How to Deal With a Hard Headed Three Year Old

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Have you ever tried to rationalize with a three-year-old?  Apparently, this is something my mother had to do on a regular basis.  According to her, the stubbornness started when I was born, 10 days after my due date! I was born in May, so the Taurus bull in me reared its head often. When I was three years old and trying to learn a backward somersault for gymnastics, my mom tells me I would practice over and over again.  She said I had bruises on the back of my head because the floor in our house was so hard.  She remembers continually asking me to stop and that my answer to her was always, “Just one more”.  After two hours of banging my head on the floor, I had the backward somersault!  You might be thinking: this does not sound like a difficult child.  However,  I also insisted on having my mom watch me.  I wanted to make sure that once I mastered the backward somersault, she would see it.

I slowly learned to use my bull-like powers for good and not evil! We rarely ate fast food, but once in awhile my Pop would cave and take me to McDonald’s.  We were taking a ride through town on our way to get a burger when I saw a woman with two young children sitting on the side of the road holding a sign that said, “Please help, homeless & hungry”.   I remember feeling confused.  I am sure I saw homeless and hungry people before, but for some reason, she stuck out in my head.  She had two girls with her and it made me think – what if those two girls were my sister and I – what if that woman was my mom.  I internalized their situation and I had to do something about it.  I asked Pop if he would buy three extra hamburgers.  He asked me why I needed three more hamburgers if I had just finished eating!  I described what I had seen and pleaded for him to buy the hamburgers for the lady.  Pop did not like to waste money, but he hated disappointing me more – and I knew that!  I got my way, we gave the hamburgers to the family, and every weekend for about five months, we drove around our town handing out anything I could squander from the cupboards in our house.  I think my mom was actually planting extra canned goods and boxed food in order to boost my enthusiasm.

Whether you call it being hard headed, stubborn, or persistent, this Nicki With Oystersattitude has helped me in so many aspects.  As a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator in the Class of VM 24, this resolve helped me to accomplish many difficult or challenging volunteer projects. As a VMC at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis, I called on my bullish nature to do anything from get trees planted to train Girl Scouts about oyster restoration.  Through the many projects and programs we were able to accomplish many meaningful volunteer experiences.  I am looking forward to being part of so many more!

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National Donut Day

National Donut Day is today and along with dreams of deep-fried dough, it has me thinking of creative service to others.  What got me from donuts to service?  The story behind National Donut Day is that the Salvation Army started this day as a fundraiser during the Great Depression.  They had become known for donuts during World War I when volunteers would provide comfort and care to soldiers at donut and coffee stations.  The National Donut Day tradition has continued ever since, honoring both military veterans and the volunteers who cared for them.

This creative holiday is so popular because it gives people a way to do some good within the everyday routine of their day (or reward themselves with a special treat, as their taste in sweets may be).  One of the best ways to gain support and get people involved is to be creative.  Like at the Dundalk Renaissance Corporation, one of our partners sites, where Jacqueline, the Volunteer Maryland Coordinator, had volunteers pick up trash on a walk from the town center to a nearby restaurant.  Through their efforts, those volunteers picked up enough litter to fill two full pick-up truck, AND they got the reward of fun and food at the end of it!

What these have in common is the organizations being able to identify an important need, and address it in a creative way. It can be a lot of fun coming up with new and creative ways to involve and encourage volunteers. You may even find that your event is so popular in the community that it becomes an annual fundraiser event for your organization! So now as you celebrate the 76th anniversary of this happy holiday with a donut, celebrate service too.

Wait Until You Hear This

At Volunteer Maryland, we talk a lot about storytelling and we also talk a great deal about “the ask”.   While preparing training materials this week, I became more convinced than ever that storytelling and the ask are one in the same.   When we tell stories, we are implicitly asking for our audience’s attention. And when we ask for something, we almost always have a story about why we need it and why it should be given.

Not surprisingly, Volunteer Maryland Coordinators get lots of training and plenty of practice in the areas of asking and telling.  To ensure staff buy-in, VMCs tell compelling stories about how volunteers will help the organization fulfill its mission.  And what is volunteer recruitment besides an ask?  Once those volunteers are recruited, VMCs provide orientations that include the creation story of the organization, as well as success stories that inspire and encourage new volunteers.

At our next training, we will focus on storytelling — stories about ourselves, our service and our organizations.  As the Relay For Life video below shows, a good story makes all the difference when asking for help, donations, partnerships and pretty much everything.  What’s your story?

Don’t Neglect the Things that Bring You Joy

Now can be a stressful time, with new projects starting up with the new year.  It can be easy to become swept up in that rush and forget to take time for yourself.  I think this is especially important when I think about the AmeriCorps members serving with Volunteer Maryland.  Devoting yourself to any one thing, especially when it’s the service of others, can really wear a person out.  So I want to say: make sure that you have time to relax, however you like.

It’s important to remember that there is life outside your job and your volunteering obligations.  Keep in mind your own needs and goals, then make them a priority that ranks with your professional work.  Passions and hobbies allow creativity to grow, and are a rejuvenating force.

If you like to read, make time for a good book.  It’s the same whether you relax with a good run or a day of cooking.  Don’t neglect the things that bring you joy – a happy person will provide more effective service than someone who feels exhausted or resents not having time for themselves.

Right now I am reading Treasure Island, which has no direct application in my work, but it is engaging and enjoyable.  After work, rushing around through chores and seeing friends, it’s even more important that I take some time to relax.  It might be twenty minutes, it might be an hour – but I make sure it happens.

Look at your own life – do you sometimes feel like you’re passing other people like ships in the night?  It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the workaday world and forget about the importance of interpersonal contact and communication.  Nurturing yourself.  If you work in a field where the focus is on taking care of others, it can be tough to remember that you too are worth that same time and care that you give to others.  While you can’t reduce the time you spend on some things like your job, it’s important to find time for the things you love, so you stay happy, healthy, and ready to give your all.

Learning Through My Travels

Through all of the site visits that Volunteer Maryland makes around the state, we get to see a lot of great ideas in practice, like Mosaic Community Center featuring the artwork of their clients throughout the office, or the Dundalk Renaissance Corporation’s multi-pronged approach to engaging their community.  On a recent visit to Shepherd’s Clinic in Baltimore, I was able to see a medical center that provides its care using almost exclusively volunteers.  With so many volunteers playing a role in Shepherd Clinic’s work, I wondered how they make sure everyone felt recognized and appreciated.

Shepherd mosaic

As I soon learned, some of the methods they use were quite eye-catching.  As we toured the clinic, we walked by a beautiful mosaic that combined a timeline of Shepherd Clinic’s history and testament to the many volunteers that have given their time over the years.  I could imagine as a volunteer walking through the hall, this would give me a sense of history and belonging.

We also saw an interesting way of combining name tag storage with learning each others name.  Each volunteer had a picture of themselves on a board next to the check-in station where their name tag would be clipped whenever it wasn’t being used.  Not only does each volunteer get to feel like a star with their picture on display, but it can be helpful for learning names and faces in such a busy place. Building camaraderie in a big volunteer base can be a challenge, and this is a fun way to help address it.

Shepherd board2I loved seeing how Shepherd’s Clinic creatively integrated volunteer appreciation and a sense of unity into the everyday structure of their work.  One of my favorite parts of the site visits is seeing the different approached that each nonprofit takes to serve their volunteers and community.  Each site has something that we can learn from, and I know I will continue to be impressed as we travel!and this is a fun way to help address it.

Photos courtesy of Shepherd’s Clinic

Orienteering and Orientations

scroll-mapIf you were dropped into the wilderness with no idea of where you were, you’d want a compass and a map before you felt ready to start exploring.  An orientation gives the potential new volunteer their compass and map in this new environment.  A well-done orientation can leave a volunteer feeling prepared for their relationship with the organization.  It has let them know why they are there (cause), how they will be volunteering (system), and how they fit in with the organization (social).

What do you like about orientations that you have been through?  For instance, I really like having the history of the organization explained because then I can understand their roots.  If you haven’t been through one recently, take a look at orientation videos from the Red Cross and from the American Cancer Society.  If there was something that sticks out in your mind as particularly good or particularly unhelpful,  let that guide your approach.  But be open to feedback from others, since everyone has a different learning style.  Take the time to figure out what approach makes the most sense for you and your organization.

Maybe you normally have an hour or even several hours to orient new volunteers, but if you only had ten minutes, you would need to focus on a few key areas.  As I mentioned earlier, an orientation can be broken into three sections.  You have the cause; which includes the need in the community, who is being served, the organization’s mission, its programs and services, and a general overview of the organization.  The system is usually introduced next; this can be the structure of the organization, how volunteers contribute to its programs, a tour, an overview of major events coming up for the organization, and the policies and procedures.

Finally, it is vital to include the social aspect.  This makes for more comfortable and happy volunteers.  The social aspect covers a welcome by the staff, leadership, and current volunteers, a description of the organization’s culture, and (always important!) information about how to share this volunteer opportunity with friends.

At our next In-Service Training for Volunteer Maryland, we will ask each Volunteer Maryland Coordinator to pretend we are potential volunteers and give us an orientation for their service site.  Each will give us the lay of the land, and perhaps even get the audience ready to explore as a volunteer!

Braving the New World

All of us, it seems, whether young, old or in between, have our issues with social media.  For some, the whole concept is utterly mystifying. Others, while entirely clear on the concept, are anxious about its implications.  Love it or hate it, the reality is that if nonprofits want to accomplish their missions, they probably need to embrace social media, and do so with gusto.

I know that in my role as a Volunteer Maryland Peer Leader, it is crucial to have the best information and resources to share with Volunteer Maryland Coordinators.  Because most organizations do not have a full-time communications director, many VMCs are responsible for creating and maintaining their volunteer program’s social media presence.

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of participating in Heather Mansfield’s dense, substantive, and fascinating webinar based on her book, Social Media for Social Good: A How-To Guide for Nonprofits.

True to its name, this was a how-to webinar, with lots of nuts and bolts, but with plenty of insightful context, too.  Perhaps most helpful was Mansfield’s description of the three generations of nonprofit social media use:  Web 1.0, Web 2.0 and Web 3.0.

Web 1.0, also described as The Broadcast Web, consists primarily of web sites, donate buttons and e-newsletters. Web 1.0 is very informative but not particularly interactive.  That said, state of the art homepages and e-newsletters are just as important now as they ever were.

Web 2.0, or the Social Web, was born in the early 2000s, with the advent of Linkedin and the proliferation of blogs. Thanks to the personal, informal nature of blogging and the many social media sites that followed in Linkedin’s footsteps, nonprofits were no longer simply broadcasting information, but exchanging it.  Though this has opened up incredible opportunities not just for outreach, but also for peer-to-peer fundraising, many organizations, to this day, fear and eschew the social web because they do not want to lose control of their message.  Though such fear is understandable, it is, at this point, self-sabotaging.  Not to worry, though, there are great examples out there of how to get beyond this resistance.

Web 3.0 is the Mobile Web, which includes mobile websites, group messaging, and smart phone apps. We are entering an era when online donation, with its long forms asking for credit card numbers and billing addresses is being replaced by a smart phone app that allows individuals to donate to a cause with the tap of a touch screen.  Such new technology makes it all the more essential for every nonprofit to have a mobile version of its website.  If creating a mobile website sounds daunting, do not despair.  For as little as $8 a month, services such as mofuse.com will build one for you.

If there was any one take away point, it was this:  Newer social media does not render older social media obsolete.  Nonprofits need to use all three generations of the web, in conjunction with one another, to reach their intended audience of potential volunteers, members and donors.

The great news? Successful use of social media is a science, but it’s not rocket science. All one has to do is look at what the best in the business, such as The Nature Conservancy, is doing, and pretty much copy them.  From the location and color of the “Donate” button to the beautiful slideshow and uncluttered design, this website has almost everything you would want to emulate on your own nonprofit’s website.

Almost?  To perfect your up to the millisecond website, you need one more ingredient:  information about where to find your organization throughout the social media sphere. Perhaps the best example of this is Mansfield’s blog.   Visitors to her blog have the option of finding Mansfield on no fewer than 12 social media sites.

While a flashy website with the perfect blend of an old school e-newsletter and links to hip social media such as Pinterest and Instagram might be surprisingly easy to set up, Mansfield warns that it can be a bear to maintain.  To make those links to your blog, Instagram, Flickr, and Youtube worthwhile, you must always be updating them by adding compelling content.  If that sounds like a full time job, Mansfield assures us that it is.  And for most nonprofits, adding such a position is a pipe dream.  But the day may be coming when social media managers as central to nonprofits as program managers.  Until then, it’s up to each of our organizations to decide just how much online awesomeness we can handle.

You Are Not Alone

So you have a million things on your plate right now. As you start to truly embrace your role as a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator, your schedule is filling up and you might be worrying about getting it all done. What comes first; recruiting 15 volunteers for next week’s project, filling out that work plan, or working on planning the big project that’s coming up in a few months? At this wonderful stage of possibilities, you might be still deciding what direction you want your projects to go in, and which priorities should claim your time.

If this sounds like you, don’t panic – you’re not alone. One of the strategies that Volunteer Maryland uses to help folks throughout the year with this feeling is the weekly check-ins and the monthly regional meetings. The check-ins are Kerry and my time to hear about how you are doing and talk through some strategies in a one-on-one setting. The regional meetings are a time for you to share how you are doing directly to your fellow Volunteer Maryland Coordinators, and collaborate on solutions from a variety of angles.

There is the fear that you are the only one going through what you are going through; but talking to your Peer Leaders and to other Volunteer Maryland Coordinators helps you find out how others who are dealing with the same challenges as you are and maybe overcoming them. Each and every site has a different purpose and culture, but you’ll find that you have more similar experiences than different ones – you’re at very different places, but fundamentally you’re going to go through a lot of the same things.

“Catching up with the VMC crew was the highlight of my week. Realizing that I wasn’t the only frazzled, overwhelmed person was lovely… I feel like a whole new person,” Kristen said during our first regional meeting.

I’d love to hear what other ways you all are dealing with the new experiences and stresses, and so would your fellow VMCs. So make some time for coffee with one another. Take some time to talk things over with Kerry and I. Sharing strategies is a great way to get to know each other and find some good new ways to work through the difficulties of a new job.

Let’s Talk About You

I bet right now that at least some of you are already starting to recruit volunteers.  And I bet that each of you has your own way of appealing to soon-to-be volunteers; you already are experienced, and this was covered in our training just a few weeks ago. But now that you are at your site, let’s revisit it and take a look at how you can turbo-charge your recruiting.  One of the challenges that Volunteer Maryland Coordinators face, especially in their first few weeks, is the direct recruiting of volunteers.  With no or little shared history and experience with these volunteers, it can be daunting to try and re-forge old connections or seek out new ones. One of the hardest things to do is convince people to give up their free time to help someone they don’t even know.

One of the most effective ways is to attract volunteers at a personal level.  Your cause might be the greatest cause out there, but are you conveying that to your audience?  Another way to ask this is “How are you sharing your organization’s story?”.  To do great outreach, you need to tap into “you”, the passion that brought you here, to get attention and capture hearts.  Take some time and get all introspective for a minute.  What is your story of how you ended up at this organization?  Try putting it in words so that a stranger could understand it.

Know what inspires you about your organization, your story, so that you can share that with your volunteers. Find a way to embrace the organization’s foundation story and to put it in your own words.  You don’t need to wax poetic to your audience- I’m sure they would like to hear the nuts and bolts of the volunteer position too, but your heartfelt advocacy of your cause will still come through. And you can draw on a number of volunteer management experts on the way to perfecting your pitch.

For a fun example of how you can inspire others with your own love of service, take a look at short videos of our Pre-Service Training service projects (you can make your own for free too!).

VM25 & Blue Water Baltimore
VM25 & Paul’s Place

The Great Wall

The following is a guest post from Patrice Beverly, VM’s Outreach Manager.

Ever hit a time when you energy and creativity are at an all time low?  Summers at Volunteer Maryland are pretty hectic with finishing a class and preparing to launch another.  It can feel like all you have time for is Quad 1 tasks, and your to do list and inspired list seem to get lost under a sea of do it now post-it-notes.  After all of this activity, it can feel like driving full force into a concrete wall, reinforced if I might add.  But it is time for new ideas and initiatives!  So how to overcome the great wall that seems to exist between my creative and exhausted self?  I have started a list of things that might bring back the creativity in my work.  So here are my very un-scientific thoughts:

Re-arrange your office.  A new view could help bust through the blahs.  I know that, for some people, the routine helps with creativity, but for those who need to shake it up a bit, give it a try.  I must disclose here that shoving furniture is a time honored therapy with the women in my family, handed down to us by our mom, a habitual mover of the furniture.  She claimed that it helped her relieve stress, and calm her thoughts so she could get at the really important ones.  My sisters and I swear by it.

Don’t ignore the play.  Let’s face it, we are at work a heck of a long time, and if you work in an office eight plus hours a day, it can get downright depressing.  Each Friday, Volunteer Maryland staff takes about 10 minutes to dance.  That’s right, dance.  It feels great to play with my colleagues and to feel a bit silly.  Now, dancing might not be your thing, but find a way to play with your team.  Creative environments breed creativity, and play works a different side of your brain.  Making play a part of your work life will not only help with creativity, but you might learn that your office mate does a mean samba.

Put goals where you can see them.  I am not talking tasks here, I am talking big goals like climb Mt. Everest, or receive 50 plus applications (that is really one of my goals).   When you have a good idea, but can’t get to it, write it down under that goal.  I put these huge post-it notes on a wall in my office with three big goals I have for my work this year.  As an idea floats through my mind, I am going to capture it on a smaller post-it under the big goal.  So many times I have a great idea, but lose it in the course of my day.  This way I can capture the idea, continue what I was doing, and have a good marker when I circle back.

Put up reminders of what inspires you.  Each of us has a reason we do this work, but in the day to day agendas, there is little time to reflect on that.   Indulge that reason each day with pictures, thoughts, words, thank you notes, whatever reminds you that what you do has a larger purpose.  It not only feels good, but it can bring back the passion and drive to keep moving and striving for the best we have.

Nothing here is ground breaking, but in a recent post I talked about shaking it up, and I am sticking to it.  I write this from a freshly re-arranged office, with goals in plain sight.  No big surge of creativity yet, but I feel more open to new thoughts and ideas.  I will keep you posted when the lightning strikes.