“Am I too old for this?” A question Nora Skiver, an AmeriCorps member at Habitat for Humanity Choptank, asked herself. Nora shares her wins and efforts at her organization.
“At the beginning of this journey with Volunteer Maryland, I admit my thoughts were: “What am I getting myself into, Am I too old for this?” Guess what? I have since changed that perspective. When I make a presentation to recruit volunteers I am enthusiastic and excited. I am encouraged by the response of my volunteers and how much they are enjoying their experiences. I have increased the group presentations and am learning to network with local organizations to share volunteers when they request other volunteer experience”.
She ends with this thought, “ …life presents us the opportunity for us to give in order to get”.
Nora has also met other clients and volunteers like herself, who continuously prove her change in perspective.
According to her, Loretta Smith, a 71 years old had applied with Habitat Choptank’s Neighborhood Revitalization Program to assist with replacing a rotted porch floor. With the support of the organization she replaced all of her own door locks and did some of the painting. Nora learnt that every year Loretta, makes Christmas breakfast for Clients at a nursing home for low income clients, and is a volunteer at a Public Library. She does not want to be called a “senior”
Nora is known to encourage and engage her volunteers such as recruiting active volunteers to bake cookies for 60 construction volunteers. And with the help of a board member had the cookies delivered. She continues to challenge herself to find innovative ways to inspire her volunteers. Some ways of achieving this are, viewing webinars such as “Engaging Volunteers of the future” and reading books like “The New Breed: Second Edition: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteers.”
There really is no excuse for not serving your community. We all have skills that can be of service to the community. All we need is the heart. We have many AmeriCorps members from different age brackets, background, race and creed with heart currently serving.
Sophia an AmeriCorps Member at Ulman Cancer Fund (UCF) whose passion for raising awareness for UCF has helped her developed skills that many seek. Being a volunteer coordinator requires various skills, public speaking is one of them. Sophia shares how her experience so far helped her to hone this skill.
She says, “In the month of December, I was able to travel back to my Alma mater, Geneseo and speak about 4K for Cancer and my involvement with UCF. I have been working on my goal of improving my public speaking quite a bit this month through presentations to the UCF staff and also through outreach opportunities that I have helped out with. Speaking for an hour as a part of the All-College-Hour Speaker Series at Geneseo was a huge test to the work that I had put into my public speaking and it was a really exciting and challenging experience for me. I was able to share my personal story as well as the stories that I have heard throughout my involvement with Ulman that inspire me to keep working with UCF. My goal of the speech was to inspire others in this community to get involved with UCF and hopefully other types of service in and outside of their community. I was really happy with how the speech went and I spoke to a few people afterwards who really wanted to get involved with UCF. It felt great to be able to see the improvement in my public speaking since the start of the service year and someone who attended the speech reached out to inquire about having me come and present at their university.
Another skill necessary to be a volunteer coordinator is being able to inspire volunteers to commit their time and effort, the challenging part being recruiting and retaining this volunteers.
For Martin Luther King day, UCF hosted a day of service well attended by 56 people of all ages. According to her, “the UCF tradition of the Dedication Circle was an opportunity to hear the people that inspired the volunteers to give up their day off to serve with us. Some of the names said were familiar ones and some were names I had never heard before, but it was so inspiring to take a moment like that in which we were reminded the importance of what we were doing.”
Sophia goes further to share about one of the volunteers that served on MLK Day.
“A woman came to the MLK day of service after hearing about it through her company. She showed up with her kids and not knowing much about UCF, still took time out of her life to attend. I spoke with her about the UCF mission and my involvement and she told me about her life and where she had come from. Like me, she was new to Baltimore and looking for a community. She not only stayed the entire day, but was one of the most dedicated volunteers as her and her kids were knee deep in garbage cleaning out an area near the UCF House. She hopes to get more involved and told me how inspired she was by the UCF mission.”
However recruiting and learning what inspires volunteers is only a part of the job. Sophia faces the challenge of engaging volunteers, as volunteer opportunities are inconsistent.
She explains how they focused on creating an impactful opportunity.
“The greatest challenge this month was trying to figure out how to continue to engage volunteers after the initial interaction. I noticed that a lot of volunteer lose interest after the first event because our volunteer opportunities are less consistent. I don’t want to lose the interest of the volunteers, but still want to make sure that the work the volunteers are doing is meaningful and is making an impact. Lauriann and I have started doing Chemo Care Bag Builds every other week so that we will always have the bags ready to give to the Patient Navigators and also there will always be a volunteer opportunity for volunteers to get involved in.”
Volunteer Management is a cycle, the process is not stagnant and needs to be readdressed on all levels. From the Big Picture to the Implementation of volunteer engagement, a Volunteer Coordinator or Manager is ultimatum responsible for relationship building and without constant care and attention eventually the relationships can end. Sophia understands the importance of this constant need to nurture the relationship with new and excited volunteers and she’s up to the challenge to inspire them to stay engaged with the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults. #PickmeupWednesday
The Chronicle of Philanthropyhad a few interesting pieces concerning volunteerism. In the January 22, 2015 issue titled What’s Next, I noticed a small piece concerning volunteer retention. New York Cares, one of the largest volunteer management organizations is offering eight week, web tutorials, in-person workshops, and one-on-one counseling to help groups develop high quality programs. Gary Bagley, executive director of New York cares stated that, “The lack of excellent experiences is the biggest reason people don’t volunteer.”
Flipping a few pages, an article by Megan O’Neil, “Volunteerism and Trust in Public Institutions Are On the Decline”, discusses the drop in volunteerism across the country. According to the Bureau of labor statistics, the volunteerism rate fell to 25.4 percent in 2013. This is the lowest level since this data collection began in 2002. What is happening here? Why are fewer folks volunteering? The data is a bit confusing, so let’s look at a few indicators. A report released by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) states that 62.6 million adults (25.4 percent) volunteered through an organization in 2013, and more than 138 million Americans (62.5 percent) also engaged in informal volunteering in their communities, helping neighbors with such tasks as watching each other’s children, helping with shopping, or house sitting. Wendy Spencer, CNCS chief operating officer noted that the share of Americans that participate in formal volunteering has remained steady, at about one in four for many years. So does this mean that volunteerism is doing kinda okay? Maybe we are looking at the wrong set of indicators. In Megan O’Neil’s article, she quotes Greg Baldwin, president of VolunteerMatch stating that nonprofit sector and volunteers are as vulnerable to the economic swings as other sectors. He further states that, “Strong volunteer programs are coordinated by healthy, strong organizations that are well resourced.” So it’s the organizations fault? Not exactly.
Right now VM sees an amazing shift in how folks want to volunteer. Over the past four years, our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators report that they are recruiting more episodic volunteers. These are folks that volunteer for a shorter duration then the stereotypic, long-term volunteer that most organizations dream of. Our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators are consistently reporting volunteers that provide less than one hour per week, and serve for shorter durations. But here is the really interesting thing; volunteer satisfaction has risen with our sites as they are able to offer a more tailored approach to engaging volunteers. Providing opportunities for volunteers to engage in a less structured way has not diminished the experience or the productivity of the programs. So is the answer short term all the way? Not completly. Circling back to Greg Baldwin’s comment concerning strong volunteer programs; I think we also need to keep in mind what the volunteer market is telling us. If volunteers are looking for short-term, meaningful opportunities, how can we meet that demand? The simple and not so simple answer is start identifying opportunities where a shorter commitment would work. Engaging volunteers on projects with a very specific end date, or being open to one and done volunteers. Meeting the market in terms of opportunities offered is not only good for volunteers, but good for organizations as well.
As the Program Manager of Volunteer Maryland, I feel so lucky to get to work with an incredible group of individuals. Our AmeriCorps members, better known as Volunteer Maryland Coordinators (VMCs), work tirelessly to support and refine volunteer programs at nonprofit organizations across Maryland. With the amazing guidance from their designated supervisor (a.k.a. their Site Supervisor), wonderful things happen in less than a year of partnership.
I get to learn more about these efforts when I visit each of our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators and Site Supervisors each fall/winter. For the past two and a half months, I have engaged in what we like to call our “site visit season.” This is a very educational experience in which I travel with a member of our Support Team to meet with each of our 30 partnership sites. This is one of my favorite parts of my role, as I get a first-hand glimpse of where our AmeriCorps members are serving, as well as gain the opportunity to reflect and learn more about their service.
The knowledge and stories from the site visits have been so insightful and inspiring. Listening to such positive progress is an important reminder of the great things Volunteer Maryland Coordinators are able to accomplish in such a short period of time. I’d like to share with you a few reflections from the site visits that exhibit the impact of our AmeriCorps members.
Volunteer Maryland Coordinators research and implement smart tools that refine the process of volunteer management.
For example, Brinley, VMC at Court Appointed Special Advocates of Washington County, recently instituted a new tracking tool called OurVolts. OurVolts can be used as an app on a mobile phone, making the process of reporting hours convenient and accessible for volunteers. This process will not only be easy for the volunteers, but help the organization gain an accurate understanding of how many hours their volunteers will serve. As a result, this data will also be useful for reporting and recognition purposes.
Volunteer Maryland Coordinators understand the importance of recognizing volunteers.
The effort to celebrate the hard work of volunteers has a lasting impact on the quality of the volunteer experience. An example of such recognition occurs in Baltimore where Montressa develops a regular “Volunteer of the Month” spotlight to recognize outstanding volunteers who serve at the St. Francis Neighborhood Center. Also, Jessica, the VMC for the Frederick County Department of Aging’s Meals on Wheels program, is developing ongoing recognition events, and will soon be hosting a celebration titled “We Love Our Volunteers” (cleverly tying into Valentine’s Day!).
This occurs on a such a significant and multi-faceted level. Bintou, who serves at Moveable Feast, facilitates orientations for volunteers before they assist with preparation and packaging of nutritious food that will go to individuals who are fighting severe illnesses. Through her orientation, Bintou connects volunteers with the mission and history of the volunteer program, making the experience so much more effective and rich for all involved. Over at Education Based Latino Outreach, Johana builds connections with staff through weekly meetings, during which they discuss the progress of volunteers and additional resources to support volunteers. Through relationship building, the staff can work together more cohesively to best support and supervise volunteers.
While the next piece of information did not necessarily derive from the site visits, it would be a shame to not include it!
Volunteer Maryland Coordinators recruit and manage qualified volunteers as a result of their strategic outreach methods. I’m proud to share that since October 2014, this group has recruited nearly 900 volunteers and helped manage over 4000 volunteers. Collectively these 4000+ volunteers have served over 9,000 Marylanders. Wow!
This is just a snapshot of some of the great work that’s being done by the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators in Class 27, and so much more is yet to come this year!
FIRN volunteers are a vital part of achieving success in bridging cultures and building communities of Howard County foreign-born citizens. Throughout this service year VMC Roslyn Linder has pulled from her passion for service to engage community members of Howard County to supply support through translation services; English tutoring, and informal support services for foreign-born individuals in Howard County. FIRN volunteers consistently go above and beyond in supporting FIRN while meeting the need of serving a large volume of immigrant families. Over the last several months Roslyn has been busy planning a volunteer appreciation event to thank FIRN volunteers for their steadfast dedication on June 17, 2014.
I asked Roslyn her thoughts on thanking her volunteers. Roslyn spoke to FIRN volunteers being the life-line of the program. “The volunteers are the ones who come out week after week, providing support to our clients, tutor ESOL students, and make the life experiences of foreign-born community members more manageable,” stated Roslyn. We may never know the profound effect that a volunteer may have made on a person’s life. A kind word, a gentle touch or a listening ear can mean so much to someone who is of need. FIRN volunteers generously give the gift of time to make contact, provide support and encouragement and perhaps provide humor to make the clients day a bit more supportable. FIRN volunteers give of themselves and bring life experiences, compassion, and intellect and ask for nothing in return yet receive immeasurable satisfaction. They do not ask for accolades. Yet receive the reward of comradeship with those for whom they may never have met otherwise. This is why FIRN says thank you, not just with words but through their actions.
To further show appreciation, Roslyn plans to personalize this upcoming event. Everything from balloons and volunteer quotes, to posters recognizing each volunteer by name will surround the space and fill it with an atmosphere of admiration. Roslyn has also created a volunteer appreciation board that will showcase the volunteer impact of clients served, the dollar amount of volunteer efforts contributed to FIRN, and the collective number of hours served. “By doing this each volunteer will see how they have impacted change,” Roslyn stated. Roslyn is also handing out personalized candy filled mugs that symbolize the sweetness of a volunteer’s experience. Each mug will come customized and complete with candy donated by Roslyn’s mother who is also passionate of FIRN’s mission, with a personalized thank you tag attached.
Roslyn wanted to further thank her volunteers by securing an in kind donation for a light lunch and desserts for the event. Target has also generously donated a $30 dollar gift card that will be given away as a prize drawing to one lucky volunteer.
Roslyn wants her volunteers to know how outstanding they are. That the success of FIRN rests in its volunteers, who embody the spirit of greatness by serving others, inspiring dedication and who are tremendous examples to the community. FIRN volunteers now know how much their few hours they give each week means to Roslyn, FIRN and those they serve.
“Thank you so much to each and every one of our volunteers. We couldn’t do it without you.” Volunteer Maryland Coordinator Roslyn Linder
Yay volunteers! This is your week. One week to celebrate the impact and value of volunteers in our communities. For those of you out there giving back, paying forward, or digging in, we at Volunteer Maryland salute you with a Volunteer Maryland, Class 26 jump! Our work would be nothing without you, and our communities are all the better for you.
Here at Volunteer Maryland, we are always interested in other entities that look to better volunteer program development. It is a bit refreshing to know that developing, investing and promoting volunteer programs is not only a Maryland things, but an international one as well. Take our friends to the north, Canada. Volunteer Canada recently published a study entitled, Bridging The Gap that looked at volunteer trends based on some observations made in 2010. The key observation centered on seeing a growing gap between what volunteers look for and the opportunities organizations offer. They wanted to verify this observation to develop strategies to help organizations utilizing volunteers, and people who volunteer or are looking to volunteer.
The research looked at four volunteer groups: youth, families, baby boomers and workplace volunteers. The study provides a great snapshot of these four groups looking at characteristics of each, along with interests and barriers to volunteering. These are integral pieces as an organization looks at needs, and develops long term recruitment and retention plans. A few commonalities occurred when looking at these four distinct volunteer groups:
Today’s volunteers have goals.
They’re driven by results.
They have multiple interests.
They often seek short-term opportunities that use their skills.
Sound familiar? It does to Volunteer Maryland. The value of a volunteers time and the need to see impact in there service rings very true for most of our partnerships and definitely within the group of Volunteer Maryland Coordinators we work with each year.
There are of course differences within each of the groups concerning needs, but a few of the gaps cut across all volunteer groups:
Many people are looking for group activities BUT few organizations can offer them.
Many people come with professional skills BUT many professionals look for volunteer tasks that differ from their work.
Organizations are expected to define the roles of volunteers BUT many volunteers want the flexibility to create their own opportunities and schedules.
Many organizations want long-term commitment BUT many more volunteers are looking for short-term opportunities.
Many organizations focus on what they need BUT many volunteers come with their own goals to be met.
This may appear to be a cage match pitting volunteer needs versus organizational needs. The study participants gave some advice on how organizations can improve the way they engage volunteers. Some were basic but important and play a big role on how Volunteer Maryland works with organizations. Items such as building meaningful relationships with volunteers, and understand where volunteers are in their lifecycle are indicative of a strong volunteer system. Organizations should invest in learning a volunteer’s goals and skills looking for ways to engage these in there service. Beyond this, volunteers recommended the following:
Human resources should include volunteers. Some policies and benefits apply equally to volunteers and paid staff.
Today’s volunteers have erratic schedules. Volunteers of all ages have multiple demands. These include work, school and family. Organizations benefit from being flexible and accommodating.
Organizations should be sensitive to gender, culture, language and age. A welcoming and inclusive environment attracts volunteers.
While many organizations use technology and social media, volunteers want to find more information online.
The information contained in this study served to solidify two key pieces of Volunteer Maryland’s work.
Volunteer programs are not static, and need to have planned revision to continue to serve the needs of the community served.
Volunteers are not static and continue to change and present new recruitment and retention nuances that speak to specific generations and motivations.
My last blog focused on talking with staff concerning the volunteer program. Now I am going to recommend asking them to read. This study could just be the spark that leads to those great conversations on how volunteers engage, serve and help define your organizations volunteer program. Maybe even spark a study of your own.
People often ask, what is the one thing my organization can do to ensure our volunteer programs success? This question tells me two things. One is organizations are continuing to look for the one thing that will make its volunteer program take off, and two I need to diversify my cocktail party conversation. But let’s look at this. Is there a one size fits all answer? Maybe not a total answer, but I do think there is one piece of the volunteer program success model that most often points towards success, staff buy-in.
Let’s start with an example that we hear often. An organization decides to make the volunteer program a priority, and submits an application to Volunteer Maryland to support this priority. Great! This is a positive step. Through the application, negotiation and placement of a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator (VMC) some staff are engaged in the process, which is typical as involving every staff member in this process could be cumbersome. The VMC begins serving within the organization, and starts recruiting volunteers. Volunteers begin to show up, and staff starts insisting that volunteers are just not needed. What happened? Reality happened. Kind of like wanting a baby, and having one. Babies are so darn cute, but the reality is they are demanding and life changing. Volunteers are not babies of course, but they do put a level of demands in terms of time and evaluation on staff that needs to be addressed while the organization is still in the “glint in the eye” phase. Not the 3:00 am, sleep deprived phase that developing a volunteer program brings.
So what have we seen that works? Talking. Yup, there it is, talking. Talking with staff about needing volunteers is a good step, but talking about staff roles is a better one. What are staff expectations? Are there any misconceptions concerning bringing in volunteers? Volunteers can be viewed as replacement staff, which is never a good idea. Talk about training needed for staff. How can you incorporate them in the development phase? Developing a leadership team for the volunteer program using program staff is a great way to evaluate the volunteer program, and build more investment. Lastly, keep talking. Staff changes and new volunteer opportunities could lead to a disillusionment of the once bouncing bundle of volunteer joy. Volunteers and the service they bring are great; make sure your staff feels that way, too. A little talking up front can build staff/volunteer relationships that produce results, and perhaps some great photos to share on your Facebook page.
When the calendar turns to November, I begin looking at the many things I have to be thankful for. I love that. I think about my great family, and the wonderful friends that fill my life. I think about the adventures and anecdotes that fill a year with laughter, hope and humility. In all of this thinking and thanking is Volunteer Maryland. I love this job, but more importantly I love the people within it. Through this blog, you have met Laura Aceituno, Kerry Ose, Elena Felton and Taketra Haynes, Volunteer Maryland’s Support Team. They are an amazing group of people, that I truly do not thank enough for their hard work and dedication. They push and pull VM into new shapes and forms each day while continuing to build on what we do well. They are also hilarious, kind, supportive, and brilliant. Volunteer Maryland works within the Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives. This office is full of people dedicated to the citizens of Maryland, and we are glad we can join them in this service.
Right after the Support Team and our colleagues, I am thankful for the VMCs and Service Sites that we currently work with. You met our VMCs through this blog, and will continue to learn more about their work and their Sites that do amazing work supporting Maryland communities. The wall outside of my office has picture of each VMC along with the logo of their Service Site. It is a small thank you to these folks, with the hope that others that share the fifteenth floor at 301 West Preston will learn a bit more about the VMCs work, and the mission of the organizations we support. Volunteer Maryland asks each Service Site to designate a Site Supervisor. These folks work directly with the VMC in their work of volunteer program development and management along with the many other tasks and roles they play within the organization. Their role is one of the keys to a successful partnership with VM and success for the VMC. I am thankful for our work together, and the professionalism, support and guidance you provide the VMCs.
Volunteer Maryland really has 1,200 thanks to give this year. Five hundred and twenty three are to the Service Sites, past and present. I looked over the list right before starting this blog, and felt such amazing gratitude for our time together, and the continued commitment to excellence in volunteer programs. Six hundred and seventy seven go to AmeriCorps members, both VMC and VISTA that Volunteer Maryland has worked with over the years. I am humbled by all of your commitments to serve within communities that struggle, and renewed in service with each of your stories.
Simple thanks can never convey everything that your partnership, support and service have meant to Volunteer Maryland and to me. I thank you for connecting with Volunteer Maryland, and wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving. Talk to you soon.
Maryland is a really great state. I know it gets some bad press every once in a while, but it has so much to offer. From the mountain vistas of Western Maryland; the vibrant urban setting of Baltimore City; the Chesapeake Bay; our rural heritage on display on the Eastern Shore, and the beaches of Ocean City, we have it all. Beyond just the loveliness of our state, we also have another treasured resource, volunteers. Each year Maryland celebrates and honors its volunteers at the highest level with the Governor’s Service Awards.
These awards recognize Maryland citizens for their significant volunteer contributions to the life and health of the State and its people. This year was the 30th year that volunteers were honored for their not so simple acts of giving to the place we call home. I attended this ceremony to support my fellow volunteer supporters in arms, the Governor’s Office of Service and Volunteerism (GOSV). If you have never heard of the GOSV, let me fill you in. The GOSV was founded in 1993; and the office supports 600 AmeriCorps members each year through its grant-making program. In addition, the GOSV advocates for effective volunteer program management and recognizes volunteer service across the state on behalf of the Governor of Maryland. Each year, over 10,000 Maryland volunteers are recognized by the Governor’s Office through activities and services provided by the GOSV. Twenty seven Maryland residents were selected to receive Governor’s Service Awards at a ceremony held in Annapolis on November 4. The recipients were selected in 11 different categories including individual, organizational, and group volunteers. In addition, special recognition was given to individuals and groups celebrating significant accomplishments. To learn more about the recipients, visit here
Maryland really is the winner in this. Through the efforts of volunteers, our natural world heals a little more each year. Volunteers provide countless hours of help to students seeking to improve. Critically ill Marylanders are provided extra comfort. Veterans regain their pride as they move towards self sufficiency. Miles of trails are maintained. Legal help is offered. Blood drives are held. All from folks that value Maryland and the people within it. Maryland totally wins. As the holidays roll around once more, maybe you are thinking about volunteering in your community. Do it! The GOSV website has links to Volunteer Centers in Maryland, that can offer a place to connect with great volunteer opportunities. I am going to bet that the folks honored did not start volunteering with any grandiose ideas of awards or recognition; they just wanted to make a difference in Maryland, just like you might be thinking now. Do it. Maryland is a great state, and your service will only make it better.
Thank you for connecting with Volunteer Maryland. Talk to you soon.