volunteer

Home » volunteer

See You on the Frontlines: A nonprofit consultant’s resolution for a new year

in Nonprofit, Volunteerism by Lauryn Rosinski Leave a comment

By Jeanine Black – Director of Marketing and PR Services

One of the main reasons I love where I work and what I do is that we help nonprofits; in fact, we specialize in it and have made it our company’s primary mission to provide thoughtful, honest advice combined with excellent quality work to help nonprofit organizations be successful. I truly cannot think of a more fulfilling calling than to assist organizations who are trying to change the world in a very real, altruistic way. And, even more impressive, they do it on shoe-string budgets, with minimal staff, limited resources and never enough time. I am awed by their passion, commitment and the love they have for those they are trying to help.

However, as marketing and fundraising consultants, much of what we do is behind the scenes. Meaning, we work closely with nonprofit leadership teams, helping them determine how best to raise awareness of what they do and how to raise the money to do it. We consult with them, often privy to the inner workings of the organization, whether we’re writing a fundraising or marketing plan, developing content for their website, working with the media on their behalf or developing compelling materials that help them tell their stories. It’s wonderful work and there is no doubt we are assisting them in their missions.

And until recently, I thought it was enough.

Shortly before the holidays, my 16-year-old daughter, Emma, and I volunteered to make blankets for the homeless with a group called Because I Said I Would, Akron. (We live in Akron, Ohio, so I try to focus our volunteer efforts in and around our own community.) The blankets were, in turn, to be donated to the Akron Snow Angels, who deliver much-needed supplies to the city’s homeless population during the cold winter months. It was a nice night. She and I made two, heavy-duty blankets with material that we donated ourselves (this was not a requirement). I was proud of our efforts and felt good about taking time to help make what looked like about 100 blankets to be distributed throughout the city.

But then I started to think about who would get those blankets – where they would end up – and wondered if we couldn’t do more. The next day, I signed Emma and me up for an Akron Snow Angels mission. We would take our volunteering one step further by handing out blankets and other supplies and, most importantly, meeting those we were helping.

Although we’ve volunteered for other organizations before, this was an experience neither of us will ever forget. It was Sunday, Jan. 7 and it was about 6 degrees outside. The weather was brutal. We visited Second Chance Village and Summit Park, located by Haven of Rest Ministries in Akron. Second Chance is a homeless village in Akron and Summit Park is frequented by many of Akron’s homeless. We met men and women, young and old. Our duty was to hand out pants – sweats, jeans, overalls…anything to add another layer. Everyone was pleasant, polite and grateful for all we were doing for them. And it broke my heart. At one point I was in tears. Whether it was the man who was beaten up on the bus or the woman with her teeny, tiny bedraggled dog or the teenage girl, same age as Emma, who got to me, I don’t know. I think that young lady got to Emma, too. “She’s so young, mom,” she said to me, as the girl walked away. But there was also laughter and hugs and hot coffee and lots and lots of thanks given.

Since that day, I’ve been thinking about what more I can do to help – there’s always capacity for doing more, right? And I realized maybe it should start at work. Like the blanket-making, our work is meaningful and helpful and valuable, but, again, it’s behind the scenes.  Don’t get me wrong, sometimes what a nonprofit needs most is an outside perspective to help them determine where they are and what direction they should head. And we provide them that. But daily, our clients are fighting housing discrimination; serving homeless families; ensuring our kids get a quality education; advocating and educating on behalf of those they serve in an effort to create a better world…the list goes on. And we need to understand that side of their operation as well.

As a nonprofit marketing consultant, I think it’s imperative that we experience the frontlines  – to roll up our sleeves. For them, they are living and breathing their work, day in and day out. If we can join them in the trenches, whether it’s a client or another area organization, we enhance our knowledge and our expertise of nonprofits, while doing the world a bit of good. We can say to them, “Okay, we get it. We really get it.”

So I resolve to do better this year – to make strides to get to know the people our clients are serving. We can serve them that much more effectively and help them in their missions to build better communities.

 

 

 

 

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.

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