Moveable Feast’s Recipe for Successful Volunteer Management

Volunteer Maryland’s new class of AmeriCorps members recently completed two weeks of Pre-Service Training. These sessions orient the current class of Volunteer Maryland Coordinators to service, program development, communication, and leadership skills. Volunteer Maryland Coordinators examine and experience best practices of volunteer management. Experiential practice prepares members to apply the principles at their respective Service Sites. Incorporated into the training session is a service project. Participation in this project provides the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators with an opportunity to learn about a specific community need, experience volunteer orientation and training themselves, and demonstrate what was learned. This year we volunteered at Moveable Feast. Here, each day, 1,100 nutritious meals are prepared and delivered to homebound members of our community suffering from HIV/AIDS and breast cancer. Last year, over 11,000 volunteers served more than 50,000 hours. Here is how Moveable Feast makes it happen:

 

Ingredients:
~heartfelt passion
~a solid understanding of the community need and agency mission
~a handful of humility
~knowledge of staff/volunteer investment, policies and documentation
~heaping helping of flexibility
~effective recruitment, orientation/training, and recognition
~healthy sprinkling humor

Directions:
1) Have Volunteer Coordinator, Tom Patrick, share his passion and that of Moveable Feast with you. He began “helping out” over 20 years ago and continues to carry the mission of volunteer work at Moveable Feast forward.
2) Choose from several areas in which to commit your time. Our volunteers were divided between the kitchen, garden and office. However, it rained. . .and then it poured. No worries, Tom was quite masterful at finding alternative tasks crucial to the program. Because Moveable Feast’s volunteer procedures and position descriptions are clear and well-defined, the garden group easily took on other responsibilities including, follow-up phone calls and writing Thank You letters to volunteers.
3) Tom was adept at weaving our service that day into the rich tapestry of Moveable Feast history. We also received training in required procedures, were invited (recruited) to return for upcoming events and, walked out feeling like we had made a real difference.
4) If you’re interested in “tasting” Moveable Feast’s recipe for volunteering first hand, contact Tom and add yourself; groups are welcome!

At the conclusion of our Service Day, the Volunteer Maryland Peer Leaders, Joy and I, facilitated small group discussions with the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators reflecting on what we had learned at Moveable Feast. The reflections acknowledged the importance of including flexibility, humor and structure in a successful volunteer program. Each group prepared a demonstration that symbolized their experience. The demonstrations included group spoken word, ingredients to build a volunteer cupcake (Did you wonder where I got the idea for this post?) and a family convincing reluctant teenagers to get involved in service. This opportunity gave the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators personal practice in a successful volunteer experience. Now, they are putting this process into practice as they recruit and manage volunteer programs at their Service Sites.

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Have You Got a Story To Tell? Part 2

This is part two of a three-part series of posts adapted from my session notes from the National Conference on Service and Volunteering.  You can read part one here.

Setting up a blog is fairly easy to do, but there’s a lot of work that you should do both before and after you’ve started the blog.  Perhaps the most important thing is that you don’t start with a blank piece of paper, or a brand new Word document.  That’s a horrible place to start. 

They might be a great place to start writing, but if you’re going to start blogging, or working with any kind of social media, then you need to have an organization-wide social media strategy.  It doesn’t have to be a multi-page document like the EPA’s white paper on Web 2.0.  It can be a few lines about how no one in the organizations will act in a way that paints the organization in a negative or questionable light.  Don’t forget about it once you’ve written it, either.  It should evolve as you experiment more with social media.  Something that ought to be considered when you’re writing a social media policy is what the goals for using social media are, especially things that you’ll be spending a lot of time on, so you can tell whether you’re meeting your goals.

Once there’s a policy set, then you need to start thinking about how often you want your blog to be updated.  Something that’s worked really well for Volunteer Maryland is to have five different authors for our blog, each one posting new content once a week.  Five different authors posting once a week create new content every day.  The best part of having a group of authors is that everyone is going to have a different voice, and a different way of seeing their jobs, so the content is always fresh.  We shoot for blog entries that are 500-700 words long.  It’s a nice length; long enough to develop a story but short enough so there isn’t a huge time investment in reading the entry.

 If that doesn’t work for your organization, that’s fine; it’s ok to try something else.  Find out what works best and go with that.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t add or change authors, either.  If your original plan doesn’t work for what your organization is trying to do, keep changing things until you find what works.

What do you do if you find out that your blog is no longer meeting your organization’s goals and you don’t have the resources to devote to maintaining it?  You’re going to pull the plug on the blog, but you don’t want to just leave it hanging on the internet.  The last thing you want is for someone to find a blog that hasn’t been updated in three years.  Even if you have a post about how the blog doesn’t fit into your organization’s strategic vision anymore, make sure there’s some sort of closure to the blog.

There’s one more thing that I’m going to talk about, and that’s how to deal with negativity in your blog.  If you’re really eager to get started, go for it!  If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch with me on Twitter or by email.

Have You Got A Story To Tell?

Two weeks ago I mentioned a talk that I gave at the National Converence on Volunteering and Service on using a blog as an outreach tool for nonprofits.  The HandsOn Blog posted a section of my session notes, and in case you’ve missed it there, I decided to post the first section of notes here.  We talk about storytelling a lot over the course of the service year, and we do it in a lot of different ways.  We talk about our own story, the stories that we tell when people ask what we do, and we tell stories about our clients and our volunteers.  Blogging is just another way to tell a story. 

What’s the most important thing that you and your organization need to know about blogging?  It’s not where to host the blog, or how to bring readers to your blog, or even how often you’re going to update.  These are important things to consider, but the most important thing to know about blogging is this:

 Content is king, and platform doesn’t matter.

If you don’t have a message, if you don’t have something that you’re passionate about, if you don’t have something that you really want to tell other people about, and you don’t want to do it with some kind of regularity, then blogging might not be the best use of your resources.

 If you’ve got something that you think is pretty awesome and you want to talk about it, chances are pretty good that someone will want to listen.  If you share why you think the things you do are awesome, you’ll get people to start thinking that they’re awesome too.  Don’t believe me?

On July 19, 2010 a Google search for ‘worm composting blogs’ returned three hundred and seventy THOUSAND hits.  That’s a lot of people thinking that worm composting is pretty awesome.  This just in, the internet is not a fad.

It doesn’t matter where your blog is hosted.  Does your organization have buckets of money to throw at hosting and design?  We all do, right?  For those of us who aren’t heating their offices with rolls of twenties, there are plenty of websites that will host your blog for free.  The great thing about a lot of the free blog hosts is that you can make a fairly attractive and functional blog without knowing any programming languages, and without any expensive software.  There are plenty of blog hosts out there that will work just fine for what your organization wants to do, that is, if your organization knows what it wants to do.  So, just what can you do with your blog?

You can tell a story.  You have a story, right?  Is it funny?  Great.  Embarrassing?  Awesome.  Horrifying?  Even better.

This is what we do.  Every day we’re telling stories.  We talk about the cute thing that our cat did.  We talk about the person we met in line at the grocery story yesterday.  We tell stories when we talk to people about what we do, and we do it when we’re applying for grants to help fund our organizations.

It’s a great thing to do with your blog, too.  Tell me a story.  Tell me about what your organization does, and why you do it.  Give me a chance to better understand your organization and build a connection with it.  Tell me about the people who volunteer with your organization.  Tell me about how they’re just like me.  They’re making an impact on your organization, maybe I can too.  Tell me about one of your clients.  Tell me about their successes and challenges they’ve had, is there something that I can do to help them?  Tell me about something awesome that your organization is doing, and then tell me how I can get involved.

Does your organization do something really well?  I hope so.  Can you teach other people to do it well?  Why not give out advice to organizations that work in areas similar to where you work? 

You might say, “But we don’t want to give away our secrets!”  You don’t have to, but chances are pretty good that they’re not as secret-y as you think they are.  Tell me how to do something, but tell me why you’re the best at it.  Bob Vila and Norm Abram don’t care if you steal their ideas, they’ve got a show and a website dedicated to you stealing their ideas.  Not just stealing the ideas, though, learning from what they already know how to do really well.

Your blog can also serve as a great place to bring all of your social media together.  Show me what your organization does, don’t just tell me.  Does your organization have a camera?  How about a video camera?  You don’t even need a video camera to make videos about your organization, just a bunch of pictures and an Animoto account.  Animoto for a Cause is supporting nonprofits by giving them access to their Pro accounts for a year for free!   

There’s a lot more to do than just make sure all of your pictures are in your blog, and that you’re able to make videos out of your pictures.  You’ve got to make everything accessible.  Your blog is a great place to link together all of your social media efforts, either with blog updates linking directly to new content, or by setting up your blog to display content that exists outside of your blog.  Tying everything together in one place allows someone to visit the blog to hear stories, click on a YouTube link to watch a video of your last big event, and then head over to your Flickr page to see pictures of your volunteers, all while staying at a site that talks about your organization.

One other thing that doesn’t hurt is having some awesome writers.  One of the things that makes this blog work best is that there are four other awesome writers contributing content.  I am firm in my belief that, if we all decided to write on the same topic one week, it would still be interesting and entertaining because everyone’s voice is so different.  As the service year winds down, I know that one of the things I’m going to miss is reading everyone else’s stories every day.  

What are you going to do when the young ears open to you?  Speak up, speak up my friends.