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.

13 Steps to the CVA Credential

Guest post by Liza J. Dyer, CVA

“I’d like to somehow make a difference in people’s lives.”

Aside from being a line from my all-time favorite movie, Reality Bites, this quote also sums up my career aspirations from a young age. Like a lot of folks, I didn’t know how I would reach my goal or what my journey would look like. But I always knew I wanted to have a job that made a positive difference in someone else’s life.

Through a series of different twists and turns in my early working life, I found myself on the volunteer engagement path. And, although I didn’t realize it at first, this wonderful and sometimes zany field became my way to make a difference.


In 2012 I was looking for a way to solidify my knowledge of volunteer management. I knew best practices, had attended some local trainings, and a handful of VolunteerMatch webinars, but I wanted something more. Something tangible. I shared this with my supervisor and she recommended the Certification in Volunteer Administration – or CVA for short – and shared her experience getting the credential.

Later that year I registered for the CVA and began studying. And now that I’ve been through the process and have my CVA, I want to share the experience with you.

Step 1: Think About It

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The CVA credential isn’t something you do just for fun. It will take time to read the textbook, study for the exam, and write your portfolio. Really think about if this is something you want to spend your time and money on. Personally, it was absolutely worth it.

Check with your employer or local volunteer administration association to see if there are any professional development funds or scholarships available.

Step 2: Register

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Now that you’ve decided to pursue your CVA, it’s time to get all your registration materials in order. My favorite part was getting recommendation letters from coworkers and colleagues; it was reaffirming to hear such positive reviews of my work from peers.

The Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration (CCVA) will process your application and, as long as you meet all the qualifications, they’ll let you know you’re in. Celebrate!

Step 3: Time to Study

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Set aside some time to read the textbook. My favorite study place was at a coffee shop. It was less distracting than home, and it was a treat to have a latte while studying.

Step 4: Get a Study Group (optional, but recommended)

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My local DOVIA (Directors of Volunteers in Agencies) – Northwest Oregon Volunteer Administrators Association – coordinates a CVA study group each year. I joined the group because I wanted to study with others and have a sense of accountability. My study group created a meeting schedule and took turns writing study guides and facilitating conversations on the textbook. As a bonus, I still turn to my study buddies when I have an ethical dilemma or want to bounce some ideas off of someone.

If you don’t know anyone else in your area who is studying for the CVA, consider reaching out to others online; Twitter and the CCVA’s Facebook page are great places to start. The CCVA also offers an online support group or you can search for a local DOVIA.

Step 5: Take the Exam

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The CVA exam mainly tests your knowledge of volunteer management best practices. It’s online and you’ll need to get a proctor to monitor the test. If you have an in-person study group you can find a computer lab and have one proctor for multiple people, which is what my group did.

After you finish the exam, you’ll need to wait a while to receive your results. Take a moment to celebrate finishing a part of the process!

Step 6: Write Your Portfolio

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Now that the exam is over, you’ll want to get started on the portfolio portion of the process. The portfolio is your chance to share your personal professional experience and has three parts – Philosophy Statement, Ethics Case Study, and the Management Narrative. Personally, I enjoyed the reflective aspect of the portfolio.

Step 7: Have a Colleague Review Your Portfolio

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If you have a study group, keep in touch with them after the exam. You can trade portfolio drafts and review each other’s work. If you don’t have a study group, you can always ask another colleague to review it for you. Trust me; you’ll want someone besides yourself to look it over before you submit it.

Step 8: Turn It In

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If you’re like me, you might be tempted to wait until the last minute to submit your portfolio. (If you’re exactly like me, you’ll wait until the December 31st deadline to submit it.) Don’t wait too long! The sooner you turn it in, the sooner you’ll hear back about your results.

Step 9: Celebrate!

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I’m a fan of celebrating the little things in life. Congratulations on submitting your portfolio!

Step 10: Wait

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Now that you’ve completed the exam and turned in your portfolio, you’ll need to wait to hear back from the CCVA. Actual, real live people are reviewing your portfolio. No robots here.

Step 11: Check Your Mail Every Day, Obsessively

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Okay, you don’t have to check it obsessively, but one day you’ll get something from the CCVA and it will be really, really exciting.

Step 12: Celebrate… Again!

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If all goes well, and you have successfully passed the exam and portfolio, you’ll have your CVA! Congratulations!

Step 13: Tell Everyone

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This is a huge accomplishment and you should tell the world! Announce it to your colleagues, share it in your organization’s newsletter, post a #CVAselfie on social media, add “CVA” after your name on your email signature and on LinkedIn, and tell friends and family.

My #CVAselfie on the day I got my acceptance letter in 2013. Source: Liza J Dyer, CVA

My #CVAselfie on the day I got my acceptance letter in 2013. Source: Liza J Dyer, CVA

I wear my CVA pin on my ID lanyard at work and when I go to workshops or trainings. When people ask what it means, I proudly explain that it’s a professional credential that shows my dedication to the field of Volunteer Management.

If you want to step up your volunteer management game, I highly recommend pursuing the CVA credential.

Interested in learning more? Sign up for the webinar on January 14th with CCVA Executive Director Katie Campbell and Jennifer Bennett of VolunteerMatch. If you decide to pursue your CVA, and if you have a VolunteerMatch account you can receive a discount on your registration fees.

For more information, see the Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration, Why the CVA Certification is Worth Your Time, or My Journey to the CVA Credential.

Liza J Dyer, CVA is a Volunteer Program Coordinator at Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon. She is also the Social Media Specialist for the Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration, Marketing & Communications chair of Northwest Oregon Volunteer Administrators Association, and Twitter Coordinator for Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Portland. Liza enjoys blogging at Volunteer Management Snark, a blog that embraces the snarky side of Volunteer Management. Connect with Liza on Twitter.

3 Engaging Ways to Honor Martin Luther King’s Legacy of Service and Social Justice

Guest post by Ann Saylor

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shaking hands with Hubert Humphrey while Coretta Scott King looks on.Once in a while, a seemingly ordinary person rises up to be a hero, changing culture forever. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of those men, and we now recognize him as a renowned American civil rights leader. He was hugely influential on American culture through his campaigns to end racial segregation and promote racial equality.

To honor his legacy, the third Monday of January has been named a federal holiday. Though students are out of school and federal employees are off work, national service organizations have adopted this slogan: “A Day On, Not a Day Off”, challenging Americans to rally together in service.

Here are 3 ideas to engage your community’s volunteers in a way that honors Dr. King’s values and the ways in which he served:

1. Go serve together.

Take the day at your nonprofit to work side-by-side with your volunteers. Dr. King said, “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve…You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” Where can you share a little love in your community? Pick an issue dear to the hearts of your staff and volunteers and address that need together.

2. Explore the roots of an issue more deeply.

Dr. King wisely believed, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” As you study a community issue that’s important to your organization and its volunteers, such as homelessness, illiteracy, recreational drug use, apathy, or hunger, push to go deeper. Identify one of the root causes and develop a targeted action plan that will inspire change and strengthen impoverished areas of your community.

3. Seek justice through advocacy.

Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) volunteers at an MLK rally.

Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) volunteers at an MLK rally.

Learning to speak up about issues that are important to your agency and challenging others to take action is a necessary skill if we’re going to impact true change around us. Challenge your volunteers to ponder and then act deliberately on Dr. King’s words: “Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But, conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.”

What message needs to be conveyed by your organization to the world? What issues do your volunteers care about? Work with your volunteers to craft a plan for how they can spread the word about the issues your agency is tackling and start speaking up for truth – even if it’s risky and uncomfortable.

Want more strategies and activities on how to make the most of MLK Day? Get a FREE copy of the Seasons of Service Curriculum, complete with three half-day experiences for leading an MLK Day event. It also has 12 highly interactive lesson plans to help young people explore ways to use their gifts and talents to change the world. Finally, it outlines 11 half-day engaging and empowering service-learning experiences to introduce youth to meaningful service. Request your copy by emailing

How is your organization engaging volunteers to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy? Share with us in the comments below!

Ann Saylor is a nationally recognized trainer in positive youth development, service-learning, and play with purpose as well as the co-author of 7 books, including her latest, Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth, (published in September 2014 by Search Institute Press). Learn more through her website and her blog, or reach her at or Twitter @TheAssetEdge.

Expert Snapshots for January: Starting 2015 Off Right

Expert SnapshotsAt VolunteerMatch we learn so much from other experts in the field of volunteer engagement and management, and we want to help you stay up to date on the latest news and trends. Here’s a round-up of some news to keep you inspired for the year ahead…

What Did You and Volunteers Do Well This Year?

The first step in planning a stellar 2015 is to reflect on the successes and failures of 2014. Be honest, be merciless, learn from your mistakes, celebrate how awesome your were, then move on. To help your process, Susan Ellis of Energize, Inc. provides a bunch of great questions to ask yourself related to your work as a leader of volunteers, as a volunteer program generally, and more.

Why you *don’t* have to keep up with everything in #nptech

Yesenia Sotelo, a nonprofit website expert, lays out this cold, hard truth: it’s impossible to keep up with everything going on in the nonprofit digital space. Instead, identify the 3-4 things that are most important for your work, and that are most immediately actionable. Follow those things. She provides examples from her own arsenal to help make her point.

Case Study: Get Involved: Powered by Your Library

An amazing story published recently by Reimagining Service chronicles the work of California State Library to engage constituents on a deeper level via volunteering, and the partnership with VolunteerMatch that made it possible. It’s as inspiring as it is practical.

Mark Your Calendars! 2015 Cause Awareness Days

Cause awareness days can be a powerful engagement tool, as you can tap into the buzz already happening to get people excited about your organization’s work. Nonprofit Tech for Good lists the biggest and best coming in 2015 to help you plan ahead, strategically.

Bonus: 2015 Editorial Calendar from Lightbox Collaborative

Speaking of planning ahead, we couldn’t NOT include this amazing resource: a fully-formed editorial calendar from Lightbox Collaborative that you can download for free and customize for your organization’s communications needs. This is a great template for building a robust, effective communications calendar to help your organization really step it up in 2015.

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!