“Is Volunteering the Emperor’s New Clothes,” was a title that we could not resist when visiting Realized Worth on Wednesday morning. In her Hot Topic article, Susan Ellis wonders what, if anything was really accomplished at the 2012 National Conference on Volunteering and Service (NCVS). Concerned about the role of corporate sponsorship on service, Ms. Ellis asks, “Why is volunteerism up for sale and up for grabs like summer’s most popular fashion?”
In 2011, Chicago Cares engaged nearly 14,000 corporate employees in service to our city. At the 2012 National Conference on Volunteering and Service, we worked with Points of Light and Chase to create the Seeds for Change project models that Ms. Ellis calls into question. We’ve taken a few points directly from the article to share some of our thoughts with nonprofits and corporations.
For Our Corporate Partners:
Cause Marketing is NOT volunteering
“It’s good news that high-ranking people are talking about volunteering in all sorts of public forums. The bad news, however, is that each corporation and national organization wants to ‘wear’ volunteerism…for only a moment.”
The vast majority of examples provided in Ms. Ellis’ article are focused on cause marketing, not on actual corporate service.
We will be the first to agree that cause marketing and “Dollars for Doers” types of programs are not ideal for the corporation, the nonprofit or the volunteer. As Realized Worth has already discussed, corporations trying to incentivize service face dwindling employee engagement and minimal measurable impact. Our research has shown that people who volunteer through these types of marketing programs generally don’t return to serve again, which results in sporadic support for the nonprofit.
Philanthropy is not a single act, it is a way of life. Volunteers serve because they have a personal connection to the cause or community they are serving, they don’t come for a cup of coffee. Nonprofits that recruit and train volunteers must embrace this responsibility and provide corporations the expertise to create successful and meaningful service opportunities.
Unfortunately, for many nonprofits, the time and effort needed to build and maintain high-impact volunteer programming remains a struggle due to tight budgets and employees already spread too thin by more pressing needs. This is why organizations like Chicago Cares and other HandsOn affiliates are so important. If a company really wants to make a difference, we can ensure that their actions translate into impact, balancing the interests of the company with the needs of the nonprofit organization. We are already in the community, managing ongoing relationships with organizations, listening to their needs and responding with appropriate project planning, supplies, logistics and curriculum that can best meet those needs.
Real Corporate Service is alive and well…and making an impact!
“Maybe it’s because service is an easy platform for corporations and institutions to gain a halo effect merely by stating a commitment to community involvement – with no risk of being held to promises made or even having to report back any activity at all.”
Every year we work with hundreds of companies of all sorts and sizes. Whether it’s an international conglomerate or a local business, the reason they return year after year has little to do with getting good press. They come back because they appreciate the opportunity to do hands-on work at local schools and social service agencies, they discover their employees are happier and more engaged when they learn to work together through volunteering and they’re inspired by what they can achieve outside of their day-to-day business goals.
The unique benefit that corporate volunteers offer through service is the ability to provide substantial budget relief to local service agencies which allows those organizations to focus their efforts on achieving their mission goals. In the words of Ms. Ellis, “examples abound.”
- Over the course of a single month, Discover’s BT Division was able to mobilize enough volunteers to repaint every client’s bedroom at Little City, a project that would have taken years for the organization to accomplish on their own. Because of Discover’s financial investment, those volunteers also constructed a “Safety Town,” where the Little City community can practice safe behaviors in a controlled environment, creating a greater sense of independence for residents.
- When our partners at the American Indian Center were awarded a grant from the Chicago Blackhawks to build an auditorium for their students, the staff was overwhelmed at the prospect of removing decades of stored items from their third floor space. Hyatt was able to provide enough volunteers to completely clean out the space in a single day, allowing the staff at the American Indian Center to utilize their grant funds more quickly.
- What started as a painting project at a Southside school for Grosvenor employees a few years ago, has grown into a unique relationship between the company and the school. Grosvenor employees continue to help with facilities improvements but they have also started tutoring programs, job skills training, sports camps and museum field trips at a school where over 99% of the students live at or below the poverty level.
Companies are doing more than coming up with slogans, through Corporate Volunteer Programs they are making a real difference in the lives of thousands of Chicagoans.
To Our Nonprofit Community:
If you aren’t reporting, you’re doing it wrong.
“Shouldn’t high profile volunteer promotions be held accountable by someone?”
YES. At Chicago Cares we know that reporting is key to ensuring a quality experience for the volunteer and a lasting impact for the community. Before a project can even begin, it is imperative to have information on the actual needs of the community and an understanding of the obstacles that your project will face. Throughout the entire life cycle of the service initiative, organizations must be keeping track of basic metrics like volunteer show rates, projects completed and cost analysis. Surveys need to be collected that measure the personal experience of the volunteer and the impact perceived by the community. We must include long-range data that asks questions like, “Did the volunteer return, why or why not?” and “Is there any measurable improvement in the community, why or why not?”
Take, for instance, the Seeds for Change program sponsored by Chase which was a central campaign at NCVS this year. We love to share the impact that volunteers had at the hands-on projects which served 3 under-resourced schools in Chicago. At Schmid Elementary in the Pullman neighborhood, volunteers built a learning garden that is part of the principal’s push to encourage healthy living and introduce her students to fresh foods that aren’t always available in this food desert. We started this project by sitting down with the principal and outlining her vision for the school. The community need always comes first.
Thanks to Chase’s support, conference participants had the opportunity to spend the morning volunteering at CPS schools in located in food deserts. Back at the conference center, thousands more helped build garden kits that will be delivered to almost 100 schools so that they can finally use their gardens as learning tools.
We measure the impact of these projects in several ways, including: what was accomplished, how many students will benefit, what will volunteers take away from this experience? We use this data to help improve our programs, to communicate impact to our corporate partners, and to share with the community we are serving. We believe measuring impact is critical to an effective volunteer project, whether volunteers are from community groups or corporations.
We can’t speak to what sort of data was provided to most of the companies that Ms. Ellis mentions in her article. However, if a company is not being provided with accurate and informed reporting after their service initiatives are complete, they need to find a new partner.
Be better than the hype
“…if our goal in the volunteer community is to increase and sustain volunteering over time, promotional campaigns must go beyond hoopla to legitimacy.”
We believe that if the volunteer community wants to increase and sustain volunteering over time, they need to stop focusing on finding the next promotional campaign and start focusing on quality volunteer experiences.
Real volunteers, the people who will become invested in the community and continue to serve, aren’t there to receive a prize, they’re there to make a difference. Whether a volunteer is walking into a project for the first time or the 100th time, it is our responsibility to make sure that when they leave, they know that their time was well-spent. Of course, there are times when we fail but it is exactly those failed experiences that allow us to collaborate with volunteers and partners in finding innovative ways to improve upon the work that we’re doing.
By relying on national ad campaigns to bring volunteers through our doors, we’re selling ourselves and our community short. In a recent survey, nearly all of our volunteer respondents mentioned how much personal fulfillment they receive by donating their time. Being an active part of building stronger communities is a truly transformational experience and that is the story that volunteer service organizations need to do a better job of telling.
If you really don’t believe that the act of giving your time in service to help others is far more powerful than a trip to a theme park or a coupon for free gas, than you are in the wrong business.
So What Do We Do Now?
“There is nothing wrong – and actually quite a bit of good – in many voices repeating the invitation to get involved.”
If you’re a company, don’t settle for a mediocre volunteer program. Chicago Cares, or other volunteer service organizations like us can help you meet your goals in a way that will have a deep impact on you and your community. If you aren’t receiving adequate reporting, start asking for it. If you aren’t being given a quality experience, find a better option. You have the power and the capacity to create a lasting impact in your community, so make sure you’re partnering with people who can help you make it happen.
If you’re a nonprofit organization, take charge. It doesn’t take a lot of money to tell a volunteer’s story or to research the ways that your organization is reaching your community. Improving your volunteer programs can often start with something as simple as running a quick survey to get ideas from the people who are supporting your work through service on a regular basis. Learn from their comments and don’t be afraid to try new things. Every school and agency has a story to tell. If it seems too overwhelming, then find a HandsOn Affiliate to help you recruit and organize volunteers for your programs. Don’t wait for a corporation to inspire your volunteers to serve, go out and do it yourself!
For all of us, the most important thing that we can do is serve. Serve without cynicism. Serve with awe at what we can accomplish when we all work together.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
June has been an exciting month for Chicago Cares. In just 30 days, our staff has had the honor of working with over 9,000 volunteers who gave their time to help strengthen the city of Chicago. Thank you to the thousands of volunteers who make our work possible. Your excitement to serve fuels us every day, urging us to find new, meaningful ways to meet critical needs in our city.
Volunteers in ongoing programs continued to serve children, adults, seniors and the environment through interactive projects. Whether it was preparing a meal, leading a discussion group, chaperoning a field trip or maintaining a community garden, Chicago Cares volunteers readily answered the call to serve their neighbors with kindness and compassion. The dedication of volunteers with our ongoing programs reminds us that at the heart of all service is the belief that caring relationships can change the world.
During Serve-a-thon we saw thousands of volunteers come together on one day to focus on a single goal; make our schools more welcoming to students and communities. Standing in the sea of volunteers, you could feel the excitement as we all sacrificed our Saturday to serve under-resourced students. In his remarks at the opening ceremony, CPS Principal Robert Lazers shared the story of a girl who could only comprehend the transformation of her school as a magical event. He told volunteers, “all of you here are as magical as Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy and all the other mystical beings who make children’s lives better overnight.” Annual Event volunteers teach us that together, we can do so much more.
Chicago Cares Corporate Volunteer Programs regularly help companies meet their community goals through service. This month we saw employees from the Big Ten Network, Deloitte, Hilton Worldwide, Aon and Hyatt mobilize to restore beaches, plant gardens and provide facilities improvements at schools and social service agencies throughout Chicago. Corporate Volunteers encourage us to look forward to a day when the success of a company can be measured by their social impact and not just their bottom line.
Through the National Conference on Volunteering and Service (NCVS), volunteers from around the country donated their time to help provide vital community garden programs to food deserts in Chicago through the Seeds for Change program. Together, we built raised beds, planted vegetables, constructed sheds and packed 500 community garden kits to be delivered to Chicago Public Schools. Although many of the participants may never meet one of these students, they came to each project excited and ready to serve. Sharing a volunteer experience with NCVS attendees confirmed that our neighbors are not just the people down the street. As a country we must all work together, with common vision and singular purpose to meet the needs of America.
Thank you to each and every volunteer who took the time to participate in Chicago Cares opportunities this month. You have inspired us to raise the bar for community service and reminded us, once again, that People are the Answer.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Each year, the National Conference on Volunteering and Service (NCVS) convenes to celebrate and connect service organizations throughout the country and promote education on civic engagement and corporate volunteering. A key component to each conference is a service project that supports community initiatives in the host city. This year, we were thrilled to welcome NCVS to Chicago and collaborate with Points of Light and HandsOn Network for the 2012 service project, titled Seeds for Change.
Seeds for Change, in partnership with the Mayor’s Office and Chicago Public Schools, supports community gardens at Chicago Public Schools and increases access to healthy, fresh foods. Seeds for Change projects engaged students, parents, school administration and conference attendees in creating garden plots, planting seedlings, constructing greenhouses, benches and more.
In the northern corner of Pullman, in the neighborhood of Cottage Grove Heights, stands Schmid Elementary – or if you ask the staff and students, The “New” Schmid. Since August of 2011, a new administration has been working hard to transform the school, leaving behind challenges left by the school’s former leaders. Schmid faculty are committed to rebuilding the culture and climate of the school, starting with their five core values: respect, persistence, accountability, family, and integrity. As expectations have been raised, the discipline rate has plummeted. In previous years the suspension rate was over 50%, but has now dropped below 20% in less than one school year. Poverty is a major part of Schmid students’ lives, with 93.4% designated as low-income.
Volunteers created a garden space from start to finish, constructing raised beds, assembling a storage shed, mulching pathways, planting seedlings and painting garden-themed murals and signs to inspire and motivate students. Other outdoor improvements included completing general landscaping projects throughout the school grounds and painting plywood murals to welcome the community to the school.
University of Chicago Donoghue Charter School
Located on Chicago’s Near South side, the Oakland neighborhood is a mile-long strip hugging Chicago’s lakefront. Since the Great Migration during the early 20th century, the neighborhood has predominantly been home to African American families. The University of Chicago Donoghue Charter School serves as a valuable resource to the Oakland community, opening its doors outside of school hours for parents and community members to learn and grow alongside students.
Volunteers made an impact at Donoghue through a number of outdoor projects, dramatically improving the courtyard garden area with landscaping and planting to complement Donoghue’s Fresh Fruit and Veggie Program. Volunteer efforts provided space for students to enjoy newly added recess time and give faculty and parents a learning space worthy of the direction they are taking Donoghue.
Wendell Phillips High School
Wendell Phillips High School is located in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago, just 3 miles south of McCormick Place. Bronzeville is not only a historic Chicago neighborhood, but one of the most notable African-American communities in the nation’s history. Founded in the late 1800s and known as the “Black Metropolis,” Bronzeville was at one point home to the city’s most prominent African-American politicians, artists, entrepreneurs, intellectuals and clergy. Wendell Phillips High School mirrors Bronzeville’s rich history and has represented opportunity for a large community, as for years it was the only high school that African-Americans were able to attend in Chicago. Today, Phillips High School continues to be a beacon of opportunity for the Bronzeville community. Offering a variety of classroom and hands-on curriculums such as the Junior Air Force ROTC, a sound engineering program and a student-led veggie farm; Wendell Phillips High School is working tirelessly to provide a learning environment that can fully address student needs.
Volunteers at Phillips had a profound impact on the school and surrounding community by aiding efforts to offer students opportunities to apply their knowledge and skills outside of the classroom through the development of a vegetable farm. Volunteers constructed tables and benches to improve the garden’s learning environment and students and faculty joined the volunteers, painting a variety of garden signs that can educate students and community members about gardening. These projects will help transform Wendell Phillips Veggie Farm into a welcoming place for the entire Bronzeville community.
On-site at the Conference
Following the NCVS opening plenary, all conference attendees had the opportunity to assemble seed packets, seedling and implementation guides to create hundreds of ”Seeds for Change community garden kits.” These kits will be distributed to 500 Chicago Public Schools across the city. By encouraging and supporting a garden in every school with Seeds of Change, volunteers help nourish the whole child and cultivate community connection.
Thank you to the thousands of NCVS volunteers who came to our city as strangers and are leaving as friends. We appreciate your time and dedication in helping us support the future leaders of Chicago!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
Things are buzzing here at Chicago Cares! We’ve just completed an awesome Serve-a-thon that saw over 5,000 volunteers working together to improve the lives of Chicago Public School students and now we’re gearing up to welcome service leaders from around the country as Chicago hosts Turning Point 2012: The National Conference on Volunteering and Service (NCVS).
A program of Points of Light, NCVS is the world’s largest gathering of volunteer and service leaders from the nonprofit, corporate and government sectors. If your organization deals with volunteers in any capacity, NCVS is an opportunity you don’t want to miss! Here are just a few of the ways that you can take advantage of the resources that will be offered right here in Chicago.
Excellence in education is at the core of all volunteer programs. We know that when students are taught about their community needs and challenged to help address those needs through service learning programs, we are building a foundation of civic-minded adults for the future. These conference sessions will help you discover how service learning curriculum can help us meet the needs of our students and our communities.
Faith Based Volunteer Programs
Working for the common good and caring for others is a sustaining theme for most world religions. Whether you are interested in finding out more about interfaith dialogue, building bridges between faith communities and corporations or using federal programs to help those in need, there are many workshops designed specifically to address the needs of those in faith-based volunteer programs.
Conference workshops are great but sometimes you just need something a little different. Books and Brew are book club-style sessions providing participants with an opportunity to have intimate conversations and discussions with featured authors on new and relevant books for civic engagement practitioners. If you love staying up to date on all of the latest reads about community service, this is a great opportunity to encounter some new material and share lively discussions with others in the field.
The Social Media for Social Good Preconference will cover basic and intermediate levels of social media topics including an introduction to core tools, evaluation, implementation and strategic application. With a mix of presentations, panels and small group workshops, participants will benefit from learning best practices, hearing from other organizations using these tools effectively, and have a chance to start building some plans of their own.
The generationOn Youth Summit is a FREE opportunity on Sunday, June 17, which will convene 250 young people for an afternoon of civic dialog and service-learning. Panel discussion with notable youth leaders, leadership development skill building activities and a service project to benefit the local Chicago community! Registration is required for this event and space is limited, so be sure to sign up today!
On a Budget
If you’re like us and serve at a nonprofit, then you’re probably on a budget. Conferences are great but sometimes lack of funds can prevent you from attending. Well, NCVS wants you to be able to join the conversation too! The session, Civics and Service, Helping to Drive Economy through Action, will bring together well-known speakers to discuss how civic engagement can help build a stronger economy, a more highly skilled and versatile workforce and more a productive nation. This session is free, but registration is required.
No matter who you are or what you do, there is something for you at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service. We hope to see you there!
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Mark your calendar to join us for the 2012 National Conference on Volunteering and Service, June 18-20 here in Chicago. The Conference will bring together more than 5,000 service leaders to learn and cultivate new ideas for service, discuss challenges and work together to create solutions through the power of people. Register before April 27, and receive early bird pricing.
With leadership from honorary co-chairs Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Conference will focus on how citizen-led solutions address unmet needs and propel us forward through innovative thinking and programs that affect societal change. Attendees include representatives from nonprofit organizations, corporations, governments, social entrepreneurs, educators and faith organizations.
To provide attendees with an educational, engaging experience in service innovation, the 2012 Conference will have new opportunities for intimate, thought-provoking conversations about national service, social entrepreneurship and hands-on action. Along with all-attendee plenary sessions, highlights include:
- Three Super Sessions: Aligned with a key issue area, Super Sessions build on the strengths of their renowned speakers and can take the form of a panel, conversation, TEDx-like series of mini-keynotes, film screening or moderated discussion
- 10 Civic Fellow sessions: Intimate dialogues with sector leaders
- Solution Centers: Experiential discussions in a casual setting with industry experts in the areas of economic stability and financial literacy, K-12 education and service-learning, environmental sustainability and emergency preparedness
Featured speakers include U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; Illinois Governor Pat Quinn; General George W. Casey Jr.; Brad Keywell, co-founder and managing partner of Lightbank and co-founder and director of Groupon; Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist.org and craigconnects; Eboo Patel, founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core; Rev. Otis Moss III from Trinity United Church of Christ; Isabel Wilkerson, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author; David Armano, executive vice president of Global Innovation & Integration for Edelman Digital; Wes Moore, Army veteran and author; Carol Cone, global vice chairman of Edelman Business + Social Purpose; Connie Lindsey, executive vice president and head of corporate social responsibility at Northern Trust; and NBA Legend Dikembe Mutombo.
The Conference is supported by presenting sponsors Chase and Target, leadership sponsor University of Phoenix, platinum sponsor Toyota and more than a dozen other corporate partners.
This post appears courtesy of the Points of Light blog.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
The National Conference on Volunteering and Service, a program of Points of Light Institute, is an annual event that offers opportunities for anyone interested in service to learn, connect and be inspired. As the world’s largest gathering of volunteer and service leaders from the nonprofit, corporate and government sectors, the conference offers a wide range of exciting and informative plenary sessions, workshops, special events, service projects, exhibits, specialized corporate tracks and more.
This year, Chicago is proud to host this wonderful event, and we hope that you will join us in making our city the best conference venue yet! Here are two simple ways that you can take part in strengthening our nation through volunteer service.
1. Join us at the conference. Attendees typically include:
- Volunteer coordinators and supervisors
- AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and Foster Grandparents, RSVP
- AmeriCorps Alums
- HandsOn Network Action Centers
- Non-profit professionals
- Nonprofit and government volunteer leaders
- Workplace volunteer managers
- Leaders in corporate social responsibility
- Corporate partners
- Social entrepreneurs
- Funders and philanthropists
- Anyone else ready to pave the way for a fresh approach to civic engagement
2. Share your knowledge. Each year hundreds of practitioners, thought leaders and innovators share their experience and expertise through workshops and other learning environments. Workshops will focus on inspiring, equipping and mobilizing 21st century volunteers to give their time, money and voice to create change in their communities. Your session can be a 90-minute workshop, highlighting an innovative organization, program or initiative through interactive learning. You can align your presentation with one of these tracks:
- Digital Mobilization
- Economic Opportunity
- Emergency Preparedness and Response
- Environmental Sustainability
- Excellence in Education
- Faith and Neighborhoods
- Health and Wellness
- National Service Programs
- Nonprofit Capacity Building
- Service Innovation
- Veterans and Military Families
- Volunteer Management
- Youth Leadership
The deadline for presenting a proposal is December 5, so make sure that you submit your ideas today!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
“Communities need service leadership now more than ever as we continue to face economic uncertainty and rely more on families and neighbors to solve civic issues, provide community support, and respond to disasters.”
Join thousands of volunteers across the country in meeting the needs of local communities, without ever having to leave Chicago! As one of the strategic stops along the “Road to the Gulf” national training project, we need your help on Tuesday, April 19, to improve the educational environment at Sayre Language Academy.
Road to the Gulf is a national opportunity to gain service leader training while participating in local projects. As the National Conference on Volunteering and Service moves from New York in 2010, to New Orleans in 2011, HandsOn Network affiliates, like Chicago Cares, are training leaders and mobilizing volunteers in multiple US cities.
With a school population that includes 45 different countries and 12 languages, Sayre Language Academy runs one of Chicago’s World Language Programs, working hard to educate their uniquely diverse community. We are thrilled to be able to partner with them for our local Road to the Gulf service opportunity. This project is family friendly, and we encourage volunteers who are 12 and up to spend a day of their spring break experiencing the fun and fulfillment that comes with volunteer service!
The afternoon will include painting canvas murals, giving the science lab a complete makeover, building bookshelves and packing disaster preparedness kits to send to our neighbors on the Gulf Coast. After completing the school improvements, the day will conclude with a brief volunteer leader training, giving you the tools you need to lead change in your own neighborhood.
Register for the Road to the Gulf Project and join with thousands of others around the country who are spreading the message that community matters!Sponsored by University of Phoenix, Road to the Gulf is a signature program of HandsOn University, the training and consulting arm of HandsOn Network. Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
The 2010 National Conference on Service and Volunteering, co-convened by the Corporation for National & Community Service and the Points of Light Institute, took place in arguably one of the most exciting and culturally vibrant cities in America: New York City. A handful of my Chicago Cares colleagues and I were part of the 5,000 strong who showed up en masse to learn about current trends in volunteerism, gain best practices from professionals from across the country and the globe, and be inspired by the courage and will of our fellow friends in service. “It’s Up to YOU” was the theme for this year’s convening and there is, perhaps, no more poignant message to address the current challenges we are facing in America. In light of these economic and social issues, this year’s conference empowered us to own a stake in the future of our communities rather than waiting on others to take action.
In addition to attending the full national conference, I was also one of 24 nonprofit leaders, recognized as high-potential emerging leaders, chosen to participate in the American Express Nonprofit Leadership Academy from June 26-27, 2010. This was amazing experience! Although it was certainly an abridged version to the much more in-depth weeklong academy, the facilitators at the Center for Creative Leadership expertly crafted and led our discussions so that the participants could gain a tremendous amount of applicable knowledge in a short timeframe. The feedback-intense sessions centered on a 360 degree evaluation which was filled out in advance by our peers, direct/indirect reports and supervisors, as well as ourselves. This assessment was an invaluable tool to gain unbiased insight into our strengths and areas of development as a leader. The highlight of the two day seminar was the opportunity to meet for one hour with an executive coach to discuss our assessment. The executive coach provided tangible steps to help us tackle our areas of improvement and any key leadership issues we are struggling with in our current position. Through this academy, it is clear that American Express recognizes the importance of investing in nonprofit leaders of tomorrow. By working to address our development areas now, we can better focus on how to inspire our organizations and communities today and into the future.