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.

Nonprofit Insights: Making It Last with For-Profit Companies

The Nonprofit Insights webinar series brings major thought leaders and experts to you for thought-provoking presentations on a variety of issues related to technology and engaging your community members for social good.

Join the webinar about corporate nonprofit relationships with VolunteerMatch and Bruce Burtch.The world of corporate-nonprofit partnerships is shifting – in a major way. The simple partnerships that used to characterize how nonprofits and for-profits worked together have become complicated, integrated relationships.

Making It Last with For-Profit Companies

Register for this free event.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
11am – 12pm PT (2-3pm ET)

Follow along with the conversation on Twitter: @VolunteerMatch and #vmlearn.

If you want to increase your organization’s fundraising, brand awareness, volunteer involvement and build highly-effective partnerships with for-profit organizations, join VolunteerMatch for a webinar with Bruce Burtch, a leading expert in the field of cross-sector partnerships and cause marketing. Bruce will walk us through the sea change occurring in the nonprofit/for-profit relationship, and share strategies for attracting and securing partnerships with companies that can create long-term benefits beyond simple funding.

No matter what your experience working with companies, join us to gain an updated perspective on how nonprofits can build strong, lasting relationships with companies.

Register for this free Nonprofit Insights webinar now.

4 Minutes to Help Everyone Learn about Volunteer Appreciation

Thank You cake for Calabazas Library volunteers.

Thank You cake for Calabazas Library volunteers.

Boy, do we appreciate our volunteers. The time, passion and talent given by these generous people makes the difference when it comes to creating impact for our communities and the world. They are the best.

But how do we appreciate them? And how does the way we appreciate our volunteers compare to how other organizations show volunteer appreciation?

VolunteerMatch has partnered with txtMovies.com, a company that enables you to send customers, prospects, volunteers, employees and survey respondents movie rental codes, to learn about volunteer appreciation practices across the nonprofit sector.

To do so, we’ve created a super quick, 4-minute survey. The results will help us all better understand volunteer appreciation at nonprofits, and will enable organizations like VolunteerMatch to provide more support and resources to help your organization! (You’ll also be entered to win 25 free movie codes for your nonprofit.)

Please contribute to this important research by taking the quick survey right now! Then stay tuned for updates from Engaging Volunteers to see the results when we publish them.

Take this 4-minute survey from VolunteerMatch and txtMovies.com about volunteer appreciation!

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!

Here’s How You Measure Volunteer Impact

The results are in - check out the Volunteer Impact ReportRemember back in May, 2014 when we launched a survey asking you how you determine the effect volunteer work has on your mission?

The results are in!

55% of nonprofits measure volunteer impact.
Tweet this stat!

Check out this clean, easy-to-read, chart-heavy report we produced in partnership with volunteer technology review firm Software Advice that presents the metrics, indicators and data collection methods nonprofits use to measure volunteers’ impact on their organizations’ outcomes.

In other words, check out this report to see how what YOU do compares to what everyone ELSE does to track volunteer impact at your organizations.

The first ever volunteer impact report from VolunteerMatch and Software Advice.

17% of nonprofits saw an increase in funding as a result of measuring volunteer impact. Tweet this stat!

Hopefully, this report will help you determine areas for improvement, and provide inspiration for how you can best measure the impact of your volunteer program on your nonprofit, your community and your cause.

What do you think of the Volunteer Impact Report? How do the results compare to how your organization tracks volunteer impact? Let us know!

*Special thanks to our partners Software Advice for administering the survey, analyzing the data and producing the report!