In One Word: the Magic of Volunteer Managers

International Volunteer Managers DayYou are magic, don’t let anyone tell you differently. And today, on International Volunteer Managers Day, we celebrate your passion, dedication and impact.

Because as important as volunteering is for making a difference in the world, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s YOUR work that makes it possible for tens of millions of volunteers to help the causes they care most about, to build community, to learn new skills, and to feel fulfilled.

At VolunteerMatch, we see the impact of your work on a minute-by-minute basis, as thousands of volunteers connect with opportunities each day on the VolunteerMatch network. It’s tough to put into words how much we appreciate the work you do – but we tried! Here are just a few words that capture how we feel about you:

  • Tireless
  • Inspired
  • Inspiring
  • Matchmaker
  • Selfless
  • Amplifier
  • Rock star
  • Dedicated
  • Fundamental
  • Supportive
  • Infectious
  • Unforgettable
  • Empowerment
  • Contribution
  • Dream catchers
  • Vital

So take a moment and remind yourself of the magic you create every day. And thank you!

From Technophobe to True Believer…My Journey to Using Technology to Bridge Inequality Gaps

Guest post by Denise Howell, VolunteerMatch CFO

This post is part of Blog Action Day 2014.

How technology inspires giving and addresses inequality.I remember listening to Mari Kuraishi, President of Global Giving, at the Independent Sector a few years ago. She spoke about how we can find the greatest richness in our careers when we aren’t looking or have not factored it into our life plans.

I think back now to her message she shared, and how true it has been for me. I would never have expected, almost 4 years ago, to embark on a very different frontier in nonprofit work. I am not a technology person. I appreciate all that it has to offer, but it has generally stopped there. I have tended to focus on the downside of technology – folks seemingly disconnected from others by tuning into their music, iPad, smart phone etc. no matter where the setting. Technology can make our lives easier in certain respects, but can also cut us off, if we’re not careful, by limiting our focus and experiences.

My start in the nonprofit sector began when I was in banking. I worked with a board to address the lack of opportunity for very talented individuals with disabilities in engaging n meaningful job opportunities. It grew from there.

I’ve spent a good number of years in social services and foundation grantmaking, both highly complex structurally, and from that work, I thought I had seen everything about nonprofits and their significant work toward addressing inequality, including homelessness and low income housing, food insecurity, education, child development, immigration assistance, employment assistance, healthcare, literacy, and environmental sustainability. This is the work and the passion that drives all of us in the nonprofit sector every day: addressing inequality, imbalance, needs not yet addressed or addressed inadequately, lifting each other up when we need help.

So what compelled me to join an organization with technology at its core? I had certainly heard of VolunteerMatch, but I didn’t fully “get it.” When an opportunity to work here presented itself, I was intrigued. I came to my work here believing that I had seen all aspects of philanthropy. But this work has completely changed my world view and showed me a powerful aspect of philanthropy I had never seen.

Nonprofits with technology at their operational cores have created such a powerful contribution to societal needs. VolunteerMatch, DonorsChoose.org, Global Giving, and Kiva, to name some of the best and most successful, have broken the barriers for all of us to be a part of the solution toward creating a world where inequality can be eliminated. So, Ms. Kuraishi was right. It has been a very rich and rewarding journey. Not just for me, but for the millions of lives we have touched.

What is really at the essence of how we go about achieving success toward alleviating inequality in its many forms? It’s largely through giving – philanthropic support. Giving of ourselves and our time is one of the most powerful ways that we can work toward addressing social needs.

Remember that line Oprah Winfrey always used in her editorials? It was “what I know for sure.” Well, what I know for sure is that people love to give. During these past several years, I’ve come to know how technology can create opportunities for us to give in more ways than I ever thought possible. Before joining VolunteerMatch, I viewed philanthropy as immune to technology – social media, websites, all of it. I thought giving was too personal and that people need to be close to, and actually see the programs they are giving to before offering support. But technology, surprisingly, brings us closer to people and issues which may be hundreds or thousands of miles away from where we live, but still close to us – because we care and we know now more than ever that something that happens far away can affect us in our own communities, too.

Technology-based nonprofits such as ours at VolunteerMatch make the giving so easy. I’ve learned that giving doesn’t have to be all-consuming. Knowing that the time and money we give can be very manageable and affordable is even more empowering.

VolunteerMatch has tracked millions of connections, hours and impact of individuals and groups giving incrementally to successfully address so many challenges. VolunteerMatch has also reconnected me with to the truer, broader meaning of philanthropy. I, like many of us, have previously associated philanthropy as inaccessible and intimidating for all but affluent individuals. But philanthropy includes giving of ourselves and our time, knowledge and experience too. Both financial and nonfinancial giving are critically important and valuable.

Volunteering can be quick, or recurring and long term. Whatever we do, it is making a difference and it is good enough to give what you can. And nonprofits can find the best volunteers and engage in our educational resources. It is a welcoming experience – even for a technophobe! I have learned that technology can be just the opposite of what I initially experienced.

My faith in technology has been transformed through our work, as well as the work of some of our amazing peer organizations. Each organization is literally connecting millions of people locally and throughout the world, meeting needs and bridging inequality with the use of technology. And even better, these organizations allow all of us to participate with small investments of money and time. The results are tangible.

Our mission here at VolunteerMatch is to make it easier for good people and good causes to connect. I’m very proud of our success at achieving that mission, and it is visible to me every day. Everyone visiting our office is greeted with the giant live map in our lobby with our real-time tracking of people making connections to volunteer all across America.

In our office, we walk the talk, too. We volunteer together and we have amazing volunteers come to us with so much talent to share. We have had many come through our office, and I still see their faces and remember their projects. I am richer for knowing them, even if only briefly.

When I stop to think about the world without our technology-powered nonprofits, I am blown away by what a difference technology can make in addressing the inequalities that exist in our world. We can each do something. I work for an organization that makes that possible, and I am truly fortunate for the experience.

I welcome all of you to explore how technology-driven nonprofits can help you bridge the inequality gap to make your work, and your lives, rich and full. We can be a powerful partner to you in your great work. You, like me, will be transformed by the difference we can make.

The Nonprofit Welcome Wagon: How to Engage Newcomers and Build a Strong Community – Through Volunteering

Guest post by Dylan Manderlink

Dylan volunteering at an animal shelter in her new home.

Dylan volunteering at an animal shelter in her new home.

Upon moving to rural Arkansas from Boston, I had anticipated the reality of how different my new life would be down south. From the great distance between towns, expansive farmland, to the welcoming and warm southern accents, I expected my adjustment to take some time and happen gradually.

Although that’s not completely untrue, through the volunteer opportunities I have taken advantage of and the connections I’ve made to local nonprofits since being here, I feel as if my acclimation was smoother, quicker, and more fruitful than I had originally thought. From volunteering at a local animal shelter once a week, to joining a women’s rights and empowerment organization once a month, I involved myself, my passions, and my talents with the community I now live in. And in return, I have felt welcomed, familiarized, and positively acknowledged in a town that I now call home, despite only having lived here for two months.

Because of the initiative local nonprofit workers have made to involve me, get to know me on both a personal and professional level, and accommodate my unique background, passion, and skills, I have felt a sense of inclusivity and comfort that I didn’t expect within the first two months of living in a new part of the country.

A Pattern of Inclusion is Established

Looking back at my four years of college, I remember searching for nonprofits to get involved with, regular volunteer opportunities to take on, and local events to attend to better understand the new community and major city I was about to live in for four years. In just my first semester alone, I was connecting with passionate nonprofit professionals who deeply cared about the wellbeing of their city and its residents: civilians of Boston who lived in the community for years and years, students from different local colleges and universities, and community members who were experiencing the unfortunate realities of many social injustices.

Through these personal connections, I felt a deeper sense of purpose in my community and a strong feeling of gratitude towards the city and its unique people. Through my nonprofit and community service involvement, I was able to examine my community in a unique, personalized, and impactful way. I felt like I had been an active part in creating community ties and building a sense of unity among the people I was meeting.

Moving to Arkansas has really been no different in that sense, which proves to me that the spirit of volunteerism, community change, and social impact run strong in the nonprofit sector, no matter where you are.

A New Home

Upon transitioning from Boston to Arkansas, I was unsure what the nonprofit landscape would look like down south and what volunteer opportunities I would be able to take part in. At first, it was challenging to remove my urban lens when looking for nonprofit opportunities. Coming from a city, I had never partnered with organizations from rural communities, nor had I connected with professionals whose nonprofits weren’t based in or focused on a specific urban area.

But within days of reaching out to local nonprofits in Arkansas, I was receiving positive, eager, and personal responses. The nonprofit professionals I connected with expressed such thanks for me reaching out and were committed to involving me in the organization right away.

Dylan meets fellow volunteers at a women's rights and empowerment organization in her new hometown.

Dylan meets fellow volunteers at a women’s rights and empowerment organization in her new hometown.

Two weeks ago I attended my first meeting with the women’s rights and empowerment organization I have recently become a member of. Despite not having met any of the women prior, and really only having a brief but very warm email exchange with the director of the group, the moment I entered the meeting as a non-Arkansas native and brand new community member, I was greeted with heartfelt appreciation, warmth, and genuine compassion.

I felt immediately at home amongst such passionate, hard-working, and big-hearted activists. The women made such a genuine effort to get to know me, where I’m from originally, the college I attended, what I studied, and above all – what brought me to Arkansas and how they can help connect me more to the community through service and advocacy. I spent the whole morning creating meaningful connections and sharing vibrant stories about justice and equality with women whom I would have never met otherwise, and I feel very fortunate that I’ve had the opportunity to meet and befriend activists in my new community.

Through my very recent experiences of being thoughtfully welcomed and eagerly incorporated into my Arkansas community’s nonprofit landscape, the transition from the northeast to deep south that was once full of uncertainty is now more comfortable, warm, and fruitful than I could have ever imagined.

A Call to Nonprofits

I am full of immense gratitude for the inclusive and encouraging experiences these nonprofits have provided for me since being here, and I would prompt nonprofits around the country to focus on volunteer outreach to those community members who are brand new and may be feeling a little out of place. The compassion of nonprofit professionals can bridge the gap from unfamiliar to at home for a new community member in such a unique, meaningful, and passionate way.

I encourage nonprofits to search for outlets in their community where they can connect with and motivate new residents. It is important to encourage and support alternative perspectives when focusing on volunteerism and social/environmental justice work, so welcoming new viewpoints from nonnative voices to your community will be undoubtedly advantageous in enriching and diversifying the cause your organization is fighting for.

How does your nonprofit welcome newcomers to your community? Tell us about it below!

Dylan Manderlink is a recent graduate of Emerson College in Boston, Mass., who with a self-designed major, Investigative Theatre for Social Change. She is now a Teach for America corps member, teaching high school in rural Arkansas. She is passionate about working in the nonprofit sector and providing educational opportunities for students to creatively inform themselves and others about social justice, community change and human rights.

When People Inspire Us

People are amazing. And when their passion, commitment and talents inspire us, we’re even more energized to make sure everyone has the chance to make a difference.

And we’re lucky, because people in the VolunteerMatch network inspire us, like, every day. Here’s a great example:

 

So what inspires you every day? Share the wonderful wealth!

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!