Burned to a Crisp

This post isn’t going to tell you anything you haven’t been told before.  Today, I just don’t care. And actually, that’s the point…because, really how could I?

How is it that we can get so lost in doing good? Volunteerism is on the rise for young people, national service is finally receiving some political support and widespread attention, and the non-profit sector still exists. What could be wrong with that?

Let me just give you a glimpse into the life of a typical non-profit worker:

My job as a non-profit Social Worker: I have no skills and have received no training for the work I do.  I am forced to take a 1/2 hour unpaid break for every six hours I work (or one hour for every eight).  My hourly pay is $11. The last time my employer gave me a raise was three years ago. My Christmas bonus is a $15 gift card. On a regular basis, I am  expected to clean up urine, feces, and vomit.  We don’t have any biohazard disposal kits.  Usually, I work until midnight, and since I can’t afford a car, I walk home – that takes me about an hour.  Sometimes I am able to eat free meals from the soup kitchen, and I’m thankful for that.  I’ve never been offered benefits.  I have never had a supervisor check-in with me, let alone a regular review.  When one of our clients died, there was no mention of it except in written notes used for documenting client behavior.

My job as a non-profit employee in an office: Most of my knowledge is experiential – I’ve only attended one training in the past three years. My hourly pay is $14. My Christmas bonus is more substantial than a gift card, which I appreciate.  Until recently, I spent a lot of time on facebook and sending personal emails – if I leave work, I won’t get paid.  My first review in over 1.5 years was a month ago – I am now expected to take on much more than in the past, but the only way I’ve been compensated is with a title change.  My last raise was 2 years ago.  Every fundraiser I’ve helped put on since I began working at the organization has been more successful than the last.  Much of my time is spent in committee meetings where people with no particular expertise talk about strategies but rarely devise tangible action items.  There is no room for growth – my organization is not interested in employing workers full-time (then they’d have to offer benefits).

So, why don’t I do something about this? Stand up for myself and ask for a raise, or move on? I suppose I feel trapped – stuck in a sector where neither specialization nor generalization have value.  A place where I’d be lucky to make $60,000 annually 15 years from now. But, at least I can pretend that the work I do is somehow making the world a better place.  At least I’m not stuck in a monotonous job doing desk work all day, right?  What I really want is some acknowledgement – someone to say that the nonprofit sector sort of sucks.  Someone to question what’s really working – and what isn’t. Is there actually a societal benefit to me holding jobs that keep me in poverty, when I have a freaking master’s degree?

My plan? Leave the sector…throw aside all the experiential knowledge I’ve gained for a decent, well-paying job with benefits.  Then, maybe I’ll volunteer somewhere and bake cookies every day for the people who work where I donate my time.  Hell, maybe I’ll even donate some money.  It’s sad to say I’m burned out, but it’s scary to know I’m certainly not the only one. No, really…(read this one, too).


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I’m Dreaming of a…

Google Reader for Google Apps?

What?! Isn’t that what you want for Christmas, too? Ok, fine.  I could use a lot of things, but really, I am pretty sick of reading work-related blogs at home or trying to track worthy tips and tricks through draft emails and my google task frame.  I could use one of those other reading tools, but everything else at my work is in Google Apps.  I swear it was forever ago when I found Google Apps Beta with Reader and tried to get my organization to make the switch.  Our site host claimed that beta could cause irreparable damage to our data (what if we lost all those archived emails?!).  I feel like I’ve been pretty darn patient and the new Apps was supposed to be released “this fall”.  Still no word.

If I don’t have Reader, at least I have you, dear reader.  And, as my small gift to you, please enjoy my favorite blogs about the non-profit sector…the ones that I’d actually look at and not just click “mark as read” so I don’t have to see how many unread items I really have (you must know what I’m talking about).



What’s in your reader?


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The other night, a few friends and I volunteered with the Salvation Army to collect some change for their programs in Maine.  It was surprisingly fun – we rang the bells for so long that I can still hear them, and we even managed to belt out a few holiday carols for passers-by.  I don’t have any amazing thoughts on the whole experience, so enjoy these pictures and random facts:

The group of us (because it clearly took 8 people) hanging out around the Salvation Army kettle.

Fact #1: The Salvation Army’s red-kettle campaign is its most important fundraiser of the year, as money raised helps the organization assist others and handle its ongoing operating expenses.

Ring my bell...

Fact #2: Funds from Red Kettles (the Portland affiliate hopes to raise $150,000 this year) support soup kitchens and transitional shelter for the homeless, activities and programs for at-risk children, care and essential services for seniors, and more based on local needs.

Fact #3: Supposedly, this kettle was once a B&M Baked Beans pot…the only baked bean company that still actually bakes its beans.

So, in four hours at the Maine Mall Food Court, we were able to raise a whopping $46.92 and were totally outdone by the Telephone Pioneers who were at Sears with NO BELLS (?!?) and brought in $103.34.  Damn them.  Oh, and Fact #4: There is such a thing as Telephone Pioneers…who knew?


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Two Left Feet

Have you ever felt like the answer to one of life’s great problems was on the tip of your tongue? Like, if you could just articulate an issue things might be resolved? Lately I’ve been feeling a bit mopey, which has primarily manifested itself through my complete saturation in the blog-o-sphere. And, since I’m an udder nerd, my primary focus has centered around non-profit blogs.  Imagine my elation when I came across this post.  Too lazy to click? It’s called “Dancing the Marketing-Fundraising Tango” and illuminates how connected development and marketing tactics can be.

Now, you’re probably thinking… “who the F cares?”.  Most people probably don’t, but for me it was one of those tip-of-the-tongue type answers – something that I’ve probably known all along, but just needed to hear from someone else’s mouth (or blog).  You see, I’ve been thinking about life and what the hell I’m doing with mine.  My current career (if we can call it that) is in development, but I constantly feel myself being pulled toward marketing.  What good is my fabulous new membership program if no one is aware of it? Who is going to donate to our annual fund without knowing the things we’ve accomplished this year? Which of our sponsors will donate again if they haven’t been appropriately (and publicly) recognized?

The disconnect between fundraising and marketing at my work shouldn’t be so great – I actually sit so close to our marketing person that it often feels like we’re tripping over each other to get things done.  But in the odd space-time continuum that is our universe, I realized the vast void between us when she asked me the other day what the annual appeal was.   Umm…you know…only our largest fundraising campaign of the year.  How should she have known that? And how could she promote something she didn’t really understand?  Thankfully, it’s exactly that continuum where our answer can be found – as this 2nd post on claxon tells me, marketing and fundraising are just two ends of the same stick, two forms of the same dance (ah ha!).  Whether you’re focused more on marketing or fundraising really just depends on if you’re broadcasting information to groups or tailoring a personalized message for individuals….or something in between.  Maybe my next job will be in funketing (or markraising?)…whatever that middle ground is called.

So, my Ah Ha moment was simple.  My fundraising job is sometimes a marketing job.  Now, I just have to find ways for me and my colleagues to help each other depending on where on the spectrum our efforts lie.  Once we figure that out, I’ll be dancin’ in the street!


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I really don’t know how many tips and tricks for nonprofit outreach I’ve read, but pretty much all of them beg you to stop using text emails.  I am here to beg you, again.  Yes, it might cost you a little bit of money to pay for an email marketing service.  I recently signed up with MailChimp.com because they are offering a free basic service for lists under 1,000 (you can send up to 6,000 individual emails with the account).  Not too shabby.

As you probably know, there are many reasons to use an email service that go beyond pure aesthetics.  For one, you can track how people use your email – do they forward it, click on links…are they even opening it?  With MailChimp (and probably other providers as well), you can  see who opened your email and what they were interested in.  In fact, you can see how many times they opened the email – and, if they have any sort of avatar, you might even see their picture and location.

Do you really need another reason to invest in an email marketing provider?

I hope I’m painting an idea for you…some way where your impersonal email account allows you to make personal connections with people on your list.  Say you notice someone always clicking on links to volunteer opportunities, but they never show up to your regularly scheduled work days – maybe you should reach out to them personally and see what barriers are preventing them from coming.  Or maybe you’d notice that your board members aren’t opening your emails – probably time to talk to them about how they prefer to receive information about events.  Novel idea, eh?

Ok.  You got the point.  I’m going to assume you already use something like Constant Contact, Email Now, or Mail Chimp.  If you’re not, just know that I stopped listening.  I won’t be opening your emails anymore, and it doesn’t matter how loud you shout.

Painful in my inbox.

Want to take your email marketing to the next level? Check out Network for Good’s Email Fundraising Guide.

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Volunteer Wars: Members Project vs Tag!

I’m not sure when it suddenly became hip to give back…it was probably before Glee, but not that long ago. This month, two huge campaigns emerged to promote volunteering and civic engagement (plus some other things, as well).  Let’s take a look at what they did right and wrong:

Members Project

Sponsored by: Glee, American Express, Takepart

Purpose: Getting people involved by allowing them to vote for charities, find volunteer opportunities, and donate money

Exposure: Commercials during Glee, ads on facebook.com, extensive use of twitter

Perks of involvement: Opportunity to volunteer with the cast of Glee

Support: 508,201 fans on facebook

Tag! Get Hands On Challenge

Sponsored by: JetBlue Airlines, HandsOn Network

Purpose: Users “tag” friends to identify them as service leaders; sharing stories of service

Exposure: AmeriCorps Alums network, HandsOn community, user-initiated posts on facebook and twitter

Perks of Involvement: Chance to win an iPad or round-trip tickets on JetBlue

Support: 3,176 people “tagged”

Did you get that? 3,000 people compared to 500,000! And the one that has more engagement is the one where the prize is volunteering.  Ok, so it’s a chance to meet the Glee cast and fly to LA, too…but still.  Just for tagging a few friends you could get tickets to practically anywhere, so it isn’t just the trip.  And, you have to be 18+ for the Glee contest, so we are actually talking about somewhat rational people here.

To what can you attribute the success of the Members Project, then?  My guesses are as follows:

1) The Members Project utilizes an established fan base from Glee to grow support.  HandsOn’s initial base is very small in relative terms

2) Tangible reasons for engagement.  Sure, it’s great to be “tagged”, but the Members Project allows interaction and promotes tangible ways to take action and connect with service projects or charities.  The HandsOn campaign seems to be missing that – you can make a commitment and tell people about it, but it’s hard to find new and cool projects (the most popular commitment right now is to use reuseable shopping bags…not exactly a novel idea).

3) Ease of use.  With HandsOn, I’ve tried to tag about 200 people – no luck…a couple friends joined the site, but I wasn’t given credit for the “tag” (therefore, no prize).  With Members Project, all you need to do is connect via facebook.

4) Banter.  You want people to be talking to each other, right? Who doesn’t want to read (and comment on) the ongoing back-and-forth between Mr. Scheu and Sue? It keeps people coming back to the site, much more so than the relatively static journals associated with Tag.

Will Schuester It feels good to do good. But sometimes you just can’t make up your mind what kinda good you want to do:http://bit.ly/9UERCo November 16 at 12:49pm

Sue Sylvester Help Will Schuester (Glee) save the crocodiles. I need them for my vast shoe and handbag collection.http://bit.ly/WhoCares_IDont November 04 at 10:22am

Thanks to HandsOn and the Members Project for making it cool to care – good luck to each of you.  And for us volunteers? The best part is that we don’t have to choose, so sign up for both campaigns!

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Chameleon Leadership

Looking at the sidebar of “recent entries”, you might assume that I’ve been somewhat absent from the volunteer world lately.  And, well…in a way you’d be right.  I spent a couple weeks travelling abroad and have also been taking time away from normal life to engage in a program all about civic leadership.  Every month, I spend two whole days with a fantastic group of 30 civic leaders – people who, like me, probably spend way too much time giving back.  So, these days are spent connecting and reflecting.  Most recently, our session revolved around the topics of adaptive and facilitative leadership.  While I can’t claim to have a complete grasp of either, there are some things worth thinking about (I’m going to focus on the adaptive leadership part).

Ok.  We all know what it means to be adaptive, and most of us have some concept of what a leader is, but the term “adaptive leadership” is probably much less clear.  Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government are the gurus of adaptive leadership, which Heifetz likes to call “disappointing people at a tolerable rate”.  The basic idea being that adaptive leaders work to inspire change in others – leadership is an activity, not a person.  And for an adaptive leader, the solution (or ultimate goal) is often unclear, requiring work or feedback from stakeholders.  Unfortunately, as you’ve probably heard before, people don’t generally like change and, they usually take out their insecurities about the change on the person leading them through it.  Great.

So where is the incentive for civic leaders – people who may be volunteers, or leaders in unstable times…why should we spend time coming up with new modes of operating rather than accepting the status quo? And how will we ever know that the new way of doing things, once it becomes the norm, is any better than what we had before?  To be honest, I don’t know the answers, and in fact barely even have suggestions.  Perhaps it has to do with our human nature – some innate drive toward idealism and that rare, beautiful moment when an unexpected solution is formed by a group of people, and actually works.

In my lifetime (admittedly, a relatively short period of time), I can’t recall an outstanding instance of something I could call true adaptive leadership.  I’ve seen attempts for sure (Obama?).  And I’ve heard examples – some point to Dave Eggers’ 826 storefronts or Shacketon’s leadership on the Endurance – but those don’t resonate with me. So, today I’m left with only questions.  What are the tools of an adaptive leader? Is there really any way to incite a group to be innovative? Is there a way to move beyond the theory of adaptive leadership to put it into practice?

If only I were a chameleon, the king of adaptive change…maybe I could teach others how to subtly and beautifully create and accept new things.  Or, maybe I’d be even more frustrated by the fact that I possessed a completely unteachable skill.  Who knows.  Well, maybe you do – help me out here, if you can.

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That Rare and Pleasant Moment

I had one of those rare moments last night where I was mildly dreading something and then was pleasantly surprised.  I love those moments.  And, I especially love them when they have to do with engaging volunteers.

Here I was, walking to a meeting (that we scheduled on a national holiday), thinking – no one is going to show up.  I’ve definitely held meetings where I was the only person there (ok, usually one person showed up, but still), so this wouldn’t be out of the ordinary.  But, see…we’d sort of half-heartedly applied for grant-funding for this project, and we got the grant.  That means if no one shows up, I’m stuck trying to figure out how we spend the money (or reluctantly give it back).

Luckily, I didn’t have to figure any of that out.  Our meeting was scheduled for about an hour – it lasted two.  Usually, I’d say that was a sign of a poorly planned meeting, but we seemed to thrive on brainstorming while still moving toward concrete plans and goals.  When was the last time you worked on an engaged and effective team? I’ll venture to say that it doesn’t happen to most people every day (or even every year, hell). Now, our team has a plan – a good one.  We’ve identified solid partners and tentative goals.  We even have money!!

The real question now is, “What is the key to this success?” I feel like every time I have a blissful team moment, I completely fail to identify what made it work so well.  You can come up with all kinds of reasons – attitudes, timing, expertise, a spirit of collaboration, free pizza, coercion, etc.  And sure, sometimes you need those things to work well together, but I’ve certainly had them before and ended up with a project disaster.

It’s late and I’m tired, so I’ll leave it at that.  But, if anyone knows the silver bullet that makes people come together, take on appropriate roles, treat each other kindly, and effectively reach results…shoot your thoughts over to me!


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The Difference Marketing Makes

As most of you probably know, October 23rd was Make A Difference Day – the largest day of service in our grand ol’ country.  Let’s think for a minute…there is MLK Day in January, National Volunteer Week in April, the National Day of Service and Remembrance on September 11th, and quite a few other service days or weeks that are recognized throughout the year.  So, what exactly is it that makes Make A Difference Day so great? In my humble opinion…Marketing.

Marketing, huh? That’s right – MADD, as I’ll call it from now on, is sponsored by USA Weekend Magazine.  Yup, that little insert in your Sunday paper (if you still get one) that’s always mixed in with the coupons, ads, and comics is actually helping to drive more than 3 million volunteers to serve their communities on the third Saturday in October.  And, not only are people serving, they are also sharing their story of service through video, photos, and more!

On MADD 2010, I was one of those people – I spent the day travelling around with my new friend (and AmeriCorps member) C.  We had a video camera and captured volunteers doing step-one weatherization in local homes.  Part of me felt a little guilty, like here it was, MADD and all I was doing was dropping into homes and talking to people (well, I also managed to score some quality Halloween candy).  It was nothing like last year when K. and I were stepping over cat poo to measure windows or getting spray foam all over ourselves.  Was I really doing anything of use, let alone making a difference?

The video isn’t done yet, but I’ll just go ahead and say YES.  Plus, there must be value in people taking a minute to describe what they are doing and why (that whole reflection thing).   Which I suppose gets me to my point – in your every day work volunteering or managing volunteers, or whatever it is you do…take a minute to capture the moment and share it!  Your organization’s ability to broadcast its mission has a huge impact on how well you engage volunteers and donors.

Here are a few basic tips and tools for making sure your organization is sharing its story:

– Sign up for http://greatnonprofits.org/ and ask your current supporters for reviews.  The stories they share will appear on the site, but will also be tied to your GuideStar account (hopefully you have one) where many informed donors research 501(c)3s.

– Apply for YouTube.com’s Nonprofit Program so your organization can tie donation buttons to videos of your most recent project

– Don’t have videos of things your organization is doing? Consider connecting with a local university’s media department for a service learning project.  Or, get in touch with community television in your area.  Here in Portland, Maine we have a wonderful resource in CTN5 – they even made an annual appeal video for my organization.  Shameless plug HERE.

– Ask for free advertising from local papers and radio stations.

-And of course, use social media, blogs and other online tools like email marketing in a way that works for your cause…find the format that reaches new audiences without over-stretching your time and money.

How is your organization getting the word out about the great work it does? Share it here!

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Summer Rocks

Well, summer is coming to a close. So long, days where I procrastinate and push off even the simplest tasks for another day (or season).  No more sipping sangria on outdoor porches or helping my roomie pretend to be sick just so we can skip work and lounge at the beach all day. And, I’m going to get back on schedule with this whole blog thing…maybe.

You may think that I’ve put off volunteering over the past month or so as well – I mean, it happens to the best of us, right? Not me, my friend, not me.  In fact, I took advantage of the summer days by going on an extended vacation in Maine’s 100-mile wilderness.  You can get a brief overview of the area in this month’s Maine Magazine, but all you really need to know is that this place is freaking remote.  Of course, I ended up there after K. suggested (in March) that we volunteer with the Maine Appalachian Trail Crew – seemed like a fabulous idea back in the dead of winter to bust our asses doing trail work for a week.

We started off from Portland, driving a couple hours to the MATC’s base camp in Garland, Maine.  Our crew was made of a couple AmeriCorps volunteers (of course), a crew leader, and one other volunteer.  Setting off at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning, our small group headed out in a 15-passenger van reminiscent of my days back in AmeriCorps*NCCC.  The 2.5 hour drive to our site was mostly on dirt roads – I promptly fell asleep to avoid a retched case of car sickness as I tried to preserve some semblance of being bad-ass enough to undertake the upcoming backpack trip with all our gear.  As it turned out, the hike was pretty short (thank goodness).  No time was wasted as we set up camp in the White Cap Mountain Range and headed to work building a stone staircase through the woods. The rest of our week was spent in pretty much this one spot, moving rocks inch by inch to create a beautifully manicured trail.  I learned all kinds of things during our time on the mountain – how to climb trees with slings, set up high-wire rigging to move boulders, and the beauty of  a rock bar.  By the end of the week, I could practically move a half-ton boulder with my pinky.  At least that’s how I remember it.

There is no elevator up here, man.

Now, I should mention that our trip took place on the Appalachian Trail – for those of you who haven’t bothered to read anything by Bill Bryson, you might want to know that the AT is sort of filled with freaks.  There are all these people who’ve been hiking for like half a year and don’t really remember normal social cues.  The AT isn’t really for me – I avoided all the through-hikers like the plague and even began to shirk the casual hikers who constantly asked when we would be replacing the staircase with an elevator.  Despite the weirdos, it was an amazing place, though.

If you bothered to read the Maine Mag article, you’ll note a reference to “eco-tourism” – something Maine has quite the potential for, but does little to promote.  Our state, in fact, could be a perfect place for “eco-voluntourism” (if I can just coin that phrase, right now)… we are VacationLand, after all.  What better than a little economic boost triggered by groups of people interested in giving a little time and money to a good cause in our lovely state?

Oh, beautiful Maine...

I’m not exactly prepared to start the movement myself, but if you’re interested in a few opportunities that involve good sights + making the world a better place, consider looking into the following:

Maine Appalachian Trail Club: Help preserve and protect the Appalachian Trail in Maine

Maine Island Trail Association: Travel Maine’s coast while cleaning up our local islands

Camp Sunshine: Stay in Maine’s Lakes Region while volunteering at this camp for children with terminal illnesses

Common Ground Fair: Camp in style at the Common Ground Fair in Unity – held the 3rd week of September, this fair features organic food and farming activities from across Maine

Know of other great opportunities for volunteering while vacationing in Maine? Share them here – I’d love some ideas for next year.


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