Celebrating a Day-On: An Inspiring MLK Service Day Collaboration With New Sector Alliance

Monday, January 20th, the National Day of Service commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was a day of innovation for VolunteerMatch. Unlike past Days of Service where the VolunteerMatch team served at outside organizations, we switched things up by bringing volunteering to us. Twenty New Sector fellows were invited to brainstorm and discuss ideas for VolunteerMatch to creatively engage volunteers, nonprofits, and business leaders in 2014.

So what is New Sector?

At the heart of New Sector Alliance’s mission is empowering young leaders while strengthening the social sector. Partnered with Americorps, New Sector’s Residency in Social Enterprise (RISE) fellowship program allows 25 talented individuals to hold full-time positions at nonprofits of their interest. The fellows also meet as a group to learn how to professionally apply their unique skills to address social dilemmas. This Day of Service at VolunteerMatch was an example of the diverse activities that the young leaders get to experience for the duration of their fellowships.

We will recap the event and talk about how you can implement the key points from this informative discussion into your own volunteering initiative.

1. Let your values guide you to skilled volunteers

Ideally, your organization gathers people who share your values to engage in a meaningful volunteer activity. In order to best reach that ideal, you need to first be able to find those individuals.

Use videos that clearly outline your mission while demonstrating the social benefits of your work to attract volunteers to your organization, as well as testimonials to speak for your credibility. Social media is another great way to engage skilled volunteers, where live updates and photos will get people excited to come out to your next opportunity. And, of course, VolunteerMatch’s network of volunteers and nonprofits is another useful resource.

2. Build genuine relationships with your volunteers

Creating and maintaining meaningful relationships was one of the most important and recurring concepts of the discussion. Whether you are holding a one-time event or an on-going opportunity, it is very important to establish a relationship with your volunteers and engage with them to make their experience special.

One great idea that arose from the discussion was the concept of VolunteerMatch ambassadors. Volunteers with a strong passion for their work would be selected for these positions, serving as spokespersons and champions for VolunteerMatch’s mission and resources in their local communities.

You can similarly empower your volunteers and add color to your organization: give your stand-out volunteers special titles, and encourage them to build their own unique identities while feeling like they are part of an impactful network of leaders.

3. Show your appreciation for your volunteers

One of the New Sector fellows mentioned newsletters and in-person meetings as ways to make the organizations who provide service and learning experiences for the fellows feel appreciated and involved. When an organization hosts a fellow, being able to see tangible evidence of their impact on that fellow’s career is a great way to encourage the organization to continue its sponsorship.

Similarly, by letting your volunteers know that you appreciate them, they will have much more of an incentive to continue lending their time. Here are a few ideas of how to show your volunteers how much you care:

  • Showcase inspirational volunteer experiences on blogs, newsletters, and social media
  • Assign leadership roles and give responsibility to passionate volunteers
  • Send volunteers thank you notes, holiday and birthday cards, and small gifts of appreciation

Our Next Steps

The concept of ambassadors, passionate champions of VolunteerMatch’s work, resonated well with the VolunteerMatch team. As our staff holds subsequent follow-up meetings, we will keep the three points listed above in mind while continuing to brainstorm ways of implementing an ambassador program. For as important as our own expansion and improvement is, creating meaningful experiences for volunteers and organizations remains the number one goal.

Your Next Steps

While thinking about how to apply the three points listed above, ask yourself some questions throughout the new year:

  • Are our volunteers providing positive feedback from their experiences with our organization?
  • What are the qualities we value in a volunteer, and are we clearly expressing that criteria?
  • Are we using our existing resources and social media platforms in the most efficient manner?

Thank you New Sector!

Finally, we would like to thank the New Sector fellows for donating their time and thoughts for our discussion. It was a very fun and productive way to truly bring “service” into an MLK Service Day. Thank you.

Have other creative ideas for engaging volunteers in 2014? Share your thoughts below!

After Irene: 5 Things Organizations Involved in Disaster Response Should Be Doing at VolunteerMatch

Following Tropical Storm Irene, like many disasters, the real work will begin after the storm settles. Widespread flooding and wavering federal support for cleanup means the communities affected by the storm will also need help from the independent sector.

If your organization is involved in disaster preparation and response, here are a few tips for making the most of VolunteerMatch following the disaster:

1. Update your opportunities to make them discoverable and relevant right now.
Use keywords like “Irene” and “disaster relief” to make sure your listings are coming up in important searches, including our Disaster Relief Map where these opportunities are compiled.

2. Emphasize the importance of training as a stepping stone.
Many prospective volunteers are not aware how important is to be trained. A message such as “this training is an important step to being deployed during future crises.”

3. Plan for spontaneous volunteers.
While trained volunteers are integral to disaster relief efforts, many untrained volunteers will still be knocking at your door. Determine tasks to give these willing participants that don’t require additional training, such as organizing supply donations, manning the phones or documenting the relief process with photos or videos.

4. Remind volunteers that most emergencies are local.
If your focus is local emergency response and recovery, remind prospective trainees that training in areas like trauma treatment, rescue, coordinated response, etc., are important for helping out in our own backyards.

5. Don’t forget to use your tools.
Your VolunteerMatch account has some important tools that can help you save time and recruit more effectively:

  • Email All allows you to send email communications to everyone who has ever referred to your opportunities. Even if referrals never became official volunteers, during an emergency you may want to activate those folks as a network for getting things done.
  • The Syndication Tool lets you avoid duplicate data entry while keeping your own website updated with VolunteerMatch listings. Use the tool to create a code snippet you can give your Web master. Once it’s in place on your website, your VolunteerMatch listings will automatically show there.
  • Custom Questions lets you prescreen referrals with questions of your choice. If a referral requires specific skills, ability or experience, you can ask those questions up-front.
  • Document Manager lets you automatically attach important forms, waivers or training materials to your emails to prospective referrals.
  • If you have active social networks, use the Social Media Icons at the end of the listing process to easily send out links to your VolunteerMatch listings.

Money with a Mission: An Interview with Denise Howell, VolunteerMatch’s CFO Extraordinaire

Our CFO, Denise Howell, is a trendsetter in more ways than one. It’s not just that she’s often spotted sporting a great pair of shoes. Through her experience in the world of banking, she brings a unique perspective to VolunteerMatch that helps us work more efficiently towards our goals.

I sat down with Denise last week to talk about her financial expertise in the nonprofit world, and how her passion influences her day-to-day activities that keep the VolunteerMatch office running like a well-oiled machine.

When did you initially become interested in nonprofit work?

When I was working in banking, I began volunteering. My passion for community service grew and later included serving on a committee to open doors to meaningful job opportunities for people with moderate to severe disabilities.

To be a part of that and see the change in people’s lives was so wonderful – incredibly talented people who hadn’t thought they were welcome in many career paths because of a disability. Our effort was to make sure they were welcome and their talents celebrated. These experiences stay with you in a way that your other business successes don’t.

How has your experience with VolunteerMatch broadened your outlook on nonprofit work?

I was initially introduced to social entrepreneurship… The approach pioneered in that case was impact investing – not just giving money, but investing in people and businesses that will lift them out of poverty through and with their own involvement.

On a broader level, I began to see how the direction of philanthropy was – is – changing. People are more engaged, we want to be a part of the process of creating change, solving problems, making a difference in the lives of those around us. This can be much more satisfying than to passively write a check once a year.

When it comes to financial contributions, many are left out. But our contributions can be huge when we participate as volunteers and engage with the people and causes/organizations we care about. We need the traditional philanthropy too, as it is deeply powerful, personal and meaningful to many people, but we need a bigger, more inclusive approach.

How does your perspective and experience help foster more sustainable nonprofits?

Sustainability is always the key question for any business – but more acutely for nonprofits. Many nonprofits have revenue sources that are limited in duration, too small in scope, or restricted as to their use, leaving them to constantly struggle with how to finance their mission.

My experience working with donors and nonprofits/foundations in planned giving has helped tremendously in structuring the sustainability of their missions. Building relationships which lead to funding endowments and charitable trusts, combined with prudent investing allow organizations to fund their operations for many years.

I also support building program services as an important element in sustainability. VolunteerMatch started its operations with major names in philanthropy and has become sustainable through its program services, which continue to grow each year.

What have you found that nonprofits generally struggle with in terms of making enough money to stay afloat? How do you suggest that nonprofit organizations deal with these problems?

In terms of helping nonprofits deal with the problems, the nonprofit needs to integrate their mission with why it is in the best interest of their community to support it – whether through philanthropy, a program service, etc. That must be the key question: Not what is this doing for us – but what is it doing for you. And building sources of revenue that support your organization for the long term, not just next quarter. This takes patience and careful planning.

How can nonprofits maximize their effectiveness and efficiency in dividing their funds?

Careful planning and budgeting, always keeping in mind what it is that you are here to do. Being efficient and effective requires thinking about the details and the big picture. 

What is the most enjoyable part of working at VolunteerMatch?

Working with such a dynamic, amazing group of people. When you work in an environment in which you are proud of what you contribute, while constantly learning from your colleagues, you grow personally and professionally. This is what I have here and I feel truly blessed.

Where do you see VolunteerMatch in ten years?

Definitely continuing to grow and serve more individuals and organizations in our current and also additional capacities. The vision that started our organization 12 years ago has led to a powerful community. I have no doubt that will continue!  I am excited and honored to be a part of the work!

Laura Weiss is an intern at VolunteerMatch. You can reach her at lweiss@volunteermatch.org.

NCVS Recap: Looking Back at Three Days of Service and Self-Empowerment in New Orleans

Co-conveners Michelle Nunn (Points of Light) and Robert Velasco (Corp. for Natl and Community Service) get down in the Big Easy

The National Conference on Volunteering and Service in New Orleans was great on so many levels, but for me the decision to place this year’s biggest conference on volunteering in “NOLA” was best illustrated when I was on my way back home.

In a taxi heading to Louis Armstrong Airport after three days of inspiration, I met Angela. She was a driver in her early 40s. A freelance operator. Her husband suffered from bipolar disorder and was struggling to get meds. He had also recently had a heart attack and was homebound.  For Angela, that meant 12-hour days in a rundown cab – days made even longer in the summer heat of NOLA and a cab lacking air conditioning.

And yet, as I saw again and again in NOLA, for Angela things were only looking up.

“I know all about all the good that volunteers are doing in our city,” she said, weaving the cab in traffic heading out of town and still managing to catch my eye in the mirror. “We’re learning how to take care of our own selves. New Orleans people know how to survive, and we always bounce back.”

It was a great reminder for me of the potential of service – especially how communities can take ownership of their problems, turning the bad stuff in our lives into opportunities to connect with each other, lean on each other, and learn together.

Nearly six years after Hurricane Katrina, the people of New Orleans have found the strength and the resiliency to respond to their challenges. In fact, as they’ve rebuilt homes, protected their culture, educated their children, and cleaned up from the floods, spills, and controversies, their city has also quietly become a laboratory for some of the most innovative service initiatives in the country. Indeed, we can all learn from New Orleans.

The Spirit of NOLA at NCVS

The spirit of New Orleans was definitely alive and present at this year’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service, where more than 4,500 participants came together to learn about ideas and innovation in service. Volunteer champions, national service leaders, local heroes, and stars and innovators in social enterprise, philanthropy and corporate involvement were all on hand…  a stew pot of social good as delicious as any jambalaya.

Eleven of us from VolunteerMatch came out (Click here to see our “messaging map”), and we quickly fanned out to meet our friends, partners, clients, and members and catch up. For us, that meant our Client Relations team connected with our corporate audience to hear about CSR and Employee volunteering.  Our education team got involved in the Summit on Advanced Volunteer Engagement and other critical conversations about volunteer engagement and capacity building. Our marketing and communications folks sat down with the growing group of brands and brand marketers who are involved in volunteer-related campaigns. And we all got to hear from the most inspiring stories in service this year.

The “southern stars” were also out at three big general sessions. Civil rights activist Ruby Bridges talked about how service enriches not just our communities, but souls too. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour talked about shared responsibility in disaster response. News star Soledad O’Brien talked about reaching children one child at a time. Branford Marsalis, Percy Sledge and many other musicians helped keep the beat (and keep our blood flowing in the 92 degree summer swelter. And New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu shared a heart-felt thanks for how the nationwide community of volunteers and nonprofits have helped NOLA regain its swing.

More Sessions than a Bourbon Street Jazzman

And in between all the fun we also learned and developed our skills. The conference provided 170 different sessions on nearly every topic related to volunteering under the sun. It was encouraging to see so much attention being paid to the needs of the organizations, schools, and companies we work with to engage volunteers in nonprofit missions. Among the session topics that we were most interested in, a few that stand out included:

  • Measuring and reporting volunteer engagement impact
  • Preparing your organization to meet the demand of volunteers
  • Pro bono service models
  • Corporate-nonprofit partnership best practices
  • Disaster relief and social media
  • Online community building
  • Building sustainable programs
  • The upcoming tenth anniversary of the 9/11 Day of Service

And these are just the start of the many great topics and workshops in New Orleans.

Next Year in Chicago

At the close of the event was the news that 2012’s conference will take place June 18-20 in Chicago, a great American city and home of our current President. We even got to see a video greeting from new Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, sharing his excitement to host next year’s event and inviting everyone in for a little Chicago soul.

Follow the Notes

Where else can you go to find out how NCVS in NOLA went? For starters, the NCVS blog has lots of great recaps as well, and you can get there from here. You can see official photos the conference here. Videos are available on the conference website. And Twitter is chock filled with tweets and links by leading voices from the conference, making it easy to follow the NCVS hashtag to all kinds of great posts from @myimpact, @lauragonzo, @pointsoflight, @servedotgov, our very own @volunteermatch, @createthegood, @socialcitizen, @repair_dan, @handsonnetwork and many, many more.

Did you go to NCVS this year? Share you story with us here. We’d love to hear it.

(Photo: Points of Light)

Bookmarks: Crowdrise.com Uses Star Power, Humor to Inspire Giving

It has to be said…  Crowdrise puts the “fun” back into fundraising.

In addition to a hefty dose of star power courtesy of co-founder Edward Norton and some of his famous friends, the newish Web service offers up an altogether different flavor of online cause engagement than the many similar sites that have popped up in recent years: laughs!

In a world where cause marketing and cause campaigning is all too somber, Crowdrise’s messaging is very, very clever. With online communities, branding and group identity is so important. By putting irony and a lighthearted approach at the center of its site, Crowdrise hopes to appeal to a young audience already familiar with social networking platforms, and taking advantage of their existing connections to spread awareness, raise money, and organize events for nonprofits.

“If you don’t give back, no one will like you.”

The focus is on supporters, and turning them from grassroots activists to grassroots fundraisers. They also give out points for everything- from signing up to receive emails, to following them on Facebook, and of course for starting projects and raising funds. Taking cues from Foursquare and recent Yelp changes, top point-earners at Crowdrise can win prizes and earn special status within the crowd, as “Doctors,” “Tsars,” “Sirs” or “Dames.”

It’s about making volunteering and fundraising fun, and using it as a form of self-expression. Crowdrise allows supporters to find creative ways to make your nonprofit a part of their personal narrative, and that’s what makes them stand out. From the crowd.

For nonprofits, raising money for your cause through Crowdrise is a snap, both for you and your supporters. As long as your nonprofit is a US-registered 501(c)3 that has been around for more than a month and a half, you’re already in their system (thanks to the GuideStar database). Just provide your basic info, and about two minutes later your nonprofit has an active profile.

Supporters can then create their profiles, start a project to benefit your cause, ask their existing connections to donate, and boom- the project is viral. Let the fundraising begin!

Like most similar sites, Crowdrise takes a cut — or as they call it, a “not wanting to go out of business trying to help you raise money in new ways” fee. It’s 5%, plus a transaction fee of $1 for gifts that are under $25, and $2.50 for those over $25. Donations are processed securely using Amazon Payments.

But the basic service is free to nonprofits, and everything is well-designed and very user friendly. (Please note: by “service,” we mean actual service — there are real people answering emails and having conversations via twitter and facebook.) In the 2 minutes it takes to register, with no need for I.T. or graphics professionals, you can create a compelling page for your organization. Your supporters do the rest!

LOL-ing About

The site is a delight to explore, there are LOL-worthy tidbits everywhere. Its page for anonymous donors, for example, refers to those folks as, “donors who are so honorable that they give anonymously yet they want everyone to know about it.” Wham.

They keep things active and interesting, using real time updates and calls to action like, “Next person to raise at least $14 and chime about it gets a free Crowdrise hoodie!”

See? Crowdrise is just more fun than competing sites (even those with “fun” names like Givezooks! and Razoo). This is a service that has been allowed to have personality — or the online fundraising equivalent of “the cool kids.” It’s something new, innovative, and definitely worth exploring for any nonprofit looking to engage supporters and raise awareness, particularly with a younger audience.

And doesn’t every nonprofit want to do that? We thought so…