Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Personal Contact

I was talking with a high school senior who was working on a project. She would make brightly colored quilts and then hand deliver them to children at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. Although it was time consuming work she loved seeing the children’s excited faces as they accepted the quilts. Even in the midst of senior activities, applying for college scholarships, and studies she still devoted time to this charity. This student probably would have still made the quilts if she didn’t meet the children, but meeting the children energized her.

As much as possible, we need to provide our volunteers with touch points and contacts with those our organization serves. It will keep their enthusiasm ignited.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Headline News

The day after my last post extolling the benefits of volunteering I was thrilled to see the front page headline in our local paper The IntelligencerLocals Touch Lives a World Away.

Following was a series of four articles that profiled four area residents who traveled to different countries to help AIDS orphans, provide cleft palate surgery through Operation Smile, teach at a school in Tanzania, and work in Japan’s rural countryside. The articles were full of inspiring messages that will hopefully encourage readers to volunteer locally and overseas.

There were great quotes like this one from 23 year old Lisa Talley who taught in a Tanzanian school—
This changes your opinion of people, life, everything….Volunteering is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.
And this one from Barbara Kroberger of Jamison, who worked with AIDS orphans in Uganda—
Sometimes it is just one child at a time, but we all can do something.
I know that I’m “preaching to the choir” here. Most people reading non profit blogs are already enthusiastic about volunteering. But how can we spread this energy? Frequent feature articles like this in local newspapers publicize the rewards of community service. Thanks and kudos to the Intelligencer for making this “Headline News”.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Making Friends in Montreal

A few years ago we went on a mission trip to Montreal with the youth group from our church, Faith Community Church. A ministry called Christian Outreach International organized the trip for us. Our group met for training for several months prior to the trip. We weren’t sure exactly what we would be doing when we got there, but we each prioritized what we would most like to do—work with children, teens, college students, the homeless, etc. We were to rank the categories from 1 to 3—with 3 being the group we would most like to work with. I am embarrassed to say that I ranked working with the homeless a zero. I had a number of prejudices against the homeless. I was adamantly against working with them.

Well, needless to say, we spent most of the week working with the homeless—serving food at a shelter; making sandwiches and handing out the food at a park (we did this twice); as well as handing out food to random homeless people on the street. We sorted clothes that had been donated to a homeless mission and was available for the men and also sold in their thrift store.

We also did some ministry on the campus of McGill University and some street ministry—but our main work was with the homeless.

A young man with long hair in braids who reaches out to homeless teens with his wife, explained the situation in Montreal like this—
No one in Canada lacks food or shelter, what they are really starving for is relationships.
Indeed we saw this was the case. Many, who came for food, actually lived in nearby subsidized apartments. Some of them spoke to friends on cell phones, while they lined up for sandwiches. We saw a few familiar faces at the different sites where we handed out food.

I won’t digress on the effectiveness of this system. However, what this young man said was true—it was all about the relationships. What the people we met valued and appreciated more than the sandwiches or hot meals, was listening to our youth group sing, watching the skit they did, playing Frisbee with them, and just sitting on the park benches talking to them.

This broke down the prejudices that I had. Regardless of why or how these people got where they were, they were people—“precious in His sight” as the children’s song goes. Our group, teens and adults, saw the homeless in a different light. We were able to see beyond the glazed eyes of drug use or the confused look of the mentally ill and see the person underneath. It was a life changing experience. I would not have believed it, if I had not experienced it myself.

That’s what volunteering does—it stretches you. It leads you to do things you never thought possible. And it leads you to think things you never would have imagined.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Most Curious Answer

In the last post I shared my husband’s answer as to what he thought about community service. In a nutshell, it was for people who had a heart for what they do, better for people with time on their hands, like retired people, and something most people were too busy to do. If someone who did not know my husband heard his explanation they would assume that he had decided that community service was not for him.

Here is why I was surprised at his answer. My husband works about 45 hours a week; he plays softball in the summer, and rarely misses my son’s baseball games. He is pretty decent at helping around the house and helps out with getting the kids where they need to be at different times. He is a typical busy father in the 21st century. He also volunteers anywhere from 6 to 20 hours a week as a youth leader with our church’s youth ministry. He goes on overnight trips; drives the 15 passenger van hundreds of miles to conferences, camps, amusement parks, ski trips, etc. He spends time taking individual students out to pizza, movies, or ice cream. He is involves in three group meetings a week, one of which is a college age discussion group that he leads.

I told him his answer surprised me, since he spends so much time in youth ministry. “That’s not community service” he said. “That’s something I enjoy doing.”

Research observation: Pair someone with something they really enjoy (in my husband’s words—something they have a heart for). Volunteer service should not end up being a chore. It should be something someone loves to do. It seems obvious but it’s a key component of the volunteer process.

The remaining question: How do you find people who love doing what you need them to do in your non profit?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Why People Volunteer- A Family's Perspective

Recently I have spent some time thinking more intentionally about why people volunteer. Why people give is a close second in this line of questioning. I have heard of the recently published book Who Really Cares, by Arthur C. Brooks. I plan to order this from Amazon as soon as I have time to browse for another book to get my order total into the “free shipping” realm. I imagine that why people volunteer will be addressed in this book, as it is probably linked to why people give.

However, I have been thinking about the question for some time, on and off—especially when Boards or organizations that I am part of are looking for volunteers. Recently I decided to do my own research and just ask people what they think about community service.

I figured since charity begins at home, research should begin at home too. So I asked my family. I’ll discuss my children’s answers in a later post but here is my husband’s answer.

Some people have a heart for it. Some people have extra time on their hands, like retired people. If you can get a group together, like a church youth group, it usually works, as its more fun for the people doing community service. People don’t have enough time. They barely have enough time to take care of their own families. Many people work late or work on Saturday’s to take care of job responsibilities or to make ends meet.
I was surprised at his answer for reasons I’ll discuss in the next post.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

The Proverbial Bus

Do you have a succession plan for your non profit organization?

We have all heard it—what would happen if you got hit by a bus? Could your non profit continue without you?

Many non profits have sufficient staffing and leaders at various levels so that they could continue. Many other non profits would struggle. Either their non profit is small and the executive director wears many hats to keep the organization going OR the executive director is vested with a number of leadership responsibilities.

If you recognize yourself in the second situation, what can you do?

The Center for Nonprofit Advancement in Washington DC has a nice Emergency Succession Plan template. The procedures to follow in the event of an emergency are nice, but the key information listing near the end of the document is an invaluable resource. It prompts you to list the location of all the organizations important documents and critical contact information.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Transparency in Financial Statement Reporting (Part 5 of the Holding the Hammer Series)

Your audited financial statements are governed by Generally Accepted Accounting Standards established by the Financial Accounting Standards Board. The framework for the statements is designed so that users can compare entities to each other. Along those lines there are some limitations as to what you can do to communicate to financial statement users. There are some things you want to make sure you do and some options you have to “personalize” your statements.

  • Make sure that donations that are donor restricted have been properly reported as temporarily restricted
  • Consider if you have projects that the Board has committed to in the coming year. If funds for the projects are not already donor restricted, they should be reported as Board Designated
  • Make sure the description of your organization in the footnotes clearly conveys your organization’s mission
  • Consider the use of supplemental schedules to break out revenues and expenses by program

You should also consider preparing a one or two page financial summary that would be more user friendly than your audited financial statements. This summary could be posted to your website or sent to donors. The summary should easily agree to your audited statements, but since the summary does not need to follow accounting guidelines, you can modify the format to highlight the financial information you want people to know.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Yay for Us!

Keep your accomplishments in front of your donors frequently. Communicate in these meaningful ways.
• Graphs and pictures
• Data: number of people served, number of books purchased, and number of families counseled. Think of creative ways—tonight 30 families are putting their children to sleep in their own bed, in their own home because of you—is more effective than—you helped 30 homeless families
• Stories

And while we frequently mention sharing with donors, make sure to share stories with your staff and Board as well. We sometimes think the staff hears of the successes in the course of their day, but often they don’t. Celebrate even the small successes. They will appreciate the encouragement.

Be clear in your communications. Make sure any pie charts and graphs are easily understandable. Test them out on someone outside of your organization.
Don’t try to obscure bad news by making your data difficult to understand. It will frustrate donors and make them think you are hiding something. Its better to explain the situation with a footnote, as in, services to homeless women declined last year because of turnover in staff personnel. Then explain what you are doing to improve—new staff have been hired and we look forward to reaching out to provide homeless women with the resources they need to become self sufficient.

Talk to your donors and grantors and find out what key information they want to know about your organization. Make sure this information is communicated to them at various points of contact in concise ways. You can communicate this in donor appeal letters, your newsletter, on your website, and your donor thank you notes. We receive so much information today that clear repetition is the best way to ensure that your message is heard.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Dear Donor (Part 3 in the “holding the hammer” series)

At a client’s office I saw thank you notes like this one.

Dear ……

My son loves the after school program at the Boys and Girls Club. His grades have improved because of the homework help. He has fun with the staff and his friends and has learned new games. Because he gets his homework done at the after school program, we have more quality time as a family in the evening. My son is too young to be home alone after school and we could not afford after school care that other organizations offer. I don’t know what we would have done without this program. Thank you so much.

Letters like this are why your donor gives to your organization. Your donor wants to know they are impacting lives. This letter tells them they are. Whenever you can, ask the people you serve for feedback or personal letters and pass them on.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Plugging People In (Part 2)

In our area there is a great website at Doylestown Alive, under Community Service. If you are interested in volunteering, you fill out a questionnaire noting what areas you would like to volunteer in, how frequently you would like to be involved, and who you are (individual, family, student, etc.) Then you receive results listing the name of the organization, a link to their website, a description of the volunteer opportunities they have and contact information.

Organizations can register on the site for a nominal fee.

It’s an easy way for anyone regardless of age or time available to get involved with area non profits.

And in the spirit of collaboration, the site is sponsored by Univest Bank and maintained by the Central Bucks Healthier Community Team which is a committee of the Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce. The power of partnering!

Monday, April 2, 2007

Plugging People In (Part 1 of the Holding the Hammer Series)

The more opportunities that you give to allow people to be involved with your organization “hands on”, the more connections you strengthen with current and prospective donors. You also can reduce the work that your staff needs to do. The challenge is that you need someone from your organization that can manage the volunteers.

The process of involving volunteers can be daunting. There may be training involved; you need time to get to know the volunteers to make sure they are qualified; and you want to provide volunteers with a meaningful opportunity to make a difference with your organization.

Here are some pointers:

1. Develop policies for the volunteer process

  • What training is necessary for the volunteers and for those who are managing the volunteers
  • What clearances or approvals do volunteers need
  • What do those who supervise volunteers need to know

2. Try to find opportunities for people to serve at various commitment levels

  • Ongoing regular service on a weekly or monthly basis. This could be helping sort clothes at a thrift shop, stuffing envelopes for a monthly mailing, etc.
  • Annual commitment for a specific fundraiser. The volunteers could serve on the committee to plan and execute the fundraiser and/or assist at the event.
  • Assistance with certain aspects of program delivery. You may need volunteers to assist with yard work twice a year on low income properties, to answer the hotline phones, or to deliver meals.
  • Consulting commitment to serve on your Board or Committees. Your committees do not necessarily need to have only Board members on them. Opening up the committee to non Board members gives you the opportunity to involve past Board members or others who may want to help you but don’t want a full Board commitment.
  • Consider a “junior Board” for younger adults (late teens to mid twenties) to participate in. Determine what rights this Board would have and what Board meetings they would attend. This is basically a Board in training from which hopefully you will develop future board members. Make sure that input from this Board will be valued by the “Senior” Board.

3. Brainstorm a list of every task that someone could help you with. After you are done brainstorming, go back and cross off items that you absolutely cannot assign to a volunteer.

4. Divide up the tasks in the different categories noted above

5. Delegate managing the volunteers to those involved in the various areas-fundraising, program delivery, consultation.

6. Make sure everyone—the volunteers, those who are supervising the volunteers, and staff working alongside the volunteers understands your policies for volunteers.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Reaching a New Generation

At our seminar series the speaker offered an analogy along these lines.

“the older generation was glad to give money to a larger foundation (such as United Way or the American Red Cross or Rotary) so that they could give it to a worthy charity so that that worthy charity could purchase a hammer to rehab a house for a low income family; the next generation wanted to give money to the worthy charity directly, this generation wants to hold the hammer”.

Charities need to look for as many opportunities as they can to give donors the opportunity to “hold the hammer”. This can be accomplished in a number of ways:
• Setting up a variety of opportunities for donors and volunteers to be involved “hands on” with your organization
• Sharing personal stories from those you serve to build a connection with donors
• Being transparent in reporting accomplishments to allow donors to evaluate how effective you are
• Being transparent in financial operations to let donors see how you are managing your financial resources

The next several postings will look at each of these in more detail.