Why Prisons Need More Volunteers

Guest Post by Mila Sanchez

Volunteering at PrisonsIt’s easy to think about volunteering in places like hospitals, food banks, schools, and animal humane societies, but some places that are commonly overlooked [and could really use volunteers] are prisons.

I know I’m guilty of neglecting prisons when I consider nearby places to volunteer myself. Maybe it’s because I used to think of prison as a place people chose to be, by committing crimes that brought them there in the first place. The thought that they deserve to be there could be in etched in the back of many people’s minds. Even if it is true that people who commit crimes have a debt to pay their society, it’s incredibly important to do our part to help with rehabilitation programs.

My dad has volunteered in prisons for over 20 years. I recently had the chance to attend a volunteer appreciation dinner with him at a prison, where I heard so many stories about inmates’ lives that changed through the rehabilitation programs volunteers helped facilitate. The warden gave a speech where he mentioned the wonders volunteer rehabilitation programs have done for inmates — specifically in helping to rework their mindsets from defaulting to a life of crime.

With prison overcrowding becoming a real concern in the U.S., and some state governments continually cutting funds, volunteer programs focused on rehabilitation have become essential.

Educational Services

Education can be a great tool for rehabilitation.

Many people turn to crime because their lack of education disqualifies them from being successful in most jobs, or they are frustrated by their educational struggles and chose to act out — often the case for juveniles. Through volunteer services that tutor inmates, you can help an inmate learn valuable skills like reading and math, and even assist them with earning their GED.These opportunities give inmates a better chance to find work once they’re released.

You can also support educational services by donating books to prisons, which undoubtedly aid in their learning.

Religious Ministries

Religious ministries are a popular way to volunteer in prisons, too.

My dad has volunteered in prison ministries in our city, and helped many inmates learn to reflect and pray in lieu of turning to crime and violence. Teaching love and forgiveness that comes from a higher power can be great solace, especially for those inmates who feel abandoned by people who they were once close to, or feel they have done too much wrong to change.

Mindfulness

Teaching inmates alternative ways of dealing with anger and finding peace can be essential to their rehabilitation. Many inmates were arrested for violence and anger-related issues; issues that they can learn to channel in different and more constructive ways. Volunteer programs that focus on mindfulness and relaxation, like teaching yoga, are excellent ways to help refocus and rehabilitate inmates.

Any volunteer program that focuses on changing criminal and inmate behavior and mindsets are sure to be extremely beneficial to a prisoner’s rehabilitation process. There are many different programs in different cities, so check VolunteerMatch.org to find a program that matches your skills near you.

Author Bio: Mila Sanchez is a writer and recent college graduate, with a B.A. in Linguistics. She’s passionate about traveling the world, learning new languages, and taking pictures of her dog, Baymax. She and Baymax can often be found hiking in the foothills near her town.

Knowing Generational Differences Can Help Engage Your Volunteers

Guest post by Steve Page

Volunteers are one of the best ways to grow your organization year after year. Once you have identified roles your volunteers will be assigned, the key to a successful volunteer experience is keeping your volunteer network engaged.

What’s the best way to do that?

Create a strategic plan for your volunteer program. Though it will take some time, dedicating a few hours to figuring how volunteers can best serve your organization is absolutely necessary for its success.

Reaching and Recruiting Volunteers

The most underutilized way to recruit volunteers is through word of mouth. Supporters of your cause, whether or not they have previously volunteered with your organization, should be able to serve as brand ambassadors, talking about the great work you’re doing and the impact that you’re having.

Positive word of mouth is the best way to inspire others who want to get involved and give back. Remember, a really good volunteer experience goes a long way. If people have a positive or negative experience with you, they are going to talk about it in person and online.

Encourage volunteers and supporters to share your message, volunteer program information, photos and videos through channels that reach and target every demographic. The more supporters you have, the larger the network your organization will reach.

Check out this useful generational giving infographic showing how the four key demographic segments in the US give, as well as how to effectively engage each through the channels they prefer.

MillennialsMillennials (born 1980-1995)

Millennials are perpetually connected to their mobile devices, making mobile the most effective channel for this demographic to engage, volunteer and donate.

Millennials are turning out to a be a charitable bunch and are mostly motivated by passion for a cause, not just the organization itself.

85% of millennials give to charity, but you have to approach them differently than other demographics. The same holds true for volunteering.

The millennial impact benchmarks report suggests that nonprofits take a “mobile first” approach to engage with millennials. This means target them where they spend their time: on their mobile phones, via text message and on social media.

A great way to do this is by sending text messages and posting volunteer requests across social media. Encourage potential millennial volunteers to make an event out of their volunteer experience by inviting friends, taking pictures and sharing their experience across social channels.

Gen XGen X (born 1965-1979)

Generation X’ers can still be reached through email, but they are more likely to regularly check social media or text messages than the generation before.

According to a Pew Research Center study on smartphone ownership, 80% of adults between the ages 30-49 own a smartphone — the second largest generational group to do so — and 59% give to charity.

Gen X’ers also volunteer more than any other generation. In fact 30% of Gen X’ers volunteer their time to nonprofits, so encouraging them to volunteer with your organization will likely be easier than other generations. This is a huge opportunity for nonprofits because volunteers are almost twice as likely to donate to charity than non-volunteers.

Baby BoomersBaby Boomers (born 1946-1964)

Baby boomers regularly answer voice calls and check email, however, in recent years, they have also adopted mobile and social media technology at a rapid rate. On average, baby boomers spend 19 hours a week online and 71% use a social networking site daily. These numbers are likely to continue growing year after year.

Baby boomers are the most generous of all generations, giving an annual average of $1,212 per person across 4.5 organizations. Recurring giving is the norm for a lot of baby boomers, who make up 21% of all monthly donors.

Baby boomers are likely to do volunteer work for organizations they are actively involved with. Consider asking baby boomers to volunteer at events or fundraisers they may already be interested in attending.

Greatest GenerationGreatest Generation (born before 1945)

The Greatest Generation are engaged through a friendly phone call or letter in the mailbox. It is difficult to reach this group via text messages and social media but some are starting to use email.

Don’t count them out for all online activity! A 2013 Pew Research Center Study found that 70% of adults 65 and older use the internet on a daily basis.

88% of this generation give to charity: the highest annual average donations amount per person compared to other demographics. So if you are looking to ask for donations or recruit volunteers for your organization, be sure to experiment with online outreach as well using the traditional methods like a phone call or direct mail.

They’re also happy participating in the volunteer opportunities your organization has to offer. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, more than one in four older adults volunteers each year.

Your organization should be communicating and marketing across the appropriate online and offline channels to engage each and every generation of supporters. Using a segmented approach to supporter communication is the best way to create an effective experience for both recruiting and engaging volunteers.

Now that you know how to engage all generations using the appropriate marketing channels, you’ll be able to amplify both your volunteer programs and fundraising ideas.

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Author bio: Steve Page is a blogger, marketer, and webmaster for MobileCause, the world’s leading mobile and online fundraising platform. MobileCause helps organizations reach their goals with a full suite of mobile-friendly solutions that allow donors to connect and give to your cause from any device. When he’s not working at MobileCause, Steve can usually be found helping organizations with their websites, learning the latest marketing trends or working on his golf game.

A Big Help to Little People

Editor’s Note: VolunteerMatch participates in Immaculate Conception Academy (ICA)’s Corporate Work Study Program. Michelle, one of our ICA volunteers, wrote the following post to share how volunteering has impacted her life.

Guest post by Michelle Fonseca

Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” The first time I heard this quote was from my University of San Francisco (USF) tutor in middle school. I, at the time, didn’t grasp the deep meaning of the quote. I remember how inspired I was by my USF tutor because of how she had taken time out of her busy life to help me with math homework.

I knew from that moment that when I grew up I wanted to be caring just like her — and I’m not saying this because she gave me ice cream. Above all, I had discovered my passion: to spend my life helping children.

826 Valenica

Outside 826 Valencia, a nonprofit that focuses on providing free services to Bay Area youth.

During my junior year of high school, I was assigned a required service learning project. While some girls were dreading having to volunteer, I, on the other hand, was excited, which is an understatement. I decided to volunteer at 826 Valencia, a nonprofit organization that focuses on providing free services to Bay Area youth, from ages 6-18. My “partner in crime” Sabrina and I decided to volunteer at 826 Valencia’s after school program.

I interviewed my friend Sabrina and the program director Jorge to gain more knowledge on the program and their personal experiences. 

Running a program isn’t easy, but Jorge sure does make it look easy. Jorge has been working at 826 Valencia for many years now. After school programs are where children usually go when parents can’t pick them up right away.

Interview with Jorge:

What makes 826 Valencia’s programs special from other after school programs?

826 Valencia is a place where children have a social space to do their homework — a place where children safely gain knowledge and make new friends. When choosing a job, I think it’s important to love what you do.

Why did you choose to work at 826 Valencia?

I received an art degree in college. I peer tutored my buddies through college. And I resonated with the mission statement from 826 Valencia. As a program director, there is always something new for me to learn.

What have you learned from working with children?

Children are extremely energetic and I have to use my creative side to think of projects that keep them busy after they finish their homework. Being part of a community is one the best things in life because you feel like you are part of a second family.

Is it important to give back to your community?

Absolutely. I believe everyone should give back and help the community, especially if a person once received help from it.

Interview with Sabrina:

826 Valencia Tutors

Inside 826 Valencia

Why did you choose 826 Valencia?

Out of all the places that came to mind, I thought of volunteering at 826 Valencia first, especially since I considered their after school program my second home.

Do you have any special connection to the program?

I technically grew up in this program. It enhanced my academic skills.

How was your experience as a volunteer?

My experience was amazing because I got to know the kids who are the new generation of 826 Valencia. I also saw some old friends from the program that were tutoring just like me and giving back to their community. Little kids could be a handful sometimes.

What have you learned from working with children?

One of the biggest things I learned is to have patience because children are so energetic and can get distracted easily.

Would you recommend volunteering at an after school program?  Why?

Of course! I think it’s great since children always need the extra help, especially since homework is more challenging now than it used to be. Children need an environment other than school and home to do their homework.

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During my time volunteering at 826 Valencia, the children’s energy brought back memories to when I was enthusiastic like them. Each of the children I tutored had a different way of learning. Some memorized their vocabulary words by spelling the word out several times. Others by looking at the word once and memorizing it. One thing they had in common is that they each had a drive to learn.

After each time I kept on going to the after school program, I slowly became attached to the children. Whenever they would see me they would jump for joy and rush to hug me.

This experience made me realize the importance of not only giving back to the community but in also being a mentor to children. The future of the world is dependent on children, therefore, it’s important that they obtain an education in order to accomplish amazing things.

Learn more about tutoring, mentorship, and after school program volunteer opportunities in your community by visiting VolunteerMatch.org.

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About the author:
Michelle is very down to earth. She loves root beer and awesome stand-up comedy. She will be heading off to UC Merced for college this fall, and will be making new friends that Moo! She enjoys helping others with a smile on her face, which is why she became part of the ambassadors club at her school.

Michelle wants to pursue a career in social work to help people become aware of the many benefits our world offers.

What’s Behind the Why of Working with Volunteers

Guest post by Elisa Kosarin, Twenty Hats

This post was originally published on Twenty Hats.

When you nurture what’s best in your volunteers, you hold some powerful change agents in your hands.

What’s Behind the Why of Working with VolunteersHave you ever had a conversation so thought-provoking that you reflected on it for a good long while afterward? I felt that way last week when I held the first meeting of my Leadership Circle.

The Circle is a group of experienced and dedicated volunteer engagement professionals who are invested in their work and have chosen to meet each month to share advice, support one another, and refine their leadership skills.

We kicked off our first meeting by talking about why we work with volunteers in the first place.

What is it exactly about this work that we find so compelling and rewarding?

I thought the conversation might focus on what volunteers do for our nonprofits because that’s what we’re hired to do – help expand our organizations to meet their missions. And while that piece was acknowledged as essential, it’s not what these pros shared as their greatest satisfaction. This group receives their energy and inspiration from the transformation within the volunteer.

These were the comments I heard:

I love to teach volunteers about our cause and watch as they come to see our clients in a new light.

I enjoy watching volunteers master a skill they never knew they had.

I’m excited to see volunteers achieve a greater purpose in their lives.

One of the Circle members summed it all up in a very simple mission statement:

I show volunteers how they can help someone by doing very simple and easy things each day. The result is kindness in my corner of the world.

These responses tell me that we are the intermediaries between two important elements for social change; the nonprofits that exist to improve our communities – and the volunteers who effect that change.

We manage a resource that has a direct and often immediate positive impact on our clients – and we elevate community members to the role of change agents when they volunteer. On top of that, we educate those change agents about what’s possible for our clients. We offer a new perspective, open points of view, and inspire people to become their higher, better selves.

Our role in the nonprofit world is HUGE.

I sometimes wonder, even when we stumble into these positions because working with volunteers sounds like “a nice thing to do,” if we subconsciously realize that we are tapping into something that meets our desire for purpose-driven work in the most powerful way possible.

It turns out that our role is not just heart-centered, it’s ethical. If you take a look at the CCVA Ethics Statement, you will see that volunteer managers have a responsibility to “promote the understanding and actualization of mutual benefits inherent in any act of volunteer service.”

The next time you feel frustrated, marginalized, or just plain tired of your job, remember: our desire to nurture and cultivate what is best in others is essential to improving our communities. Trust your instincts, hone your professional skills, and watch what happens.

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About the author:
Twenty Hats is authored by Elisa Kosarin, CVA, a nonprofit professional with 15+ years of experience in nonprofit marketing, development, and volunteer management. She founded the site to help volunteer managers master the skills they need to make their jobs easier.

How Volunteering with Sick Children Changed Sharon Reasonover’s Life

Sharon Reasonover

Sharon Reasonover, Ronald McDonald House Volunteer

Sharon Reasonover first started volunteering at the age of 16. It was the summer before her junior year of high school, and she hadn’t really understood the meaning behind doing something for others until that day.

Sharon was accompanying a church group to the Ronald McDonald House (RMH) in Dallas, Texas. RMH is a “home-away-from-home” for families so they can stay close by their hospitalized child at little or no cost.

Sharon recalls her first time walking into RMH — nervous and afraid of messing up or saying the wrong thing. After only 5 minutes, she began connecting with families. “That day, I played with kids, laughed with the adults, and heard countless stories — you name it!” says Sharon.

Now a 20-year-old student at the University of North Texas, Sharon has volunteered with RMH ever since. “I have met so many people there that have changed my life.”

Read the rest of Sharon’s story, including the stories of three of the kids she cared for at RMH, and how volunteering has helped Sharon grow into the person she’s always wanted to be.

If you’re a nonprofit looking for ways to effectively engage with younger generations, check out this Engaging Volunteers blog post on 5 ways you could inspire teenagers to take a step toward community service.