Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Volunteering to Enhance Your Degree

My example of "Meet People. Valuable People" - volunteering with the Georgia Tech Alumni Association afforded me the opportunity to meet Dr. Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.
Here's a great article from the executive section of Financial Post about the reasons that strategic volunteering can enhance your degree. Great food for thought! 

Top 3 reasons cited by the author, Rhiannon MacDonnell:

1.  Meet People.  Valuable People.
2.  Practice the Skills You Have
3.  Learn the Skills You Want

View Article Here

I've spoken to students in Atlanta many times about utilizing their volunteer leadership experiences as marketable skills on their resumes. It's a great way to supplement any paid work and/or internships, and typically paints a very well-rounded picture of a potential employee.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Attn: Volunteer Managers - No More Coffee Meetings

Today's post is a result of a recent conversation with a fellow nonprofit executive director. He was seeking advice on recruiting and managing effective volunteer teams. I gave him an overview of my top volunteer management tips, with #1 being: have potential volunteers complete an application. A completed application not only shows an initial commitment on behalf of the volunteer, but a carefully crafted one can save you a ton of time in the long run.

Think about it, a strategically designed volunteer application can replace the numerous coffee Linkmeetings we typically have in order to interview and potentially place volunteers. Instead of spending an hour each with 20 potential volunteers, you can simply spend 30 minutes to an hour reviewing information and making the appropriate assignments. You just saved 20+ hours of your valuable time - and are likely making a more educated decision to boot! 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Guest Post: The Education of the Misinformed Superior

Today's post comes to you courtesy of Amy Dawson. She's heard my strategic volunteering pitch many times and has some great advice on "selling" your volunteer commitments to your manager. Thanks, Amy!


The Education of the Misinformed Superior
One of the many reasons volunteering is essential to building your career is to gain leadership experience in areas you don’t have in your full-time job. But have you ever considered what to say in an interview, pitch for a new client, or to a boss who dismisses your volunteer role? 

Let’s face it — not every boss or potential client understands how volunteering keeps your career skills sharp, and might dismiss them as, well, not as significant as accomplishments in your full-time job. So it’s time to educate these folks to what we already know: volunteer roles aren’t easy. In fact, they are more difficult than your 9 to 5 job in oh-so-many ways.  First, you are wrangling people whose paychecks do not depend on a job well-done. Motivating these people to prioritize a volunteer project to the top of their to-do list is as easy as convincing Harry Potter that Voldemort is just a misunderstood fellow in need of a nose augmentation.

Working with vendors is no easier, since your non-profit is almost never their biggest money-maker. And not snapping off the neck of, say, a printer who misspoke and won’t have your printed invitations until two weeks after your mailing date takes serious restraint.
And so, you are forced to sharpen your skills with lots of setbacks, difficult personalities — and 27 different people certain their way is the right way. When it comes to learning to be an effective leader, leading a volunteer committee is superior to all others. (Trust me, I’ve been on the board of the PTA and the Junior League.)

So, here is what you say to anyone calling into question the significance of a volunteer position:  “This volunteer role is a key success in my career because I {insert volunteer leadership role here like “led the committee} to successful completion {this is where we want to insert numbers and results like “increased enrollment in program by 75 percent} by motivating a team of volunteers with limited time and resources. I accomplished this project through excellent organization, persuasion and leadership skills, and expanded my skill set in the process. Additionally, I expanded my network and used my time and resources to give back to the community.”

So, wrangle as much responsibility as you possibly can out of your volunteer assignment. Push to expand your role. Then do a blow-the-barn-doors-off job. Show you work well under pressure. Keep track of measurable results. Keep copious notes of all of your volunteer accomplishments. Learn to become a leader. Then ask your volunteer coordinator to write a testimonial for what a great job you did.

After all, you deserve much credit for donating your time — and your ability to communicate how you are making a difference builds your career, one wrangled volunteer at a time.

Amy M. Dawson is a newspaper columnist, writer and public relations strategist. She has volunteered for more leadership positions over the years than she cares to count. Amy writes about successfully merging life and work at amymacpr.blogspot.com. See more of her articles at amymacwrites.com.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Preparing Your Nonprofit Organization to Meet the Need: Volunteer Application

As a followup to my earlier post on preparing your organization to meet the growing demand by strategic volunteers, this entry focuses on the volunteer "guide" and application. Many of you have asked for real-life examples of these tools in action, so here you go!

Strategic Volunteering attracts top-level corporate volunteers to assist with WIT programming.

At Women in Technology (WIT), they employ strategic volunteering and have incorporated it into all areas of their volunteer program: promotion of opportunities, application process, selection, training, and succession planning. Here are links to the WIT materials so that you may create something similar for your organization...

WIT Volunteer Opportunities Guide

WIT Strategic Volunteering Application

We worked with a website developer to feed the results of the volunteer application directly into our database, but you could have yours go to a spreadsheet, Google docs, etc. It is important not to let the technology issues stand in your way of implementing a robust strategic volunteering program and on-boarding/application process. When WIT started, we used a blank PDF volunteer application and asked applicants to email or fax back their completed form. It still does the trick!

Whatever format you choose for the volunteer application, be sure to include the following elements:
  • Employer: helps your development folks create a pipeline of potential support (support dollars often flow as a result of employee involvement in a nonprofit)
  • Availability: crucial to determining the initial commitment of the applicant and their match to potential roles
  • Interests (this section was quite an evolution for me over the years): having applicants name specific potential roles and rank them is an immense help in the matching process; it also ensures that thought has gone into their application
  • Areas of Strength and Development: this is probably the most foreign concept for volunteer managers; specific to strategic volunteering, we want to know what skills a volunteer brings to the table and those areas where we provide an opportunity for them to use this experience as a professional/personal development tool (that's the whole point, right?!)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Preparing Nonprofit Organizations to Meet the Needs of Strategic Volunteers

Just a few moments ago, I completed the PowerPoint slides for my workshop presentation at the National Conference on Volunteering & Service (NCVS) in New Orleans on June 7th. While I typically concentrate on helping professionals utilize the strategic volunteering concept to advance their career goals, this workshop gives me the opportunity to build the capacity of nonprofit organizations to meet the need of those interested in applying this concept.

Why should strategic volunteering matter to nonprofit organizations?
This program helps organizations remain relevant and competitive in the volunteer community. You can provide a significant ROI for volunteer time and talent and differentiate your organization amongst a vast pool of options. Utilizing this program within my own nonprofit, I find that it helps increase our recruiting and retention of volunteers. We strive to provide meaningful volunteer placements and clearly link those to their professional goals.

Your organization is also provided an opportunity to enhance your corporate relationships. One of the golden rules that we learn in the nonprofit world is that engagement leads to financial support. Strategic volunteering provides a unique way to both engage and support corporate volunteers.

Getting Started
If you don't have one already, your organization should create a volunteer application. Having an application process helps with the placement process and "weeds out" those with only a mild interest in participating. My theory is that if a potential volunteer will take the time to complete and return an application - that volunteer is MUCH more likely to have an effective level of engagement when placed in a role.

Of course, volunteers can't make informed decisions if they don't know what volunteer opportunities are offered by your organization, so be sure to make that information readily available. Consider including your placement process, volunteer program philosophy, important deadlines, job descriptions, corresponding time commitments, and paths to leadership.

In my workshop, I'll go into more depth about the process of developing the tools to succeed - including the development of the "skills matrix", a useful tool for matching professional skill-sets with nonprofit volunteer needs.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

You Want Me to Take Time to Volunteer?!

The issue of work-life balance has been coming up in conversation with my peers more and more lately. In fact, I'm moderating a panel discussion on the subject later this month. One common theme I'm hearing is the concern that there "isn't any time to volunteer" - of course, I have an opinion on this issue.

Like almost anything else in life, when we "don't have any time" to dedicate to something it's typically because it's something that we don't really want to do anyway. We find time for the things that matter to us and find excuses (and rightfully so!) for those that don't. It's a matter of aligning the many demands and requests put upon us with our values and priorities.

This alignment is essential when it comes to volunteer opportunities. In contemplating balance, I've learned that it's not living a series of perfectly balanced moments, but rather an overall balance life. Part of my balance comes from volunteer service and ability to use my skills and experience to positively impact my community. I "make" time for the causes and opportunities that fit my personal and/or career goals, and I'm trying to say "no, thank you" more often to those that don't match my criteria.

When we don't prioritize our volunteer commitments, we burn out! Have you ever gotten overwhelmed and thrown in the towel on your volunteer roles - or at least threatened to do so? Instead of burning out on volunteer work - take the time to evaluate where and how you spend your time. After all, your volunteer commitments are a pull on your "free" time and require sacrifice of your time and use of your talent.

Align your volunteer roles with your personal values today to banish burnout and better meet your goals!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Don't Quit Your Day Job

At some point, almost all of us have wondered "what if?" when it comes to a new career path or entrepreneurial opportunity. I went through a phase years ago when I thought that I wanted to be an event planner. I had dabbled in some small-scale event planning and wedding coordination activities for friends, considered myself organized and creative, and thought it would be a good outlet for my talents and interests. So, when given the chance to chair a major fund-raising gala for a local nonprofit organization, I jumped at it! Long story short, after managing multiple nonprofit galas and fund-raising events, I realized that (for me) event planning is a nice place to visit - but I don't want to live there. Thank goodness I had the chance to "try it before you buy it" through volunteering. I came away from those experiences with a back-pocket full of great skills, but also the very important realization that it wasn't the career choice for me. Strategic volunteering, when used to its full advantage, can be like the grown-up version of an internship....giving you the virtually risk-free chance to explore career opportunities.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I'm Going to the Big Show!

Fun news! I was notified today about my selection as a presenter at the 2011 National Conference on Volunteering & Service hosted in New Orleans this June. My workshop will focus on helping organizations utilize the concept of strategic volunteering. With over 4,500 people expected to attend, this is going to be so exciting!

Here's my official workshop description:

Strategic Volunteering: Preparing Your Organization to Meet the Demand (1866)
Tuesday, June 7, 2011 8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: MCCNO Room: 355
Opportunities for volunteers to align their professional development with their community service efforts are increasingly in demand. Learn what potential volunteers are looking for in strategic volunteering opportunities and how you can effectively structure your program to meet this demand. Get an insider's look at how to set your volunteer opportunities apart from others offered in your community and leverage the potential to create new corporate relationships...remember, the support dollars often follow great volunteer experiences! Leave with actionable next steps and templates to get you jump started.

About NCVS: Convened by Points of Light Institute and the Corporation for National and Community Service, the annual event provides attendees with an opportunity to learn, connect and be inspired through a wide range of exciting and informative plenary sessions, workshops, special events, service projects, exhibits, specialized corporate tracks and more. As the world's largest gathering of volunteer and service leaders from the nonprofit, corporate and government sectors, all are invited to join us in New Orleans. If you or your organization deals with volunteers in any capacity, this is an event you do not want to miss!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Aligning the Volunteer Application with the Opportunities

I've spent many hours over the past 4 years working to refine the process of effectively matching interested volunteers to the most appropriate placements. After several iterations, I completely changed up the application that my organization uses to do this - a refresh for 2011, as it were. My aim was also to align the application with the concept of strategic volunteering, help applicants walk themselves through the discovery/goal alignment process, and make it easier for volunteer managers to find the right fits.

Here's the result: http://www.mywit.org/system/contents/12/original/WIT_Volunteer_Application_2011.pdf

What do you think?