Should we re-think the structure of service?

I am exploring some ideas with colleagues about the form service takes, and how that might link to more or less community involvement. If organizations want to promote and encourage volunteerism, especially across generations, then offering up a wide variety of options seems like a good idea.

I think there are two linked issues here: location and the nature of the task.

My friend Gordon describes three pictures that come to mind when we think of ‘volunteering’: stuffing envelopes and helping with phone calls (office work), cleaning up a park and painting an office (maintenance work), or mentoring/tutoring/one-on-one relationships. We see these images on the cover of the annual report of so many non-profits—the volunteer goes somewhere and does one of these three actions and then goes home. These tasks require no particular skill set but does presume transportation, gas money and cleared roads. And for us in rural Maine, this idea of going from home to someplace else to volunteer can be a problem.

Yet there are some tasks that really benefit from a team approach, an all-hands-on-deck sort of vibe. If there are no special skills needed, then everyone can pitch in and enjoy the event, building a sense of community. These sorts of opportunities have value, and should not be discounted, but organizations need to offer up more options.
Are there tasks that could be done from home? Are they general work or have a specific skill set? What if organizations had skill-based needs; a bookkeeper, someone to design and maintain a website, or a person to do research? These could be done remotely or in person, as a one-time event or on-going. Can using technology be a better way to volunteer? What would that look like?

Would technology isolate volunteers too much? Many people engage in service to meet others, connect with friends or to integrate into a new community. Can technology also help us with the ‘connectedness’ factor? And what would that look like?

So, what do you see in your organization? What kind of service are you doing? What apps and websites address these issues?
Inquiring minds want to know!

Barbara Bixby, AmeriCorps VISTA/RPCV

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Where Should Nonprofits Use Volunteers? Everywhere.

This post is by Tricia Thompson, vice president of training and consulting at Points of Light.

For every dollar nonprofits invest in effective volunteer engagement, they can expect up to $6 in return – a six-fold return on investment. Organizations that effectively engage volunteers are more adaptable, sustainable and capable of expanding. And they operate at almost half the median budget as nonprofits that don’t make full use of what volunteers have to offer.

Nonprofits that use their volunteers effectively are more
efficient and nimble. Points of Light calls these effective nonprofits “service enterprises” – organizations that leverage volunteers across all leadership levels, in all departments, to address community needs. Research tells us fewer than 15 percent of nonprofits nationwide operate as service enterprises.

Want to become one of them?

To help more nonprofits become service enterprises, Points of Light, in collaboration with CaliforniaVolunteers, is launching the Service Enterprise Initiative in select locations in 10 states (California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia). Through a comprehensive, research-backed assessment, training, consulting and certification model, nonprofits are equipped to better engage volunteers.

Rosario Di Prima, programs vice president at Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters in Los Angeles County, Calif., said the program made staff at her organization realize the different and powerful ways to incorporate volunteers.

As a result of the Service Enterprise program, Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters has increased its network of junior partners (a diverse group of skills-based volunteers, primarily young professionals) by about 20 percent, and plans to continue expanding the network.

Now, Di Prima said, “volunteers are throughout the organization.”

Since 2012, seven California volunteer centers piloted this model and have worked with more than 60 organizations. By June 2014 Points of Light will have worked with 12 other leading nonprofits to transform more than 180 nonprofit organizations into certified service enterprises.

Thanks to the leadership of CaliforniaVolunteers and the Corporation for National and Community Service for their investment and support, and thanks to TCC Group, Deloitte and University of Texas Austin for investing in the research, building the assessment tools and providing the data and analysis that built the foundation for this endeavor.

Points of Light and CaliforniaVolunteers are working with the organizations below to expand this work. If your nonprofit is in the same area as one of those linked below, you may contact the relevant organization directly to express interest in participating in the Service Enterprise Initiative. Otherwise, to learn more about the program, please email me, Tricia Thompson, at

Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership
HandsOn Central California
LA Works
The Volunteer Center Serving San Francisco and San Mateo Counties
Volunteer Center of Kern County
Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz
Volunteer Los Angeles
HandsOn Greater Richmond
HandsOn Suburban Chicago
HandsOn Twin Cities (in partnership with the Minnesota Association of Volunteer Administrators)
United Way Community Builders (in partnership with Massachusetts Service Alliance)
United Way of Central Indiana Volunteer Center
United Way of East Central Iowa (in partnership with the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service)
United Way of Johnson County (in partnership with the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service)
United Way of York County (in partnership with the Maine Commission for Community Service)
Volunteer Center of Greater Milwaukee (in partnership with Serve Wisconsin)
VOLUNTEER Hampton RoadsVolunteer Kalamazoo (in partnership with Michigan Nonprofit Association)
Volunteer Macon

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Process of the Certification in Volunteer Administration

In my experience working for a nonprofit, being prepared for change is essential. Being part of a small office, my co-workers and I were able to adapt to drastic changes by being flexible in our roles. That flexibility required competence in various operations of the organization. When I joined my current workplace, I was the administrative assistant to the director of after-school and summer programs for local youth. After a few months, I found myself spending less and less of time entering data, so that I could provide direct service, coordinate fundraisers and network with community partners. I began supervising participants in community service programs, recruiting volunteers to assist at events, and connecting with professionals who would share their expertise with students. These new responsibilities required me to practice something I had never done before professionally: manage volunteers.

I began to seek resources to broaden my knowledge of volunteer administration, so I could learn the skills to become a more effective manager and create the foundations for a successful volunteer program that would increase the capacity, sustainability and value of my organization’s programs. Eventually I found an opportunity to earn a professional certification in volunteer administration. The Certification in Volunteer Administration (CVA) is a competency-based program, which requires me to demonstrate skills in five core competencies: ethics, organizational management, human resource management, accountability, and leadership and advocacy.1 The course work consists of an exam and three writing assignments. The end product is a portfolio containing a statement of my own philosophy regarding volunteerism, an ethics case study and a management narrative. I knew these assignments would be helpful tools for problem solving and reflection. I also felt that the credentialing process would lend integrity to my role as a volunteer manager. By becoming professionally certified, I would be meeting standards set by experts in the field of volunteer administration.

I am now halfway through the credentialing process; I passed the exam and am working on my portfolio. I find this stage of the process to be beneficial not just for myself, but for my organization’s volunteer program as a whole. I have been consulting my program’s director for her feedback regarding my ethics case study and management narrative. As we reviewed potential topics for both, we discussed difficult issues we faced in the past that could be avoided in the future with the new policies in place. As I compose my case study and narrative, I am formulating solutions for those problems.

The portfolio requires me to systematically evaluate my management practices and volunteer program by:
• reviewing planning and implementation
• reflecting on results and consequences
• examining the rationale for my actions
• determining organizational and personal strengths and weaknesses

The CVA textbook “Volunteer Administration: Professional Practice” provides a toolkit of best practices to help guide my evaluations. This process reminds me that the improvement of our volunteer program is never ending. The environment for non profits is forever changing due to shifts in technology, population, demographics, legislation and funding. Consequently, the CVA credential requires renewal every five years and a commitment to ongoing professional development. Preparedness for change may be one of the greatest advantages I gain from the CVA program.

By Joelle Albury
1 “CVA Certification Process.” Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration, 2012. Web. 16 August 2013.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Survival Skills in Volunteer(Vacation)land

This year has marked a lot of firsts for me: my first time writing a blog post (yes, I admit it), my first time attending the National Conference on Volunteering and Service, and my first time managing a volunteer program. As an AmeriCorps*VISTA Leader, I gained a great deal of experience in many aspects of volunteer management while supporting the members of the Maine VISTA Project. With that experience, I believed that I was pretty well prepared to take on my new role as AmeriCorps Program Representative within Goodwill Industries of Northern New England. It turns out that I was. I knew how to recruit and screen potential AmeriCorps members, develop and implement trainings to support them during their service terms, and recognize and celebrate their hard work and dedication. I was pretty confident that I knew a lot. In many aspects of volunteer management I considered myself at about an intermediate competency level. A few weeks into my position, however, I quickly realized I had A LOT more to learn. Being an “intermediate” level volunteer manager was not good enough. I needed and wanted to find ways to hone in on the skills I already possessed while finding new ways to gain additional skills and knowledge in this field. Luckily for me, the professional development funds I was awarded by the Maine Commission for Community Service gave me the opportunity to attend the National Conference on Volunteering and Service in Washington D.C., and the first session I signed up for was Survival Skills in Volunteerland!

As I walked into the room for my session, amped up on the positive energy of being at a conference with 5,000 passionate people, I expected to meet a lot of newbies like myself – fresh into the field, with a few months or a few years of volunteer management experience under their belts. What I didn’t expect was that I would be in a room filled with volunteer managers of varying levels and abilities, some who have even been doing this for over 20 years!

Session facilitator, Debra Bressler, Manager of Volunteer Engagement at Loudoun County Area Agency on Aging in Virginia, introduced us to the topics that would be discussed in the workshop. She immediately provided us with a faux passport and itinerary and told us we were taking a journey into Volunteerland. There were three stops along the way: Map out Your Journey, Prepare your Journey (5 Survival Skills), and Explore your Adventurous Journey.

Map out your Journey

When you are heading out on any journey, it’s obvious that you can’t get where you’re going if you don’t know how to get there. In our case, we also needed to figure out from which point we were starting from. You can determine your starting point (your current skill level) by using the Competencies for Managers of Volunteers assessment tool. Your overall skill level will fall into one of four categories: novice, intermediate, advanced, or expert. This will be your starting location. Your destination: expert volunteer manager!

Prepare your Journey: 5 Survival Skills
Once we determined our starting locations, Debra provided us with five survival skills to help us along the way. Here is a recap of those five skills:

Survival Skill #1: Volunteer in your community at least 5 hours a month. Seek out episodic volunteering or one day events. Walk in the shoes of your volunteers and try to experience various volunteer positions first hand, especially the ones you are recruiting volunteers for.

Survival Skill # 2: Develop volunteer engagement skills continuously. Locally, you can check with your Chamber of Commerce about their non-profit initiatives and see what opportunities they have available to you. Connect with your State Commission for Community Service office to find ways to engage at the state level. Connect nationally by attending the National Conference on Volunteering and Service, accessing resources from the Corporation for National and Community Service, or participating in webinars provided by organizations like VolunteerMatch and ALIVE! One thing Debra mentioned about this particular survival skill that really stuck with me is to never stop learning!

Survival Skill #3: Integrate resource materials. Going to conferences and attending trainings is a great way to gather new resources and materials to utilize in your position as volunteer manager. But only if you USE IT! Don’t stuff it away in your desk drawer never to be seen again. Use what others in the field have already discovered and implemented. You can use these resources to develop a Volunteer Manager’s Guidebook of your own.

Survival Skill #4: Network with volunteer managers. Come together with others in the field, using what Debra called the “Chat & Chew” platform. Set up brown bag lunches or meet for breakfast. If you don’t have time to “chew”, simply coming together over a cup of coffee is a great way to connect. Social networking tools like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, are also a great way to connect with other volunteer managers. Establish an email distribution list so resources can be easily shared among your networks. Make it a point to travel and network with other volunteer managers within a twenty mile radius.

Survival Skill #5: Select a mentor. Whether informal or formal, identifying and working with a mentor and establishing a mentor plan with goals and expectations is a great way to expand your knowledge and skill set with some guidance along the way.

Explore your Adventurous Journey.

In order for an individual to advance their competency levels in volunteer management and develop as a professional manager of volunteers, they first need to establish their own self-directed journey, or action plan. Debra encouraged us to do this by taking small steps first and selecting one survival skill to focus on.

I chose Survival Skill #4, Network with Volunteer Managers. I plan to attend monthly meetings held by the Portland Area Volunteer Administrators (PAVA), a professional networking group that meets casually for round-table discussions on specific topics relating to volunteer management. Finding networks like these in your community can provide you with great networking opportunities and keep you abreast of any skill-building workshops that happen throughout the year.

Reflecting upon what I learned during this session, I came to the realization that in order for me to fully support the AmeriCorps members that I manage during their term of service, I need to make sure that I am a fully-trained, competent, confident, and professional volunteer manager.

These five survival skills will help me on my journey into the vast and ever-changing landscape of Volunteerland in order to achieve this!

Erin Dunne is the Program Representative for the Great Strides Rural Education Corps, an AmeriCorps program of Goodwill Industries of Northern New England and funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service. She is a transplant from Florida who served two years in Maine (Vacationland!) as an AmeriCorps*VISTA member and loved her time in Maine so much that she stayed.

Posted in AmeriCorps, Strategies | Leave a comment

Professional Certification Matters

In recent decades, more and more professional fields have developed internal standards for performance, professional ethics, and continuous learning (professional development), and have created criteria for certifying and recognizing those in the profession who demonstrate both knowledge and practice of those standards. Professional certification is different from professional licensure. Licenses are usually issued by state agencies to individuals that perform certain jobs, such as teachers, doctors, nurses, or lawyers. Professional certification, on the other hand, is voluntary. For example, you are not required to have earned the PMP credential to work successfully as a project manager.

Nevertheless, professional certification does endorse expertise. In “The Guide to National Professional Certification Programs,” Phillip Barnhart explains that “certification allows its participants to define their profession, to establish its standards of performance and knowledge, and to create an objective standards of quality to which others within the profession can aspire.” Certification also raises the bar for people working in a particular profession. “Certified professionals,” continues Barnhart, “set new standards in expertise and organizational contributions.”

Myriad job fields now offer professional certification. It is no longer just highly technical or specialized jobs and services; ballroom dancers and picture framers have professional certifications, too. In each case, the certification assures employers, clients, and the public that the certificate holder is not just competent but beholden to professional standards and ethics.

It is without surprise, then, that managers of volunteers have a professional certification available to them. The Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration is currently the only internationally recognized certifying body in North America for volunteer administrators. Since its beginnings with the Association for Volunteer Administration in the 1980s, the certificate in volunteer administration (CVA) has served as a professional development tool for anyone who manages volunteers. It assesses the core competencies and accepted best practices in the profession.

If you have been asking yourself whether to pursue the CVA certification, then you should consider how it can benefit you. While some managers of volunteers pursue certification to improve employment opportunities, others do so to demonstrate proficiency, commitment, professional validation and status. The CCVA provides an entire page of reasons and testimonials on its website why the CVA credential is worth investing in. Regardless of your motivation, one thing is clear: professional certification elevates the stature of the volunteer management profession as a whole.

Personally, in preparing for the CVA exam this past May and again when writing my portfolio, I read and re-read the CCVA textbook (particularly the chapter on ethics), researched the body of knowledge that comprises the field of volunteer management, and participated in the Yahoo Group with others who are pursuing this credential. The more I prepared, the deeper I felt my competency was becoming, and the stronger my conviction was that this is absolutely a relevant credential to earn. If you want to benchmark the quality of your volunteer management, improve the effectiveness of your work with volunteers, and enhance your reputation, I absolutely urge you to pursue the CVA credential.

Written by Richard Higgins

Posted in Professional Development, Professionalizing the Field | Leave a comment

In Pursuit of Impact

Here at Reimagining Service, a national multi-sector coalition dedicated to increasing the impact of volunteers, we are thrilled to find out about a compelling source of data that clearly links volunteerism to nonprofit effectiveness. This, of course, has huge impact on communities. We want to share the research with you and let you know who you can contact to apply these lessons to your organization.

A national program and evaluation firm, TCC Group, designed and regularly administers the Core Capacity Assessment Tool (CCAT). This is a rigorous metric that measures nonprofit effectiveness. The survey asks specific questions that examine how well an organization does with a number of tasks: recruiting, retaining, providing role clarity and direction, developing, valuing, and rewarding volunteers. These practices serve as the basis for a 300 point scoring system. If an organization scored 240 or greater on these measurements, and engaged 50 or more volunteers on an annual basis, the organization was deemed a service enterprise. Such an organization fundamentally leverages volunteers and their skills to successfully deliver on the social mission of the organization. Engaging that many volunteers may not be a realistic number for your organization, but you can still achieve similar results, if there is a strong volunteer engagement model in place.

Here are two key findings and a recommendation that we’ve learned from this data:

Finding #1: Increased Organizational Capacity
When organizations engage AND manage ANY number of volunteers well, they are significantly better led and managed than organizations that do not.

Finding #2: Reduced Costs of Operating
Engaged and well managed volunteers mean the organization is getting more, far more bang for the buck! A service enterprise is able to deliver as much as twice the service for the same cost. If you have a budget under $125,000, for instance, this means your organization operates at $9.25 an hour vs a non service enterprise cost of $27.73 an hour. This significant return on investment elevates an organization’s capacity to deliver on its mission while also preserving its financial bottom line.


Similarly, the TCC Group discovered that there is a wide range of returns on investment from volunteers. The decisive factor is the level of adoption rate of volunteer engagement practices. For instance, if your organization engages 1-10 volunteers on an annual basis and you have a basic volunteer engagement model (at a 25% rate of adoption of volunteer engagement practices), you will receive a return of $1,000 on those volunteers. As your organization deepens and grows its practices up to the 75% adoption level, the return steadily grows to $3,000. This trend continues up to $10,000 of return. So, if your organization continues to invest in volunteers, you get more in return.

A real example:
And that is exactly what has happened to a small nonprofit, focused on creating a college-going culture for youth in underserved communities. Experiencing dramatic expansion, they increased from 24 to 300 students a year, with no additional cash resources. The staff knew that in order to scale up, the organization needed to rethink the engagement of volunteers. Paying attention to the elements measured by TCC, the organization is now a certified service enterprise. They are now pursuing more multi-sector partnerships and creating leadership opportunities for experienced and dedicated volunteers, thus freeing up staff time for other strategic priorities.

Key Recommendation:
Re-engineer your Volunteer Engagement Practices
These findings clearly demonstrate that to amplify impact, it is crucial to have a strong volunteer engagement model. Naturally, with any programmatic efforts, some elements work well, and other areas need attention. To maximize the return on investment, the TCC Group found that three practices to need improvement: 1) balancing the use of skilled and unskilled volunteers; 2) identifying and clarifying volunteer roles; and 3) resourcing volunteers to do their assignments.


Expertise is available to you! Points of Light National Service Enterprise Pilot, and the Maine Commission on Community Service was competitively selected to participate in this initiative. They are ready to hear from you!

Additional TCC Group findings are available at under the nonprofit section.

Written By: Season Eckardt, Reimagining Service, Coordinator of the Bank of America Fellows Program

Posted in Leadership, Research, Resources, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

James and Hedges Part II

My first blog post, reflecting on the writings of William James and Chris Hedges, has generated a response, in the form a helpful comment. How does my essay relate to the reality of today? Is there a new paradigm for a meaningful life? What trends are out there to explore?

For me, we are in the midst of a Jamesian evolutionary shift, a re-thinking of who we are as individuals and as communities. I am troubled by the post 9/11 view of the world, with the political ‘hunkering down’ of nations. We can see the tightening of borders, listen to demonization of ‘the Other’ and feel the impact of jingoist nationalism to focus energy. And yet, people are critiquing these structures that have long held societies in place, such as the military or national governments or religion. Activists, policy makers, and academics offer up alternatives; shifting from narrow views of human collectivity to unusual alliances. If there were ever a time to think outside of the box, this is it.

Some examples to consider: General Stanley McChrystal, looking beyond the military, is part of the Franklin Project, advocating for a year of service for all young people in the US. He is clear that being in the military should not be the only way to serve the country. Time Magazine has several recent articles on that and the continuing work of the Aspen Institute and civic engagement. Benjamin Barber, in a recent TED talk, considers getting beyond nation-states by looking at cities and the collaborations they can form. New York is more similar in its needs to Tokyo or Paris or Singapore, so collaboration can be more dynamic. Cities are by their very nature, multicultural, participatory and democratic, perfect for innovative projects. The National Conference on Citizenship has excellent research which gives us a ‘civic health index’, a way to look at service as part of being a robust and health community. And, the Corporation of National and Community Service, which oversees AmeriCorps programs, recently published a study indicating a demonstrated positive correlation between volunteering and the mental and physical health of individuals.

We have innovative alliances in our own communities and cities; we can be the change that is needed and make a commitment to service, civic engagement and volunteer work. I encourage folks to start wherever they would like, in terms of research, history or action. Reading essays or following the research trends gives context, historical perspective or access to new ways of viewing the world. Ultimately, when it comes down to it, we make meaning through our own lives, experiences, and reflections. We make our path by walking. Have a lovely journey, and please, send me an email, so I know how it is all going!

Barbara Bixby is an AmeriCorps VISTA with the Maine Commission for Community Service.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment