Silly Class photo

Three Lessons from a Peer Leader Whose AmeriYear is Swiftly Coming to a Close

As I write, we have less than a week until our service year is over and I have a lot of emotions about this all of which are waiting to be processed until we get everything officially finished up.Mean Girls gif featuring woman in red shirt crying and saying, That said, I decided to recycle some material for this final blogpost in the form of my capstone presentation. One of our final deliverables of the year is the capstone presentation, in which VMCs and PLs give a 3 minute speech on what their service year has looked like, what they’ve learned, and what they’ve accomplished. It’s a big task to narrow 6.12 million seconds down to 180, but we all did it, and it was easily one of my favorite training days.

For my presentation, I decided to share three lessons that I have learned this year. I hope they’ll be of use to anyone else who might be joining Volunteer Maryland, another national service program, or just interested in reading my carefully meditated reflections.

(I left some of my stage directions in this blogpost so that you get the ~full effect~ so that’s what’s happening when you see a non sequitur in brackets.)

Lesson #1: Being supportive means something different every time

When I first introduced myself to the VM 28 Class in late September, I described myself as a support person, but, to be honest, I didn’t really know what that all entailed. As a Peer Leader, I have been able to explore the importance of support and unravel the meaning of support—and frankly I’m still unraveling.

Modern Family character pointing to camera and giving thumbs up.Because sometimes, support for VMCs meant asking “How are you doing?” and listening. For some VMCs, support meant letting them do their thing and giving a jovial thumbs up [demonstrate especially jovial thumbs up] when good things happened. For other VMCs support meant working 1-1 together to learn a design program.

So… this year, I’ve learned about how incredibly important support is to getting things done at VM and beyond, and I’ve also learned that being supportive means something different every time.

Lesson #2: Collaboration is awesome… and hard, but mostly awesome

I summed up a lot of my feelings about this in a blog post, because that’s what we do at VM, but I just wanted to reiterate this, because, through collaboration, I’ve learned a lot about things I would not have otherwise learned about.

Amelia and Chelsea in a field holding bouquets of kale.
Chelsea (right) and I with our curly kale bouquets.

Now, I’ve worked with a lot of different people over the year, but, as most of you already know, I’ve mostly worked with my fellow Peer Leader At Large, Chelsea, and let me tell you… [hold for dramatic pause] it’s been really fun. Albeit, we challenge each other often and it’s really hard to maintain balance, we’ve also laughed a lot and made some incredible discoveries. And seeing the fruits of our collaborative labor is just really exciting, so… Collaboration is awesome and hard, but mostly awesome.

Finally #3: Everything is a learning experience if you think it is

Cat stuck in a flip-flop.
Sometimes you’re stuck like a cat in a flip-flop.

I say this, because sometimes we look back on our negative experiences, [begin shrinking and slumping] and we dwell and feel bad and sink into a rut,  BUT [spring back up] I propose we, if we’re not doing so already, look at these things as learning experiences.

A personal example: last spring, I experienced [dramatic, deep voice like Alan Rickman saying something grave] “The Dip” that VM always talks about, but you never really believe them until it happens to you. I acknowledge that I wasn’t at my best in those times, and in order to get myself back to my best, I had to learn about what I needed to do to feel motivated and energized at work.

So… when you look back on your service year, remember that Everything is a learning experience if you think it is.

[take a breath]

Section literally called, “BRING IT ALL HOME,” in my notes

This year, I’ve learned about the dynamism of support, about the challenge and joy of collaboration, and the positiveness we sow by thinking about the past as a series Lof learning experiences. These lessons and all of the other things that we’ve been talking about today, are ones that we have discovered together through incredible resilience and drive. It has always been so inspiring to support you, collaborate with you, and learn with you. So thank you for sharing your service year with me.

Silly class photo of VM 28
This year’s AmeriCorps graduates! We’re professionals!

My Season 2 Finale

When I first started as a Peer Leader, I was nervous. I thought that not having a site, unlike my year as a VMC, would leave me aimless or unmotivated. Instead, I got to live vicariously through all  29 of the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators.

eating popcorn tvIt was kind of like being obsessed with an HBO show when you don’t have HBO. You can’t watch, so you just read the episode summaries on Wikipedia and talk to your friends about it (a lot), and every so often you get the chance to go to someone else’s home and watch an episode live. It’s such a thrill that it keeps you hooked and asking for more. So let me tell you about my favorite series, The Life and Times of a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator. There are other people who are much more qualified to speak to the details, after all, they actually lived them, but I read the books so I think I’m qualified to tell you all about it anyway and make predictions.

Let’s start with the setting. The communities I (vicariously) worked with throughout Maryland were incredibly different and incredibly the same. Wherever I went, I saw diverse groups of people coming together, driven by a pragmatic optimism and a basic need to connect. From clients to volunteers, no one would be in this work if we didn’t think things could get better. Sites are the hub and the fuel for this. They reinforce these feelings and attitudes and give physical form to intentions.

The charaflower cyclonecters in this show are incredible. They’re complex, they’re
intense, but they’re ultimately focused on one thing: the mission. The great challenge set before these Volunteer Maryland Coordinators is to catch a thousand petals on the wind and somehow make flowers from them. It’s so exciting to watch, but also very anxiety-inducing. I like to think I’m not just shouting at the TV when I try to offer then words of advice, but either way they somehow always work it out.

As you could guess, the my experience following this show has been nothing like what I expected. It was a profound lesson in communication, yet also in letting go. You find your limits when you’re pulled in fourteen different directions, but you also find your comforts. More than that, you find your sources of joy.

I found that in each episode, or each visit, there didn’t need to be a major plot point, there just needed to be some sort of revelation. Some sign that after the encounter something would be different, and for the better. I guess I have that insatiable optimism too.

that's all folksSo there it is: my favorite show in a nutshell. The second season has been nothing like the first, but it turned out to be just as intriguing and rewarding. Oh, and spoiler alert! I think the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators will all have a happy ending.

Instagram #Inspiration: Benefits and Tips for Service-Oriented Organizations

Social media has been a driving factor for the marketing departments of many businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies. People are on social media more than ever before. In 2015, 76% of Internet users in the US had at least one social media profile. So naturally, marketers go where the people are. For both non-profit and for-profit businesses, social media is a way to gain more resources. Whether it’s through advertising the next big thing in subscription-based deliverable goods or boosting support for a local fundraiser, social media is crucial for development.

Parks and Rec gif of Tom Haverford saying, "Every day I start by hitting up Facebook, Twitter, tumblr, and Instagram."

So, how can AmeriCorps and other service-oriented programs utilize social media in a savvy way to promote volunteerism and the awesome work they do?

Well, I could speak about the benefits of every social media platform out there, but I won’t. Instead, I’m going to focus on a little Peer Leader Pet Project that Chelsea and I have been working on since way back in September 2015, when we first started at VM: INSTAGRAM! First, I’m going to introduce why VM has an Instagram, and then I’ll follow that with some general tips for success!

Instagram by the numbers: InstaWHOA

Now, I am personally drawn to Instagram, because I’m a creative person and I really like visual interpretations of people’s worlds, but let’s look at some of the numbers: Instagram is the third most-used social media platform, capturing the attention of 28% of Internet users (following Facebook and Pinterest). On June 21st, 2016, Instagram announced that they had hit 500 million users, more than 300 million of which use Instagram daily. In addition to this, Instagram reports that 80% of their users are from outside of the US.

Nina Garcia saying, "This is such an Instagram moment."

Instagram has a huge, global pool of users to connect with, which means organizations have the potential to reach a whole bunch of people–whether they’re potential AmeriCorps members or just want to find a place to volunteer in their hometown–that they would not have reached otherwise.

“Don’t tell me–SHOW me.”

As I mentioned before, Instagram is unique from other social media platforms, because it’s focused on images and videos. This allows for a compelling, creative method of telling your organization’s story. And to VM, storytelling is important. For Chelsea and I, the VM Instagram is a way to show off the cool stuff our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators are doing. We like to focus on the interesting, not-your-everyday-job type of activities (like hanging out with horses that are older than you, see below). This material not only gives our followers a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on during a Volunteer Maryland service year, but it also shows how much fun we have during our service year! Our current AmeriCorps members get to feel proud of what they do, potential AmeriCorps members can see a glimpse into a future with Volunteer Maryland, our partners get more air time, and other organizations can see what we’re up to.

Happy #AmeriFriday from Freedom Hills! VMC Valerie, her volunteer Katherine, horse DeeDee, Program Manager Nicki, and Peer Leader Chelsea enjoyed some time in the #sun today after a successful final #partnership meeting. Thank your for your #service to #veterans and the #disabled Valerie and Katherine! (And DeeDee!!) Fun Fact: Katherine and DeeDee will soon compete together in a Dressage show for their Century Club Award, available to a horse and rider team whose combined age is 100+ #AmeriCorps #ServeWithMe #NationalService #AmeriCorpsPride #AmeriCorpsAlums #VolunteerMaryland #VM #horses #farm #equinetherapy #volunteer #volunteers #Friday #easternshore #PortDeposit #Maryland #MD #vets #rehabilitation #dressage #seniorhorse #DeeDeeis30

A photo posted by Volunteer Maryland (@volunteer_maryland) on


“Follow4Follow?”: Connecting with other programs

Many AmeriCorps programs are currently on Instagram! The Corporation for National and Community Service, Points of Light, AmeriCorps Alums, City Year, the Choice Program at UMBC, and Arizona Conservation Corps are all awesome accounts to follow, because they always have interesting posts and they demonstrate effective Instagram usage. We can also connect with any organization that has a public account, and we can even repost each other’s content. For example, AmeriCorps Alums liked one of our group photos and reposted it on their account to show off some AmeriPride, which also granted VM a bigger platform (see below).

Love this proud #AmeriGrad picture from @volunteer_maryland #americorps graduation!

A photo posted by americorpsalums (@americorpsalums) on


Tips for InstaSuccess:

Follow others, especially organizations that are doing awesome stuff like you!

When we first made the VM Instagram account, we immediately set out to follow all of the organizations that were like us, and then we branched out a bit. So follow all of the accounts linked above, but also check out the  Maryland State Archives and Maryland’s Office of Tourism (incredible use of Instagram by some of our own state agencies), as well as Baltimore City Rec and Parks, Maryland Food Bank, and ALL of the National Parks Instagrams (and there are so many), but especially the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Hashtags. Use them. All of them.

Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake yelling, "Hashtag!" in unison, while creating a hashtag symbol with their fingers.For every picture we post, we use the AmeriCorps hashtags (#AmeriCorps #AmeriCorpsAlums #gettingthingsdone #servewithme, etc.) and we also try to make use of other popular hashtags like #tbt/#throwbackthursday or #wellnesswednesday. Get creative and make your own hashtag for a weekly activity, but don’t forget to…

Post consistently.

Pretty self-explanatory, but but don’t abandon your Instagram for long periods of time and get disappointed that you had no new likes or follows. We generally try to post 1-3 times a week. Nonprofit Tech For Good recommends to post at least weekly and has lots of other good recommendations in this. 

Infographic describing the best and worst times to post on social media.

Mix it up

Instagram allows you to post photos, videos, and (if you have good apps) collages of anything you want, so mix it up in terms of content and layout! Post selfies, landscapes, action shots, some Boomerang videos!

Big Questions and Big Answers from #ServiceUnites

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 2.52.15 PMLast week I had the immense privilege of attending Points of Light’s annual Conference on Service and Volunteerism. This year’s conference, “Service Unites,” centered on themes of engagement and inclusion in the 21st century world of volunteerism and national service. There were many amazing speakers from many diverse backgrounds and experiences. Throughout the conference they asked and answered questions which felt somewhat familiar to someone whose volunteer management background has been shaped by Volunteer Maryland’s holistic training model. Hearing their different answers, however, was reinvigorating and inspiring. Here are some of the big questions I found most interesting to consider and reconsider. What are your answers?

Why is service important?

“Volunteerism is a passion that makes impact.” – Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service

As a second-term AmeriCorps member I feel like I have to find and justify answers to this question a lot. Unsurprisingly, CNCS CEO Wendy Spencer has her answer on lockdown. We all want to follow our passions, but a passion for service gets things done!

How can volunteerism change people and communities?

“Service is an opportunity to build empathy and understanding.” – Chad Hiu, National Specialist for Diversity & Inclusion with the YMCA

Chad Hiu and Emily Holthaus, the YMCA’s National Director of Social Responsibility, led an engaging and deeply interactive session on the “social benefits of volunteerism” and how we might structure our volunteer programs in order to promote inclusive communities. The session reminded us of the value of volunteerism in community-building and the great responsibility with which that leaves us as volunteer managers.

How do we effectively lead volunteers?

“You must act your way into change.” – Jennifer Bennett, Volunteer Program Manager at VolunteerMatch

There are a million great answers to this important question, but at her session “From the Inside Out: Creating a Culture of Volunteer Engagement,” Jennifer Bennett highlighted the necessity for volunteer program administrators to walk the walk when asking for change. It’s not enough to put an expectation in the Policies and Procedures, she posited, you’ve got to live it.

How can we achieve sustainability?

“Charity is temporary, but solidarity creates permanent change.” – Brittany Packnett, Executive Director of Teach for America: St Louis

The question of sustainability is one which Volunteer Maryland Coordinators are now confronting head-on as they prepare for their terms to end in early August. During the opening plenary, activist and AmeriCorps Alum Brittany Packnett offered a perspective on sustained change which resonated deeply with us in the audience. As she went on to explain, “if they most affected aren’t leading, it’s not a movement.”

What sort of mindset do we need to bring to this work?

“Have the tenacious attitude of change.” – Chris Lambert, President & CEO of Life Remodeled

Improving the world is hard work. It takes commitment, passion, and a good dose of optimism. If there’s one thing that the Points of Light conference showed me, however, it’s that we have a lot of allies. Changemakers are radicals, but we’re also everywhere, and with events like the Points of Light conference which bring us together around common goals, we become even more unstoppable.

Farming for Hunger

Our guest blogger is Rubab Azeem! Rubab is the Volunteer Maryland Coordinator for the Maryland Food Bank of the Eastern Shore. She works with the Farm to Food Bank Program to recruit and manage volunteers who participate in a process called gleaning, which involves collecting produce that is left in the field after a farm’s harvest.

Normally, rain on the Eastern Shore of Maryland is unpredictable and is something one just has to adapt to. But this spring, it has frustrated many for multiple reasons, mainly farmers who tend to plant around this time of the year. In the past few weeks, continuous rain has prevented farmers from properly planting crops that

Variety of produced gleaned during harvest season.
Variety of produced gleaned during harvest season.

will most likely delay harvest season. The consequences of this delay are unclear, as of now. However, for the Maryland Food Bank’s Farm to Food Bank Program, it’s a major concern as it works closely with farmers to feed the hungry.

The Farm to Food Bank Program

The Farm to Food Bank Program partners with a network of farms across the state to provide hungry Marylanders with fresh, local produce. Through a combination of field gleanings, donations and contract growing, these farms help the Maryland Food Bank supply good, nutritious food to food-insecure communities across the state. Since the program’s inception, in 2010, it has procured close to 5 million pounds of produce to feed the hungry. It is one of the fastest growing programs of the food bank.

Hunger in Maryland

A long line of food insecure individuals patiently waiting on a hot day to get food at a MD Food Bank’s partner agency in Denton
A long line of food insecure individuals patiently waiting on a hot day to get food at a MD Food Bank’s partner agency in Denton

Despite continued efforts, hunger continues to persist in the state. According to the Feeding America’s 2016 Map the Meal Gap Report, more than 750,000 Marylanders do not have enough to eat. It’s estimated that 1 in 8 Marylander is food insecure. These Marylanders needing food assistance are the homeless, seniors, children, and working families. Given today’s stagnate wages and rising cost of living, some individuals working full-time are struggling to put food on the table. Some don’t qualify for federal or state assistance as they earn too much leaving them to rely solely on the food bank and other hunger-relief agencies as they struggle to meet their basic needs.
The Farm to Food Bank Impact

The Farm to Food Bank Program provides locally grown fresh and nutritious produce for the food insecure. It gives the hungry access to fresh produce that otherwise would be too expensive for them to purchase. Last year, the program procured 1 million pounds of various produce to help feed the hungry. This would not have been possible without partner farmers and volunteers who helped glean various produce. However, this year’s delayed crop planting makes feeding the hungry a little more difficult. Usually, the food bank has fresh strawberries for partner agencies to distribute at the end of May. That has not been the case, this season. Apparently, strawberries are very delicate and require constant care. They don’t like too much sun and rain.

In unpredictable times like these, the food bank relies on donated non-perishable food items to feed the hungry. Though these items get the food-insecure through tough times. They don’t necessarily provide the most balanced meal. It is frightening to think what these individuals would resort to if the food bank and other hunger-relief agencies did not exist. What’s more frightening is how unaware the public is about the extent of hunger in this country. Many have a misconception of hunger only existing in Third World countries. While hunger does persist in those countries, it also exists in the developed world. The only difference is that in the developed world, individuals going hungry are very difficult to spot unless they live in extreme poverty. In the United States, there was a significant increase in hunger as a result of the financial and economic crisis of 2008. Since then, many individuals have struggled to provide for their basic needs.

Amazing young volunteers of the Farm to Food Bank Program
Amazing young volunteers of the Farm to Food Bank Program

Food insecurity is a multifaceted problem that requires multifaceted solutions. One of the multifaceted solutions to this problem is the Maryland Food bank with programs like the Farm to Food Bank Program that works toward providing nutritious food for individuals struggling to meet their basic needs.


Self-Reflection as a Professional Practice: Looking Forward to Looking Back

Currently VM is in a state of transition. We are moving into the end of the 2015-2016 service year, and starting to put together the 2016-2017 team. VM has also been moving out of our Baltimore office and into the Crownsville office we called our first home. All of this change has really made me think about the past year: what we have accomplished, what challenges we have been able to resolve, the new friends we’ve made, the skills we’ve strengthened.Reflection like this is good. It’s good at any time in the year when we want to take stock and look at where we’ve been and what we want to do next. Although reflection is not often associated with professional development, nor is it a task we are assigned to do, it’s something that can help us grow in the professional world, because it allows us to examine our experiences. We can find out what it is that makes work fun, we can find out what to avoid in the future, we can find out what we need to work on to make our next project even better. Reflection is all about being future focused on the past.

So for this blog post, I’m going to list some ways you can go about reflecting on your professional experiences. Some are more formal than others, some require more planning than others, but I hope there’s an idea in this list that you can utilize to start your own self-reflection at work.

Volunteer Maryland Coordinators have this one covered! Since the beginning of our service year, we have been completing monthly journals that detail our accomplishments, challenges, and the ever-changing data most of us manage. A professional journal could look similar to monthly reporting, or it could just look like a daily list of
Google Tasks that have been completed or delegated (that’s me).

A new fad right now is the bullet journal which involves a simple system of customizable bullets, completed tasks, and short notes. Check out Buzzfeed’s fun guide to starting your own bullet journal (I’m starting mine now!). Another article I recently read suggested separating journal entries into positive work situations, negative work situations, and work-related tasks. Here’s the article for more information and resources.

Reviewing Completed Projects

Look back at your calendar and look at all of the things you’ve gotten through! Re-discover the narrative of your professional life! Think about what led to the completion of each project–be it brainstorming, budget creation, writing a report, reserving rooms, etc.–and what you learned or experienced through that process. Focus on the new skills (including soft skills like teamwork, adaptability, critical observation) that you have gained or ones that you have always had, but strengthened.

Strategic Questions

Craft a list of questions that are important to you! For example, if you find satisfaction by being challenged in your work, think of some questions that allow you to reflect on the challenge that has gone into your work so far. Here is an example of some questions from a professional dietetics association; most of the questions in that list are general enough that you could actually work straight off of the worksheet.

Group Talk

Gather your peers or your co-workers together for a sit-down, and just talk about your experiences. This conversation could range in formality from being a staff meeting with an agenda or it could just be a talk over lunch. For some of the extroverts or external processors out there, talking with a group can be a great way to better understand your experience as well as everyone else’s.

The Avengers group talk all the time! Especially after nearly apocalyptic situations are averted.
The Avengers group talk all the time! Especially after nearly apocalyptic situations are averted.

The Cycle of VM Site Visits

The sun and the birds are waking me up these days.  This change in season means spring site visits are beginning!  Volunteer Maryland places Volunteer Maryland Coordinators (VMC’s) throughout the state.  The impact they make on the community is beyond belief.  We do our best to put words and data to their tremendous impact, but each and every one

of the VMC’s have their own individual spark and passion.  They add more than just volunteer coordination to their Service Sites. They contribute creativity, leadership, AmeriCorps pride and most of all, they know how to be part of a team!

As the Program Manager, I have the pleasure of visiting every service site throughout Maryland.  This season’s site visits kicked off at Fox Haven Organic Farm in Jefferson.  Here Amelia Meman, one of the VM28 Peer Leaders extraordinaire and I learned about the great work

Maddie Price VMC at Fox Haven Organic Farm

Maddie Price has been doing since she arrived at the site in October.  The last time we were at Fox Haven, we pulled a couple of root vegetables.  During this site visit on Monday, April 25th, we toured the Chestnut Orchard and checked out the garden beds.  The garden beds have been cared for by volunteers — weeded, mulched etc.  Volunteers also transplanted berry bushes to a better spot on the farm.  The sun was shining, and at one point we took our shoes off and walked in the grass.

Tomorrow we visit the Baltimore Community ToolBank.  Marcus Mosley the VMC at the ToolBank is serving his second year and has grown by leaps and


bounds!  One of his goals was to recruit recurring volunteers.  Marcus did it, and we get to watch him in action!  At this site visit, Marcus will be leading the group of volunteers in a service project that goes beyond the warehouse on Wicomico Street in Baltimore.  The ToolBank’s reach goes beyond Baltimore and touches thousands of volunteers throughout Maryland.  With a VMC in place, the ToolBank has been able to strengthen their volunteer program and retain valuable volunteers.Chelsea

For the next few weeks, Peer Leaders Amelia Meman and Chelsea Goldsmith and I will traverse the state and visit all the VMCs.  Next week we will be in Westminster, Carroll County and finish the week in Salisbury.

Please take the trip with us and check in frequently to this blog!  Together we Will Get Things Done!

I Watched Eight Hours of AmeriCorps Alums Webinars… Here’s What I Learned

Did you know that AmeriCorps Alums archives all of their Career Webinars? I found this bsg binge watchout recently, and I might have gone a little overboard. (Alright, maybe not Fred and Carrie watching Battlestar Galactica-overboard, but it does get kind of addicting.) Now that I’ve come up for air, here are some reflections on some of the ideas I heard repeated, often in different ways, in multiple webinars. Enjoy!

What I Watched:

Translating AmeriCorps Onto Your Resume
Smart Networking
Best New Jobs For AmeriCorps Alums
LinkedIn: More Than Just a Website 
Write a Cover Letter That Won’t Get Ignored
Interviewing & Salary Negotiation Strategy
AmeriCorps Alums Career Panel

What I Learned:

Be your best and most genuine self in everything you do. 
– This includes the connections you make,
– your service year,
– your social media accounts,
– and your LinkedIn page.
– Be honest and upfront about your motives- if you’re approaching someone about an informational interview and they work at a company where you want to be hired, let them know that. “Make it so easy for them to say yes and so easy for them to say no,” says Denise Riebman, AmeriCorps Alums’ Career Coach. Also, always ask permission to use their name in your Cover Letter or Application.
– “Think of every interaction you have with a company as part of your interview”  warns Brittani Tanhueco, a recruiter for a nonprofit called Boys Town and an AmeriCorps Alum. From the receptionist to the CEO, be respectful and professional.
– Know that your passion is important to organizations when hiring, so let it shine.

Always do your research.
– Research the company or organization and their employees before you write a cover letter or send a resume.
– Research the state of the field and the speakers and/or RSVP’d attendees before you go to a conference or networking event.
– Research the field, the position, and the people you’ll be speaking with before you go to an interview, informational or otherwise.

Most people are exceedingly human and generally decent.
– Many more people will agree to connect with you and help you out on LinkedIn and at conferences, etc. than you would think.
– They’d rather hear about your personal motivations, interests, and accomplishments (impact) than those of your organization.
– They also really want to hear about themselves and how they fit into your story.
– When people are asked for help they feel good about themselves and it strengthens your relationship.
– Talk to everyone- talk to retired people who have had successful careers, talk to people when you volunteer, always be building your network.

You need to put yourself out there in order for good things to happen.
– You are 10x more likely to be contacted by a recruiter on LinkedIn if you share links, articles, etc. from your profile once a week.
– When applying for positions, reach out after seven to ten days. It could just be to confirm that they’ve received your application or to check on its status, but it shows that you’re serious and sets you apart from other candidates.
– In regards to salary negotiation, it is fine to advocate for yourself and ask for more; the worst a manager can do is say no (this is not a conversation that will make employers recind their offer).
– A great way to learn about different career options is by jumping in and just going to conferences to see what you like.

Take control of your own narrative.
– “In a digital age, your personal brand is extremely public and extremely important” – Denise Riebman, AmeriCorps Alums Career Coach
– Talk about the skills you’ve gained from your experiences in strategic ways on your resumes and cover letters, and always target them towards the organization and position to which you’re applying.
– Understand how the skills you gained as an AmeriCorps member can transfer to other realms, and don’t undercut your skill level.
– “If you really want a job but it’s not extremely apparent why you would fit, you need to be upfront and explain how you will be able to excell in that position and why,” explains Denise, once again.
– On LinkedIn you may only have 50 characters to catch someone’s eye. We have to be able to share what makes us unique in this public forum.

This is a powerful community.
– There are a whole host of AmeriCorps Alums, and they really just want to help others out.
– People in the AmeriCorps Alums world want to share their experiences and help others succeed.
– Be sure to use your existing relationships to their full potential when job searching, and put in the time to figure out how you can leverage your network to help both them and yourself.
– Clearly explain your AmeriCorps experience on your LinkedIn profile- many people have connections to AmeriCorps but don’t fully understand how all the specific programs are related. These connections could help you down the line, so be sure to make them possible.
– Finally, Denise warns that “50% of jobs don’t make it to job boards,” showing how  important it is to know people, and for them to know what you’re looking for.

Three Days of Conferences, Four Highlights to Share, High Fives All Around

gif of clown spinning and changing into wonder woman
Actual before and after of me this past week.

Do you ever come back into the office after a few days at a conference and feel like people won’t recognize you because you’ve learned so much and you feel yourself changing all the time and you’re actually a new person now? That was me last week and again this Monday.

Last week, I managed to attend three days worth of conferences. Two were with Chelsea at the Light City U Social Innovation Conference and one solo day at the Maryland-DC Campus Compact’s Service Learning and Civic Engagement Conference. You may have seen our live-tweet feed on the Volunteer Maryland Twitter! If you didn’t (and even if you did, really), I’m going to be using this blog to highlight and unpack some of the best things I heard. 



The Purpose Economy and Volunteer Programs

Aaron Hurst, CEO of Taproot

Our morning speaker for Light City U’s first day was Aaron Hurst who spoke about the ways in which our economy will shift its focus from information onto finding purpose, what he has dubbed the “Purpose Economy,” and how this shift will influence Baltimore’s economic landscape. To Hurst, purpose is about enhancing relationships, doing something greater than yourself, and personal growth and experience, and people will be looking for that more and more in their lives.

It’s a pretty interesting and exciting idea (and I encourage you to watch the video below and learn more), but how does that translate to our work at Volunteer Maryland? It means that we have to strive to make purpose a focus of volunteering programs. This means that volunteers and potential volunteers want to be able to build relationships with others, they want to hear about the impact that they are making, and they want to know more about how they fit into the mission of the organization they are working for. So start planning those socials, sharing those statistics, and getting your directors involved in the volunteer program, because that’s what people–particularly millennials–want more of.


Thinking Better, Doing Better

Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, III, President of UMBC

As a UMBC alumna, President Hrabowski will always have a special place in my heart as the college president who walked the campus while waving at students, most of whom he knew by name. His presentation at Light City U certainly did not disappoint (especially since I got a picture with him beforehand). President Hrabowski told the story of his own journey to social justice and creating change in his communities, and he inspired us to embrace the struggle and never never never give up.

By the end of his talk, President Hrabowski had the whole of the Columbia Center standing up and chanting, “Thoughts become words, words become actions, actions become habits, habits become character, character becomes destiny.” This mantra is so important, because it means that change comes through the simplest means: thought. All we have to do is be open up our minds and we can change the world.



Skill Sharing, Just Do It!

D. Watkins, author of The Beast Side and professor with the University of Baltimore, in conversation with Lance Lucas, Founder of Digit All Systems

D. Watkins and Lance Lucas had a sort of fishbowl conversation at Light City U, where they discussed skill sharing. Both men have made their way by doing so. D. Watkins as an acclaimed columnist and author is the founder of the BMORE Writers Project, which aims to teach writing to the Baltimore community and thereby empower Baltimore to write its own story. A profile on Lucas and Digit All Systems by Baltimore describes, “a nonprofit group on East Lexington Street that offers computer certification courses, Microsoft certification, programming courses—even a class in Lego Mindstorm robotics.. Digit All Systems is providing a pathway out of poverty for unemployed Baltimoreans, one A+ computer programming certification course at a time.”

Though both of these men have spent much of their time building up industries and programs around skill sharing, they also agreed that skill sharing is simple. All you have to do is have a skill and teach it to someone who wants to learn. For volunteer programs, this might mean creating opportunities for volunteers to do some skill sharing with other volunteers, clients, or staff. When we are able to share our skills, we not only learn more and thereby increase the scope of work we can do, but we also create relationships with people further enabling that purpose-driven economy.


Asset Mapping and Building Foundations Among One Another

Alice Murray, business administration student at George Washington University

At the Maryland-DC Campus Compact’s Service Learning and Civic Engagement conference, I was able to participate in a workshop by Alice Murray, a business administration student at George Washington University, who was also volunteering with Lift, a national organization that is working to break the cycle of poverty. Inspired by her time as a volunteer coordinator with DC Engage, Alice presented a set of best practices for asset-based volunteering, community organizing, and service learning. Although asset-based approaches are nothing new, Alice’s discussion was incredibly enlightening and offered insight into how the theory can be put into practice.

Alice explained that the difference between asset-based and need-based approaches are that need-based approaches focus on filling in gaps, and asset-based approaches are founded in looking at what we already have and building from there.yarn tangle To demonstrate this, she led all of us workshop participants through a session of asset mapping, where we stood in a big circle and would throw a ball of string to people we had connections with. For example, someone might say, “I served as an AmeriCorps VISTA; who else has served as a VISTA?” This person would then hold onto one part of string and throw it to one of the VISTA alums in our circle. Then the VISTA alum would think of another fact about themselves, maybe, “I live on the Eastern Shore of Maryland,” and then throw the string to another person in the circle. The object of the activity is to connect everyone in the room with the string and and thereby create a web among us. Alice also noted that instead of getting overwhelmed by the literal gaps between each of us (needs-based approach), we create a foundation through the things we share (asset-based approach).

For a volunteer program, this means leveraging the assets that we have. For example, a small non-profit might not have a lot of money to do a big volunteer recognition event, but it might have a lot of connections among people with resources that could be used in other creative ways. A community theater might give some free tickets to a dress rehearsal, a local caterer could sponsor and donate some food. The coworker with incredible crafting abilities could create some recognition gifts.

When we employ an asset-based approach to our volunteer programs, we do what  Aaron Hurst, President Hrabowski, D. Watkins, and Lance Lucas, all champion in some way. We are creating an opportunity to share our skills among others, which further entails becoming open with others and possibly changing our thinking. Further, we are creating purpose-driven opportunities for people to grow in their communities.


Lil Bub Reading

Found in Translation: Volunteer Engagement Strategies from the World of Development

I read a lot in this job. In order to best support VM’s many Volunteer Maryland Coordinators out in the field, Amelia and I attempt to stay up to date on everything volunteer and nonprofit-related. As a result, I subscribe to a bunch of nonprofit newsletters, regularly attend nonprofit webinars, and read a my fair share of nonprofit eBooks and blogs. (Volunteer Maryland also subscribes to the Chronicle of Philanthropy which gets passed around the office each month.) Unsurprisingly, many of the things I read are more about fundraising and development than volunteer management. These resources on finding and engaging donors, however, are often the most useful when it comes to helping Volunteer Maryland Coordinators strategize and improve their volunteer programs.

It’s often said that a donor can give three things: their time, their talent, and their treasure. Volunteers give both time and talent, so why not treat them like donors? With this in mind, I’d like to share in this blog one of my favorite professional hobbies: translating development speak into volunteer management.

Some pieces are readily translatable to our field. Others, like Rory Green’s “Which Fundraising Disney Princess Are You” are a bit more of a stretch (I’m a Belle, duh).

Back to the former category, I recently read an eGuide by Liz Ragland of Network for Good called the Donor Segmentation Cheat Sheet, which I think is perfect for Volunteer Maryland Coordinators. In the Cheat Sheet, Liz explains both why segmentation is important for fundraisers and how you can start doing it. As I found through my own experience as a VMC, segmentation for volunteer programs is just as important.

At its core, segmentation is all about building a more personal relationship with your organization’s supporters. By keeping track of a donor or a volunteer’s habits and preferences, and being responsive to these factors, you show them that they’re not just a cog in the machine. When a donor feels personally stewarded, they’re more likely to give, and when a volunteer feels personally recognized, they’re more likely to act.

Here’s a run down of Liz’s recommended donor segments, translated into volunteer management speak. See if you already do any of these, and if there are some new segments you could adopt!

Donors and Nondonors aka Volunteers and Potential Volunteers

Liz Ragland advises readers to “reach out to supporters and ask them to make the leap to donor,” and I would encourage you to do they exact same thing with volunteers. By ‘potential volunteers’ I mean people who are somehow engaged with your organization, but not yet volunteering. This could be interested parties whose emails you’ve captured at events, the family members of individuals you serve, donors and board members, even volunteers who’ve ghosted on you in the past. Go ahead and give them an explicit invitation to join in as a first-time volunteer. Who knows, maybe they’ve been waiting for it!

Giving Levels aka Volunteer Roles or Volunteer Tenure

Looking to fill a difficult volunteer shift? It makes sense to send a different ask to an ‘old guard’ volunteer than a brand newbie. Although you might ask both groups for help, you’ll likely have a better success rate by describing it as a great way to learn more about the organization to some, and an important task where you could use someone with experience, to others.

Similarly, you wouldn’t want to reach out to volunteer tree-trimmers and drivers to pick up a last minute tutoring shift. While your volunteers understand an organization being pressed for time and people, general emails like this make them feel like faces in a crowd, not like the unique and motivated supporters that they are.

Recurring Donors aka Frequent Volunteers

You know when you buy something and then Facebook and Amazon keep advertising it to you? This is how your volunteers feel when they receive emails asking them to sign up for things they’ve already committed to. If you’ve got frequent volunteers, make sure to let them know how much you appreciate their consistent support. If you need even more help, try asking them if they’d consider adding a day or shift to their existing volunteer schedule, not asking them, along with everyone else, if they could please help you out on Tuesday. Chances are, they’ll ignore this email just like I ignore ads for another tofu press. If you want to get through, you’ve got to ask specifically.

Lapsed Donors aka Lapsed Volunteers

We’ve all got volunteers we haven’t seen in a while. A great way to get them back might be some targeted communication. Search your database for volunteers who haven’t put in hours for a couple of months, and try sending them an email letting them know that they’re missed and telling them about upcoming opportunities. This is also a great way to clean up your list- maybe some of these people have moved or changed availability. By starting a conversation you may learn some valuable new information.

Campaign Giving aka Event Volunteers

Are you planning an outdoor clean up soon? Why not reach out specifically to the volunteers who attended last fall’s clean up? Showing that you remember a volunteer’s specific contribution tells volunteers that their service really did matter and inspires them to return for more. It’s also important to reach out these volunteers immediately after an event to reiterate the impact of their contribution You could even thank them for coming back! It’s all within your power, if you’re smart about how you use your database.

Thanks again to Liz Ragland and Network for Good for allowing me to riff on these great ideas. If you want to read more about segmentation, I encourage you to download the free eGuide for yourself! Happy segmenting!