In many of my past jobs and internships, I worked with volunteers. And I loved it. But, I struggled with data and I know many organizations still do.
In college, my non-profit internship had me managing my program in a three ring binder. Useful for me, but not so useful for other staff members of the small office who might benefit from the information I gleaned. And my bad hand-writing, use of acronyms, and cryptic notes might not have made that much sense to my colleagues or future volunteer coordinators.
As my career progressed, so did the role of technology in my volunteer management and tracking. I went from binders, to excel, to access, to creating custom fields in database programs. And it helped, the writing was cleaner, the types of information we gathered was more streamlined. I could finally figure out quickly and easily who had actually shown up before to phone bank, so I could start with that list to fill up the slots when urgent legislative action called for mobilization.
However, a large problem remained even as my data solutions improved – the data was always sitting in a silo. And I’m not talking about the kind of silos you find on a farm. Even in an office of 5, the person in charge of asking for donations didn’t always know who had volunteered. Or the volunteer coordinator didn’t know that the person signed up to table at the county fair was also a board member.
Organizations large and small could benefit from sharing volunteer information. One of the primary barriers to integrating volunteer data with other important organizational data was showing the potential value that volunteers bring across the organization. There are many “outside the box activities” that volunteers can be involved in, which points to the need for your volunteer information to live and be accessible in the same place as your other important constituents.
Here are a few ideas of how other departments, programs or teams could collaborate with you to make the most of your volunteer base.
1. Volunteers as Donors: I wish it was more widely known and accepted, but volunteers are current or future donors and should always be treated as such. While it may be true that some volunteers may never donate and some donors may never volunteer, those who do both will likely give you a lot more money. In fact, a 2009 study indicated that on average, volunteers donate 10 times more money to charity than people who don’t volunteer.
2. Volunteers as Spokespeople: Volunteers can help you write letters to the editor, produce heartwarming videos about the work your organization does, submit quotes for your newsletter or mailing and more.
3. Volunteers as Media Resources: Volunteers can tweet, comment on your blog, post to your blog, and even connect you with their friend who happens to write for the local paper, blog or other media outlet.
4. Volunteers as Government Relations Resources: Volunteers may want to participate in a lobby day or lead a portion of a lobby day training for their peer activists. They may also have a compelling story to share with an elected official on lobby visit.
When all is said and done, your volunteers will feel ever more valuable to your organization and you will have more resources at your disposal. Just don’t forget the most important thing – thank your volunteers early and often!
Shelly Banjo with the Wall Street Journal wrote an article for today’s edition with that title, to bring attention to the financial mistakes people make when giving to charities—and how to avoid them. It is a good piece and we are proud that they use data from our recent study on year-end giving to help bring attention to the article. Both the article and the study are worth reading, but this is about my being stupid – or at least feeling stupid thanks to my 10-year old son.
Last night, Andrew, my son was reading Hallowed Ground, the publication of The Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT). He read how CWPT is trying to raise the money to buy property in the middle of The Wilderness Battlefield so that they can protect that hallowed ground. Even at 10-years of age, he knows building a development there would “be messing with America’s heritage” to quote him. He ran (really ran) upstairs to get the $25 his Grammy Sue and Papa Carl gave him during their Thanksgiving visit to donate to the cause. I am proud of him for being so passionate and I went online and matched his gift and used my Facebook page to help get others to match. (By the way CWPT does an amazing job of integrating traditional direct mail, online and other channels to tell their story, but that is a post for another time, this is about me being “stupid.”)
Now to get to the stupid part. A little later on, after pulling another $20 out of his piggy bank, Andrew asked me the question I was not ready for:
“Which is more important, saving battlefields or helping people, like the homeless?”
I was all ready for the questions about Santa Claus, girls and where babies come from, but I wasn’t ready for this.
We have been supportive of organizations like the Capital Area Food Bank and Mobile Loaves and Fishes which does an amazing job of supporting the homeless. We often carry socks filled with water and energy bars to give to the homeless on Austin’s streets. Andrew has also watched as we have supported Newman University, my alma mater to provide scholarship and other assistance to students. After visiting Gettysburg on our vacation this summer and learning more about the Civil War we are also proud to support CWPT and the work they do. We also give to our parish. All of which are important to us and the people those organizations serve.
But, which is more important? Here is the rest of the conversation:
Me: “They all are important for different reasons.”
Andrew: “I know, but which one is most important? I mean people have lives and while battlefields and schools are important, we kind of have to have people?”
Me: “Yeah, did you just see that catch by the Eagles receiver?” (#fail on my efforts to change the subject and probably as a parent with that answer.)
Andrew: “Really Dad, maybe the $20 from my piggy bank should go to help people. What do you think?”
Me: “I’m proud of you for wanting to help, let’s talk...”
We had a great conversation about how we give, what we give and how that helps people. I am sure I did not do justice to the “what is more important?” I showed him an article from my alumni magazine about the great work doctors who graduated from Newman are doing, a story about a graduate who is on the frontlines of rehabilitating terrorists, and the graduate who is a priest serving the poor. We looked at what our Church does to help families, the homeless and communities. We looked at the Mobile Loaves & Fishes website to read about how they are changing lives. We finished on the CWPT website and he talked about how important it is to never forget. We talked a bit about how our modest support helps all those organizations in their mission – a term he knew that I can be sure was not really in my vocabulary at 10 – and other ways to help beyond just money.
I think he understood. We now have fewer canned goods in our pantry as he prepared a sack for the Food Bank; on Saturday he will be my elf as I serve as Santa for homeless children at a local church; tonight he plans to get some of his clothes that he has outgrown to give to the shelter; he plans to give some of his old books to the library at the children’s hospital; and I promised to restock our socks, water and food for the homeless.
This was a great lesson for the 46-year old in the room. While all the organizations are important and one can debate the “which is more important” question for eternity, what is most important is that we as parents teach our kids how important it is for them to do what they can – big and little – to make a difference. To take from our blessings to share with others.
In this season and year-round, I am so glad that there are people that are willing to make a difference and nonprofit organizations there to make the world a better place. As I write this I also know I am truly blessed with my kids: Ashley who is philanthropy chair at her Texas State University sorority and a SIFE member who has raised or helped raise thousands for Ronald McDonald House and others. Rachel my high school senior who was quoted in the Austin American Statesman this weekend around her efforts to support a single mom and her child and is helping with a nonprofit called "Saving Sofie." And Andrew, who is not only giving, but willing to teach his dad a lesson on giving. Mom sure has done a great job – the question is “have I?”
If you contact employees at Convio on a regular basis, last week you may have gotten several out of the office notices stating that they were out for the day but would return your email or phone call as soon as possible. This was because last week Convio sponsored our annual Convio Cares Week when each employee is encouraged to participate in a service project in our local communities. It’s a great chance for us to get out into the community, support organizations we care about, and get to work with one another in a context outside of our daily jobs. The event makes me more proud to work for Convio because I think it reflects our culture to support the nonprofit community.
The project that I volunteered at with fifteen other Convio employees was a classroom makeover for a local Austin school, Gus Garcia Middle School. The room is used by Communities in Schools of Central Texas, a local affiliate of the largest national dropout prevention organization. Communities in Schools works with other nonprofit organizations to bring programs into schools to help students with academics, social issues, counseling, mentoring, and financial support. As students passed by our classroom throughout the day while we were working I came to understand how important Communities in Schools is to each of them. Their smiles and excitement over the changes we were making was priceless.
Our challenge was that the classroom was not originally well suited for the activities that take place in it. There are often sensitive conversations that counselor and volunteers need to have with students. Small groups of students also need an environment where they can feel at home, distinct from the other classrooms that they are sitting in throughout the day. We were asked to think of a way that we could divide the room into several areas that could be comfortably used for various activities. We wanted to soften the room with design, decorations, and furniture.
We supplemented a small budget with donated items from TOPS, a local office furniture and supply company that donated literally a 14 foot truck full of shelves, chairs, tables, and other supplies. The shelves were used to divide the room into 3 sections and then we used curtains, lamps, rugs, and shades to create unique spaces. Lunch was also donated by Jason’s Deli which we gobbled up as we learned more about Communities in Schools and the work they do from the program coordinator, Melissa.
I also love to volunteer because it reminds me of how the money that I’m helping nonprofit organizations raise is being used. It’s important to keep this in mind when designing campaigns to acquire new supporters or raise awareness for a cause. It’s fun to feel physically tired after a day off good deeds. The results from our efforts at Convio last week: almost 30 projects completed in 7 states and DC which amounts to thousands of hours donated to help out some great causes. Check out pictures from several of the projects at our Convio Flickr photo set for Convio Cares Week 2010.
Update: I forgot to mention another generous donor who helped us out on the project. HOME DEPOT La Frontera donated: 4 area rugs, chain for curtain system and other small items like zip ties, adhesive spray. The rugs were a huge help because they can generally be so expensive. Thanks Home Depot!
I missed one of my favorite local non-profit’s fundraising events while traveling last week.
So Others Might Eat hosts an empty bowls fundraiser every year. Perhaps you have been to one in your community – check here for a list of many empty bowls events across the country.
What is empty bowls? Local artists donate hand-made bowls, restaurants provide the soup and (if you are lucky) another business provides freshly made breads and desserts. Thank goodness my boyfriend was there to donate and pick up two nice bowls (sage green and grey with blue spots) perfect for pasta to add to our collection.
What I love about this event (aside from the bowls of course) is the sense of community it creates around the organization. Here are the key points that help me connect throughout the night.
1. Reading about the community businesses and artists that come together to donate to the event. They end up in sponsor lists like this and make me think how I can support the businesses that support SOME.
2. Talking about the most popular soup options with the volunteers – helping me think about SOME’s work feeding those in need.
3. Debating with friends about which bowl would be best to add to your collection – making me think about returning year after year and those like me who do as well.
4. Chatting with the stranger next to you in line and finding out about what brought them to the event – SOME’s mission, a friend’s invitation, or maybe they made the bowl I am eating from.
5. Having someone rinse your bowl before the ride home, so you don’t get soup all over. It’s just a nice gesture that shows the organization has really thought this event through.
6. After the event they continue to foster that community online with an image gallery.
Building community is one of the greatest strengths that non-profits bring to the table. And grassroots events like this highlight that asset. I can’t wait for next year!
If you live in one of the many areas blanketed by snow the past few weeks, you might be looking for a cure for cabin fever. The Great Backyard Bird Count is this weekend, February 12 - 15, 2010, and it's great way to get outside with family and friends, have fun, and help birds—all at the same time. #GBBC happens once a year, when tens of thousands of bird watchers of all ages create a snapshot of where the birds are across the U.S. & Canada.
All you have to do to participate is spend at least 15 minutes on one or more of the four days counting birds anywhere you like, and then report your results on www.birdcount.org by March 1, 2010. You can count birds from your window, balcony or backyard, from a park, a lake, a river or the ocean, from a bus stop or an office or anywhere at all. (Hint: you don’t actually have to go outside if you don’t want to!)
The project web site allows you to generate a checklist of birds likely to be present in your region, which you can also print and use to record your observations. There is also a photo contest and plenty of educational content to help involve young folk in this important citizen science project. You can even download a certificate if you submit your results online – how’s that for show and tell?
Well, I’m off to get some more bird seed. Happy Counting!
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