Volunteering for the adventurous millennial

September 28, 2011

Rafael as the duck mascot at Neighbors’ annual fundraiser event—The Great Neighbors’ Duck Races

What possesses someone to volunteer? People have different motivations as we know. “It makes me feel good to help others,” is the common response. Nowadays we hear: “I need to keep busy in my retirement or while I’m looking for a job”. Still others seek ways to expand their professional and social networks through volunteering. All are valid.

And then there are volunteers like Rafael Alvarez, an avid volunteer for Neighbors, Inc. Rafael is a favorite of ours because he is an all-round nice guy. He is passionate about helping those less fortunate. Also, he is more than willing to help us out in a crunch. Rafael is a millennial generation volunteer, and what makes him unique is that he craves the adventure and the challenges that come with serving his community; a category of volunteers I fondly refer to as “adventurous millennials”. Let me explain…

Rafael’s range of interests allows him to take part in many opportunities here at Neighbors. One day he might be in the Clothes Closet thrift store helping the older volunteers haul bags of clothing donations to storage. The next day he might be packing bags with oatmeal and granola bars into summer survival packs for kids whose parents work during the day. Rafael has come with me to give presentations to corporate partners sharing his story and inspiring others to serve. He has played soccer with the neighborhood kids during our summer program and has quickly become a mentor to them.  Also, he has marched in parades, carried holiday gifts to families’ cars, and translated important information to our Spanish speaking guests.And most importantly, and probably my favorite of Rafael’s volunteer activities(and Rafael’s favorite):he dressed up as Pancho the Duck, our giant yellow duck mascot at Neighbors’ annual fundraiser event—The Great Neighbors’ Duck Races. He received a lot of smiles from a lot of people dressed as “The Duck”.

You see, for Rafael, he wants to make people smile. And in the line of work that Neighbors is in—to provide for people’s basic needs—sometimes cheering someone up can be the ultimate challenge. It is the adventurous millennial volunteer,such as Rafael, who commits to seeing that smile and raising someone’s spirits.

Rafael stocking donations of food in the Food Shelf

Gone are the days when volunteering was considered a lifelong activity. Volunteers, traditionally from the older generations, have committed ongoing regular volunteer service to Neighbors for decades. As an example, we have a volunteer starting her 40th year of service with Neighbors for which we are extremely grateful. But these days she is a rare volunteer to commit to this kind of service.While people nowadays are seeking instant gratification and one time volunteer opportunities, the adventurous millennial volunteer finds ways to continue to volunteer and come back time and time again to help out our organization. For a generation absorbed in starting careers, families, and generally moving up in society, it is these volunteers that give selflessly just to make that direct connection with someone less fortunate. Some may not understand why they keep coming back, but they are just trying to make a difference despite the uphill battles of community work.

Rafael’s guide to lifelong volunteering

Since Rafael has started volunteering with Neighbors close to 2 years ago, I have learned a lot about working with the volunteers in the adventurous millennial category. What I call “Rafael’s guide to lifelong volunteering” are simple steps we as volunteer managers can have in place to ensure that these dedicated and passionate millennial volunteers continue to serve our organization into the future.

  • Offer variety: Don’t let me get bored with just one activity. I want to experience all that is “Neighbors, Inc.”.
  • Short term projects: Keep projects short and simple with clear expectations. I want to know I’ve accomplished something.
  • A little recognition goes a long way: A simple thank you, an occasional letter of gratitude… maybe a framed certificate of appreciation will tell me that my time and effort is valuable.
  • Let me see them smile: This is my mission in life—all I want is to see the direct impact I make on the people I am serving. Provide me with this opportunity… even if it means donning a giant yellow duck head.

Keep smiling everyone, and have a great fall!

–          David Miller, Director of Volunteer Programs, Neighbors, Inc.


Job Seekers + Nonprofits = Win-Win Situation

September 21, 2011

The focus of this blog post is not how to engage volunteers, but how they are able to positively affect nonprofits. MAVA has an excellent toolkit about how to recruit and support job-seeking volunteers. Now that we got that out of the way, let us continue on.

Nonprofits have had to find new and inventive ways to meet the obligations of their surrounding community with the budget deficit hanging like a black cloud over people’s heads. Financial support may be part of a successful nonprofit, but people physically helping at nonprofit is the other half of the puzzle. With all industries laying off workers and non-profits looking for ways to maximize their budgets, this situation creates a collaborative environment that can benefit each other and all people involved. Professionals who have been laid off are turning into one of the most helpful assets to nonprofits during this turbulent time.

Close to half of nonprofits ran a deficit in the 2009 operating year, 48% of Minnesotan nonprofits, according to Minnesota Nonprofit Economy Report from the Minnesota Council on Nonprofits. Yet, they were employing one out of every nine working professionals that same year. Concurrently, some ofMinnesota’s largest companies like Delta, BAE systems and Snyder Stores have laid off over 2,500 employees just in the 2010 fiscal year. With the nonprofit sector’s increasing need for assistance and the economy’s downsizing, these two variables can work together in ensuring that out of work professionals keep up their skills and expand their knowledge into a new field.

I am a research and numbers kind of girl: quantifiable results, reasonable calculations and measurable information from reputable sources put a smile on my face and a spring in my step, especially positive figures. Kat Southard mentioned before on this blog the statistics from the Volunteering inAmericawebsite, and I would like to expand upon this topic. Minnesotan volunteers have contributed $3.7 billion dollars of volunteer time from 2008 to 2010. To put this number into perspective, Twitter was worth $3.7 billion at the end of 2010, so the volunteering population ofMinnesotacontributed the amount of money to run a worldwide social networking service. On a small-scale, the average amount of money each volunteer hour is worth in Minnesota is $21.36 per hour (Independent Sector), and the annual amount of time a person volunteers in the Twin Cities is 40.8 hours or one week’s worth of work (Volunteering in America). Hypothetically:

$21.36 per hour x 40.8 hours per year = $871.488 per year

While the Volunteering inAmericasurvey is comprehensive, it does not have statistics particular to any type of volunteer. I would like to note that ANY nonprofit would be happy to have $871.49 put back into their organization.

Besides the cost factor, volunteering in local communities keeps talent in Minnesota. The government shut down this past summer was a wakeup call for the public sector and forced people to reevaluate their occupation. Some of the 22,000 people affected have spoken of moving to other areas outside of Minnesota for a more secure environment in order to avoid another government shut down(Click here to read the article). Minnesota has been proud of its numerous accomplishments in technology, business, environment and living standards, but this trend may discontinue if its valuable workforce flees to other states for jobs. A brain drain, an exodus of highly skilled workers, would not only hurt Minnesota’s economy but a lost investment in talent. By offering highly skilled volunteering positions, nonprofits challenge and engage this key group of individuals that strengthen their ties to the local community. Therefore, this action ensures that there is a greater possibility that these people will stay in the area. Volunteering, with or without a job, keeps an individual involved with social activities, local concerns and their fellow neighborhood members.

The most important aspect of this entire situation is that volunteering gives nonprofits the means to demonstrate their work to people who may not understand our love of community service. The best way to have a person outside the sector see the culture of nonprofits is to work alongside the nonprofit people. However, retaining talent inMinnesota, utilizing an idle workforce and supporting the community are nice bonuses too.

Alyssa Surges

AmeriCorps VISTA

Community Initiatives Coordinator

United Way of Olmsted County

Hi. How can I help you?

September 16, 2011


(reposted from the YNPN Blog)

by Virginia Brown
follow me on Twitter: @3manypuppies

We’ve all read articles about networking, and we know we’re supposed to do it to find that perfect professional opportunity. But something is missing from the conversation: What exactly should be happening at these network coffees and lunches? And how do you really make the most of that time?

I’ve worked at some high profile organizations, and I guess I know a lot of people. So I get frequently asked to coffee from folks seeking advice. And from those countless lattes, I can tell you that it’s what you do at our meeting that determines my course of action. Here’s what I’ve got to share with you today: in the immortal words of Jerry Maguire, “help me help you.

I recommend these four easy steps that will provide you a clear direction to having a successful networking meeting, and hopefully accomplish what you set out to get from the meeting:

1.       Figure out what you want,

2.       Tell me why I should help,

3.       Ask me specific informational questions and

4.       Request specific ways I can help.

Not that hard, right? But a majority of the meetings I accept don’t have a clear direction, which makes it hard for me to help. Let’s see how these steps play out… (click here for more)


Volunteering in Minnesota

September 6, 2011

Recently, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) released their report on volunteerism in the United States.

Yet again, Minnesota ranked 3rd in the nation for rate of volunteerism, while for the fifth year running, the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro Area ranked number one among large cities. In 2010, 1.6 million Minnesotans volunteered over 189 million hours of service. With these great, and increasingly impressive statistics, that reflect Minnesotans willingness to volunteer there time, the question arises, why Minnesota?

Are Minnesotans just more altruistic? Is the “Minnesota Nice” stereotype true? Or is there something else affecting our outstanding volunteer rates? Mary Quirk, Interim Executive Director of MAVA, told MinnPost that “we have a good structure for volunteerism here,” noting Minnesotans remarkably high educational attainment and relatively low commute times(click here to read the article!).

CNCS offers an in-depth picture of why the volunteerism rate in Minnesota is so high. They highlight seven characteristics of Minnesota that encourage volunteerism:

  1. Where foreclosures are higher, rates of volunteerism tend to be lower.

Minnesota’s most recent foreclosure rate was 1 out of every 960 homes that was foreclosed on. The national average is currently 1/611. (realtytrac.com)

  1. Volunteerism rates are likely to be higher in communities where there are more nonprofits per capita.

The national average is 4.55 nonprofits per 1,000 residents in a community.Minnesota averages 5.72 nonprofits per 1,000 residents. As Mary mentioned Minnesota’s structure for volunteerism is well established and there are many opportunities and places to volunteer.  (volunteeringinamerica.gov)

  1. As rates of home ownership increase, rates of volunteerism tend to increase. Conversely, a high percentage multiunit housing tends to correspond with a lower volunteer rate.

With this measure CNCS attempts to measure an individual’s “commitment and attachment to their community.” The national home ownership rate for 2010 was 68.9 percent, while the state rate for Minnesotawas much higher at 74.9 percent. Along the same lines, the percentage of multiunit housing nationally was 32.7 percent in 2010, while in Minnesota it was only 21.2 percent. (quickfacts.census.gov and volunteeringinamerica.gov)

  1. As rates of higher education rise, the rates of volunteerism also tend to rise.

Nationally, 85.3 percent have received their high school diploma or GED equivalent, while 27.9 percent have received a bachelor’s degree or higher. In Minnesota, however, 91.1 percent have received their high school diploma or GED equivalent, while 31.2 percent have received their bachelor’s degree or higher. (ers.usda.gov/statefacts/mn.htm and volunteeringinamerica.gov)

  1. High poverty rates are associated with lower rates of volunteerism.

The national poverty rate in 2010 was 14.3 percent, while Minnesota’s poverty rate was lower, around 10.9 percent (2009 data). However, it is not known whether high rates of volunteerism lead to lower rates of poverty, or if higher rates of poverty lead to lower rates of volunteerism. (ers.usda.gov/satefacts/mn.htm and volunteeringinamerica.gov)

  1. High rates of unemployment tend to correspond with lower rates of volunteerism.

The national unemployment rate was 8.8 percent in 2010, while Minnesota’s unemployment rates the same year hovered between 6.9 and 7.8 percent. If you are looking to engage job seekers as volunteers in your organization check out MAVA’s toolkit.

All of this information can be found at volunteeringinamerica.gov, which includes data from all 50 states, information about informal volunteering, and statistics about national service programs.

With a variety of factors working in its favor, Minnesota maintains high rates of volunteerism in all age groups, genders, and ethnicities. So, what do you think? Why do so many Minnesotans volunteer? What makes Minnesota such a great place to donate your time and talents?

Kat Southard

Member Outreach Coordinator