Small Gifts Have Big Effects

Between the work that I do and the work that my Volunteer Maryland Coordinators do, I get to see the power of in-kind donations.  In-kind donations come from any person or business, discounting or donating any good or service.  For instance, a donation of lunches from local restaurants to volunteers made the build days that much more rewarding at Habitat for Humanity Choptank. The value of service is the service itself – but it never hurts to feel appreciated. In-kind donations go a long way to make the volunteers feel special.

It can also come in the form of service done for free – two professors from Anne Arundel Community College led a workshop on resume-writing for formerly homeless people now graduating from the Light House’s BEST Academy.  That small effort provided skills and confidence for the students that they could carry with them as they begin their job search.

Volunteer Maryland recently received a donation from Papa John’s Pizza that not only fed hungry Volunteer Maryland Coordinators, but made them feel honored with special treatment of getting all the works.  It is often the little things, more than the grand gestures, that have the greatest effect.

I wanted to highlight a few of the in-kind donations received this year to highlight the impact that they have on our work.  In-kind donations are one of the behind the scenes things that really help the nonprofit world to turn. It makes volunteers feel special, serves clients with the help they need, helps nonprofits keep their costs down, and gives businesses the chance to get involved in their communities.  So a big thanks to all those who help make the work that nonprofits do possible!


Building Strength

The other evening, I had the privilege of attending the kickoff event for the newly launched Baltimore chapter of Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN).  I wasn’t surprised to see familiar faces from other AmeriCorps programs there, looking to continue a career in nonprofits.  I did, however, also enjoy hearing a number of new voices contributing to the discussion, in careers ranging from the police department to a for-profit bank.

YNPN serves as a resource for a new generation entering the nonprofit realm, giving people the opportunity to share ideas, find mentors, and become leaders.  Interestingly, in the panel discussion that took place, the two themes that emerged for me was the dynamic change that will come as a new generation moves into this field, and how to find guidance and mentorship from older, more established people in the nonprofit field.  The idea is that one does not conflict with the other, and that the best growth comes from these working together.  Those were two themes that I have heard before, but never thought of in conjunction before.

It is always valuable to get a new perspective, to hear new voices, on the issues we face.  The evening’s discussions inspired me to examine my actions- to make sure I was doing the best I could to, and not just sticking to comfortable habits during my year of service. We should never be afraid to critically reexamine things, when it comes to how we serve and how we give ourselves room to grow as leaders.  I am already looking forward to what more events the Baltimore chapter of YNPN will host, and what new ideas will come!

You Grow, We Know: How Partnering with Volunteer Maryland Could Work for You

Here at Volunteer Maryland, we are in the midst of receiving applications from potential partners for the coming year.  Each year, Volunteer Maryland partners with about 30 organizations, each one unique in what it does and how it operates.  Going to meet next year’s partners has been exciting and inspiring for me.

What I’m learning is that nonprofits evolve into a role, and the pieces of the nonprofit grow organically with it.  If one division of the organization discovers a need for volunteers, maybe it will start recruiting.  And then maybe another staff person may have started recruiting from their own network to fill a different volunteer role.  Now, as they move forward, they need to bring all of that together and figure out key items such as which staff member do volunteers report to?  What is the written description of the volunteer role?  And who’s tracking how many volunteers there are and how many hours they give?

As the organization grows in size, the methods that may have served it once now are no longer enough.  The staff may have an intuitive sense of what is working or not working for their organization, but they may have not had a chance to check in with staff members, the volunteers, and the community they serve to really assess that all needs are being met.

Volunteer Maryland fits in here as a means to take a step back, review the entire situation, and look at what changes might make the volunteer aspect of your program thrive.  And the Volunteer Maryland Coordinator comes in providing new eyes to the problem, often providing extra manpower, that can provide new and novel solutions.  Whether our partners are responding to a new or shifting need, or are improving on what is already in place, they do so to better engage and serve their community.

Spring is a time of renewal for the world around us, and it can be a time of new beginnings for your organization too.  If you are thinking about partnering with Volunteer Maryland, do not hesitate to be in touch.  You can even join us on May 9 for a lunch & learn and have any questions answered.  It’s a relationship that can benefit both you and your community for years to come.


In-Kind Fever

Here at Volunteer Maryland, we love in-kind donation success stories.   Anyone who as ever solicited in-kind donations knows that 1) It can sometimes be awkward and intimidating to ask businesses for free stuff, and 2) it feels amazing to get free stuff!

We are so passionate about in-kind donations at Volunteer Maryland that our Support Team provides thorough training on how to do it.  We cover everything from designing the ask, to researching good businesses to approach, to how to give our donors lots of publicity, and how to thank them in a way that makes them feel truly appreciated and that maintains an excellent partnership.


Ellen Dahill-Brown, VMC at CALM Frederick
Ellen Dahill-Brown, VMC at CALM Frederick


One member of Volunteer Maryland Class 25 who has done a brilliant job of soliciting said free stuff is Ellen Dahill-Brown.  Ellen is VMC at CALM Frederick, which is a conflict mediation center.   Among her many other responsibilities, Ellen is responsible for making sure volunteer mediators are fed throughout long training days, which is a daunting task indeed.  The results of her hard work?  See for yourself!  When I asked Ellen to list the donations she received for the most recent training at CALM, she wrote:

“Starbucks:  1st day and 3rd day travel containers of coffee, enough for 20 people.  Cups, cream, and sugar for the coffee.

Dunkin Donuts:  1st and 3rd day 3 dozen donuts each day.

Wegmans:  $50 gift card, used to buy a deli tray.

Weis:  $32.50 gift card, used to buy a deli tray.

Giant:  $20 gift card, used to buy bananas, oatmeal, ice and creamer.”

About her process, Ellen writes

“For the most part, the people I requested donations from don’t have online forms (other than Wegmans).  So my strategy was to cold call the organizations.  I asked them what they would need from me to even proceed with an ask.  When I called Dunkin Donuts they didn’t let me finish my question before they said it wouldn’t be a problem for them to donate 3 dozen donuts.  They said that a letter would help but that it wasn’t necessary.

The majority of the organizations require a request letter on the organization’s letterhead.  Some of the organizations want proof of nonprofit status.  Making the initial contact, and letting them know that I’m trying to make their life as easy as possible, has really opened the door for relationship building.”

So there you have it.  Don’t be afraid to approach local businesses (whether truly local or part of a chain) with clear information about what you need and your wish to make things as easy as possible for them.  Congratulations to Ellen and to all the VMCs who are supporting the work of their organizations and their volunteers by bringing in all these important donations, and thanks to all the businesses who so freely donate to local nonprofits.

Earn It, Keep It, Save It – Tax Time on an AmeriBudget

Guest post by Sharon Baldwin

It’s that time of year when W-2s start hitting mailboxes and many of us make plans for a much-anticipated refund (or worrying about what kind of money we might owe). For those of us living on AmeriCorps stipends, and for folks with low incomes in general, a tax refund might mean we can splurge, visit families who are far away, or set some money aside in an emergency fund. Last year, I paid $80 to get my taxes done and thought I got a deal. This year, because of my work as the Volunteer Maryland Coordinator at the nonprofit Baltimore CASH–Creating Assets, Savings, and Hope–Campaign, I know I have other, better options for keeping money in my pocket at tax time.

The Baltimore CASH Campaign’s mission is to promote and provide products and services that increase opportunities to build financial stability for low income families in and around Baltimore. One of these valuable services is free, high quality tax preparation for low and moderate income folks through the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. Baltimore CASH and its partners offer no-cost tax preparation at 15 tax sites in and around Baltimore. Individuals earning less than $25,000/year and families earning less than $50,000/year are eligible for free tax preparation and opportunities to connect to savings opportunities. (Not near Baltimore? Find a VITA tax site near you on this list maintained by our partner and sister program The Maryland CASH Campaign.)

My time so far has been a crash course in volunteer management, behavioral economics, and taxes. I now understand the difference between standardized and itemized deductions; refundable and nonrefundable credits; and, just how many different definitions of dependents exist in the U.S. tax code. Our well-trained, IRS certified Tax Volunteers donate their valuable time and skills to learn all of this and more to prepare accurate returns and save you money at tax time.

Paid tax preparers are expensive–Baltimore CASH estimates that the average family saves $250 by using one of our tax sites for their taxes, that’s a quarter of the AmeriCorps monthly stipend! To make an appointment, call 410-234-8008, or, make one online.

Inspired by what we do and want to get involved? Visit our website, register to volunteer, find us on Facebook, or contact Sharon Baldwin, Volunteer Maryland Coordinator, or 410-234-2804

Thanksgiving – A Lesson in Outsourcing

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

Today is a rather sad day.  It is the last of the Thanksgiving leftovers.  Sure the stuffing is not as moist as it was week ago, and the mashed potatoes may have lost a bit of their softness, but the taste is undeniably Thanksgiving.  As I scrap the container for the last few morsels, I started thinking about the amount of coordination that went into this food fete.  I come from a big family, so long ago we abandoned the one person does all mentality of Thanksgiving.  It has become a symphony of outsourcing.  Each year members of my family tackle the questions of how to feed about 30 – 40 people, or as we call it, a small intimate gathering.  I am a pretty good pie maker, and am always game for a side dish or two.  My nephew makes great mashed potatoes.  My niece makes a mean green bean casserole with jalapeño peppers as an awesome pick-me-up to an otherwise mushy concoction.  I realize this coordinated effort is not new as many a Thanksgiving table is set with contributions from all that attend.  But this year it got me thinking about outsourcing and Volunteer Maryland.

I am not great at cooking a turkey.  As a matter of fact, on one of my first attempts, a dish rag that I was using made its way into the cavity of the old bird, and was baked in with the stuffing.  Dish rag stuffing is still a favorite story in my family.  So I go to the experts here.  I want quality, and know that within my reach are several experts in preparing turkey. So why struggle with doing something I am not sure of, and will come away with so-so results?  This is where I see Volunteer Maryland.  Not in the turkey prep role, but in providing real solutions to volunteer program problems.  See, there are so many variables when looking at volunteer program development, it can bring on that feeling of an overwhelmed host trying to prepare the perfect feast.  Preparation, timing and execution not only are the keys in the kitchen, but the keys to volunteer programs as well, and Volunteer Maryland can take them all on.  With 20 years working in the volunteer program development test kitchen, we got this down and continue to find better, more effective ways of creating, building and sustaining volunteer programs.  It really is a no brainer.  So let’s talk turkey, I mean volunteer program development.  Join Volunteer Maryland for a 45 minute webinar detailing what we provide.  More information is on Volunteer Maryland’s web site.  You don’t even need to bring anything, and I promise you will leave full of information and food for thought.

Whey Your Management Options

Yesterday we had a great day of training for all of our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators.  We were able to cover some great topics such as in-kind donations, volunteer orientations, and public speaking.  But one day isn’t enough time to cover all of the topics that Volunteer Maryland Coordinators wanted to know about.  Some of the questions I heard revolved around a central theme of working relationships.  So I wanted to take a moment to review some of the information we covered at Pre-Service Training.

I was trying to think of a good metaphor to talk about working relationships, and I thought, you know, I really like cheese.  How is dealing with people like dealing with cheese?  We deal with people every day of our lives, and they form as central a part of most people’s lives as cheese does to mine.  And as there are many kinds of cheese, there are many kinds of people.  And just like how you prefer Gouda to Gloucester, people have different preferences of how they deal with their supervisors and their volunteers.

When you think of communication styles, you have a good idea of what kind you prefer.  But what if, like we discussed in training, your boss has a totally different style?  Or maybe you like to communicate with your volunteers in a certain way, but you find it doesn’t work all that well.  Here we can take lessons from the humble cheese.  I may not prefer pungent cheese, but I can learn to appreciate its lovelier qualities.  In the same way, your boss might be short on the compliments and heavy on the constructive criticism; but what may help you is learning to appreciate your boss’s forthrightness with you, or knowing that when they give a compliment you know you’ve earned it.  In the same way, you might want to try offering your volunteers a different cheese – maybe they find your communications to be too roundabout, or maybe they need more personal attention.

Working with other people will be a constant, and for many people it may even be the most important part of their job.  Be creative in your approaches to dealing with people – don’t give up on relationships as unworkable, but try new tactics.  Try modifying your approach or try modifying your attitude.  You may have your personal style that you like best, but much like cheese, it is always rewarding to try something new.

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 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.

Thinking about investing in your Volunteer Program? Come talk to us!

It continues to be an interesting time for the nonprofit sector and for AmeriCorps.  With the economy continuing its struggle, we all seem to be living with a bit more of the unknown than we did a few years back.  Still, there are some things we know for sure – and right at the top of that list is an increased need to serve our communities.

If that’s you, then you might think about investing in your volunteer program as one way to help meet those community needs.

Volunteers aren’t free and they never will be.  It takes a tremendous amount of time, energy, and expertise to run a successful volunteer program.  But I don’t need to tell you that.

What I can tell you, simply, is how we may be able to help.  Are you looking to start a new volunteer program and need someone to come in and set up the structures?  Is your volunteer program struggling and in need of someone to update and re-energize things?  If so, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Each year we partner with about 30 different organizations to help them with their volunteer programs.  It takes energy on all sides and it’s no easy feat.  We provide intensive training to the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators and make training available to the staff at our partner organizations.  We work to conduct needs assessments, develop program structures, recruit volunteers, and evaluate everyone’s efforts.  Sometimes we’re helping to start up a brand-new volunteer program.  Other times we’re coming in to grease the wheels.

It takes a real investment from all parties but we know that it works when that investment is solid.  It’s an investment of time, commitment, and money.  An organization commits one – three hours a week to working directly with a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator, plus attends mandatory trainings three times over the year and optional online trainings every other month.  Add in a cash match ranging from $4,750 – $9,750, and you have a full-time person working on your volunteer program.  Commit to an ongoing investment in their success and you can have a sustainable volunteer program – one that meets your increasing community needs – for years to come.

Marie McSweeney, VMC at Digital Harbor High School
Marie is the Volunteer Maryland Coordinator at Digital Harbor High School

If you’re interested in thinking more about how we can help you with your volunteer program in the upcoming year, there are a few ways to learn more.


Want to learn more about what we do? Register for one of these!

Want to know how to submit a successful application? That’s right here!

For the application and other supporting documents about the application process, check out our web site


When: Monday, February 6, 10:00 am – 11:30 am

Where: Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore

1324 Belmont Avenue, Suite 401 – Salisbury, MD  21804

When: Tuesday, February 7, 10:30 am – 12:00 noon

Where: Prince George’s County Public Library – Hyattsville

Conference Room

6530 Adelphi Road – Hyattsville, MD  20782

When: Wednesday, February 8, 10:00 am – 11:30 am

Where: Maryland Nonprofits – Silver Spring Office

8720 Georgia Avenue, Suite 303 – Silver Spring, MD  20910

When: Thursday, February 9, 1:30 pm – 3:00 pm

Where: Queen Anne’s County Public Library – Kent Island Branch

200 Library Circle – Stevensville, MD  21666



Finally, never hesitate to get in touch! Here’s our contact information.

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:


~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

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.