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5 Things I learned at my first Cleveland GiveCamp

in Volunteerism by Sara Lundenberger Leave a comment
A project near completion

A project near completion

by Sara Lundenberger, fundraising and marketing strategist

A few weekends ago I got the chance to volunteer at the Sixth Annual Cleveland GiveCamp. GiveCamp is a chance for local nonprofits to work with graphic designers, content writers, developers and other volunteers to create a new website, GPS based walking map and even a 3D instructional game for free in 3 days.

Here are the five things I learned that can apply to any job.
1- Preparation is key: As with most projects, a little background work can make a huge difference. The nonprofits that came to camp with content, photos and logos ready to go were leaps and bounds ahead of those that showed up with a lot of excitement, but nothing prepared.
2- If at first you don’t succeed…Pivot: I had the chance to sit in with three different teams throughout the weekend. The common theme on every team was changing directions. If the first idea you have doesn’t work, change it and keep changing it until it does.
3- The tech world isn’t run by 20-somethings: Yes- there were a lot of very young code writers and developers working all weekend. But they weren’t the only ones. Don’t assume that because someone is older than 30 they can’t possible understand CSS or PHP. Knowledge and experience are a pretty unbeatable combination.
4- Think outside the box: Just because you haven’t seen it done before doesn’t mean it can’t be done. I saw a lot of projects that started with a “It would be great if our site could…” and ended with a site that can do that and more.
5- Teamwork always wins: Whether you were on a project team, the security team, a floater and/ or Team Z (the non-technical, everything else group of volunteers) nothing would have been accomplished without teamwork. One team had 19 people working at all hours of the night to finish its project.
5b- Know your strengths: This sort of goes along with teamwork, but is a little different. Everyone has strengths, whether its web development, graphic design, social media or just being a worker. Use what you know and don’t be offended or upset if you aren’t needed.

Ask me what I did over the weekend. Really, ask me.

in Volunteerism by Amy Wong Leave a comment
GiveCamp team working on a new website for Urban Vision

This is one of the projects I worked on at GiveCamp.This team worked on a new website for Urban Vision (urbanvisionministry.org)

For those who know me, they would probably immediately guess soccer and baseball games, family functions or catching up on client projects.

Most weekends, this would be true. But as I have done every year since 2010, I spent my weekend on the shores of Lake Erie helping Northeast Ohio nonprofits in need.

I am fortunate (yes fortunate) to be a volunteer organizer for a phenomenal event called Cleveland GiveCamp, a group of about 200 tech, marketing professionals and designers that come together over the course of the weekend to complete projects for nonprofits from Northeast Ohio. These are amazing people who dedicate an entire weekend to make life better for residents throughout the region and I cannot say enough about how proud I am to work with each and every one of them.

What we accomplished

When I talk about the event to colleagues, friends and family, I usually talk about projects in terms of the number of projects completed. But this year, for some reason, I looked at the event in a different way. This year, what struck me most was what we accomplished on a higher level, not just the number of projects completed. (For those who are curious, we completed 19 projects including new websites, a GPS-enabled web app, an educational game and database applications.)

What our work means to those we help:
  1. An organization has improved data collection and reporting capabilities, which frees up a full day for a staff member to work on other agency projects.
  2. Children have a new online game to help them understand the importance of healthy eating and how worms help food grow.
  3. It is now significantly easier for an organization to track the equipment inventory it loans to its program participants.
  4. Individuals who are looking for affordable housing in Akron have an online searchable database that features up-to-date listings in real time.

And I have 15 other stories I could tell.

We all have our stories about the organizations we helped. But like all the others who attended and volunteered for GiveCamp, I learned some things as well.

  • I learned how a promising young doctor’s life was cut short, but his legacy continues. As I watched his mother cry telling his story, it further solidified my reason for choosing my career path and my dedication to helping nonprofits like theirs whose passion for their cause is unparalleled.
  • I learned more about the tireless work of nonprofits that exist in my own back yard, many of which I had heard of in name only.
  • I learned to appreciate the selflessness and dedication of our volunteers. Egos are checked at the door at GiveCamp. Often, many of us leave the event knowing the people on our teams, but never even considering asking them where they work. We know for those few days, we are there for something greater and we are focused on the task at hand.

 

Each year, there are returning volunteers and newcomers who have never experienced GiveCamp before. But I can tell you everyone who’s ever been to GiveCamp comes away changed in some way. Whether it is a new appreciation for the development process, or new personal and professional connections, GiveCamp has just a magical quality about it.

I can truly say that GiveCamp has changed me as well. Well I have yet to learn how to code, each year I gain a new appreciation for the work that is done here and for the people who dedicate themselves to doing it.

Thanks to the nonprofits and amazing volunteers, GiveCamp is, hands down, one of the best things I do all year.

10 ways to improve the board, staff relationship in a small nonprofit

in Boards, Giving, Volunteerism by Amy Wong Leave a comment

I hear countless stories from small nonprofits who are frustrated with their boards.

Surprise, nonprofits! The boards get frustrated with you too.

I tend to see the biggest frustration with smaller nonprofits for several reasons:

  • They don’t have internal resources to manage a board effectively.
  • They are often run by individuals who are passionate and capable of running the organization, but have received no training in managing a board
  • They have little board turnover. This leads to stagnation, boredom and apathy.
  • They are not strategic in their board recruitment. As author Jim Collins would say, nonprofits “need to get the right people on the bus.”1 Many do not.

 

Unfortunately, this frustration can be detrimental to the organization over the long term. So, here are some suggestions to help nonprofits AND their board members develop a successful relationship.

Suggestions to nonprofits:

  1. Have an outline of board member expectations – and stick to them. Financial support, meeting attendance and volunteer expectations are key components of this outline. If they don’t agree, they shouldn’t be a board member.
  2. Communicate regularly and clearly. One of the best pieces of advice I received was from a board member. “Remember that you live your job every day. We don’t and we forget some of the things you tell us. So, if there is something important you want us to know and learn, keep telling us,” she said. Ergo, regular communication is critical.
  3. Delegate. Your board is there to support you. If you outlined expectations, you should be able to delegate tasks. So, don’t just talk at board meetings. Create action items.
  4. Have a nominating committee. The job of this board-led committee is designed to recommend potential board members with specific skills who will help your organization move forward.
  5. Set term limits. It doesn’t matter how well you implement suggestions 1-4. There will always be board members who aren’t effective. Term limits help you rotate “underperformers” off the board.

 

Suggestions to board members:

  1. Make a gift! Period, done, end of story. If you are a board member of a nonprofit, you must write an annual check to the organization. Make it meaningful. • Ask questions. If you don’t understand something, ask. Your question may help the organization run more effectively.
  2. Offer your personal or business expertise. Do you know how to write business plans? Are you an accountant? Do you understand marketing or social media? These skills can greatly benefit a nonprofit.
  3. Don’t just offer suggestions, offer solutions. Smaller nonprofits are often operating at capacity. Provide ideas that will help solve problems without overtaxing the organization. You may have a good idea, but it may be impractical to implement. (i.e. an additional fundraiser may solve the financial issues, but be totally impossible to implement due to limited staff time.)
  4. Be present. Attend meetings, be an active participant and advocate for the charity anywhere you can. Being on a board should not be about status. It is about doing things for the greater good and helping forward the mission of the organization.

 

Like any relationship, a successful nonprofit/board partnership must be a two-way street. There must be open communication, clear expectations and a shared vision. When this occurs, nonprofits thrive, boards become engaged and the community as a whole benefits.

For additional resources on board development for nonprofits and board members we suggest the following resources:
• Board Source: http://www.boardsource.org/
• The National Council of Nonprofits: Article on Board Development: http://www.councilofnonprofits.org/resources/resources-topic/boards-governance/board-development
• The Nonprofit Expert: Article on Board Development http://www.nonprofitexpert.com/board_development.htm

1 Jim Collins “Good to Great” multiple references

Finding passion as a volunteer

in Volunteerism by Amy Wong Leave a comment

I worked directly in the nonprofit sector for 17 years before starting Dot Org Solutions so I know how important volunteers are to successful nonprofits. When I managed and worked with them, I appreciated their time and energy. I valued their help. But I never fully understood how they could be so passionate about their roles. Why did they continue to commit so much time and energy? What made the organization so special that they would donate hundreds or thousands of hours of time each year?

I had spent a great deal of time volunteering myself. But I never seemed to find the passion they did. I started wondering if I was insensitive, too busy to really care or just really not interested. Nothing ever really seemed to give me that spark.

That was until the summer of 2010. I had just completed my first year in business and I came upon an article in the paper looking for volunteers to help at this new event called Cleveland GiveCamp. It was an event to bring together the tech community with nonprofits in need. I thought, hey, I have nonprofit experience and I am sure my writing background may be helpful. So, I signed up and made the 30 mile trek to Cleveland on the first day. I thought I would help for a few hours, but my time there extended way into that night and I turned around and came back on Saturday.

That was three GiveCamps ago. I found that spark and passion I was looking for as a volunteer. I am now a planning committee member and am proud of how the event has grown since year one. We just wrapped up our Third Annual Cleveland GiveCamp on July 22 and have generated more than $1,375,000 in free help since our first event. I work with amazingly dedicated, talented and creative people. I feel challenged personally and professionally. And the event itself is just very cool to be around!

The thing I learned first and foremost is that volunteerism is very personal. Everyone has a different reason for volunteering. Everyone has a different passion. I found mine. I encourage you to find yours.