How I Found Purpose in Retirement

Written by Susan Miller 

Susan Miller, CASA of Jackson County Volunteer

Susan Miller, CASA of Jackson County Volunteer

After I decided on an early retirement, I quickly realized I had plenty more to do (and give) — time, energy, and a desire to help others. I searched for volunteer opportunities online, and found VolunteerMatch. After completing my profile, I was matched with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Jackson County.

In case you aren’t familiar, CASA is a 501(c)3 nonprofit whose mission is to support and promote court-appointed advocates for abused or neglected children. Their goal is to provide children with a safe and healthy environment in permanent homes.

My personal interests include a strong desire to help those who cannot help (or speak for) themselves—like children and animals. It’s no wonder VolunteerMatch paired me with CASA.

A CASA’s role is to represent a child’s voice in court. Each CASA gathers information about an appointed case by meeting with the child and relevant adults: teachers, parents, foster parents, physicians, etc. CASAs then listen and identify the child’s needs and make recommendations to the court judge based on them.

Ultimately, CASAs work hard to advocate for the child’s placement and ongoing care in a safe home with recommended programs based on the child’s needs—like educational plans or medical care. CASAs also work with a Department of Human Services (DHS) caseworker to coordinate care and placement.

In order to become a CASA, I was required to complete 40 hours of training. After a rigorous background check, I was sworn in by a judge. Becoming a CASA doesn’t necessarily require a tremendous amount of time—many CASAs work full-time, and plenty volunteer through spousal teams—working together to make a difference.

After my application was approved, I started on two cases.

At first, I was a little apprehensive. Would I ask the wrong questions? Are children going to relate to me? Would parents/ foster parents welcome my help? Although I had excellent training, I had never been placed in a situation (or role) this important. Honestly, I was pretty anxious. To my surprise, I quickly established rapport with my assigned children and families.

Many forget: these children have seen or experienced violence or neglect. I found that simply coordinating medical care or just spending time with them has the power to make a tremendous difference. I’ve had so much fun with these kids—riding bikes, going for walks, teaching them how to swim, or participating in epic water balloon fights—you name it.

I hope these memories will endure for them as they will for me. With all this fun, sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that I’m volunteering for a greater purpose.

Beyond having fun, there have been serious issues I’ve addressed: coordinating supervised contact with an incarcerated parent, drafting safety plans, working with teachers on educational plans, and/or addressing health problems.

For example, one of my CASA kids had multiple health issues that hadn’t been addressed before his case. I was able to research the issue, consult with a doctor on treatment options, and coordinate the appropriate surgeries. I have been attending his checkups with him ever since.

CASAs of Jackson County have an outstanding reputation, and the judges really respect our opinions and advice. A stellar administrative team and a peer support group support CASAs.

I am struck by the reality that these children were simply born into (or raised in) circumstances that were completely beyond their control. Through no fault of their own, they found themselves at risk, having been neglected, abandoned, or even physically or emotionally abused.

They are paying the price for someone else’s choices. And their needs are greatest. To spend my retirement playing a positive role in a child’s life feels substantive, to say the least.

The late Muhammad Ali once said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.” VolunteerMatch paired me with this wonderful organization, and I am incredibly grateful for it. Being a CASA and helping these children is so gratifying and powerful that I feel like I’ve paid rent on a penthouse!

Thank you, Susan, for sharing your story! Do you have a volunteer experience to share? Tell us about it!

How Volunteering Can Build New Skills

Volunteering Can Build SkillsIn today’s society, not everyone has the resources to dedicate to volunteering. Although some don’t like to volunteer, for many, it’s a way of life. Volunteering benefits local and global communities, and can even help you find new friends, learn new skills, and advance your career. The folks at Buzzessay believe volunteering can help you change your course of life, while strengthening your mindset.

Have you ever looked for a new direction in work or life? Volunteering could be the answer.

There are many factors that motivate us to volunteer. It could be an opportunity to develop new skills, or try out a different profession. A great advantage to volunteering is that you can experience a new position — outside of your day job — without incurring many of work’s associated consequences. Go on: try it for yourself and share what you learn.

Taking a breather to volunteer can even help you understand how to work better in your current role. Unlike paid work, volunteer work is linked more heavily to passion and commitment rather than specific experience.

Competitive Advantages to Volunteering

  • Increase your ability to gain new experiences.
  • Increase your ability to adapt to new situations and circumstances.
  • Develop your communication, leadership and interpersonal skills.
  • Get better at planning and prioritizing tasks.
  • Get better at managing your time.

Volunteering gives you a chance to branch out, try different roles and avoid wasting time on dull work in the future. For many, volunteering has already become a new starting point in their careers.

Helping others is one of the best forms of self-development. And your own difficulties will no longer seem as catastrophic, helping you find a way out of many critical situations you might endeavor.

How can volunteer program managers engage more volunteers who are looking to expand their skills?

First off, you need to accurately formulate your request — it should contain a description of the needs of the organization and the work that needs to be done. Here’s what you should include:

  1. Job title. The more detailed and attention-grabbing, the better. Don’t limit to just posting  “Volunteers Needed.” Include specifics of the job, and provide some hooks to catch the attention of potential readers. For example, “Help Low-Income Students Prepare for School!” or “Join Our Marketing ‘Street Team’ to Get the Word out for Non-Profit Theater/Community Center!”
  2. Define clear goals. Give the potential candidate an idea of the job’s purpose. Include a detailed description of how they might participate in the organization, and what some expected outcomes might be. Try to present your description clearly while instilling the candidate’s importance to the role.
  3. Specific activities and indicators of performance. Outline the specific requirements that the volunteer will have to comply with along with efficiency criteria.  If your opportunity is flexible, include that in the description. Flexible opportunities give your volunteers more freedom to volunteer and also shows respect for the volunteer’s time.
  4. Contacts. Include the main contact person’s information. That way, if a volunteer has questions, they know who can help address them. This may be an employee of the division or a special staff unit.

If your opportunity is listed on VolunteerMatch, the prospective volunteer will be able to see the point of contact’s information.

A detailed description will help a volunteer decide whether a job is suitable for them, and if it will help them gain relevant skills. Have insights of your own to add? Share it with us in the comments section below!


Author Bio: Lucy Adams is a professional writer from Buzz Essay. She loves communicating with her readers, and is always within reach.

Word-of-Mouth Volunteer Recruitment – It’s Easier Than You Think!

Editor’s note: In honor of VM Summit 16, which is all about corporate/ nonprofit collaboration, this series of volunteerism-related blog posts will take one topic and explain how it’s relevant to both groups. Today’s topic? Word-of-mouth volunteer recruitment. Check out our other blog, Volunteering is CSR, for the same topic from the perspective of corporate volunteer program managers.

Word-of-mouth volunteer recruitmentFor me, there’s nothing quite like the rush of recruiting a new volunteer! Having a conversation, chatting about my experience, and seeing someone take the leap to volunteer… I love it so much that I’ve made my career out of it. Here at VolunteerMatch, I help lead the effort on growing the base of our volunteer, nonprofit, and corporate members.

For some, however, this is a terrifying idea. That’s why I wanted to share some ways to enhance your word-of-mouth recruitment efforts that can help you shape all of your volunteers into volunteer recruiters!

Over 70% of nonprofits find word-of-mouth recruitment to be the most effective way to find volunteers (with online recruitment through tools such as VolunteerMatch as 2nd) according to Hart Research Associates. As Karla Robinson from Project: LEARN of Medina County, Ohio shared, “Word of mouth is so important in volunteer recruitment because you want volunteers to have a realistic expectation of the position. Current helpers can give prospective volunteers great insights into what it’s really like to be in a position, hopefully leading to better quality recruits who will stay longer.”

Here are 5 examples showcasing how to enhance your organic word-of-mouth recruitment (and things you should consider before getting started).

Note: These stories come from various nonprofits, ranging from large teams of paid staff down to just one paid staff person.

  1. Staff & Volunteer Partnership: Add Word of Mouth to Existing Recruitment Efforts

Early on in my volunteer recruitment days, I doubled the volunteer program in a neighborhood of San Jose. How? By leveraging existing volunteers and making it as easy as possible for them to share their stories. I would recruit at least two existing volunteers to share their stories and answer questions. This way, a potential volunteer could see what it’s like to become a volunteer as well as see the support they will get if they join.

Things to Consider: It’s important to identify the characteristics of your ideal volunteer. Then, seek out existing volunteers who would help you inspire those with those characteristics.

  1. Referral Incentives that Work: “Invite-a-Friend”

For two years in a row, my team at Girl Scouts of Northern California recruited the most troops nationwide through our national “Invite-a-Friend” campaign. The incentive program worked like this: For a limited-time, recruit a friend to start a new troop and receive $50 to the Girl Scouts’ retail shop. Plus, the new leader received a Volunteer Resource Pack (badge book, pins, tote bag, and more).

Things to Consider: This program worked well for two reasons: 1) impact & scale and 2) the right incentive. Let’s take a closer look at these:

Impact & Scale: Rather than having a volunteer invite a new volunteer, this program was focused on recruiting a new troop leader. This, in turn, means bringing on about 10 girls and 2 adults if you look at the average troop.

The Right Incentive: This program had the right mix of incentives that were meaningful to both the existing volunteer and the new leader. $50 to the retail store is quite a bit of money, and the Volunteer Resource pack is everything a new leader needs to get started. The return on investment also worked well, and should be considered:

Return on Investment = Revenue (12 members X $15 = $180) – Cost ($100 per troop leader)

Remember, ROI could be based on time, too!

  1. Culture of Recruitment: “Replace Yourself in the League”

As a volunteer with the Junior League, we have mantra that you should replace yourself in the League. This means, if you decide you no longer want to volunteer with the organization, you basically find your own replacement. This is a culture that we have created and of course, building culture takes time. I’ve also seen this work effectively for Board of Directors replacements.

Things to Consider: Volunteers spend time with your organization because they care about it. So building this culture of recruiting a replacement might be a great way to help bring in new volunteers.

  1. Social Media: Who says word of mouth has to be in person?

The nonprofit Braven offers a college course to empower promising young people on their path to college graduation and strong first jobs. They do this by through leadership coaches who facilitate sessions with a cohort of students. As a former coach, it was easy for me to help them recruit. Why? They equipped me with social media content that was easy to post:


Coach the leadership development of diverse college students with @BeBraven. Learn more at

Build the next generation of local leaders; apply to serve as a @BeBraven Leadership Coach. Learn more at


I really loved being a @Braven Leadership Coach because [insert your reflection]. Join us in building the next generation of Bay Area leaders by becoming a Leadership Coach. Learn more at

Braven Makes it Easy for Volunteers to Share their Stories OnlineThings to Consider: Having easily shareable content can increase the likelihood that those who would prefer to share their experience online will actually do so.

  1. VolunteerMatch

And, of course, encourage your volunteers to share your VolunteerMatch opportunity!

Throughout my experiences, I’ve discovered that retention increases among those volunteers who recruited new volunteers, and volunteer recruitment is most effective when you use multiple methods, including word-of-mouth and online recruitment.

Tips for Creating an Effective Nonprofit Campaign on Social Media

Guest post by Mary Kleim

No matter what your thoughts are about social media, you cannot deny the fact that some people who use it are full of compassion. They are always ready to help those in need, and nonprofit organizations can leverage that fact to make an impact.

Sometimes, people’s attitudes about social media can be discouraging. You’ll always come across trolls and insensitive users who are ready to harass others. Nevertheless, you should always look at the bright side: there will always be someone who cares, and that’s all it takes for you to take action.

Nonprofit social media campaigns are not always successful. Sometimes they go by unnoticed. It’s not about the cause, since all noble causes are worthy of a fight. It is, however, all about the way organizations and individuals promote these causes. You’ll need a system that will lead you to success. Read on to see how you can develop a successful nonprofit marketing campaign on social through these helpful tips and practical examples.

Inspire Action for Raising Awareness

When you’re organizing an engaging charity campaign and you’re using social media tools to raise awareness, you need to inspire people to spread the news by directing users to take some sort of action. The first example that comes to mind is Movember. The campaign launched in 2003 with the purpose of raising funds for men’s health and increasing awareness for prostate cancer. It turned into a viral global movement, where large populations of men around the world sport mustaches during November.

Movember Campaign Tracks its Progress since 2003Over the last 11 years, the campaign raised $715 million for men’s health.There was a 43% drop in global donations over the last year, but Movember is still an active movement that raises millions of philanthropic dollars each year. There is one main factor that lead to the success of this campaign: mustaches. Men are encouraged to show their support by growing a mustache and showcasing their progress on social media. They invite their friends to donate money, collectively contributing toward the success of the campaign. Without this little detail, many people across the world would still be unaware of prostate cancer and other issues related to men’s health.

Here’s the lesson: when you’re starting a nonprofit social media campaign, make sure to direct your audience to some type of action. Don’t just ask for money; inspire people to spread the news. Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge? Some may hardly recall what that was about (raising awareness about Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), but we do remember lots of people dumping buckets of ice water on their heads. That’s the kind of action you should aim for. Why? Your goal should be concrete — in this case, raising money. If you get enough traction, the funds will start coming in.So you want to take the ALS ice bucket challenge?

Clarify the Objective

Whatever the goal of your campaign, make it as clear as possible. People are glad to donate money when they know they are contributing to a cause they care about. Make that cause clear and explain why they should care about it. In addition, you should set the specific philanthropic goal you want to reach. When people are able to monitor the progress of the campaign, they’ll want to help you reach your objective. If, for example, you’re raising money for someone’s surgery, you need to specify how much the procedure will cost and how much time you have to raise that money.

When you emphasize the urgency and gravity of the situation, the social media community will react quickly. The campaign will (hopefully) get tons of shares and activity across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms.

Relate the Campaign to Pop Culture

Let’s face it: there are too many similar campaigns out there. You want to help animals? People are already being torn apart by thousands of requests similar to yours. Unfortunately, there is a competitive aspect to fundraising. There aren’t enough resources for everyone, so you have to try new and innovative methods in order to get the attention you need. The reality is you have to make your campaign attractive enough in order to raise awareness.

Here’s a great example — do you remember the famous blue and black dress? Or was it white and gold? It took the social media world by storm. The Salvation Army in South Africa used that to their advantage by raising awareness of domestic abuse. The campaign became a worldwide success. The woman featured in the below image was photographed in a white and gold dress, and she had obvious bruises on her face and body. The following text accompanied the graphic: “Why is it so hard to see black and blue? One in six women are victims of abuse. That’s no illusion.”

The Salvation Army in South Africa took a random meme and turned into a very powerful message.

The Salvation Army in South Africa took a random meme and turned into a very powerful message.

There Is Always Room for Humor

Nonprofit campaigns can be about serious issues. Some make people sad and emotional, so their human side triggers their reaction. That doesn’t mean you should always play the ‘emotional card’. Yes, you should emphasize the gravity of the issue, but you can do that through innovative ways.

Water Is Life — an organization that provides clean drinking water, hygiene education programs, and sanitation to people in desperate need, is an example of how a mix of funny and sad can be a winning combination. The team borrowed the hashtag #FirstWorldProblems, which people use to express their frustration with trivial things — like forgetting to charge their phone or neighbors blocking their WiFi. In a video that went viral, these statements were told by people facing much more serious problems — like the lack of clean water for drinking and hygiene.

Water Is Life borrowed the hashtag #FirstWorldProblemsPeople started using the popular hashtag to raise awareness of the issue, which lead to the campaign’s success.

Social media platforms have great power, if you know how to leverage them to your advantage. Thousands of nonprofits have revealed innovative ways to use these networks to bring focus to the causes they stand for. With the right strategy, you can do the same thing: make a difference for a cause you believe in.

Author Bio: Mary Kleim is a social media marketer and writer from Assignment Masters. She is passionate about fundraising and she’s always ready to share insights that help people fight for a cause they believe in.

4 Takeaways from Our Shark Week Campaign

Zoo Atlanta

The Zoo Atlanta team rocking their shark hats during Shark Week 2016.

For years, VolunteerMatch has supported Discovery Communications by providing employee volunteer management software. This year — and for the first time ever — VolunteerMatch partnered with Discovery to dive into unchartered waters: Shark Week (6/26/16 – 7/2/16). Shark Week is Discovery’s longest-running cable television programming event, and as part of our partnership, we helped inspire volunteerism among Discovery’s passionate viewers and our own followers. Discovery even re-created this awesome PSA to help.

For us, we teamed up with 12 other organizations in our network — from nonprofits focused on marine causes to environmental organization and aquariums across the country — to help spread the word. These organizations responded and proved to their communities that #VolunteeringisFin.

In the weeks leading up to Shark Week, VolunteerMatch pondered questions like, “What do volunteers and sharks have in common?” and found some pretty surprising answers. We even quizzed San Franciscans on their knowledge of shark facts, raising awareness right from the hotspots of our hometown.

We also launched our very first Instagram Sweepstakes, garnering 40 entries, as well as fun conversations and engagement with our online community. What did we learn from this campaign? Here are four key takeaways from Shark Week:

  1. A Strong Partnership can be Creative and Fun

Earlier this year, Discovery Communications and VolunteerMatch renewed our multi-year partnership. Since then, we’ve continued to support one another’s goals and causes by building on impactful initiatives — like National Volunteer Week and Shark Week. By supporting one another, even in unexpected ways, we can play into each of our strengths and continue to work toward making our world a better place.

  1. Organizations Are Eager to Partner with Your Cause
Reef Check Foundation

Reef Check Foundation swims while wearing shark hats during Shark Week 2016.

We reached out to over a dozen organizations to help spread the word. Twelve responded with their excitement and willingness to help even before learning they’d get some pretty cool sharkfin hats to wear. These organizations showcased their volunteers across the U.S. — cleaning beaches, supporting animal causes, and teaching youth campers the importance of giving back (all while having a good time in the process).

Transparency and communication are key here. If you communicate openly and honestly, many organizations will partner with you to help amplify your message. Special thanks to: Aquarium of the Bay, Aquarium of the Pacific, California State Parks Foundation, City of Newport Beach Recreation & Senior Services Department, Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center, Georgia Aquarium, Piedmont Park Conservancy, Reef Check, Shark Stewards, Zoo Atlanta, and Zoo Miami.

  1. Hashtags Are Essential in Telling Your Story

On Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, we encouraged followers and visitors alike to showcase their volunteer impact during Shark Week by using the hashtag “#VolunteeringisFin.” The hashtag was mentioned 27 times on Facebook, 15 on Twitter, and 14 on Instagram, allowing people to follow the story across channels — through whatever medium they prefer.

  1. Lower Barriers for Social Media Promotions

Hosting a social media contest or sweepstakes can be challenging, especially when you consider ROI — inclusive of the total cost of prizes, shipping, and legal counsel — all on a nonprofit’s shoestring budget. But it doesn’t have to be…

Our first Instagram Sweepstakes was successful, in part, due to its low barrier of entry. All our followers needed to do in order to enter was like, comment, or tag a friend on a VolunteerMatch Instagram post that mentioned the Sweepstakes.

If you’re looking to plan a campaign or promotion of your own, be on the lookout for tomorrow’s tips on creating an effective nonprofit campaign on social media.

Did you enjoy our Shark Week campaign? Let us know in the comments section below!