50 States of Good: Reflections on Being a Judge for Tom’s of Maine’s Community Contest

Editor’s Note: Recently VolunteerMatch’s own Greg Price joined an esteemed group of social change experts including Connie Chan (Yahoo! for Good), Beth Kanter (co-author of Networked Nonprofit), Sam Davidson (Cool People Care) and Robert Egger (DC Central Kitchen) to help identify some of the America’s most worthwhile causes. The ’50 States of Good’ campaign, sponsored by Tom’s of Maine, announced its finalists today. When the dust clears, five organizations will split $100,000 in grants. We asked Greg to reflect on his experience as a judge.

Guest post by Greg Price

Because the Tom’s of Maine brand is so closely identified with CSR, giving back, and community stewardship, I was very excited when Tom’s of Maine chose to partner with VolunteerMatch to help power the volunteer engagement portion of its 50 States for Good campaign.

I was even more excited when I was asked to help judge the top contenders for their award. Despite the 73,000 nonprofits that participate at VolunteerMatch, I spend most of my time working with brands and companies to develop their volunteer engagement programs. So to have my insight into what works in the nonprofit space  regarded highly enough to be asked was seriously flattering.

Here are a few insights from my time as a judge:

Overwhelming Good – I looked at 60 seperate projects, each with their own merits, and each serving as a passionate response to a serious problem.

Scoring the Best – At first, I was overwhelmed at the thought of evaluating so many different proposals — they all seemed worthy on some level, and there really is no single criteria for determining social value.  To at least create some standardization, Tom’s of Maine provided a spreadsheet scoring each project on three different categories:

  • Use of community volunteers
  • Achievability (the projects have to be completed and reported on within 6 months of receiving the grant from Tom’s)
  • Positive impact on the community

Within this criteria, I was happy this was such a good fit. Our mission, after all, is to help nonprofits find the right volunteers.

Innovation Everywhere – Innovation was a common thread throughout the group, combining new technologies with long-term ideals and missions.

Some Common Themes — It could be that Tom’s, with its abiding eco-focus,  attracts a certain type of project sponsor. But many of the proposed projects focused on a few common interests: greening urban spaces, protecting natural resources, animal rights, and youth focused projects were among the most common.

Seeds of Change: The 41 finalists represent an amazingly bright future for social change and the nonprofit sector as a whole. Between now and September 10 the public will weigh in. Whichever organizations win in the end, their passion and creative ideas will have positive impacts in their communities and inspire others to get involved.

Thanks Tom’s for helping more Americans get out and do good!