The All New YourVolunteers!

We are thrilled to announce that for 2014, the tenth anniversary of our system, we have released an all new version of YourVolunteers! The new cloud-based system, which is still free, incorporates many of the features requested by our users over the years. While there are too many changes to list, here are just a few:

  • Assign any volunteer to a shift and not just those who have indicated availability. We still try to prevent scheduling conflicts.
  • Group your volunteers and limit shifts to particular groups
  • Tracking for all accounts so that you can record when a volunteer actually worked their shift.
  • Mobile-first design so that it will work better on your tablet or mobile phone
  • We combined the best features of the Ongoing Needs and Special Events account types into a unified system.

This new release is just the beginning of much more to come. We worked tirelessly over the past year to lay a new foundation that utilizes the power of the cloud so that our system can continue to evolve while still accommodating our growing user base. Because of these changes, we are also able to offer a lower price should you want to remove the ads or if you should want the additional features of the Premium account type.

More information is available on our website at http://yourvolunteers.com.

YourVolunteers Dashboard

The Importance of Genuine Connections

A lot of us volunteer because of the fact that it allows us to make connections with the people that we serve and with the other, like minded volunteers. Without a doubt, one of the best websites on the Internet is Tiny Buddha and we frequently read its posts for daily inspiration. Today, I came across the video below on the site where the founder, Lori Deschene, gave a talk a little while back at the Wanderlust Festival about the importance of meaningful and genuine connections. Her talk is truly outstanding.



Orienting Volunteers – Why Bother?

orientation

This well written article by Megan Welch about the importance of orienting volunteers is reprinted with permission from the Maine Commission for Community Service. The original article is available on the VolunteerMaine website at www.VolunteerMaine.org.

I used to volunteer early on Wednesday mornings at a soup kitchen on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I loved the high energy, vibrant conversation and constant flow of coffee that kept everyone moving in the tightly packed dining room. I felt right at home doling out soup and pouring coffee as fast as the old Bunn machine could make it. However, things didn’t start out so comfortably.

On my first day at the soup kitchen I was with a small group of other students from the university I attended. The site tour was minimal – “bathroom’s there, sink is there, brooms are over there, soup’s on the stove, doors open in ten minutes”. We didn’t really review any safety precautions and we weren’t given very formal instructions – “half of you out front serving coffee and soup, other half go clear plates and wash the dishes”. And with that, the doors opened and the seats were full.

My experience of making a difference for hungry New Yorkers at the soup kitchen was dimmed a bit by just how tough it was to get acclimated and fit in there. Volunteers are an immeasurable resource – they donate their time and multiply an organization’s efforts. In return for their service, volunteers deserve to be in the know, and will perform better if they are given a proper orientation to the organization that they serve and training pertinent to the tasks they complete.

As an AmeriCorps*VISTA serving to enhance volunteer engagement at Catholic Charities Maine (CCM), I am now on the other side of the volunteer relationship. I work closely with staff across the state to engage a large number of volunteers in a variety of service areas. Recently, I took on the project of developing a volunteer orientation to standardize the volunteer intake experience within Catholic Charities. As an AmeriCorps*VISTA, it is my task to build CCM’s capacity to engage and retain volunteers in a sustainable volunteer program.

Providing orientation and training for volunteers is important for the following reasons:

  • Orientation provides background information on an organization’s history, mission and structure. The better your volunteers understand what you do, the better they can help you to work towards it!
  • It serves as a review of the basics – who your clients are, what services are provided, how requests are handled etc. Learning this information will help your volunteers to feel more confident when they start their service. And you’ll feel more confident in your volunteers!
  • It’s an opportunity to cover all your bases. Most non-profits are held responsible by accrediting bodies and funding sources, and organizations that provide social services are also responsible for meeting certain licensing standards. Volunteer orientation is an opportunity to formally review direct client service information that you may be required to go over with volunteers.
  • It creates a formal beginning to a volunteer’s term of service. Orientation serves as an opportune time to give a site tour, introduce the volunteer(s) to key staff and sign any kind of agreement forms that are necessary for your program.

Developing a comprehensive volunteer orientation program can benefit your volunteers and your program. Orientation serves as an accompaniment to volunteer training and is a tool that officially welcomes new volunteers aboard and allows them to take a stake in the work that your organization does. Volunteers who receive orientation will feel confident in their work and included by the organization they serve. Fostering this positive relationship with your volunteers will be beneficial in the long run, as well as helping with volunteer retention in the short term. Look for more information next week on the process of developing a volunteer orientation to suit your program’s needs.

Megan Welch is a native of Fairfield, CT and graduated from Fordham University with a degree in History and Theology in 2011. After Fordham, Megan spent a year serving with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in San Jose, CA. Megan is currently serving as the AmeriCorps*VISTA member at Catholic Charities Maine (CCM), based in Portland with the Maine VISTA Project. At CCM, Megan’s focus is on capacity building and volunteer engagement. Megan is profiling her service as part of AmeriCorps Week 2013.

Photo courtesy of Phil Sexton on Flickr. The use of this photo is not to be interpreted as an endorsement of YourVolunteers, Primary Key Technologies, Inc., or this blog or by the photographer or vice versa.

Working and Volunteering in Kenya on your Gap Year

kenyaThis informative article about volunteering in Kenya is reprinted with permission from the author, Adam, of Graduates.co.uk. The original blog post is available on the website of Graduates.co.uk and is available here.

For those outside of the United Kingdom who are unaware of what a Gap Year is, you can read the Wikipedia article here.

Kenya offers Gap Year travellers the possibility of seeing some of the most exciting wildlife on the planet. From mountains to deserts, coral reefs to pearl white beaches, Kenya is a breathtakingly, beautiful country which will stay in your heart and memory long after you’ve said your last goodbye.

Volunteering and working in Kenya is without doubt the best way of really immersing yourself in Kenyan culture and discovering a lively, welcoming country, where you will instantly be welcomed as family. There are a number of operations based in Kenya who are really promoting positive messages and engaging with local communities to improve conditions for local people. These range from fighting HIV/AIDS to helping build schools and improve education. Poverty, lack of education and poor healthcare are some of the most devastating problems here, however, with your help and commitment you can really make a difference to peoples lives. The rewards you reap will be priceless and will give you loads of skills which you can use in your future job back home.

HIV/AIDS Education

There are a number of programs in Kenya which will allow you to volunteer to educate children about the dangers of HIV. Millions of people have died from HIV in the past decade and it is estimated that up to 700 people die every day in Kenya from HIV/AIDS. According to the WHO (World Health Organization) 10% of pregnant women living in rural Kenya have AIDS. Statistics like this really set the alarm bells ringing and should be a wakeup call for people to help locals protect themselves from the dangers of AIDS. In order to volunteer as an HIV/AIDS educator you’ll need to undergo an AIDS instruction course which you’ll be able to do through your local Red Cross. Search online for programs which offer the course and you’ll be able to contact the necessary programs which will provide you with more information on how you can volunteer.

Teaching English in Kenya

There are dozens of opportunities to volunteer at schools in Kenya and really help children. Alongside teaching English, you’ll also be able to give lessons on British culture and really integrate and immerse yourself in the local community and culture. Your efforts and work will always be greeted with joy and mirth from the Kenyan people, who will truly treasure your hard work, not to mention the fact that you will be learning too at the same time. Volunteering is always a two way street, a cultural exchange, that gives you new skills and teaches you more about yourself and the country you are in. Teaching English in Kenya is an amazing way to really get involved with community projects and build lifelong friendships with people who really have very little materially, but a great deal spiritually.

Volunteer with Building Schools/Hospitals

If there’s one thing Kenya is short of, it’s schools and hospitals. With many people still living in rural areas where it can be hard to get too, these people are in dire need of help, and you can really give them a helping hand by volunteering to build whatever their community needs. You might find a tribe needs a school or even a shelter and your hard work and time will be an amazing asset to helping people who’ve only known extreme poverty. There is a huge sense of fulfilment to be derived from helping build things that will help people now and in years to come, not to mention the incredible cultural exchanges and experiences you can enjoy when you are out here.

 

Image courtesy of africa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ditch Those Destination Jitters!

volunteer hands togetherThis wonderful article about volunteering abroad is reprinted with permission from the author, Elena Weaver. The original blog post is available on the website of Volunteer Global and is available here.

You have arrived at your volunteer destination. Your heart is beating 100 miles an hour. You’re double-checking that you haven’t left anything behind on the bus, train or car. Maybe your hands are sweaty. Those butterflies in your stomach must be doing somersaults in double time. Don’t worry!

These symptoms that you are experiencing actually have a label: excitement!

Here are some tips to calm those ‘butterflies’ and help you to get settled.

Remember: You are here to learn as well as help.

1. Your volunteering experience will be far richer if you forge relationships with the people you are around – and this applies whether the program lasts for one week or 20 weeks. Fellow volunteers, locals and your hosts are all part of your temporary community now.

2. Head to a local football game or another community activity to see what people care about in their culture. Can you play a musical instrument? If it’s small enough, like an ocarina or recorder, take it with you. Joining in music, singing and dancing is a sure-fire way to break down barriers.

3. Immerse yourself in the local language; a few words will get you a long way. It’s showing an adopted community you care about learning about and integrating with their culture, as opposed to simply visiting and tourist-gawking as you walk by. There is no guarantee that you will become fluent in the language but the most effective way to learn is to speak it in day-to-day life. It’s much more rewarding than classroom based learning.

4. Never, ever, be afraid to ask questions about things you don’t understand. After all, knowledge is power!

5. If you feel ‘awkward’ about asking questions or seeking help and advice, always ask with a smile, a laugh or make a joke about your lack of memory/limitations.

6. Keep an open mind and reserve judgement of different cultural practices. You might have to bite your tongue sometimes.

7. It’s likely that many of your own cultural assumptions – from books or stories in the media or simply that you’ve heard – will be challenged. We’re back to that learning and growing aspect; be willing to accept other ways of doing things.

8. Are you staying with a host family? Communicate with them! Learn from them. Get them to show you how to do things! Show them some pictures of your home town or family, activities and sports that you and your friends and family enjoy to start a conversation.

9. Be flexible; this is one of the most important characteristics of a volunteer. Broaden your horizons and you will be maximizing your experience.

10. And the most important tip? Have fun! Remember, when you’re open and excited to experience new cultures, food and ideas, that energy is as apparent and contagious as the smile you’ll be sharing at the same time.

Do you have any additional tips you would like to share? Click here to go to the original blog post to comment.

Image courtesy of chanpipat / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s Tax Time (in the US) – Don’t Forget
Your Deductions for Volunteering

tax return imageCopyright © 2013 by Primary Key Technologies, Inc. and brought to you by YourVolunteers.

Disclaimer: please consult a certified tax professional before taking any deduction. We are not responsible if you get audited, okay?

Hopefully, sometime in the future before the drones rise up and take over, the IRS will recognize the contributions of volunteers and will allow you to deduct the time that you spend helping others. While that time is not yet here, the IRS does allow you to deduct some of your expenses related to volunteering.

Mileage and Car Expenses

If you are volunteering with a genuine nonprofit organization, according to the IRS, “you can deduct the costs of gas and oil that are directly related to getting to and from the place where you volunteer. If you do not want to figure your actual costs, you can deduct 14 cents for each mile.” Either way, you can also deduct any tolls or parking fees. Keep VERY good records of all of this information and hopefully the non-profit organization has a very good volunteer tracking program in place as well.

Uniforms

If, for whatever reason, you are required to purchase a uniform for volunteering and if you wouldn’t normally be seen out in public in the thing, you can apparently deduct the cost and upkeep of the uniform. Candy stripers, are you listening?

Travel

If you attend a convention or meeting for a nonprofit where you have to travel, your unreimbursed expenses are deductible. There are a couple of caveats, however. First, you have to be an official representative of the organization and it would be best to have something in writing saying that you attended the event as such in the event of an audit. Also, the IRS states that you can take this deduction “only if there is no significant element of personal pleasure, recreation, or vacation in the travel.” So don’t have any fun. Be boring. Only choose conventions in ugly places. Tweet about how you are so bored because there is no significant element of personal pleasure in the trip.

Of course, they tell you that you can have a little fun. “The deduction for travel expenses will not be denied simply because you enjoy providing services to the charitable organization. Even if you enjoy the trip, you can take a charitable contribution deduction for your travel expenses if you are on duty in a genuine and substantial sense throughout the trip.”

Don’t Take Our Word For It

Seriously, don’t. Read Publication 526 – 2012 from the IRS. The link will take you directly to the section entitled, “Out-of-Pocket Expenses in Giving Services.” If you keep reading past the section, you can also learn about how whaling captains (not the kind who take you out to take pretty pictures) can deduct all sorts of things like harpoon sharpening services.

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

5 Ways Volunteer Experience
Gets You Work Experience

volunteer hands togetherReprinted with permission from the author, Jacob Share. The original article is available here.

Take the time to research and choose the right volunteer organization.

Why volunteer?

Because it’s the right thing to do, because it will make you a better person.

All true.

But there are other reasons too, if you choose wisely.

I started volunteering at my local synagogue at a very young age when I could not have cared less about job search.

That’s ok!

ALL donated, volunteering time is never a waste. Being active as a volunteer is a great way to meet people and discover things about yourself that can then lead to new career directions and job leads.

However, only if you have specific goals in mind, can you then get the maximum benefit.

5 volunteering choices to make

1) Aim for the right organization

Volunteer at the place that will most help your personal brand and job search goals.

If your goal is to be recognized as an expert, share your expertise at a local chapter of an industry association, chamber of commerce, or writing op-eds or blog posts for that association.

If your goal is to be recognized for a specific job, offer your services in that role for a large charity that highlights its volunteers on its website, for example.

2) Aim for the right role

A volunteering position should appear on your resume just like any other position, and not all roles are equal with regards to your brand.

Which role will enable you to make best use of your skills AND provide great benefits to the organization? That combination is key to being a successful volunteer and getting recognition for it.

3) Aim for the right supervisor & colleagues

This is a tough one, I admit it. Just like when you get hired for a job, you’ll rarely be offered a choice of who your boss would be.

Rather, just like when you job search, before joining an organization, spend some time learning about the people whom you would likely work with and understand how they could help you in the future. An (older?) well-connected supervisor would be preferable to someone who’s also just getting started in the organization.

4) Aim for the right recipients

As part of the organization, who are the people or other organizations that you will spend your volunteer time helping?

Look for a role where you will get to interact with recipients directly so that people can learn about you & your work both inside AND outside the organization.

5) Aim for the right time to join

This is more relevant in some cases than others. The idea is that some organizations have busier times of year than others, are only active seasonally, etc.

Another angle is to consider- can a volunteer organization enable you to get into an otherwise inaccessible event?

Do what it takes to be in the right place at the right time.

Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Career Building through Volunteer Work

Group of Business PeopleCopyright © 2012 by Primary Key Technologies, Inc. and brought to you by YourVolunteers.

Valerie Wagner was kind enough to write about her experiences volunteering with ProNet, an organization in Northern Nevada that provides professionals with skills and opportunities that enhance their ability to connect with employers. ProNet Reno is a member-run, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that prepares unemployed professionals to re-enter the workforce. Members are trained in the areas of resume writing, job interviews and job hunting to give them what’s called the ProNet Edge. While we are fans of what they do, it should be noted that YourVolunteers is not affiliated with ProNet Reno.

Giving back to the community, we all think about doing this especially around the Holiday’s.  Giving back can evoke quite a few different emotions.  We feel good when we are in a position to help feed the hungry whether it is through our time at a homeless shelter or a non-profit organization where food and cash donations are collected.  Helping to keep someone warm on a cold winter night when we donate our gently used clothes and blankets can warm our own hearts.  Sometimes we are a part of something even bigger when a family or senior is adopted for holiday’s, reminding them that the true meaning of compassion and love has not been lost during these difficult times.  Northern Nevada is full of these wonderful companies and people who are there to help, and it is the compassion in our community that makes me proud to be a resident in Northern Nevada.

During these challenging and stressful economic times I have found other areas where there is an unknown and sometimes forgotten need within the community.  It was 11 months ago I found myself active in the full time job of searching for my next dream job.  Realizing 5 months later, I could not endure this task alone I entered the doors of ProNet.  It was there I found more than I had ever expected, other professionals like myself, happy to share all their expertise and knowledge, where the only paycheck was the unselfish act of helping their fellow man.  Sharing everything they have learned over the years in order to enrich the life of another human being in a non-monetary way.  Something we have come to know by the phrase of “pay it forward.”

Upon becoming a vested member of this volunteer run organization and being someone who has enjoyed giving back to our community, I found myself drawn to the community partners committee.  Suffice it to say my past volunteering never prepared me for the impact I was going to feel in this new capacity of volunteer work.  Not to mention what it would be like being on the receiving side of someone volunteering their time for me.

I begin each Monday morning, dressed in professional business attire and attend a general meeting with other professional businessmen and women.  This is the start of my work week, this is a place where I can network with other vested ProNet member’s and have the chance to meet and support the new group of professionals coming in who are beginning the process .

One of the most important aspects of our general meeting is the work done by someone in the community partner’s committee who seeks out and finds motivational speakers each week.  These are the people who help kick start the new week with a fresh outlook on job seeking.  A professional person taking time from his or her “day job”, to volunteer time to other professional members of our community who may be in need of valuable career information or a dose of motivation.   After 2 short hours I head off to my committee meeting, and here is where it all begins.

Each committee is made up of volunteer’s, who have vested their time to the program and are active in their committees for a few hours a week.   These volunteers search for careers not only for themselves, but for their fellow member’s and forward these opportunities on.  This means you have at least 20 people in your corner and are seeking out career opportunities for you.  They are the men and women of the Business Development Committee and in my opinion the backbone of ProNet.

Our IT committee maintains the computers and networks and will assist anyone in the program with laptop issues.  These men and women can be extremely valuable to someone in need of computer services as well as making sure the network and computers within ProNet are in working order every week.

The Education committee is dedicated to teaching classes on creating resumes, working through career boards for those who are not internet savvy, and yes I refer to myself as well, coming from the day when putting shoes to the pavement and knocking on doors was how the job search was done.  There are interviewing skill classes, mock interviews and numerous other classes available, all taught by someone who is volunteering their time.

Most of the same classes offered through ProNet are taken to other organizations or events where members of the community partners committee bring a wealth of knowledge and the philosophy of “pay it forward” to other job seekers.

The benefit I have received from being on the community partners committee and a part of this program which is unique to Nevada is the ability to reach out to others in one of the most gratifying ways.  While I feel it is critical to be active in our community and giving back, “paying it forward” to those who have been most affected by the high unemployment rate is a need not addressed when one thinks of volunteering.  There is a great need in our community, a need of giving someone back their confidence and their value.  I do not want to remain a vested member of ProNet, I would rather become an alumnus, but regardless of where my path leads there is one thing for certain.  My time vested here has been life changing.  I will move forward in life looking for ways to share my valuable experience and seek out not only ways of giving back to my community, but also ways to pay forward to those who find themselves in need.

By Valerie A. Wagner
Accounting Professional
Community Partners Volunteer ProNet
http://valeriewagner.wordpress.com/

My passion in being a volunteer began in 1996 through hospice as a way of giving others the same support our family received in 1995. After 10 years as a hospice volunteer I made the choice of giving back to the community as a big sister through Big Brothers Big Sisters. It has been through my current situation I have discovered yet another area where volunteering can make a difference in the lives of others. It is volunteering my time, knowledge and offering support to professional businessmen and women in our community through an organization called ProNet.

Image: photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net