The Points of Light Conference on Volunteering and Service, June 27-29, in Detroit, provided valuable tools and training, as well as a lot of inspiration, to Virginia organizations. OVCS Director Gail Harris, along with Governor's Advisory Board on Service and Volunteerism members Ashley Hall and Vanessa Diamond and two representatives from Virginia's Volunteer Centers were on hand for the world's largest gathering of nonprofit, business, and government leaders. More than 30 countries attended this year's conference at which the theme was “Service Unites” – a powerful reminder of the power of volunteerism to bring people together throughout our communities.
The 2016 conference included bold calls to action from the nonprofit sector. Points of Light Chair Neil Bush, Points of Light CEO Tracy Hoover, CEO of UPS David Abney, Corporation for National and Community Service CEO Wendy Spencer, and Muhammed Ali’s widow Lonnie Ali, opened the conference. They group called for change, compassion and innovation. One of the highlights was the closing plenary which highlighted the spirit of art and activism and featured speakers like “Blackish” star and Detroit native Yara Shahidi (watch Yara's video!) Syrian virtuoso violinist Mariela Shaker, and Emmy award-winner Maya Azucena.
Alison Jorgensen, of the Roanoke Council of Community Services reports on one her most impactful learning experiences:
"One of the most engaging sessions I attended was led by Dana Litwin, CVA, Volunteer Programs Administrator at Open Space Authority of Santa Clara Valley. She stressed that one of the most effective volunteer recruitment methods is to provide current volunteers with a positive experience. Doing so often means getting back to basics when engaging volunteers. Dana spoke about the 3 C’s of happy volunteers: Comfort, Convenience, and Connection and how these must be met for the volunteer’s engagement to be positive.
Comfort: Thinking of volunteer comfort at your organization, are you meeting the volunteer need and expectations when it comes to task, training, temperature, tummy, and toilet? It seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes we are so into our work that we forget to be specific when explaining the task for the volunteer and providing them appropriate training. Never assume a volunteer knows what to do when starting something new. Does your organization explain simple things to volunteers like where they can take a break or eat lunch? Is the coffee free and are there snacks? Where are the restrooms? These details may seem small, but they can truly make or break the volunteer experience.
Convenience: Is volunteering for your organization convenient? Are there time-flexible opportunities for individuals that work? Is your organization on the bus route or do you offer free parking/parking reimbursement? Sometimes organizations don’t think about these convenience factors, in turn making it inconvenient for individuals to volunteer.
Connection: Successful volunteer engagement makes the volunteer feel like they can trust the organization and the people. Working together, the organization and volunteer can be a powerful force.
Dana highlighted several strategies to creating and maintaining happy volunteers. As you continue the important work of engaging volunteers, consider revamping your volunteer orientation process, developing ongoing and personalized communication with volunteers, and create or upgrade a leadership development program for volunteers in your organization.
Marion Brunken with Volunteer Alexandria echoed praise of the conference. She especially benefitted from the message of strong capacity building by seeking out companies or talking with current funders about providing consulting and technical assistance. These partnerships can help with planning, fundraising, evaluation, communications – as well as leadership coaching, professional development for senior staff/board members, pro bono and in-kind support, and targeted funding for technology and other capacity needs.
Regarding recruiting and retaining volunteers, Marion says she learned that going from an orientation to an inspirational session for new volunteers is beneficial. It was also eye-opening to realize that organizations should think about their recognition and update as it relates to today’s volunteers (i.e., millennials seek different recognition than boomers.)
The Conference on Volunteering and Service is full of networking and learning opportunities for beginners and pros. Resources and materials are available for FREE from this year's conference. Check it out!
Next year’s conference will take place in Seattle from June 19-21, 2017, and is guaranteed to be a wonderful opportunity for all that attend.