Tag Archives: volunteer

UNESCO World Heritage Volunteers 2017 projects

World Heritage Volunteers (WHV) is a program by UNESCO, a United Nations agency, that helps create opportunities for young people to travel internationally or within their own countries and help preserve and support World Heritage sites. The 2017 campaign has been announced, with 51 youth action projects planned for 50 World Heritage properties from May through November 2017, in partnership with 46 organizations in 32 countries.

“From the Vajrayogini temples of Kathmandu Valley in Nepal to the 16th-Century Monasteries on the Slopes of Popocatepetl in Mexico, from the parks and gardens of Classical Weimar in Germany to the vertiginous peaks of Rwenzori Mountains National Park in Uganda, the local and international volunteers of the WHV 2017 will be involved in projects held at some of the most outstanding places in the world.”  The projects are in Africa, Asia, Pacific Island countries, Arab states, Latin America and Europe.

If you want to get involved in a WHV project, take a look at the 2017 project profiles here and contact directly the project organizer, who should get back to you with information on next steps. The project organizer’s contacts are in the project profiles.

It doesn’t say it anywhere that I can find on the WHV web site, but volunteers are responsible for paying and arranging all of their own international and in-country travel, for paying for their accommodations in-country, paying for all food and other in-country expenses, paying for their own insurance, etc. These are entirely volunteer positions, and no expenses are reimbursed and no stipends are paid. Some countries, like the USA, may offer tax deductions for international volunteering.

The World Heritage Volunteers Initiative is led by the UNESCO World Heritage Centre (WHC) in collaboration with the Coordinating Committee for International Voluntary Service (CCIVS), European Heritage Volunteers (as a branch of Open Houses) and Better World.

Also see:

Volunteering Abroad / Internationally

Ideas for Funding Your Volunteering Abroad Trip

2017 National Volunteer Weeks & Months

Energize, Inc. (Susan Ellis’ company) has compiled a list of designated volunteer weeks or months in 2017, mostly in English-speaking countries, when nonprofits, government agencies and others are supposed to honor volunteerism. These are celebrated annually:

Canada’s National Volunteer Week, April 23-29, 2017

USA’s National Volunteer Week, April 23-29, 2017

Australia’s National Volunteer Week, May 8-14, 2017

United Kingdom’s Volunteers’ Week, June 1-7, 2011

New Zealand’s National Volunteer Awareness Week, June 18-24, 2017

Singapore’s National Volunteer Month, December, 2017

During these weeks (and always!), remember to honor your online volunteers and to use the Internet to honor ALL volunteers, regardless of where service is performed. This resource can help, you do that, as can The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook.

There are also MANY days designated to encourage volunteer action. Energize has a terrific compilation of these as well on its web site. These are great days for creating one-time, short-term group volunteering activities, including one(-ish) day “tech” activities for volunteers, like hackathons and edit-a-thons.

Is there a Semana Nacional de Voluntarios in Mexico or Spain? Or Semaine Nationale des Bénévoles in France? If you know of other weeks meant to celebrate volunteers, let me know (please include a link to the official web site).

for volunteers: how to complain

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersI write a lot about dealing with problem volunteers – volunteers that are bullies (one of my most popular blogs ever), volunteers that are more focused on their vanity and selfies than service, (another super popular blog), entitlement volunteers (“you should just be glad I’m here!”), etc. But in response to some of these blogs, I’ve gotten comments from frustrated volunteers, and I’ve been asked some pointed questions, like:

what about when the problem is the volunteer manager’s lack of ability, or when the org is in need of upgrading capacity and the volunteers are the victims of that process?

Absolutely, not all community engagement problems are because of volunteers, and I would hate for anyone to think I’m saying that. I love volunteerism – I wouldn’t promote volunteer engagement and demand standards for such if I didn’t. All too often, people that want to volunteer are turned away by mismanagement, and people trying to volunteer are not properly supported. That deserves my sympathy and attention.

There are times when I’ve been a volunteer myself and I have been woefully mismanaged, I haven’t felt valued, I’ve felt ignored by the person that’s supposed to be supporting me, I was left to do all the work while the lead volunteer was a no-show, I was shut down when I tried to point out a problem or make a suggestion, etc. Maybe you, as a volunteer, have felt that too. Maybe you see problems with other volunteers that management doesn’t seem to see. Maybe you see inefficiency, even incompetence. Maybe you see things that have you worried about safety. Maybe you see violations of policy – or a need for a policy. Maybe you have a great idea that really could help dramatically – but the manager of volunteers turned you away.

How to complain, or make a suggestion for a management change, as a volunteer? And to whom? That’s trickier than it sounds. It depends on the nature of the complaint or suggestion, your relationship with the organization, your desired outcome, what’s best for those served by the organization, and more.

Absolutely, if you see or experience something dangerous while you are volunteering, something that could harm someone – or you suspect has harmed someone – document what you have witnessed or experienced: the date, the time, what you saw or heard, how it is dangerous, etc. Email this information to the person in charge of volunteers, the director of programs, perhaps even the executive director or anyone else within the organization you feel should know about it. Depending on the situation, you should also call those same people and tell them they should immediately read an email you have sent regarding a dangerous situation at the organization. Be ready to meet face-to-face to talk about the dangerous situation you have witnessed or experienced. Please don’t ever hesitate to report a suspected dangerous situation, where a client, volunteer, staff member or anyone could be, or has been, harmed.

If it’s a criminal situation regarding safety, such as harm to a child, I would also contact police, without waiting for permission from the organization. If I think a child or anyone is in physical danger, I’m going straight to the police, and if that costs me my volunteer position because the organization would have preferred I contact senior staff members first, so be it. When it comes to safety, I don’t mess around, I don’t hesitate, and the situation regarding Jerry Sandusky and Penn State a few years ago only intensified my feelings about this.

If you are being sexually, racially or culturally harassed, absolutely complain to your supervisor and his or her supervisor, in writing. Have dates, what was said or done and by whom, etc., and how you want the situation resolved. If your supervisor doesn’t act, contact his supervisor the same way, along with the date you first reported this to his or her subordinate.

For non-safety complaints – for complaints about inefficiency, lack of support, a situation mishandled, ongoing mismanagement, abrasive work styles, hurt feelings, etc.,  ask yourself this question: How is the situation or circumstances hurting the organization, volunteers, clients, public relations and/or the bottom line? Document answers to those questions. Be clear about what is happening, the dates of incidents, and, if possible, how it’s adversely affecting the organization, its clients, etc. Once you have this information clearly stated, ask for a meeting with the person in charge of supporting volunteers. You don’t have to present your written information – in fact, doing so may escalate emotions if you walk in with such a document and hand it over. Instead, you may want to keep the documents as just your own notes to speak from, at least at first. You want to stick to facts, like “When I showed up at the work site, there was no guidance on what I was supposed to do, in contrast to what you (or someone else) told me, and I just walked around for an hour not doing anything”, or “I was assured that the other volunteer had been trained, but when she got there, I realized she had not been briefed at all, and it really made the organization look poorly run to those in attendance” or “I have sent emails asking for guidance on these dates, and I have never gotten a response.” Avoid opinions, such as “the manager of volunteers is in need of upgrading her skills” or “I just really don’t like so-and-so’s style of working.” Opinions are subjective and easily dismissed, in contrast to dates and examples and descriptions of circumstances, what was said, what was done, etc. You want to preface complaints with “I’m concerned that…” or “I am worried that…” Make it clear that you aren’t there to just complain because of your hurt feelings – you are there to try to improve a situation that could be leading volunteers to leave, that could be making clients dissatisfied, even angry, that could be leading to a bad reputation for the organization in a specific neighborhood, that could lead to a negative review online, etc. Your goal is to stay fact-based and always emphasizing what’s best for the organization and all volunteers, not just you. Have in mind what you want as a result of this complaint: Volunteers to receive more immediate responses to their emails or phone calls? Volunteers to receive more information from the organization? Volunteers to receive more training? Someone in particular to be better supervised? Someone in particular to receive better training? Someone specifically to be dismissed? What would a resolution of this situation that you are reporting look like? Try to offer realistic ideas for solutions, if at all possible.

If you want to offer a suggestion about software you think the organization should be using, or a different way to support volunteers, such as training videos on YouTube, or a change in the minumum amount of hours volunteers need to give a month, or that the organization should better incorporate virtual volunteering, by all means, make the suggestion. You could make the suggestion verbally in a monthly meeting between volunteers and the staff supporting them, in an online community for volunteers at the organization, or in an email to the person in charge of managing volunteers. Think about how you would like to be approached if someone had an idea of how to do your work better, and do the same in making your suggestion. If you can show that this idea might save the organization money, definitely bring that up. Also think about what resources it would take to make this change: money? additional staff? time? training? Are you willing to commit to any of those needs to help make the change happen? It can be frustrating to make a suggestion for a simple change, like an additional sentence on a web page, or use of a particular keyword tag on Twitter, and never get a response, or be told it’s not possible to do. How you handle that frustration is up to you: Drop it? Try again in six months? Try again when management changes? Bring it up every time you get the opportunity? Leave the organization and try to volunteer elsewhere? Think about what would be best for the organization and those it serves by your actions first, and also what is best for you.

If you feel that you need to circumvent the person in charge of supporting volunteers and go to someone senior with your complaint or suggestion, you can certainly ask to meet with the head of programs or even the executive director, detailing the issues and being clear about why you are circumventing the manager of volunteers. However, know that it’s likely that the manager of volunteers will be angry with you or feel hurt by you for this circumvention, and your relationship with that person may be irreparably harmed. It may not be possible for you to continue to work together, and therefore, the organization may want you to leave rather than address the issue with the manager. You may decide that you can no longer enjoy your time there or that you would no longer be welcomed at the organization. I’m not urging you not to go to senior management if you feel that’s best for the organization – quite the contrary! I’m trying to be very realistic about what will happen if you do. Are you ready to put what’s best for the organization and those it serves above your desire to continue to volunteer with the program?

This is the point that I usually get asked, “But what are my rights as a volunteer?!” You have a right to be safe, to not be harassed, not to be harmed, not to be put into a situation where you feel harmed, not to be exploited, etc. But you have no right to be engaged as a volunteer. You have no right to have a volunteering experience that you love. An organization can dismiss a volunteer for any reason – or no reason at all. An organization is under no legal obligation to provide terrific volunteering experiences – or to involve volunteers at all. Some organizations value the input of volunteers very much, and others see volunteers as merely people willing to work for free and save the organization money. The organization may see dismissing you as a volunteer far easier than dealing with your complaint.

Please don’t think that because you have volunteered for 10 years at the organization while the manager of volunteers has been there for just a year or two that your opinion is somehow more important that hers or his. Also, it is very likely that complaining creates tension at the organization for you and others. Things may get worse before they get better. If you have visions of the manager of volunteers being put through a performance improvement plan, or dismissed, while you are celebrated for your complaints, think again. As a whistleblower, don’t be surprised if you feel coldness from others at the organization, even if your complaint was absolutely justified. You may want to leave and find another place to volunteer once investigations are complete – or even before. Whatever happens, don’t be a volunteer bully . The priority of any organization, and everyone who works there, including a volunteer that complains, should be the mission of that organization and those the organization serves. Nothing except for safety should be more important than that. Keep that in mind as the consequences unfold from your complaint and if your complaint means you will leave the organization.

Regardless of whether or not you complain to the organization, or make a suggestion for change, what might be best for you is finding another organization with which to volunteer. How you leave an organization is up to you: you can make a formal break with a meeting or an email, you can just stop signing up for tasks and disappear, or you can say you want to take a break and just never come back. Just please don’t abandon an assignment before you have completed it. I know a lot of managers of volunteers are reading this and thinking, “It’s so unfair to just leave without explanation!” To which I say: if a volunteer does that to you, maybe it’s because you don’t take complaints well. Maybe you don’t create an environment where a volunteer feels comfortable offering a complaint or suggestion. Volunteers will often show you as much respect and attention as you have shown them. If you want volunteers to tell you why they are leaving, ask them.

What if you are asked to leave an organization as a volunteer? First off: you aren’t alone! It happens. It happened to me! It can be hurtful to hear, “I just don’t think I can work with you anymore” or “I think it would be best if you found somewhere else to volunteer.” It’s entirely your decision at that point to complain, if you haven’t yet, to more senior management. All the previous rules apply: stay fact-based, have dates and descriptions of what was inappropriate or should have been a better experience, keep opinions to a minimum, and be clear about what the consequences could be for the organization if the situation is not addressed.

Should you, the disgruntled volunteer, blog about your negative experience, or write a Yelp review? I won’t tell you not to. What you need to consider is what is best for those served by the organization and what is best for you. If you truly feel that those served by the organization would be best served by your going public with your complaints, then that would be a valid justification for doing so. Otherwise – why would it be worth it? In the moment, it may make you feel great deriding an organization online via your blog or an online review, but if another organization where you want to volunteer reads that, or potential employers reads that, will it hurt you in some way? If you do it, be prepared for a call from a local media organization – they may want to do a story about your experience and investigate further. If you choose to do it, be fact-based – no opinions, no insults, no statements like “Stay away from this organization!” – and respect the confidentiality of clients.

You could even write a song about your frustration, as Dave Carroll did about his attempt to volunteer at his child’s school. I really do think Mr. Carroll was doing what he thought was best for the organization and the kids, and I hope authorities listened to what he was saying. I’d be happy to have him as a volunteer (with the hopes I would get a really nice song about his experience out of it).

I have blogged about negative experiences as a volunteer myself, but without naming the organization. As a consultant regarding nonprofit management, including volunteer engagement, I wanted to use these experiences to educate others, but I saw no point in naming the organization I was complaining about – in some cases, I made my feelings clear directly to the organization before I left, and in some cases, I just quietly disengaged – and they never called to ask me why I had stopped signing up for gigs. Here are some examples of my blogs about or inspired by my own bad experiences as a volunteer:

Some volunteers have become so frustrated that they’ve left a nonprofit and then started their own rival organization, and that’s fine too – though it’s easier said than done. Funders may be reluctant to support you if you are an organization born of anger.

When you leave an organization as a volunteer, you may want to let people know if they closely identify you as being a volunteer at that organization, if they might go to the organization looking for you, if a lot of your friends are also volunteers at the organization, etc. You may want to draft some messages for social media or to send out via email. These messages should be unemotional, with no accusations or blame at all. For instance, for Facebook, your message could be:

Yesterday was my last day at xxxnameoforganizationxxx. Very proud of all I did there. On to a new volunteering adventure! I can be reached at xxxemailaddressorphonenumberxxx.

The policies of the organization may prevent you from staying in contact with clients after you leave. Respect those policies if that’s the case. If clients do get in contact with you, think very carefully about what you are going to say to them, if the relationship is proper to continue, etc. Regardless of official policy, you are ethically bound to make it clear to them, if they contact you, that you are not affiliated with the organization anymore, that you are not a volunteer with the organization anymore, that you do not represent the organization anymore, etc. If volunteers want to discuss their experiences with you after you leave, make sure you continue to adhere to those confidentiality policies, and absolutely speak up and say, “I really don’t feel comfortable talking about this, because I think it’s a violation of the organization’s confidentiality policy.” Let the question what is best for the people served by this organization guide you in any communications and relationships with clients, volunteers and staff of an organization you have left.

How do you talk on your résumé or online profile about an organization where you volunteered but, in the end, you had an uncomfortable or frustrating experience? The same that you would regarding an employment situation that didn’t work out: you list it only if it was a long-term gig, or if you accomplished something at the organization that you are really proud of and that could not be denied by the organization. If you are proud of your work and feel comfortable sharing it, list the name of the organization and your accomplishments or duties at that organization and the time frame for such. Otherwise, leave it off. If you are asked in an interview for volunteering elsewhere, “Why did you leave that organization?”, you can say, “I was ready for a new volunteering opportunity at a different organization. It was time.” You could say, “My work approach wasn’t a good fit/was no longer a good fit for the organization’s work culture.” Be ready, in an interview, to talk about that work approach. For instance: “I believe in being very forthcoming and asking questions in staff meetings. My previous supervisor interpreted my questions as criticisms.” If honestly talking about your work style, a style you are unwilling to change, removes you from the running for a volunteering gig, then be glad you were up front about it before you were hired. That said, in an interview for volunteering elsewhere, you can ask some tough questions of your own, like “What is moral like here among your volunteers?” and “How do you handle complaints from volunteers? Can you give me an example of that process?” and “Do you regularly get new volunteers? Do they stay long? When they leave, why do they leave?”

Should you sue if you are fired as a volunteer? There are two scenarios where you might want to sue: (1) when you can prove that you have been financially and/or physically harmed by the organization’s actions, or inactions, regarding your volunteering. If you have been sexually, racially or culturally harassed while volunteering, and you do not feel the organization responded the way they should, you could explore bringing a suit, but think about what you want as a result of the suit: a court-ordered, public apology? a court-ordered training for all staff and volunteers to prevent this in the future? Money for yourself? And remember that your name will become public, and there may be media coverage of your suit – this can affect your future employment, not just your future volunteer engagement. (2) when you can prove that you weren’t a volunteer but were, in fact, an employee who wasn’t paid. In a small number of cases the UK and in the USA, the courts have found that a volunteer was actually an employee or a contractor who should have been paid, and the volunteer won back wages.

One last thing: when a volunteering situation ends in anger or sadness, take time to mourn and to let any raw emotions heal. You may need to cry. You may need to spend some time being angry. That’s absolutely fine and completely normal. Make time to do that. If you have a very trusted friend or two you can talk to, that would be good to be around and talk to about how you are feeling, do so. Definitely stay off social media at such times.

This is a lot to consider. I’ve tried to be realistic and think about a variety of scenarios. If I’ve missed one, or your want to ask an additional question or make an additional point, I hope you will comment below.

Also see:

Creating a Speak-up Culture in the Workplace

Safety of volunteers contributes to a shelter closing

Keeping volunteers safe – & keeping everyone safe with volunteers

A grassroots group or nonprofit org = disorganization?

VA: a culture of fear, silence & misplaced priorities

Excuses, excuses

2017 National Summit on Volunteer Engagement Leadership

The Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration (MAVA) is going to host the first national conference in the USA in more than a decade for people in charge of supporting and involving volunteers. The 2017 National Summit on Volunteer Engagement Leadership will be
July 26 – 28, 2017 in St. Paul, Minnesota. If you want to present at the conference (presenters are NOT paid), your proposal is due November 30, 2016. Please review the Request for Proposal Instructions before submitting a proposal.

Registration to attend the conference will open February 1, 2017.

It’s great 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.

I would love to attend but, unfortunately, I don’t have the funds. If you would like to sponsor part or all of my flight or accommodation costs, please contact me ASAP at jc@coyotecommunications.com (as the deadline for presentation proposals is Nov. 30, I need ot hear from you before then!).

And on a side note: 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.

Some Truths About Volunteer Retention

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersI’ve been trying to draft a blog about volunteer retention… and then read the latest update from Susan Ellis and Energize, Inc. and her article said it better than I can say it myself. This is reposted online with permission from Susan:

SOME TRUTHS ABOUT VOLUNTEER RETENTION

Schools used to focus on the 3 Rs (reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic), but in volunteer management we have the 2 Rs: recruitment and retention. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been asked to speak on both in a single session! Apart from this request minimizing what it takes to do all the critical tasks of volunteer management, the real problem is that recruitment and retention do not mirror each other.

You can do activities to recruit volunteers, interview them, train them, etc. But you cannot spend Tuesday mornings “retaining” them. Retention happens when everything else is going right. It is an outcome, not a task.

One of the problems with retention is defining it. People often ask me what a “good rate” of retention is, as though there is some external standard for all volunteer programs. Of course there is no such thing.

The desire to measure effective retention is tied to the fervent wish that volunteers might stay forever! Turnover has to be anticipated and planned for (and I might mention that there is lots of turnover among employees, too). How realistic are your expectations for the length of time volunteers will remain with your organization?

Some volunteers leave because things have changed in their own lives…and you had nothing to do with it. People get married, have babies, move away, change jobs, become ill – that’s life. The only thing you can do is leave the door open for a possible return. A volunteer who is forced to leave for external reasons may be willing to remain involved as a trainer of new volunteers, as an on-call substitute in a pinch, or at least as a reader of your newsletter. If the person is moving to another city, might you refer them to a counterpart program in the new location?

Here are some thoughts to ponder:

  • Retention can only be defined in relation to the commitment made by each volunteer at the start of service. So your recordkeeping system should show the amount of time the volunteer promised during the interview and then, if the person stays to that point, you have “retained” them! Anything afterwards is additional.
  • Do you clearly state the minimum commitment that is needed from a volunteer to make the training period worthwhile or to be able to make a difference to the client or cause? (This may be a different amount of time for each volunteer position.) Then, when you interview applicants, do you discuss anticipated length of stay? If neither of these things happen, how can you possibly know what volunteers intend to do in terms of longevity?
  • If a lot of volunteers leave in the first months of their work, it’s a symptom that what they expected and what they experienced did not match. Recruiting and interviewing are the start of the retention process!
  • Is there a pattern to when and from where volunteers drop off? Does one unit seem to keep people happy for a long time while another unit has a revolving door of new recruits? Analyze why and problem solve the situation.
  • Who is staying? Are you keeping long-time volunteers or the best volunteers? These may not be the same people! Again, assess what is going on. If newer recruits or people with top skills seem to become disenchanted with the program, why? How can you re-commit them?

The list of reasons why people volunteer in the first place is very long. After time, however, the reasons volunteers remain committed to your organization distills down to four factors:

  • The work they are doing is visibly meaningful
  • They feel appreciated for their service
  • They continue to learn and grow
  • They enjoy it
  • Quite simple, really – and the outcome of a welcoming, well-run volunteer program.

This outstanding blog content comes from Susan J. Ellis, President of Energize, Inc. More of Susan’s wisdom via her amazing books and services. It is HIGHLY recommended you subscribe to Energize Inc.’s FREE Monthly Volunteer Management E-mail Update for more great stuff!

That moment when you totally change your mind about volunteer engagement

wizardAn email I received a few days ago. I’ve changed it a bit to hide the identity of the author:

I want to thank you, sincerely, for challenging me to think about my understanding of volunteering. You really got me thinking. I had a 3.5 hour drive ahead of me last night, and the discussions around mandated community service and volunteerism kept rolling around in my mind. In my current role, I haven’t really had to think about court mandated service as volunteering and from personal experience, I don’t know if those mandated, would consider themselves volunteers? I am trying to resolve this, for my own benefit at this stage, and I am finding it quite difficult! I intend on mulling this over a bit more. I trying to consider the benefits/detriment of either belief…. Challenged? Yes!

I love making people uncomfortable about volunteer engagement. I love challenging oh-so-solid notions about who is and isn’t a volunteer, the value of volunteering, and why people volunteer. Why? Because volunteer engagement is so much bigger than just, “We’ve got work to do. Let’s get some good-hearted people to do it for free!”, and I so want this mentality to change!

The results of this? I’ve made people angry. I’ve made people tear up. Some people have double-downed on their oh-so-rigid definitions. But most, while challenged, have also been inspired. They don’t all come to the exact same conclusions as me regarding volunteer engagement and its value, but they definitely broaden their original ideas.

I remember my big ah ha moment regarding volunteer engagement, via an event by Triumph motorcycles. And my blog, Should the NFL involve volunteers for the Super Bowl?, talks further about why I changed my mind about volunteers supporting for-profit settings, in certain situations.

Want me to challenge your organization? Complete details about my consulting services.

Also see:

Have you ever changed your mind?

Volunteer manager Fight Club

Kentucky politicians think volunteers are free

Seal_of_KentuckyKentucky’s governor, Matt Bevin, a Republican, is working to end kynect, the state’s widely-lauded health insurance exchange and one of the most successful under the federal Affordable Health Care Act. His proposal will transition enrollees to the federal health insurance exchange. His new health care plan would also require “able-bodied” adults on the plan and without jobs to take a job training course, get regular job counseling, or do community service for nonprofit organizations.

Last week, administration representatives were asked at a committee meeting by Kentucky State Representative Mary Lou Marzian, a Democrat, if any state funding had been allocated to support the cost of background checks for volunteers required to do community service. The answer was that “any nonprofit that chooses to conduct background checks would need to cover the costs.” In other words, the state government will require community service of certain people, and expects nonprofits to accommodate these people with volunteering opportunities, but will not cover any of the costs associated with screening the people, let alone the substantial costs of training and supervising them.

There was also a concern voiced at the meeting about volunteers being asked to cover the cost of their own background check; many organizations do require this, and the people being required to do community service in order to keep their health insurance will largely represent people with low incomes. This issue was identified by Kentucky State Senator Julie Raque Adams, a Republican, as a “red herring;” Adams asserted that many organizations don’t really need criminal background checks, and she based this assertion on her children’s volunteer experiences.

All of the aforementioned information was related by the Kentucky Nonprofit Network via their Facebook page and an article in The Interior Journal, serving Lincoln County, Kentucky.

Senator Adams’ comments about background checks, and those of representatives of the governor’s office, are deeply disturbing, showing a woeful lack of understanding of volunteer engagement and risk management, one that is similar to the US Congress. As noted by the Kentucky Nonprofit Network:

The perception of societal benefit and an overwhelming need for volunteers by the sector seemed to outweigh any recognition of the realities of the true costs of managing a volunteer program (or influx of volunteer requests) – supervision, management, support, background checks (including the reality that this isn’t a luxury – it may be required to protect vulnerable populations), etc. Perhaps this is true – is there a dire need for volunteers?

The network is asking this question via Facebook – and so far, no nonprofits are saying, “Hurrah! An influx of volunteers! Just what we needed!”

It’s obvious that the Governor’s office did not do any research regarding nonprofits in the state and their needs regarding volunteers, and certainly no research regarding the substantial costs associated with involving volunteers.

In addition, K.J. Owens of Louisville won applause from the overflow crowd in Frankfort at a public hearing regarding the proposal when he said the plan “seems motivated by the concern that poor people are defective morally . . . that poor people just aren’t trying hard enough. The people on Medicaid are in no more need of moral guidance than the governor and the people on the governor’s staff.”

On a different but equally disturbing note, Bevin’s proposal also would eliminate dental and vision coverage now included in Medicaid Several other speakers expressed the same concern about excluding dental benefits in a state with some of the worst oral health in the nation, including one of the highest rates of adults with no teeth.

More information about the proposal, as well as a platform to comment on this proposal to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, can be found via the website chfs.ky.gov, and I call on all nonprofits back in my home state, all volunteers for those nonprofits, and anyone who cares about this issue, to give feedback via this state web site!

Congrats to the Kentucky Nonprofit Network for focusing on this issue. That’s what state agencies should be doing, and too many do not. It will be interesting to see if AL!VE (Association of Leaders in Volunteer Engagement) will address this issue at all. This is a big deal, and nonprofits all over the country, not just in Kentucky, need to pay attention!

Let’s hope Bevin doesn’t get any ideas from the U.K.’s disasterous Big Society efforts from a few year’s back (UK as in United Kingdom, not the University of Kentucky…).

Update: August 14, 2016 letter to Deputy Chief of Staff Office of the Governor, Matthew G. Bevin from Danielle Clore, Executive Director/CEO, Kentucky Nonprofit Network. It asks very tough questions about this proposal – which have not yet been answered.

Volunteers are NOT free.

Is it really *impossible* to break into humanitarian work?

guardian logoI saw a headline recently from the Secret aid worker series from the Global development professionals network in The Guardian:

I’m sick of job rejections – is humanitarian work only for the elite?

The headline struck me, as I constantly read questions on Quora and YahooAnswers from people that want to work in humanitarian aid and development. The questions are so frequent, and so similar, that I created a page of answers to that specific question, and I point people to it often.

Unfortunately, comments on this particular Guardian blog are closed. But I really wanted to respond to it, specifically, not just refer the author to my web page for people like her.

The blogger says she longed for a development job abroad “where I would get to do something real – responding to crises, spearheading interventions and doing hands-on development.” But then she never says anything about her own experience responding to crises, spearheading interventions and “doing hands-on development” anywhere. She never once says, “Here’s my area of expertise, here’s what I’ve proven myself capable of doing that is transferable and needed in the developing world.” She just goes on and on about a desire to work in development.

She’s now “hoping a year in INGO corporate fundraising and some experience in publicity and campaigns can help give me an edge in getting a job that’s a little more hands-on, because that was all the experience I could get. Development is a subject I’ve been passionate about for over five years.”

Again, she never says what it is she has that development agencies really, really need. A year of experience doing one thing, some experience in something else? Passion? Sorry, but it isn’t enough to give you an edge. Not at all.

“I can’t help but feel that humanitarian and development work is for the elites.”

No. But it is for people that have the skills and experience actually needed by local people in post-conflict zones and transitional nations.

Look, I don’t mean to sound mean, but in addition to be a person that seeks work in development – more on that later – I’ve been on the hiring side of things at development agencies. I’ve been on the job development side of things as well. I’ve written the description of the job that we need someone to do, and never once have I thought, “Hey, let’s give this to someone who doesn’t have experience but, by golly, they really want to work in aid and development! As long as they have a Master’s Degree!” The people I serve – the local people of a developing country – want more. They deserve more.

I think for anyone that wants to work in aid work, this blog by Marianne Elliott, Why Your Passion Is Not Enough, is worth reading, particularly this part:

My point is that passion, perseverance and innovation are sometimes highlighted at the expense of professionalism… much more than passion is needed in order to make a positive difference in the world… Just as passionate persistence without professional skills won’t get you a part in The Hobbit, good intentions without professional skill won’t result in doing the good you intend.

I am sometimes invited to talk to university students that want to work in aid and development. One thing I say to every class: to get paid to do something abroad you have to have done it locally in your own community, or somewhere in your own country. You want to help people start micro enterprises? You want to educate young people about HIV/AIDS? You want to open a school? You want to help people become motorcycle mechanics? You want to help respond to a post-disaster situation? You want to help refugrees? Whatever it is, you have to have done it in your own country – why would anyone want to hire you to do something you’ve never done before?

You can pursue such as entry-level paid work at local NGOs and nonprofits and maybe even in government programs, to get that experience. But I warn you, it’s really low-paid when you do it locally in your own country. Or you can do it as a volunteer, outside of your better-paid non-humanitarian work. I was stunned when I interviewed for my first job with UNDP, and one of the interviewers focused in on my volunteer work in communications for an abortion-rights group. He was interested because he wanted to hear about when I’ve had to communicate about a contentious, controversial issue that can bring out people’s hostilities, how I’ve navigated deeply religious communities, and how I’ve communicated about legislation and science. He didn’t care that I did it “just as a volunteer” – the work was real, and he wanted to hear about it. I’ve never forgotten that moment.

I am sympathetic to the person that says they cannot afford to take a low-paying job with a local NGO or nonprofit to get the experience in a field in which they want to build experience. I’m sympathetic to the person that says they cannot afford a Master’s degree. I’m not only sympathetic to people that cannot take unpaid internships at development agencies, but also outraged that they are expected to work full time for no pay. But I’m not sympathetic to someone who says, “I don’t have time to volunteer to gain experience so I can get a job in humanitarian work” or “I don’t want to spend a year or more gaining this experience just through volunteering.” Unless you don’t have time to volunteer because you are a primary caregiver to a family member – in which case you cannot be a humanitarian aid worker anyway – you can make the time. Here’s how: unplug your TV and cancel your Netflix subscription. Ta da: all the time you need. You have to set times and days when you would be able to go onsite to an organization to volunteer, and orient your social life and out-of-work responsibilities around that schedule. If you want to engage in virtual volunteering as well, that’s fine, but you are also going to set times to do the tasks you want to undertake. And this time for volunteering (and experience-gaining) can happen outside of work hours, in case you are having to do paid work outside of your career field in make ends meet. You have to make gaining the experience you need a priority – no whining.

But just as you can’t get an aid job solely based on your desire for such, you can’t get a volunteering gig that will give you the skills you need for an aid job solely because you call a nonprofit and ask for such. Just like a paid job, you are going to have to map the various nonprofits in your area – those that work with immigrants, or formerly incarcerated people, or victims of domestic violence, or young people that need tutoring, or those helping people train for new jobs, or people educating re: HIV/AIDS, etc. –  and research them in terms of what they do and how they currently engage volunteers, and get to know them, approach them, go through their application process, and try, try again. You may have to work with an organization for many months before you get to move into the kind of work you really want to do. And you will have to work for many months, maybe longer, to design and undertake your own project that will have a big impact locally and showcase your talents for your CV.

Job hunting is frustrating for most people, even me. Since 2009, I’ve found it far easier to get international placements than to get a job, short-term or permanent, with a local nonprofit or local government agency in my own county; I can’t decide if local agencies think I sound too good to be true or if they think I’m overqualified for the jobs I’m applying for. But if you think aid work is only for the elites, consider this: I’ve had three jobs with the United Nations, and I didn’t get any of them because someone already at the agency put in a good word for me, or because I went to some elite university (I went to a public university in Kentucky you have probably never heard of). None of the jobs were in the same country, and none had offices where anyone knew me, had worked with me, etc. I got all three because of my skills and experience. I was just an applicant for those three jobs, like everyone else. I actually did some digging to find out how I got the attention of the three hiring managers for each of these jobs. The first was because the job was created for me – I happened to be the most well-qualified expert in the world regarding a very particular subject – virtual volunteering – and this was precisely what was needed. The second job was because I had been a part of UNDP and had a robust communications management background, and not just at the UN – they didn’t really care anything about virtual volunteering, but they did care that the UN’s Online Volunteering service branding and other marketing success was directed by me. The third was again because I had been a part of the United Nations and had a robust communications background, with the addition of having lived in a post-conflict zone – and in that job, I was the third choice for the position (first two folks turned it down), and what got them to really read my CV was my comment at the very end that I ride a motorcycle! And for the record, I’ve applied for far, far, far more international development jobs that didn’t even get an interview for than jobs I did get an offer for. And I still volunteer as my way of keeping my skills sharp, to expand my skills, and to keep learning.

Do unqualified people get hired for humanitarian jobs? Do friends-of-friends, and family members of some connected someone, get hired over qualified people? Do applicants get rejected because of really dumb reasons, like because someone reviewing CVs thinks someone is too old or too young, despite their experience? Sure – just like in the corporate world. It happens because humanitarian agencies are run by humans, and humans are profoundly fallible.

Is a career in international development out-of-reach of people from certain economic classes, because they cannot afford the education? Absolutely – just like being a banker or a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher or so many other professions. I wish it wasn’t true. And I’ll go even farther: there is a strain of racism in the choice of who gets to be an aid worker that no one is talking about. A black Peace Corps member has challenges never faced by a white Peace Corps member, and black American applicants and black African applicants face obstacles as well, yet I don’t hear many people talking about that. And then there are the challenges for women, as applicants and actual workers…

But even with all those admissions, I stand by the belief that working in international development is not just for the elite. Get the skills and experience needed and learn another language well enough to work in it – it won’t be easy, but it can be done.

Also see:

Isn’t my good heart & desire enough to help abroad? – a response to a mother writing on behalf of her daughter that wants to volunteer abroad (but is too shy to write herself – yeah, I know)

In defense of skills over passion

Misconceptions re: VSO, UNV & Peace Corps

Being emotionally ready to volunteer – or to continue volunteering. There are training tools for new volunteers that can not only help to build volunteers’ awareness of how to handle a variety of challenges, it also might help to screen out people who are not emotionally nor mentally prepared, or not emotionally resilient enough, to serve. In addition, volunteers can face feelings of isolation, stress, even fear during or because of their volunteering service, especially if they are in high responsibility or high-stress roles. Volunteers in these and other situations may need mental and emotional health support -otherwise, you risk volunteer burnout, or volunteers providing sub-par service.

Selling community service leads to arrest, conviction

justiceThe most popular blog I’ve ever published, by far, is an exposé of a for-profit company based in Florida, called Community Service Help, Inc., that claimed it could match people have been assigned court-ordered community service “with a charity that is currently accepting online volunteers” – for a fee, payable by the person in need of community service. But the community service was watching videos. The company was selling paperwork saying people have completed virtual volunteering, that those people then turn into probation officers and the courts. The practice is at least unethical, and, according to at least one state, illegal.

While I have no issue with a nonprofit organization, or even a government agency, charging a volunteer to cover expenses (materials, training, staff time to supervise and support the volunteer, criminal background check, etc.), I have a real problem with companies charging people to fake community service. And as a promoter of virtual volunteering since 1994, before I even knew it was called virtual volunteering, I also have a real problem with someone claiming watching videos is online volunteering. And, for those that might not know, here’s what real, legitimate virtual volunteering looks like. And here’s a wiki about virtual volunteering with even more detailed information.

Community Service Help isn’t the only company selling paperwork to people that need community service hours for the courts, and I’ve mentioned some of the other companies that are pulling off this scam in several blogs (all linked from the end of this one). Actually, I should it wasn’t the only company – its web site went offline in January 2016 and is now for sale. Hurrah!

Companies like Community Service Help post frequently to Craigslist, and I try to keep up on these folks, especially news stories about them, but somehow, I missed this story from 2014!

Caffeine group admits community-service scam

By JENNIFER PELTZ – Associated Press – Thursday, August 7, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) – An anti-caffeine activist pleaded guilty Thursday in a scheme to make court-ordered community service as easy as taking an online quiz.

Marina Kushner and the Caffeine Awareness Association, a group she founded, each pleaded guilty to a false-filing felony. Kushner’s promised sentence includes a $5,000 fine – and 300 hours of legitimate community service.

“A community service sentence is a public and personal responsibility,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said last week in unveiling the case. Kushner’s lawyer, Peter Schaffer, declined to comment Thursday.

Kushner, 47, was arrested recently in Delray Beach, Florida. While Manhattan prosecutors became suspicious after a local defendant filed a letter from the caffeine association to satisfy a community service sentence, questions also had arisen in Washington state and Oregon about a “fast community service” website linked to the group.

The association still exists, offering debunked claims about caffeine, but there’s no page anymore on its web site, at least that I can find, called “quick community service.”

I’ve written and sent a letter to Mr. Vance, thanking him for his pursuit of this company. I’m hoping other prosecutors all over the USA  will take similar action. These companies damage nonprofits, damage courts, damage the idea of community service.

Is it possible, or even appropriate, for people that have been assigned community service hours by the court to do some or all of those hours online? Are they eligible for virtual volunteering? Yes, they are. Here’s detailed advice on supervising online volunteers in court-ordered settings, which I hope nonprofits, probation officers and court representatives will read. And note that Community Service Help and other similar companies would not hold up to the scrutiny recommended in this blog.

My other blogs on these companies that sell virtual volunteering and other community service in order to fool probation officers and courts, which include links to the various media articles about these companies:

Haters gonna hate, November 2014 update on Community Service Help and other similar, unethical companies

Community Service Help Cons Another Person – a first-person account by someone who paid for online community service and had it rejected by the court.

Online community service company tries to seem legit, a November 2013 update about efforts these companies are making to seem legitimate

Update on a virtual volunteering scam, from November 2012.

What online community service is – and is not – the very first blog I wrote exposing this company, back in January 2011, that resulted in the founder of the company calling me at home to beg me to take the blog down

Online volunteer scam goes global, a July 2011 update with links to TV stories trying to expose these scam companies

Courts being fooled by online community service scams, an update from November 2011 that is the most popular blog I’ve ever published

Deriding the monetary value of volunteer hours: my mission in life?

moneysignsDuring a presentation on volunteers at a local government agency that I attended a few weeks ago, the program manager proudly noted that the agency’s volunteer contributions are the equivalent of 21 full time employees, and gave a value of their time at more than a million dollars, based on the dollar value per hour promoted by the Independent Sector. That was one of her very first points in her presentation, and this was the ONLY reason offered during the entire session as to why this agency involves volunteers; she then went on to what volunteers do.

I wonder how the agency’s volunteers would feel to know that they are involved because they replace paid staff? Because they “save money”?

This agency said the greatest value of volunteers is that they are unpaid and mean the agency doesn’t have to hire people to do those tasks. I have so many, many examples on my blog and web site – linked at the end of this blog – regarding why those statements lead to outrage, and how they actually devalue volunteer engagement. These statements reinforce the old-fashioned ideas that volunteers are free (they are not; there are always costs associated with involving volunteers) and that the number of hours contributed by volunteers is the best measure of volunteer program success (quantity rather than quality and impact).

Put this in contrast to a paper on volunteer resource management practices in hospitals which I read today. The post about it on LinkedIn promotes this quote, “volunteers contribute greatly to personalizing, humanizing and demystifying hospitalization.” The paper, “Hospital administrative characteristics and volunteer resource management practices” is by Melissa Intindola, Sean Rogers, Carol Flinchbaugh and Doug Della Pietra and the description never once mentions the value of volunteers as being a monetary value for their hours, money saved, employees replaced, or any other old-fashioned statements to tout why volunteers are involved. I haven’t read the entire paper (it’s $30 – not in the budget right now), and maybe they do talk about these values, but from the summaries of the paper, it sounds like they understand the far better reasons for volunteer engagement, and that this understanding guides their recommendationss.

I’m not opposed to using a monetary value for volunteer hours altogether, but it should never, EVER, be shown as the primary reason volunteers are involved, or even the secondary reason to involve volunteers. If a monetary value is used, it should always come with MANY disclaimers, and should follow all of the other, better, more important reasons the agency involves volunteers. It should come many pages after the mission statement for the volunteer program and the results of volunteer engagement that have nothing to do with money saved.

Years of whining about this has paid off: the Independent Sector noticed yesterday and tweeted some responses to me. Not sure why it took so many years for them to notice my oh-so-public whining, particularly since I tagged them on Twitter every now and again…

I guess it’s time to again recommend this new book, Measuring the Impact of Volunteers: A Balanced and Strategic Approach, by ChristineBurych, Alison Caird, Joanne Fine Schwebel, Michael Fliess and Heather Hardie. This book is an in-depth planning tool, evaluation tool and reporting tool. As I wrote in my blog about this book, “I really hope this book will also push the Independent Sector, the United Nations, other organizations and other consultants to, at last, abandon their push of a dollar value as the best measurement of volunteer engagement.”

Also see: