the Village can easily get involved in the community in one way or another.

Service cannot be coerced. Or at least, genuine, cheerful service cannot be forced. Residents and team members value meaningful relationships that are often formed through volunteering. As a result, service happens spontaneously.

“Service is just doing good things for other people,” Lindsey says. “It’s a value that can be easily learned, an attitude that can be adopted and a skill that can be honed by anyone.”

When an intentional effort to increase volunteering is supported by administration, it won’t be long before members of your organization embrace the movement and it becomes a natural part of your culture.

Scott Miller is the Chief Marketing Officer at Garden Spot Village, an active retirement community in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Scott volunteers as part of the PA Dutch County Tourism Board, and in many other aspects of the campus and surrounding community.

Unsung Listeners: The Story of Hotline Volunteers

Guest Post by Marc Wong

Unsung Listeners - the story of hotline volunteersMeghan watches her mother finish a telephone call.

“Mommy, why are you crying?” she asks gently.

“I’m ok,” mommy sighs, “I’m ok.”

Meghan leaves the room and comes back moments later. “When I’m sad, I hold on to Mr. Brown,” she says, handing over a teddy bear to her mother.

On another occasion, Daddy is talking to Meghan about a tough decision he has to make.

“When I have to make a big choice, I ask Mr. Brown,” Meghan says.

“And what does Mr. Brown say?” asks Daddy.

“Nothing,” she says matter-of-factly. “He listens.”

Meghan’s actions give us a glimpse of what selfless, dedicated hotline volunteers do on a daily basis. Just like Meghan, volunteers do not judge. They do not advise. They do not solve problems. They do not interrogate. They do not point out your flawed thinking and actions so you can correct it. They do not tell you to look at the bright side or to be optimistic. And yes, sometimes they will just be quiet and let you speak. Volunteers honor and respect the callers’ thoughts and feelings and they offer their best with no strings attached.

When we look a little closer at Meghan’s words, we notice some other things: Despite her age, Meghan clearly knows something about sadness and making difficult choices. She even shares her life experience with her parents. Volunteers also bring their life experiences and considerable knowledge to each call. I don’t mean volunteers interrupt with their own stories the moment a caller pauses to take a breath. Volunteers are able to share by reaching into their own, sometimes painful, personal experience to understand what the caller is talking about, no more, no less.

Volunteers’ actions, like Meghan’s, are also gently supported by an unspoken sense of hope and decency. Implicit in Meghan’s words are the message that things will get better, that there is good in this world. This is not to say that volunteers pressure, or in any way impose their values or beliefs on the callers. Volunteers are not going to rush you to get “better”. They’re not even going to tell you what “better” means. Instead, they’ll be more than happy to hear what better means for YOU.

Volunteers earn their sense of hope from the knowledge and experience that their selfless work can bring relief. They don’t need to prove that there is goodness or fairness, in private or public spheres. They are satisfied knowing that the work they do can make a difference.

This, then, is the story of hotline volunteers. It is the wonderful combination of skill, knowledge and humanity offered so as to make it a little easier for others to tell their stories. A volunteer offers what is unique and precious to her as a human being so that others may talk about what is unique and precious to them.

For taking the time, having the patience, and putting their hearts into this noble work, please join me in celebrating and thanking all the volunteers!

Marc Wong is a listening expert and author of “Thank You for Listening: Gain Influence & Improve Relationships, Better Listening in 8 Steps”. Connect with him on Twitter at @8StepListen and on

The Nonprofit Nerd Inside Each of Us

What brings out your inner nonprofit nerd?Eight years ago, I was twenty-two. I was a couple months away from graduating and heading off to start my PhD program in Neuroscience, then on to a life of research and labs. Boy, was I nerdy about the brain. And yet…

As graduation approached, I began having doubts. Did I really want to spend the next 40 years or so doing research in a lab? Why was I not more excited to get out of bed every morning?

Meanwhile, I was also heading up a small student-run nonprofit organization called Camp Kesem, a week-long summer camp for children whose parents have cancer or have passed away from cancer.

When did you realize you were meant for nonprofits?And I realized: I was more excited to get up and do the daily drudgery and admin work for Camp Kesem than I was to go into the lab. Lightbulb moment.

It was right then when I realized my future (as much as it could be figured out at that tender age,) did not lie with science, but with a whole other kind of geekiness: the social sector variety.

Almost a decade later, I am PhD-free and happily working at VolunteerMatch, engaging with people and helping them find their own passions and their own ways of making the world a better place using their time and the time and skills of others. I guess you could say I’m studying the brain in a whole different way.

The truth is, as nerdy as I was about the brain, it did not inspire me the way working at a nonprofit inspires me: for life. It took my experience running Camp Kesem in college to bring out my inner nonprofit nerd and set me on this path. And every day I get to do what I love here at VolunteerMatch, that nerd grows just a bit bigger, a bit stronger. At this point, she’s probably taller than I am (not a tough feat).

In the day-to-day craziness of being nonprofit professionals, it’s easy to forget…ourselves. But we as people are just as important as those we’re trying to help, and those whom we’re engaging.

So let’s remember, every once in a while, to connect back to what originally inspired us. Because just as I discovered, we all have a nonprofit nerd inside us. What brings yours out?

Make Monday a Fun Day: Which Celebrity Do-Gooder Are You?

Don’t forget – volunteering is supposed to be fun! Sharing social good-themed stories, videos and quizzes is a great way to remind volunteers why their work is important, while keeping things light and fun.

VolunteerMatch recently partnered with Zimbio and United Way Worldwide to produce the quiz “Which Celebrity Do-Gooder Are You?”

Have some fun and share this quiz - which celebrity do-gooder are you?

So take the quiz, share it with everyone you know, and let’s spread some do-good fun today!