jobs-clear-communication

What are You Talking About?

What is your elevator pitch? Does everyone in the organization know the pitch and do they deliver the same message in the same way?  The  Baltimore Community ToolBank has a great strateby to address these very questions.  Every Monday , the ToolBank has a staff meeting with the message for the week written on a whiteboard.  This whiteboard is prominently displayed in their office where everyone who comes to volunteer, donate or for a meeting, sees the messaging.  Sometimes the ToolBank posts this message on socialbaltimore-community-toolbank media like the following posted on its Instagram: “2425 tools washed with rainwater this year”.  This specific messaging is a strategic way of ensuring everyone in the organization is talking about what matters, in the same way.  What if one person said, “2425 tools washed with recycled water this year”, or at a fundraising event, a board member stated, “2425 tools were washed with repurposed water this year”.  These are very different messages.   Although repurposed water can come from a variety of sources, including a toilet, Baltimore Community ToolBank is not sending a message regarding repurposed water in general.  Rather, the ToolBank, a leader in rainwater collection and repurposing from their 40,000 square foot rooftop, is focused on publicizing their ongoing strategic plan to leave as little footprint as possible by capturing the rainwater and using it to wash their tools. The ToolBank that loans tools, tables, chairs, wheel barrels and much more to community-based partners for pennies on the dollar are also environmentally conscience and holds communication in high regard throughout their organization.

Organizations that excel at communication are stronger, smarter and vastly more effective.  Sean Gibbons, the Executive Director of The Communications Network, explained this idea on the Podcast “Nonprofits are Messy” with Joan Garry (episode 13) Sean discusses how the organization’s message and passion needs to be clear to those inside the organization as well as made easily understood to those outside.  This precise messaging helps those outside the organization understand what your work is and why it nonprofits-are-messy-artwork-v2-300x300is important.  Gibbons challenges, that communications in a nonprofit can seem like it is adjunct to the ‘work, and when this is the attitude, the opportunity to share your story and bring more people on board is missed. He suggests that nonprofits are in the ‘idea’ market, and that large social issues cannot be solved by ONE organization.  The ideas of your organization’s mission, vision and purpose need to be sent out into the ‘world’ and partnerships need to be rendered.  If representatives of your organization can not explain clearly why, what you are doing is important the message is lost to those within the walls of your nonprofit, the hard work and importance is never understood by those outside the organization.

Social media can help target your messaging but be cautious of these sirens in the water, as it is easy to fall for every new, fast moving, shiny new platform.  When new platforms arise, i.e Snapchat, it is a good idea to look at your messaging, who are you targeting and decide if this new venture is worth your staff/volunteer’s time investment.  In the podcast, Gibbons talks about how, The Communications Network created a persona for their social media presence.  At about 21 minutes into the episode, Sean talks about how they represent themselves as Helen Mirren on social media.  This personification helps with their messaging and their ‘voice’ on various media.   Take a pause…..who would your organization be?

Being strategic about communication is not a waste of time.  Simon Sinek, in his vastly popular TED Talk Start with Why, challenges business to focus on their Why.  If it is unclear to the people in your organization why you are doing what you do, they will have a hard time talking or explaining why the work you do is so important.  It is worth spending time thinking about what your overall message is and to decide how to talk about your work.

Dancing Through Volunteer Management

Dance is a powerful art form that is constantly changing. Dance never stops evolving and growing in its definition to fit certain molds. There are moments when dance is rough and hard hitting, moments when dance flows and is seamless, and moments when there’s just nothing left to do but improvise your next move. Dancing tells stories and narrates feelings.  I find this to be true of the way volunteers’ work and dedication narrates the story of an organization. So what story do you want them to tell?

tumblr_m39mkqc5mg1r1zn4oo1_250I didn’t take dance classes growing up  unless you consider dancing around the living room to annoy my older siblings, a class. As soon as I reached middle school I became intrigued by the way dancing and choreography tells so many different stories. My next eleven years were spent cheerleading, dancing in school musicals, and eventually joining my colleges dance team.

Everything I learned from dancing I took with me after I left my team and I still use to this day. I took the ability to follow the set routine, the knowledge of every moving part of a performance, and the ability to change formations and switch choreography at the last moment to meet the group need. Every part of being involved in dance has allowed me to look at volunteer management with a different focus. Volunteer management tells a story.

In volunteer management there are moments when you have too few volunteers, too many volunteers, and when there are not enough volunteer jobs to fit the need of the group. This is when critical thinking comes in. What can you do with the volunteers that you have? How can you divide the volunteers up to be the most effective workers for your event? And most importantly, how can I learn from this experience to use it in future events, better recruitment, and stronger storytelling for my organization?

All of these experiences and lessons build up and create the foundation to maintain a wonderful and dedicated group of volunteers. If there is a hiccup in recruitment, whether it is a seasonal challenge for a site, or rather there are certain types of volunteers that are hard to come by, take every opportunity to look at the ebb and flow of your program. What volunteers need from an organization is constantly evolving and sometimes, like a performance, you need to change the choreography at the last minute to create the best story for your organization.

What I would encourage for everyone tackling volunteer management is to get out there dance-fail-tumblrand practice! Don’t be afraid to fall, stretch and become flexible, and don’t be afraid to take chances. If you fall, just pick yourself up and keep dancing!  Every experience you have with volunteers is just setting the stage for your next endeavor. Martha Graham once said, “Practice means to perform over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.” So with that, let’s hit the dance studio and get some rehearsals in for the next volunteer event.

Coping with the Shifting Seasons

 During my AmeriCorps VISTA year, I served as the Robotics Coordinator at the JHU Center for Educational outreach.  My project incorporated a wide array of activities that were often connected only by their association with competitive robotics, so the character of my service at any moment in the year was directly tied to the progress of the VEX Robotics season for Baltimore City Public Schools.  My first two months were dominated by undergraduate recruitment for a mentoring program where college students would work with middle school robotics teams during the season.  Then the season started, and my responsibilities began to spread out more:  helping plan and support event recruitment, training and managing mentors, running the VEX program at a local community center, and helping with a lot of behind the scenes event logistics.  The season was a busy time that ran from late October to late February.  Once the season was over, everything shifted once again:  now I was creating and revising sustainable plans based on what I had learned already, and formally evaluating the mentor program with input from children, coaches, and mentors.  Additionally, I was reworking the City Schools robotics website, and helping to optimize the storage space for robotics gear.

The toughest times of the year are when you are trying to contact people who are nonresponsive, and it’s impossible to get anything done without hearing from them.  Recruitment and evaluation can both cause this sort of bottleneck, as can ideas that need someone’s approval.  If your year is built around heightened activity for a stretch here and there—like my VEX season–other times can feel like the doldrums.  So what can you do when things get slow?

  • This is a great time to evaluate. If you have two or three months where you won’t need your volunteers, set up interviews or focus groups to get feedback.  It shows you are interested, keeps them in contact and invested in your site, and gives you valuable information.  It’s not a bad idea to look for ways to tie this into recognition, as well.
  • Sustainability plans: this is a time that you can consider how your volunteer program can carry on without you.  Does the program need room to expand?  If you chart the course, can certain volunteers or staff assume the torch with significantly less investment of time and energy than you are putting in?  What have you tried that never needs to be attempted again?  What has worked well, and what has promise despite lukewarm results?
  • Get to know your team and their projects, and especially projects they wish they could implement. Sometimes, you can find new areas of expansion for volunteer programs this way, and gain new sources of support in the office.  The sustainability of your volunteer program is much more robust if many people around the office see the value to projects important to them.
  • Arrange a supplemental training day for your volunteers. If you got a lot of feedback about certain issues, there may be interest in an offseason training session.  Similar to evaluation tactics, this offers volunteers a chance to make a bigger investment in their work and keeps them connected to you and the site.
  • Recruitment! Offseason recruitment is not always easy because volunteers don’t like to be committed as early as you want to have them signed up.  However, you can lay the groundwork by advertising a future recruitment event.  It’s also a good time to network to try to find new sources of volunteers that you can reach out to in the future.

If you have any other thoughts on how to push through the slow periods of volunteer coordination and to maintain productivity and motivation, please share them!

Cycles of the Job

I am a cyclist. It’s a deeply ingrained part of my identity.  Riding and racing bikes serves many purposes in my life.  It gives me an outlet for my frustrations, either alone or with a group out on the roads.  My nagging competitiveness is satisfied, at least temporarily, when a race on my calendar comes around.  However, probably most important, is how cycling grounds me and serves as a reminder of many life lessons drawn upon from my past

We all know that work, especially work within the nonprofit world, can be both exhilarating and, at times, draining.  It isn’t so much a job as a calling to do good, to better a neighborhood, serve food to those in need, or simply help your fellow man in some facet.  When someone has such a deep attachment to an activity, the tendency is to slip into tunnel vision and ignore many other parts of life.  A healthy balance needs to be found, you should remain calm in the face of a challenge, and endure when the situation calls for it.

The same idea applies to cycling, and it is why I find comfort and strength in how it relates to my everyday life.  The concept of training to race is something that needs a degree of commitment, desire, and foresight.  It’s a challenge by nature that can be overcome individually, but having a few friendly faces along for the ride certainly passes the time a bit more quickly!  While training for an event or working towards a professional goal, if there isn’t another part of your life pulling you from that mindset, you will eventually burn out. It’s important to take a step back once in awhile to recharge both physically and mentally, finding that all-important balance.

Finally, after all of your hard work, race day arrives! You might be nervous, scared, or just raring to get out there and show them what you’re made of!

Image result for funny cycling gif

In cycling and your chosen profession, it’s important to remain calm in the face of a challenge. This may be the race you’ve been planning for all these months, or a big report on data from your volunteer program. If you’re confident, have laid the groundwork for success, and endure the challenge ahead, at the end of the day you will have accomplished your goal.
Remember to take some time to recharge and avoid the dreaded burnout. Know that you aren’t in this alone! Your co workers, family, and friends are here to support you in reaching that goal. Finally, after putting in all the hard work ahead of time, the accomplishments that were set out to be achieved long ago will come to you more easily than you’d ever think.

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.

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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.

Journaling
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
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

Amelia

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 Technical.ly 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.