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.


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.

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.

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!

Two Stories and a Lesson

The Volunteer Gig
In October of 2014, when I was a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator, I began volunteering regularly at the elementary school in my neighborhood. Since VMC’s, as well as Peer Leaders, are allotted a certain amount of time monthly to perform direct service, this worked out great with my schedule and gave me time out of the office to refocus and regain the perspective of a volunteer.

When I rejoined Volunteer Maryland this fall as a Peer Leader, I figured I’d naturally continue serving at the school as I had in the past. Unfortunately, it was not that easy. Between my old volunteer position filling up without me, various program changes, and the travel requirements of my new position, it was November by the time I found a new volunteer position and time-slot at the school. Nevertheless, I was excited to get involved again with the students.

My first week of volunteering went great. On the second week, I was met by an empty giphyclassroom. After a few minutes of hanging around, the classroom’s teacher returned and explained that the kids had P.E. during this time every other week, hadn’t anyone told me that? Uh, no, but alright. Duly noted. On the third week, I explained to the teacher that two weeks hence I’d have to cancel because of a meeting I couldn’t move. The session after that fell on the 22nd of December. I emailed the volunteer coordinator to ask if they would be on Winter Break. They were.

On January 1st I moved to the other side of the neighborhood, and by the time the kids returned from their break, the school was out of sight and out of mind. It wasn’t until mid-February that I was reminded of my volunteering commitment there. By that time, I was positively unmotivated to return. I felt bad for not continuing my service, but it felt like no one had noticed I wasn’t showing up anymore. No one had reached out to me about it, so what was the point of going back? If my work was valued, surely they’d let me know I was missed. I felt that if I had been making a difference through my volunteer service, I wouldn’t be getting ignored.

The Flashback 
As the Volunteer Maryland Coordinator for the Baltimore Urban Debate League, my arch-nemeses on tournament days were no-shows. Volunteers who signed up but never arrived threw the entire tournament system into disarray and made it incredibly hard for me to do my job.


When I returned to the office after a debate tournament, the last thing I wanted to do was communicate with these non-volunteers. Besides, I had a million other things to do, so I’d prioritize database updates and thank you emails and the unpacking of tournament supplies. By then end of the day, the transgressions of the no-show’s were firmly placed in the ‘Ignore’ pile, and I moved on.

Near the end of my service year, though, I attended a training at which the presenter urged us to send two types of emails to volunteers after an event: ‘Thank You’ emails to volunteers who participated and ‘Missed You’ emails to those volunteers who committed but didn’t show up.

I remember initially bristling at this thought. I was frustrated just at the concept of pouring more time into these no-show volunteers who I felt I’d wasted enough time and energy on already. I had added their names to sign-in lists, put them in the judge matching system online, emailed them updates and reminders about the tournament, and then they still chose not to come! They were obviously showing me that they weren’t worth my time.

It wasn’t just my anger that dissuaded me, either. There was an uncomfortable feeling around confronting a volunteer with their shortcomings. Some part of my brain was consumed by the notion that these people owed me nothing, so I should just be grateful for those who did come out to help my organization for free. Who was I to chastise the others for their absence?

The Light Bulb 
09bf6c4fce2642b2e1cddec44cd7d716What I wasn’t seeing was the volunteer’s perspective. This month, when I realized I had been forgetting to volunteer at the elementary school, I felt disappointed. I wished that someone had held me accountable for this commitment because it was something that I had enjoyed doing. It had benefited me as well as the students, and I regretted the strain this had unintentionally placed on my relationship with the school’s Volunteer Coordinator. I emailed an update to the coordinator and resolved to send ‘Missed You’ emails from then on.

The Lesson 
This has been a story about imagined relationships and missed moments. It’s a story about how you never know what someone else is thinking unless you ask. Over everything, it has reminded me that instead of making assumptions about our volunteers, we must communicate with them as honestly and transparently as possible. Here’s to saving some volunteers from slipping away, and, moreover, to stronger relationships!

The Case for Self Care

For the past couple weeks, Amelia and I have been putting together materials for a meeting/workshop on self care. In my search for helpful tips on how to be less stressed, more healthy, and avoid burn out (something I definitely felt as a VMC last year), I was inundated with guides, charts, and quizzes all saying pretty similar things. Despite their formatting differences, they each followed the same logical framework.

They instructed the reader to consider the most important and overarching aspects of their life, such as their emotional state, physical health, psychological well being, professional life, etc. Most provided between four and eight categories, such as those in the diagram below.

Next, according to various psychologists, social workers, and hoSelf Care Diagram via University of Buffalo Social Worklistic life coaches, we’re instructed to identify actions we can take, either preemptively or in case of crisis, to care for and enhance these facets of our lives, as, together, they are said to add up to a happy, healthy us.

Many of the activities suggested by these resources are things that even my mother no longer sends me nagging articles about (eat your vegetables, get enough sleep, go to the dentist, etc.), but as a person who frequently gets too wrapped up in work to remember to eat lunch, I can see the value in stating the obvious. Other activities are things I’d never thought about as self care. Some of my favorites include “go swimming,” “be curious,” and “wear clothes I like.”


The final step is to do it. Choose a manageable number of caring actions and make a conscious effort to add them to our routine. Easy, right? This is gloriously logical. So why aren’t we all self care experts?

Enter the Non Profit Professional’s Dilemma.

As Volunteer Maryland Coordinators, our work is intimately related to care. We organize volunteers to care for children, to care for trees, to care for isolated seniors, and more. This professional valuing of care might suggest that people in this role would find it easy to care for themselves, but the opposite is more often the case. We spend so much time caring for others that at the end of the day we either don’t have the energy or the time to prioritize ourselves.

This exhaustion is compounded with the fact that jobs in mission-based organizations often blur the traditional line between personal and professional. We like our jobs (most days) and often see ourselves as personally invested in the vision and goals of our organizations. Other people who work at mission-based organizations are awesome and interesting like us, so being at work counts as hanging out with friends, right? Our causes are near and dear to our hearts, so we can count staying late at the office as personal growth, can’t we?

This is the type of thinking that would keep me at work until nine o’clock at night last year, and these stop-working-and-go-homesorts of rationalization told me that was okay. The person who told me that was NOT okay was the organization’s previous Volunteer Maryland Coordinator. She called me out on not being fair to myself and not making time for the other things that I valued, like leisure reading and seeing out-of-work friends.

When compared with my organization’s mission these things seemed insignificant and selfish to prioritize. If we look back at the self care diagram, though, we can see how many moving parts go into keeping a multifaceted entity like a nonprofit or a human being going, and how important it is to actively support each one of them. What the prior VMC’s wisdom and half a dozen self care guides made me realize is that along with being our own Venn diagram of needs, we are but a single circle within our organizations’ interconnected diagrams, and like the gurus told us, we have to actively seek out ways to support and maintain ourselves so we don’t throw off the entire operation.

When you’re in this field, self care is mission-driven work, and that’s awesome. Let’s resolve to do it.

Yasmine Eleazar, Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office

IMG_1642Yasmine Eleazar is an enthusiastic, hardworking professional whose leap of faith has landed her at the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office as the Volunteer Maryland Coordinator. As Yasmine puts it, she “wanted a more meaningful career in the non-profit world, but didn’t really know how to get there.” She shares that she found herself “at a crossroads, trying to determine which path to take next.” After about a year spent immersed in volunteer work, Yasmine found Volunteer Maryland.

As the Volunteer Maryland Coordinator at the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office, Yasmine will be focusing her efforts on the SAO’s Truancy Prevention program. She says that, through this position, she hopes to hone her “organization, writing, and people skills,” in addition to “getting comfortable with public speaking” and learning about volunteer management. She also says she hopes this experience will “lead me to discover more about myself, my motivations, my skills and the true needs of our community, so that after 11 months, I know where I would fit in, which social issues and community needs tug most at my heart and which ones I can truly be happy and fulfilled serving.”

Although the road has twisted and turned, Yasmine shares that she is proud of herself for “not falling into the temptation of making compromises – I stayed focused, I persevered, and I have every reason to believe that I am now on the right path.” As Theodore Roosevelt said, “far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

Sydney Gross, Carroll County Health Department/ Caring Carroll

hr-1287-013-420--1287013420006Meet distance-runner, thrill seeker, and compassionate friend, Sydney Gross. Sydney loves saying “yes” to adventures, so when Volunteer Maryland offered her the opportunity to serve as a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator at the Carroll County Health Department, she naturally accepted. Sydney says that she is “accepting this challenge from Volunteer Maryland,” but also on a more personal level, “from myself unto myself.”

Sydney will be working with Caring Carroll through the Carroll County Health Department, a program which supports the aging population of Carroll County in a variety of ways. Sydney tells us that she is “convinced that moving forward and doing work concerning change is the best way to make a difference.” Although many of these experiences may be new to her, Sydney is excited for this experience and sees it as a chance for growth.

Throughout this year Sydney says she hopes to gain “good experience” and “a sense of direction” for her career path and potential academic pursuits. She is eager to learn and grow throughout the year, and is “motivated by the idea that there is an essential glue holding together all of our outwardly understood qualities and characteristics, which accounts for more worth than any of them on their own.” Sydney also plans to cross Maryland off her list of states in which to run a half-marathon, leaving only 40 to go!


Adrienne, Health Care for the Homeless


Adrienne is a communicator, a cooperator, and a problem solver. These traits, according to Adrienne, are what drew her to the mission of Health Care for the Homeless, where she will be serving as a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator. Health Care for the Homeless is committed to ending homelessness, which is a goal Adrienne is excited to work towards.

Adrienne will be working with the Help Desk program at Health Care for the Homeless, which, as Adrienne describes it, is “an easily accessible portal to connect clients to already existing community resources.” She has already gotten to work creating materials and building relationships through this position, both with fellow professionals and non-profit organizations in Baltimore City.

When she’s not working to end homelessness, Adrienne enjoys spending time her animals, a two-year-old tabby cat named Aaron and four-year-old Maltese, as well as cooking vegan meals. “I’m a vegan and have multiple food allergies, so I make most of my own food from scratch,” shares Adrienne. “While I was initially sad at the thought that I’d never have a bagel and cream cheese again, finding out about having food allergies has actually been a really positive thing because it brought about my love of cooking.” She also loves traveling, nature walks, and connecting with her family and friends. Ultimately, Adrienne hopes to work with a mission driven service-oriented non profit or with social entrepreneurs.


Stephanie Kennedy, Steppingstone Farm Museum

IMG_1680Stephanie Kennedy is an open, social person with a passion for helping others. A recent graduate of Roanoke College, she is proud to have made it through school and into the field. Her major in Art History has led Stephanie to positions in museums around the state of Maryland, from classroom assistant at the Baltimore Museum of Art to exhibits intern at the Steppingstone Farm Museum.

Through her internship, Stephanie developed a love for this site, which inspired her to return to the museum this year as their Volunteer Maryland Coordinator. She is excited for her term of service with Volunteer Maryland and says “the things I will learn and do are applicable everywhere else in my career.” Specifically, Stephanie says she hopes to gain “management skills,” “organizational skills,” and the ability to articulate a message to large groups.