Remembering Jill Friedman Fixler: a Friend and Mentor

Remembering Jill Friedman FixlerWhen I joined VolunteerMatch in 2007 it was to help prepare organizations to better engage the time and talents of the wave of Baby Boomers who were beginning to retire. One of the people leading that conversation and creating those tools was Jill Friedman Fixler.

Based in Denver, Jill was part of a very active group working to support volunteer engagement professionals and expand the capacity of organizations to engage volunteers in meaningful work. Sarah Christian, VolunteerMatch’s then Director of Strategic Partnerships, was also part of that Denver group and introduced me to Jill, and Jill to VolunteerMatch.

During that same time, Jill was working on the book Boomer Volunteer Engagement: Collaborate Today, Thrive Tomorrow. A natural partnership emerged and we partnered with Jill and The JFFixler Group to publish both the initial book and the follow-up Facilitator’s Toolkit.

From the beginning, I found Jill to be a kindred soul. We discussed volunteer engagement and nonprofit capacity development, but we also talked about books, and family, and the challenges of traveling for work, over delicious meals and glasses of wine. (She told me about disinfecting the remote control in your hotel room, which was both revolutionary and revolting to me.)

We discussed big ideas, co-presented at conferences, and would catch up in the 20 minutes prior to the webinars she would do each month. She was an inspiration, a sounding board, a cheerleader, and a friend.

When she retired in 2013, while I knew she was taking a step back from the field, I also knew that her ideas, her love of big thinking, and her commitment to excellence in volunteer engagement would live on – through the company she started, her partner Beth Steinhorn (who continues to lead webinars on our Learning Center, and has two great sessions coming up on engaging family volunteers and leveraging volunteer talent for organizational change), and through all of those in this field, like me, for whom she led the way and inspired us to use our time and talents to engage volunteers in meaningful work.

Last November Jill passed away, surrounded by friends and family. Jill Friedman Fixler – you will be missed.

In honor of Jill’s contribution to the field, VolunteerMatch and The JFFixler Group will donate sets of the Boomer Volunteer Engagement series for your capacity building events. If you’re interested, please email education@volunteermatch.org.

The Unconditional Love of Volunteers

Rakhma Homes VolunteersLindsey Fossum witnessed the trauma of memory loss firsthand with her grandfather. At the time, she had no idea that this difficult experience would ultimately lead her to a career working with people with Alzheimer’s Disease and various forms of dementia.

Yet it did, and Lindsey found herself at Rakhma Homes in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Rakhma Homes, a nonprofit, provides a safe home for those affected by Alzheimer’s-Dementia.

“I envisioned a home like this for my grandfather,” Lindsey says about Rakhma Homes. “A warm, friendly home – Rakhma has actual homes, not nursing homes – with loving staff for their residents.”

What Lindsey means is that Rakhma’s homes are in residential neighborhoods and are similar to the houses many of the residents grew up in. Rakhma currently has three homes, where residents come together for three meals a day (family style), cultural outings such as trips to the theatre, and in-home activities such as tai chi (pictured below).

Because of limited resources, Rakhma residents do tai chi with volunteers.Rakhma Homes relies heavily on volunteers. Some escort Rakhma residents on community outings, such as pushing their wheelchairs through an apple orchard or through a museum. Others conduct workshops, which include musical therapy, pet therapy, and worship. Still others help with meals and cleaning, and give manicures to the lady residents.

Read more about Rakhma Homes’ wonderful volunteers.

14 Engaging Volunteers Posts That Ruled 2014

It's almost time to drink champagne and welcome in a new year. What were the most popular posts of 2014?It’s been a long, exciting year for volunteer engagement, and hopefully a successful, meaningful one for you and your volunteer program. To make sure you didn’t miss anything important, let’s review the 14 most popular blog posts published on Engaging Volunteers this year:

14. VolunteerMatch Now Connects Nonprofits Directly to 300 Million Skilled Volunteers

13. The Chicken, the Egg, Volunteering, and Employment

Children volunteering in a garden.12. What I Learned from Volunteering

11. The Volunteer as Brand Ambassador

10. Fighting Hunger Together, We Really Made a Difference

9. Here’s How You Measure Volunteer Impact

8. Creative, Fun and Easy Ways to Engage Skilled Volunteers

Some of our favorite and most popular blog posts from 2014. And a girl snorkling.7. Connect to Who Your Volunteers REALLY Are

6. Walking the Talk of Ethics

5. The Pros and Cons of Engaging Young Volunteers

4. How to Get the Most Out of Your Words

3. Best Practices: Thanking Volunteers Using Online Surveys

2. Summer + Teens + Volunteering = A Combination Not to Be Ignored

1. People Make the Difference: Matching Volunteer Interests to Nonprofit Needs

Here’s to a 2015 that blows 2014 out of the water!

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.