Category Archives: Volunteer Opportunities

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, 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: November 16 at 12:49pm

Sue Sylvester Help Will Schuester (Glee) save the crocodiles. I need them for my vast shoe and handbag collection. 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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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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Fast Track to a Vegemite Sandwich?

Ever do those word puzzles in the newspaper that make you find the prefix to a set of words? Try this one: What’s a prefix for  -fiche, -scope, and -volunteering?

Give up? Try “micro”.  Maybe some of you don’t remember microfiche, and it’s probably been years since you actually used a microscope, but I’m sure you’re wondering “What the hell is micro-volunteering?”.  Enter The Extraordinaries.  That’s right – this website is made just for you, oh internet-obsessed blog reader.  I’ll admit I was skeptical at first, I mean – what good could I possibly do from my computer? Well, not only could I volunteer from my bed (no judging), but it only takes about 35 seconds to make a difference.  Seriously.

I started perusing opportunities on The Extraordinaries after a prompt from AmeriCorps Alums – they’re using the site to map projects for National AmeriCorps Week.  So, I searched for “trails”, wondering how the land trust I work for might think about using it (obviously there is some paradox when you’re microvolunteering for an organization based on getting people outside) – I found a similar organization who’d asked people to use gps on their phones to map trails.  Now, I was intrigued.  Searching the site a little more, I somehow got stuck volunteering for a museum in Australia that needs help tagging its photo archive.  It’s almost like playing a slightly boring computer game – but you really are helping out! Heck – how many times have I searched our archives for a photo of a kid on a trail on a bike with a helmet to use for some promotional material? Not the easiest task.  If only I had a micro-volunteer, tagging away from the comfort of their own home (or smartphone).

While I see the use for microvolunteering, I am a little concerned.  Isn’t part of the benefit of giving back the connections you create with the organization and other volunteers? Is there really a way to build community through this form of volunteerism? Could it be used to recruit volunteers for other positions in an organization once they’ve helped you on the web? The internet constantly astounds me – so I guess we’ll just have to see how far this microvolunteering thing goes.  As for me, I’ll probably continue to give a few minutes to random organizations like the Powerhouse Museum…maybe they’ll find out I’m such an amazing image tagger that they’ll hook me up with a trip to the Land Down Under.  I’ve been dying to try one of those vegemite sandwiches…


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Dancin’ with Myself

Alright, I’ll admit that I’m a little behind on this post – our Spring Fling event was a few weeks ago.  Would you believe I’ve been too busy volunteering to post about it? Forgive me.

STRIVE is a program focused on addressing the issues of young people with disabilities.  The cornerstone of their program is a weekly Friday Night Social for these teens and young adults to interact with their peers.  A friend of mine from Maine AmeriCorps Alums saw they needed help creating theme nights for the socials and immediately emailed the program to set up a date.  Our group spent a lot of time brainstorming games and crafts for the evening – after much deliberation and a few duds (umm…oragami?!), we came up with our grand plan.  We decided to do cookie decorating, plant potting, tissue paper flowers, an egg hunt, and face painting.

I started out helping with the tissue paper flowers (somehow, I’d been deemed a pro at this), but eventually found myself with a paintbrush in my hand.  The last time I painted anyone’s face was year’s ago, and I’m certainly far from an artist.  But, I was in luck! My first (and only) customer just wanted a rainbow – easy enough! Oh, but then he wanted a woman’s face on his cheek, and a swirly thing on his neck, and a fancy moustache…yeah, and then a full beard.  Turns out my artistry (or lack there of) was completely irrelevant.  The weird thing is, the whole thing made me super sappy.  I seriously almost started crying at how beautiful the moment was – this kid was totally appreciating me and the process more than the outcome of some pretty drawing on his face.  Well, I’m just going to tell myself that since he immediately washed it all off.

After face painting, I got my dance on.  The DJ was an “aged-out” member of STRIVE, volunteering his time to continue involvement with the program.  He was eager to play my request (MJ, of course) and I did the best moonwalk that dance floor had ever seen.  One of the kids, J. grabbed on to a few of us to form a dance circle.  The throng of beautiful woman around him was clearly…shall we say… “exciting” for him.  I’m not that mature, so I bailed after a weak attempt to draw boundaries (“I only dance with myself, J.”).

The only downer of the night was the realization that C. from STRIVE had clearly exaggerated when she told us there would be about 70-100 attendees at the event.  I think we’d be lucky to call it 30-40, which left us with lots of extra cookies and seedlings (obviously something to complain about).

We debriefed over a beer – turns out many of us had rewarding moments like my “this is the best thing ever” thought while slopping brown face paint all over that kid’s face. Guess the old adage is true –  “No one can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”  What are you STRIVING for?


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Those Freaks!

Ever think that things just couldn’t get any weirder? Yeah? Well, you obviously don’t work with volunteers.  Any volunteer manager or coordinator knows that volunteers are – I’m just going to say it – whack jobs.  Seriously.  And just when you think you’ve met the weirdest one, here comes another.

So, what makes us volunteers so dang crazy? My theory is that we all like to pretend that we enjoy service because we are saving the world, while we’re really playing a grand game of “what’s my job?”.  My favorite volunteer experiences? The ones where I took on a role I’d never have the opportunity to do in normal life.  That’s probably why I loved the MPBN gig so much – suddenly I’m a superstar, answering phones and gaining fame and fortune across the airwaves.  Same thing happened when I volunteered at the NYC AIDS walk – who knew that I was a super-badass security guard?  Oh, and that mentoring thing? Yeah, that’s me practicing to be a good mom (shh).

Now, what does this have to do with anything? Well, I guess I’m starting to get a reputation for being one of those whackjob volunteers…like writing a blog about my obsession with service hadn’t tipped everyone off already.  So, tonight I checked my email for the umpteenth time and what appeared before my eyes? Let me show you:

“The Lisbon Conservation Corps is looking for a volunteer to wear a fish costume at our youth fishing day. If you know someone who might be interested, however I am asking you because you are not only all wonderful people, but wonderful people in small packages – that wouldn’t burst the costume like an individual like myself would.”

Ok, so he wasn’t asking only me, but still.  Do I want to wear a fish costume?? I think that goes a bit beyond this whole pretending to be someone else thing.  Would I need to do a special fish song and dance? And am I supposed to be happy or sad when all these little kids are poking my friends with sharp objects disguised as food? I don’t even know where Lisbon, Maine is.  But yet, sort of secretly, I think it sounds like the most fun EVER!

If you or someone else you know is petite, wants to be a fish for a day, and could actually get to Lisbon, Maine on May 2nd, let me know! I’ll pass your info on to Luke without even mentioning how much of a freak you are.

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