Tag Archives: pro bono

National Summit on Volunteer Engagement Leadership, July 26-28, 2017

Registration is now open for the 2017 National Summit on Volunteer Engagement Leadership, July 26 – 28, 2017 in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration (MAVA) is hosting the first national conference in the USA in more than a decade for people in charge of supporting and involving volunteers. This will also be the first time in more than a decade the profession’s most well-known thought leaders, authors, and trainers will be together in one place.

The Summit will offer more than 100 workshops to increase knowledge and skills regarding the management of volunteers. There will also be plenaries and group discussions to determine how to build a new national presence for leaders of volunteer engagement, tackle the issues that affect this profession, and ultimately increase the community impact of the volunteers engaged. There will also be special sessions focusing on grant makers and other philanthropic organizations which support volunteer engagement with funding, providing a unique opportunity for funders and nonprofit leaders alike to learn more about each other’s perspectives, approaches to collaboration, and challenges.

With the budgets of so many nonprofits and community-focused government programs on the chopping block, I hope this conference will also talk about how to advocate for those programs to voters and legislators.

It’s really wonderful that someone is attempting to have a national conference for managers of volunteers – it hasn’t happened in the USA since 2005. Back in 2006, the Association for Volunteer Administration (AVA), the national association of managers of volunteers, went under, due to financial mismanagement. With it went the annual national conference, the largest event in the world focused on the people and systems needed to support and involve volunteers, and event that helped elevate conversations about volunteerism beyond people-that-work-for-free-are-so-nice. The loss of AVA and its annual conference hurt not just managers of volunteers, but all volunteerism – there was no one who was championing the people in charge of creating tasks for volunteers and supporting volunteers in those tasks, and there was no one advocating for the resources those people need to do those jobs. I believe it’s why it’s been so hard to refute claims that the best way to measure volunteer value is by giving a monetary value to service hours, and why, in this era where everything is about community engagement, managers of volunteers at nonprofits have been largely left out of the conversation.

And, as I said the last time I blogged about this conference: if someone doesn’t update the Wikipedia page for the Association for Leaders in Volunteer Engagement (ALIVE) with citations OTHER than the ALIVE web site, the page is going to get deleted. I’ve donated a LOT of time to updating volunteering-associated pages on Wikipedia – it’s time for others to step in.

Why did we call it the LAST guidebook?


In hearing about The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, you may have noticed two things:

    • My co-author, Susan Ellis, and I don’t talk about the guidebook as a revision of The Virtual Volunteering Guidebook that we wrote back in the 1990s. That’s because this new book was written from the ground up – we didn’t merely update that previous guidebook. While I think most of what we wrote in that first book remains valid, in terms of still being helpful advice to work with online volunteers, this new book provides substantially more information and reflects just how integrated the Internet is in our lives now versus back in the 1990s.
  • That standout word in the title: Last.

What do we mean by this being  The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook?

What we don’t mean is that there will or should never be a further need to write or talk about the latest developments in engaging volunteers online.

What we do mean is that, from this moment on, we hope that talk about virtual volunteering won’t be segregated to a separate book or separate chapter at the end of a book about volunteer management. Our dream is that this is a turning point regarding talk and training about volunteer engagement, and

    • any book about volunteer management, whether it’s a book about basic principals in general, group volunteering, episodic volunteering, skills-based volunteering, teen volunteering, whatever, has advice about using the Internet to support and involve volunteers integrated throughout the material. For instance, episodic volunteering, online, is called micro volunteering, yet workshops and other resources regarding episodic volunteering rarely talk about it – we hope that exclusion stops NOW.
  • any workshop about some aspect of volunteer management, whether it’s about the fundamentals of volunteer management, recruitment, risk management, adults working with children, whatever, fully integrates advice about using the Internet as a part of those activities.

In short, NO MORE SEGREGATION OF INTERNET-MEDIATED VOLUNTEERING. Virtual volunteering should not be an “add on” – not only in a book or training about volunteer engagement, but also, not in any volunteer engagement scheme at any organization. In fact, our dream is that we no longer hear about onsite volunteers as one group and online volunteers as another, separate group – how about we talk about volunteers, period?

Involving volunteers online is a practice that’s more than 35 years old. There are at least several thousand organizations using the Internet to support and involve volunteers. Actually, Susan and I believe virtual volunteering has, in some way, shape or form, been adopted by a majority of nonprofits and NGOs, whether they know it or not – we base this on the research that’s been done by others, our own research, and our observations in our extensive work with nonprofits. It’s even reflected in this discussion group regarding virtual volunteering on LinkedIn. And it’s based on this reality that we’re calling for full integration of virtual volunteering into any book or training about any aspect of volunteering.

Order information for The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook.

Also see our virtual volunteering wiki. Whereas the guidebook is written in a timeless manner as much as possible, focusing on suggested practices that the authors believe do not change, for the most part, this wiki will continually evolve as tracking and networking tech tools change, as new research is conducted, and as substantial news about virtual volunteering is announced.

If you read the book, I would so appreciate it if you could write and post a review of it on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble web sites (you can write the same review on both sites).

Is group volunteering all its cracked up to be?

Do most nonprofits really need groups of volunteers from corporations or other organizations showing up for one-day volunteering activities?

I’ve been thinking about this for a few months lately, and now the British-based company nfpSynergy has scooped me with its own thoughts on whether or not corporate volunteering really all its cracked up to be. An excerpt from its blog:

There is nothing more difficult to deal with than an employer who rings up a charity offering 30/300/3000 employees who want to do a bit of volunteering as part of their team-building on Thursday afternoon in three weeks time. Charities quietly (for fear of upsetting their corporate partners) dislike employee volunteering while companies are much more enthusiast.

It’s so true!

I started thinking about blogging about this myself when I saw that a certain corporation had won a certain state’s group volunteering award for its participation in a range of one-time events. IMO, this corporation was being honored for “volunteering” in events that had been created more to accommodate the corporation and others looking for a one-time, feel-good experience (and photo ops) than to actually make a difference in the community.

As any person who has worked with nonprofits knows, one-time volunteering events – walks, runs, dances, auctions, benefit performances, beach clean-up days, house painting, etc. – are very expensive and time-consuming. They are worthwhile for most organizations only if they result in one or more of the following:

  • measurable results regarding community awareness of a particular issue or organization
  • candidates for longer-term volunteering in more substantive activities regarding service delivery
  • funds raised to cover all costs, including staff time to organize and supervise the event, insurance, etc.

A school once asked me if it had to accept a corporation’s request for a group of their employees to hold a pizza party for two of their classes of fourth graders just before the students went home on an upcoming Friday. The corporation considered this as somehow a great thing for the kids, and as a volunteering experience for their employees. The teachers balked at losing even an hour of teaching time, and saw nothing beneficial about such an event for the kids whatsoever. They were reluctant to tell the corporation no, however, for fear of losing the chance of a grant down the road. The school representatives were at first stunned, and then relieved, when I told them they had every right to refuse any such offer, that they could say, “Thanks so much. Because every hour of teaching time is vitally important, we can’t do anything that takes away such time. But here’s information about our lunch-time mentoring program; we would love any of your employees attend our next orientation about this program. Or we could do a presentation at your corporation about the program and how your employees could get involved. We have some other volunteering activities we would welcome your help with as well.”

(In case you are wondering, the corporation declined. Lunch time one-on-one mentoring wasn’t the kind of experience their employees were looking for, and they didn’t have time for employees to sit through a presentation by the school. Sigh.)

The nfpSynergy blog continues, with an experience very similar to my own:

For nearly five years now nfpSynergy has had a company policy of giving each employee 5 days of paid volunteering time. Doesn’t that make us wonderful? Well no not really because it didn’t work: very few staff used their volunteering days. And this is despite the fact that almost everybody who works for us is very committed to the charities and non-profits.

So why didn’t people use their volunteering days? The answer is simple. Five days is ‘diddly squat’ in the world of volunteering. It was like telling people they could go and buy a free lunch on the company but only giving them 10p with which to do.

My experience exactly: once upon a time, I ran the philanthropy activities for what was then a Fortune 500 company with hundreds of employees at headquarters and at another location in the USA, and thousands abroad. We also gave USA employees five days of paid time off to volunteer. In the two years I oversaw the program, less than a dozen individual employees took the days. Only two groups of employees did, in events organized by me: people from our facilities department painted a room at a nearby family homeless shelter, and three employees from our IT department networked the new computers of a nearby nonprofit over two days. It took me twice as many hours to organize these two group volunteering events as it took the volunteers to actually do them! 

Right now, I’m trying to find group volunteering activities for Girl Scouts in my area. And the reality is that, not only are most organizations not prepared, in terms of insurance, supervision and program, to host groups of girls under 16 (most under 13, in fact) as volunteers, most organizations do not want a group of young girls as volunteers; the staff have critical activities that must be taken care of, that cannot be delayed in order to give a group of young girls a feel-good experience.

Attention corporations and governments: if you want to see more group volunteering activities by corporate employees, youth groups, professional associations, etc., prepare to pay for it. Money is needed to fund the staff, material, training and other resources to not only make the activity happen, but to make the activity a meaningful part of the organization’s mission or outreach efforts.

Also see:

Creating One-Time, Short-Term Group Volunteering Activities

One(-ish) Day “Tech” Activities for Volunteers

Finding Community Service and Volunteering for Groups

Pro Bono / In-Kind / Donated Services for Mission-Based Organizations: When, Why & How?



Going too far

A national nonprofit organization asked me to participate in a one-hour conference call this week to help them brainstorm something they want to do. I said sure, because I can make time available to do this, the topic is interesting to me, and I would like to contribute.

That same nonprofit then asked me to participate in a series of calls between now and the summer, contributing more than 20-30 hours of my time to a planning process. I said no. They wanted 20-30 hours free consulting from me, and from about a dozen other people as well, and seemed stunned that I (and at least one other person involved) found this request exploitative.

If I were running a store, would you walk in and say, “Hi, can you give me several hundred dollars of stuff for free?”? If I ran a restaurant, would you say, “Could I eat hear for six months every night for free? After all, we’re friends!”?

When does a request for donated time go from being appropriate, even welcomed, to being exploitive? When the organization forgets what they are asking for — for volunteering. Pro bono consulting is volunteering.

Time is a precious commodity. In today’s economy, asking for a person’s time can be the same as asking for money. If you are going to ask me to part with that much of my time, you had better have a highly-motivating reason for me to do so, because you are asking me to give you something that I normally charge for – and I have bills to pay, a household to support, and many things to pay for, just like you do.

This organization forgot what goes into recruiting volunteers. Which is shocking, since it’s an organization that is supposed to be focused on volunteering. Recruiting volunteers is never, “Here’s a bunch of work we need done. Please come do it. Because we’re a nonprofit.”

I volunteer a lot, with various organizations. How did these organizations recruit me to give so much of my precious time to them? Their recruitment messages focused on:

    • what their organization does, in terms of results for their target audience, and it inspired me or motivated me to get involved.
    • why volunteers are essential to what that organization does, but never in terms like, “We could never have enough money to pay staff to do this, so we involve volunteers” or “volunteers contribute $xxxx in services,” which implies money saved in having to pay people; instead, the messages focus on why volunteers are more appropriate to do the tasks than paid staff, for reasons that have NOTHING to do with money.
    • what the benefits will be for me in volunteering; Will I get to work with a target audience or regarding an issue I care deeply about? Will it be fun? Will I get opportunities that might help me in my professional work? Will I get some kind of incredible discount on something I would love to have?

I don’t wait for some free time to give these organizations; I MAKE time to help them. And these organizations also let me know that they appreciate my work:

  • They send me personalized emails when I finish an assignment, commenting on the work to show me that they actually read it.
  • They send me stuff: a pen, a t-shirt, a trophy.
  • Sometimes, someone writes me just to say “hi.”

In short, they treat me like a precious investor!

I cannot possibly say yes to every organization that wants my donated time. In fact, I say “no” more often than I say “yes,” even to organizations that have a great volunteer recruitment message, because, as I’ve said, I have bills to pay. In fact, even if I win the lottery and can afford to give away all my time for free, I will still have to say “no” often, because there are only 24 hours a day, and I’ll still need time for eating, sleeping, spending time with my family, etc.

Time is precious. Sometimes, if you really want it, you are going to have to pay for it – even if you are a nonprofit.