Great things happen for our programs when our work aligns with what we love to do The more I work with volunteer engagement pros, the more I come to believe that we grow as our programs grow.
Take my friend and colleague Nikki Clifford. Nikki had never thought of herself as a volunteer manager. For many years she worked as an administrative assistant and then as a meeting planner – as someone focused on the operational side of things, implementing the ideas of others more than getting her own projects off the ground.
Meanwhile, Nikki found herself drawn to volunteering. She became involved with Single Volunteers of DC, a group that brings singles together to volunteer for nonprofit events. She loved the group so much that she volunteered to run the entire venture, managing dozens of events each month and coordinating hundreds of volunteers. She even met her husband, John, on an SVDC event.
But Nikki still pursued meeting planner positions, thinking that her volunteer pursuits were something she enjoyed on the side, more like a hobby than a profession.
All that changed when she saw a notice for a volunteer coordinator position at Food for Others (FFO), a food pantry in Fairfax, VA. The lightbulb went off that her love of working with volunteers might translate into a satisfying job. She took the position, and in the space of two years moved from part-time Volunteer Coordinator to full-time Volunteer and Operation Manager. What Nikki found at FFO was a chance to flex her leadership muscles and transform FFO’s volunteer program into something larger and more impactful.
Nikki’s first move was to organize the program. When she first arrived, volunteers would simply show up and help with whatever staff requested. Sometimes volunteers arrived and had nothing to do. Nikki turned things around by creating specific, defined volunteer roles, creating shifts of volunteers. She started to track the entire process and cultivate relationships with various groups that reached out to volunteer. The result is a program that has grown to accommodate up to 1,000 volunteers in a month and over 24,000 hours of donated time per year.
Once organized, Nikki launched a new program from the ground up. The Power Pack Program (P3) provides low-income school children with packs of food that the children take home each weekend. Nikki did the outreach to schools to bring them on board, contacted corporations for food and pack donations, and recruited a new cadre of volunteers to assemble and deliver the backpacks. The program, which started with 6 elementary schools, now serves 29 schools and this year provided 65,000 packs to hungry children. The program also generates revenue, bringing in over $100,000 in contributions from the public.
And Nikki is not done. Now in her sixth year at FFO, she sees the potential to expand the P3 andinclude even more volunteers. She hopes to add fresh fruit to the packs and is eager to do more outreach to make her vision a reality. “Who doesn’t want to feed a hungry child?”
Nikki gets thoughtful when she reflects on what she’s learned from embracing a profession so aligned with what she loves to do. “I thought I was organized but now I am so much more organized.”
“I’ve also discovered I’m a good salesperson. I enjoy getting in front of a room and seeing people get excited about volunteering.”
Most of all, Nikki sees volunteers as an incredibly valuable resource for nonprofits, especially when their skills are fully tapped.
“I get truly excited about what people can accomplish,” says Nikki. “It’s kind of infectious.”
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.
Elisa Kosarin, CVA coaches, trains, and consults on volunteer management. She believes volunteers are a powerful force for change in our communities — if they are managed by volunteer engagement pros with the skills to cultivate this resource.