Imagine Your Nonprofit is a Tree, and Volunteers Will Help it Grow…

How one organization has engaged volunteers to help its efforts to fight hunger in America grow and bear fruit for thousands of struggling people.

Guest post by RL Mathews

Nurture your nonprofit to reap the fruits of its harvestAccording to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, limited resources prevent over 50 million Americans from getting enough food, forcing many to go without food for several meals, or even days. But among the forest of nonprofit organizations that are attempting to address this issue, there is a tree of hope that grows in the heart of America, one that was planted in 1979 and is respectfully known as Harvester’s Community Food Network.

The symbolic reference to a tree is an ideal representation of this amazing organization because in order to produce good fruit a tree must first have good soil; a foundation in which to spread its roots and grow. Harvester’s Community Food Network laid its foundation in the Midwest over 33 years ago with its mission “to feed hungry people today and work to end hunger tomorrow”.

And just like a tree, Harvester’s Community Food Network has required water and
sunlight to grow, and these vital nutrients are represented by the generous donations and spirited energies of its volunteers. Every day hundreds of amazing people from all walks of life pull together to give life to a tree that has grown to bear the fruits of an abundant harvest – one that has produced more than 42 million pounds of food in 2012 alone.

And what good is a fruitful harvest if it cannot be used to nourish the minds and bodies of those who need it? Once again, because of the solid foundation and dedicated nurturing, the branches of this tree have grown to extend their reach to over 600 agencies in 26 counties across eastern Kansas and western Missouri, making the fruits of its harvest accessible to as many as 66,000 people per week, all of which have helped to establish Harvester’s Community Food Network as a tree of hope for thousands who struggle with hunger each day.

But Harvester’s cannot solve the issue of hunger in America alone. If we are to
meet this challenge head-on it will require the other trees of this forest to produce, as well. In order for these trees to reap the benefits of a fruitful harvest, these challenges can be overcome by following Harvester’s example:

Plant Your Tree in Good Soil

Planting the seed of your nonprofit is vital to establishing its foundation and continued growth. Make sure that your cause adds value to the needs of its recipients and that your intentions are reflected clearly in your mission statement. Once you’ve established your foundation it is important that you communicate your cause by promoting your organization using all the traditional forms of promotion, such as organization websites, social media and special events.

Nurture Your Tree

Engaging and retaining volunteers is just one of the many key challenges that face nonprofit organizations today, but one that is critical to the nurturing and ongoing growth of your tree. As a long-time volunteer, I can tell you from experience that volunteering is a personal choice and one that is made for different reasons. However, by using these key examples established by Harvester’s you can learn some important ways to engage and retain the volunteers so vital to the nurturing and growth of your tree:

  • Communicate your volunteer opportunities – This not only means using the traditional forms of promotion such as organization websites, social media and special events, but also utilizing alternative platforms for informing potential volunteers of their choices. VolunteerMatch is a prime example of this type of alternative platform and one that was instrumental in informing me about the volunteer opportunities available in my community.
  • Encourage volunteer interaction – Use your platforms of promotion as a vehicle to encourage current volunteers to share their personal stories. By doing so it not only informs the community about your organization and helps advance interest in your cause, but it brings to light the personal rewards of volunteering and lets other potential volunteers know the value that’s being added to people’s lives by volunteering.

Reap the Harvest!

In the forest of nonprofits, to address the challenges of fighting hunger in America today, we can all learn a lot from Harvester’s Community Food Network. By following their example we can establish our own tree of hope and bear the fruits of an abundant harvest for years to come!

RL Mathews is a longtime volunteer in the community, writer and owner of A Man Of His Word, a company that promotes organizations in the nonprofit sector.