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Recapping the 23rd Annual Community Paint-A-Thon

September 13, 2010

In spite of inclement weather, the 23rd annual Community Paint-A-Thon kicked off this past weekend.  The event saw volunteers from local businesses, churches, community organizations and youth groups come out to help local seniors and people with disabilities by painting and updating their homes.  In all, over 500 volunteers came out to serve.

Never in the 23 years of the event has it rained, but on Saturday morning the teams were greeted by light rain showers throughout the area.  However, two teams from Motorola were able to complete their projects.  Motorola team leader Chris Morton said this was their 10th year participating in the event.  “It’s very satisfying to be able to help our neighbors in the community.  We’re also able to work side by side with employees from the office that we don’t get to see on a regular basis.  That’s an added benefit,” Morton said.

When Morton arrived on site, the homeowner was already prepping the home by scrapping off old paint.  “I really appreciate the support of the volunteers, because I couldn’t do this by myself.  Unfortunately even though I’m willing to put in the work, my body is not,” said the homeowner.

Morton noted that the homeowner was helpful through the whole process.  “She is constantly asking what she can do to help us.  Seeing that makes you want to help even more.”

The teams primed and painted the house, along with a little light carpentry work.  The teams came prepared for the work, sawing wood and replacing siding and panels that had rotted away.

Motorola on the job

The Paint-A-Thon coincided with the 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance, a day meant to bring together communities to serve those in need.  With a little luck the weather will cooperate this coming weekend so the rest of the teams can finish their work.  Thanks to everyone who participated, making this year’s Paint-A-Thon another success!


23rd Annual Community Paint-A-Thon Begins Tomorrow!

September 10, 2010

The 23rd annual Community Paint-A-Thon kicks off tomorrow, September 11, 2010.  The Paint-A-Thon is a unique service project in the northwest suburbs of Chicago where volunteers paint the homes of seniors and community members with disabilities who have limited financial resources.  This year’s event was organized by a partnership among The Volunteer Center of Northwest Suburban Chicago, Catholic Charities-Northwest Senior Services, Habitat for Humanity and Valspar Paint.

The project requires the support of many community organizations and, most importantly, the time and effort contributed by volunteers. The end result is that the lives of the homeowners, volunteers and supporters have been enriched through their service, and the community’s appearance is improved.

This year 25 houses have been selected with 550 volunteers donating their time and effort to the project.  The volunteers come from a variety of businesses, churches, community youth organizations and high school groups.  The project covers ten townships, including Barrington, Elk Grove, Hanover, Maine, New Trier, Niles, Northfield, Palatine, Schaumburg and Wheeling.   All homes are painted on the same day.

The Paint-A-Thon also coincides with 9/11 National Day of Service.  In 2009 President Obama officially made 9/11 a National Day of Service and Remembrance as a way for Americans and others to remember the victims, survivors, volunteers and heroes of September 11th.

We want to thank Catholic Charities, Habitat for Humanity, Valspar Paint, and all the volunteers who are coming together to serve.  It’s a greatly appreciated service for their local communities, and also an excellent way to honor those that lost their lives and loved ones on September 11th, 2001.

How To: Initiate a Project by Self-Directed Volunteers

July 6, 2010

The self-directed (or self-led) volunteer is similar to a virtual volunteer in that his or her tasks are accomplished outside of the office. The difference is that a self-directed volunteer accomplishes his or her task independently of your organization. The Lead – A Get HandsOn! Summit in Washington D.C., sponsored by the HandsOn Network and University of Phoenix, introduced the idea of the self-directed volunteer and discussed how they can advance the social cause through innovation. Susan J. Ellis, of EnergizeInc, defined this type of volunteer as someone who:

  • Sees a need or learns about a project
  • Gets resources that are usually online with instructions, suggestions, and other material in order to take action
  • Takes action to do the suggested activity on his or her own time, in his or her own way, for recipients she or he selects

A variety of community needs can be tackled through this approach. The goal is to mobilize volunteers by spreading the word through web-based tools like social media.

Self-directed volunteering is dependent on the capacity of the Web to reach hundreds of people (both those needing help and those willing to volunteer) quickly and at no cost, and to disseminate the necessary resources electronically. A key to this approach is to work through organizations that already have established relationships with prospective volunteers and with the people who need help. This type of volunteering is very effective because it puts your organization “out there” in the public eye and is able to efficiently organize community members. However, self-directed volunteers are not without their problems. Because they are rarely registered as “volunteers”, reporting may be difficult.

The role of agencies like yours is to initiate projects by publicizing the need, providing clear and useful resources, and loosely monitoring the impact of the volunteer work:

  1. Address a widespread, evident need and offer defined work that has meaning
  1. Suggest a helpful activity that is doable without special training or that can be accomplished by following instructions as provided
  2. Provide the tools that are necessary to the volunteers so that the volunteering is done as properly as possible
  3. Match volunteers to the people needing the services through already-established relationships in the community

For more information on this type of volunteering, click here. For a free, introductory webinar on how to engage volunteers through social media, provided by, click here.

This story was originally published in “Volunteer Management Monthly,” a newsletter published by The Volunteer Center. For more information, tips, and resources, view the full newsletter. You can also view the current issue or subscribe online.

NCVS Update: News and Resources

June 30, 2010

This week, the National Conference on Volunteering and Service (NCVS) is being held in New York City. We are very proud to say that we have our very own contingent of TVC staff at the conference including Executive Director Mary Fitzgibbons, Associate Director Chris Smith, and VISTA Karla Micheli. We’re keeping track of the best and latest resources they encounter on our website. Here’s their first update:


The Volunteer Center of NW Suburban Chicago (TVC) presented at a pre conference event “Skills-based and Pro Bono Volunteering, How to do it?”  sponsored by Pfizer.  Pfizer presented their Global Health Fellows program, a pro bono program dedicated to connecting Pfizer colleagues with programs to help improve health in the developing world. To find out more about this nationally recognized program go to

TVC presented the SAVE program at one of the breakout sessions following Pfizer’s presentation.  Other breakout sessions presenters included Taproot Foundation, Common Impact and Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership of Marin County.

New Resources

The Corporation for National and Community Service and HandsOn Network put out a new skills-based volunteering guide “Skills-Based Volunteering: A New Generation of Service.”  This guide gives an overview of skills-based volunteering (SBV), benefits and tips for nonprofits, funders, companies, volunteers, and communities, as well as a list of SBV resource links. You can find this new guide at


TVC joined 5,000 + other attendees Monday afternoon at The Radio City Music Hall for the Opening Celebration.  The Target sponsored event was hosted by MSNBC’s Morning Joe hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.

Featured guests included:

  • Michelle Nun, CEO Points of Light Institute
  • Patrick Covington, CEO, Corporation for National and Community Service
  • Melody Barnes, Director, Domestic Policy Council
  • Michael R Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City
  • Mark R Warner, US Senator from Virginia
  • Laysha Ward, President, Target Community Relations and the Target Foundation
  • Al Roker, television broadcaster
  • Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO, JPMorgan Chase and Co
  • Geoffrey Canada, President and CEO, Harlem Children’s Zone
  • Shaun Donovan, US Secretary of Housing and Development
  • Hank Azaria, actor, director and comedian
  • Her Holiness Shinso Ito, Shinnyo-en

First Lady Michelle Obama and Governor Patterson of New York made video appearances as well.

Watch Michelle Obama’s speech here:

The Takeaway: Essential Elements of Volunteer Management

June 15, 2010

Our latest workshop, the Excellence in Volunteer Management Training Series brought volunteer managers and nonprofit professional from all over the region to The Volunteer Center. One of the main points that seemed to stand out to attendees was that successful volunteer management can really be broken down into five essential elements. These five different elements are all essential components of the whole, and by looking at each element separately, volunteer managers can identify how to make their program as successful as possible.

For new volunteer managers, or those looking to improve their programs, these five essential elements are the following:

1.  Create a Plan for the Volunteer Program

Before you even start looking for volunteers to assist your organization, you need to first determine what your needs are, who will manage these volunteers, and what exactly their positions should be. The first step should always be a needs assessment, where program staff and volunteer managers (who may be the same person) sit down and determine exactly what they need help with. While these needs can sometimes be very straightforward, such as needing volunteers to assist with an event or do administrative work, more complicated tasks may require some expert assistance.  Yes, the first step in developing your volunteer program may be bringing in volunteers to help tell you exactly what your needs are. Experts can easily break marketing, technology, and other complex types of projects into a few simple steps that make them much easier to manage. Having an expert on board from the beginning can also help you make sure that your project is done right the first time.

This also brings up a second essential point: Keeping up-to-date on the latest trends in volunteering can help spark ideas of how volunteers can serve your organization’s needs. One trend in particular that can be useful in this planning stage is that in today’s economy, people who are in-between jobs (even executives) are turning to volunteering as a way to keep their skills sharp, develop new networking contacts, and build their resumes. Also, kids that are off for summer vacation can be a great source of volunteer assistance and energy.

In the end, this plan should contain a detailed list of what your organization’s goals and needs are, how volunteers (whether “traditional,” pro bono, or “virtual” volunteers) can help you meet those goals, and who will guide the program as it develops.

2. Recruit and Place Volunteers

Now that you know what volunteers you need, you can set about recruiting them.  A good place to start is writing an effective opportunity listing that both accurately describes the position and makes volunteers want to help your organization.

Once you have the opportunities in hand, you should plan a recruitment strategy that brings staff members together into a volunteer recruitment team and utilizes a wide range of techniques for reaching out to people in the community.  Whether through effective use of social networking sites, volunteering databases, or more “traditional” media, you should promote your volunteer needs and events as widely as possible. Once you start getting applications in its also important that you have some sort of  screening process for volunteers to ensure that you place them in appropriate positions. Creating an online survey through programs like Survey Monkey can help you identify the ideal candidates for a position.

3. Orient and Train Volunteers and Staff

Orienting and training helps get everyone on the same page and goes a long way towards ensuring a volunteer engagement is successful. From the beginning, its important to determine exactly what volunteers will need to know in order to be successful. This can include information about the goal and vision of your organization as well as the more nuts-and-bolts type information about the task at hand. Having gone through many orientations myself, I know that it helps me be a much more successful volunteer when the organization makes an effort from the beginning to get me excited about its mission. If some sort of skills are necessary for the position, make sure you plan some time for teaching and training those volunteers that don’t have those skills already, or may need a quick refresher.

Training your staff in volunteer management is also a great way to ensure that your volunteer program is effective in achieving the goals you set forward in the beginning.

4. Supervise and Recognize Volunteers

Just as you organize a schedule for your volunteers to come in, you need to organize supervision and management activities to support the work of the volunteers. In managing volunteers, you should always be conscious of the internal and external motivators for volunteers. Different personality types react differently to different management styles, so you should be careful that your method for managing volunteers doesn’t upset some by being too impersonal or too disorganized. To ensure that your volunteers stay happy (and come back), you should develop some sort of method for recognizing them. Small gifts, from quote books to branded pens, can be a great way to show that you’re grateful for their help. You can also recognize people who help you out on social media by mentioning them by name on Twitter, or tagging them in a photo on Facebook.

5. Evaluate the Volunteer

Evaluation is one step that many volunteer programs skip, but it’s essential for developing an effective program. Whether you utilize a printed or online survey, gathering information from volunteers about the quality of their experience and how they feel about it can help you identify problem areas. You should also compare the outcomes of your volunteer engagement with the goals that you set forward in your volunteer program plan. By looking at surveys of both volunteers and staff, you may be able to determine exactly why things did (or didn’t) go according right, and make whatever changes you need to revise your volunteer program plan. And so the process starts all over again.

What do you think about these points? How do you make sure that your volunteer program is successful?

If you would like to learn more about how to effectively manage volunteers, the Excellence in Volunteer Management Training Series is a great way to do just that.

The Takeaway is a series of blog posts with helpful tips and resources shared at the workshops presented by The Volunteer Center of Northwest Suburban Chicago. For more information on TVC’s workshops and trainings, including a schedule of upcoming events, visit our website.

Nonprofits and Social Networking: 3 Tips

June 11, 2010

The following is a guest post from Christopher Brinckerhoff, program manager for Nonprofit Magic at Allegra Marketing.

This year has been another challenging one for nonprofit organizations to raise funds and stay connected with members and donors. At the same time, 2010 marked a significant shift in online traffic as Facebook surpassed Google as the most-frequented website, and some people are using social networking more than emails.

Nonprofits are discovering connections between their challenges and the trend toward broader utilization of social networking tools. Here are three practical tips nonprofit communicators can follow to get better results with social networking tools.

Define a realistic goal

I learned a lot about social networking tools from Beth Kanter when I covered the Making Media Connections conference in 2009. But one of the most important things I remember Kanter saying was about how nonprofit organizations, and all organizations for that matter, should define attainable goals based on realistic expectations while considering how each of the various tools is likely to perform. In other words, give yourself a goal and work your way around that goal until you achieve it.

Are you looking to create a sense of community among your donors or members? Are you hoping to increase awareness? Is the main objective to improve event attendance? Is your goal realistic considering the options available to you in terms of the tools themselves and the time you have available to work with them?

Pick the best tools

Kanter also emphasized nonprofit communicators’ ability and willingness to adapt their goals as circumstances change is necessary to realize success.

Many nonprofits I’m connected with utilize social media tools to some extent, but having a constructive conversation about which ones to use and why is a worthwhile step overlooked all to often. By thoughtfully choosing which tools make the most sense, you’ll be in a position to focus on them and build relationships over time.

Here’s an infographic with social networking tools organized into a colored spectrum. Ooo… pretty.

Participate and be consistent

Like emails, interactions on social networking tools have their own style and etiquette. I’ve noticed that communicators at nonprofits and other organizations sometimes misuse the tools by only posting and participating when there is a clear benefit to their organizations.

For example, one nonprofit I am connected with uses Facebook, and they only post when they are having a fundraiser, requesting donations or asking for help to gain more fans. They would be more successful if they occasionally participated in other ways within the community. They could comment on or “like” other people’s posts that don’t necessarily benefit their cause. They could post links to news stories that pertain to their cause or core values. And they could promote success stories without asking for anything. This way they would become a more engaging member in the Facebook community, and they wouldn’t appear so self-serving.

Here’s a guide I found that talks about some other etiquette issues that come up when participating in social networking communities.

Whichever social networking tools you choose to achieve your organization’s goals, your participation in these communities needs to be consistent in order to yield the best results.

If you decide blogging is a good way to promote your messages, it’s critical that you create new posts on a regular, predictable basis so your readers will know how often to check back for new information. Yes, you can set up a widget so people can subscribe to your blog, but most people are not going to do that. What you should do is make sure new content is posted in regular intervals, and your readers know when you publish.

Here are a few other tips for writing effective blog posts.

Christopher Brinckerhoff is a freelance writer in the Chicago metropolitan region, and program manager for Nonprofit Magic at Allegra Marketing, Print & Mail in Palatine. He has written about education, community development, the arts, business and technology. His blog, Hot Potato, the little stories that filled you up, was established in 2008.

Copyright 2010

HOW TO: Engage Youth in Summer Volunteerism

June 10, 2010

The recent heat wave is a reminder that summer is right around the corner and with it, summer vacation and student volunteers. Today’s youth is a valuable resource of potential volunteers because of their acute awareness of the effects of globalization; young people are virtually plugged into the world of social media and the Internet. These happen to be major hurdles for many nonprofits. This is especially true for those agencies that are still struggling to get in touch with today’s digital way of life, and appeal to groups of volunteers and clients faster and more cost-effectively.

Many students, both high school and college, are in need of employment during the summer months. Many will be turning to volunteerism, especially with President Obama’s Call to Action media campaign and the job shortages all across the country. It is therefore time to start taking students seriously and utilizing their skills to your advantage. The following is a list of some helpful tips to assist you, at least in the beginning, in engaging students as volunteers this coming summer:

  • You must be present on the internet to attract today’s youth, so be sure to post opportunities online. Work through Volunteer Match or other Internet-matching services like TVC’s website,
  • Respond promptly to volunteer inquiries. Many students apply for multiple positions and might therefore commit to an agency that responds to them the fastest.
  • Frame opportunities and issues that are relevant to youth. Let them know that they will be making a difference in your organization and beyond.
  • Offer pertinent experiences and concrete skills. Many students are looking for volunteer opportunities that will develop their skills and allow them to hone their knowledge in a particular area, whether it is marketing, writing, or human resources.
  • Use language like fast, fun, and innovative when describing your opportunities and interviewing potential volunteers.
  • Have visuals that attract youth, whether on your website or next to the volunteer opportunity.
  • Vary your online positions. Change the titles and descriptions every few weeks in order to maintain interest in your agency.

Here are a few tips for the management of student volunteers:

  • Invite student volunteer input into the development of a project. Let them know that they can contribute their ideas and thoughts to your cause.
  • Provide leadership roles, such as team and project leaders. Many college or graduate school applications, as well as employers, are looking for concrete leadership skills, so students are particularly interested in gaining leadership experience.
  • Accommodate different levels of knowledge and sophistication. For example, provide different tasks for college-level students vs. high school students.
  • Place student volunteers with staff members who will respect, facilitate, encourage, and mentor them.
  • Offer some sort of training to youth team leaders.
  • Encourage an environment that engages your student volunteers in the mission of your organization. Work with your staff and adult volunteers to create a supportive and inviting organization.

For additional resources, check out the following:

This story was originally published in “Volunteer Management Monthly,” a newsletter published by The Volunteer Center. For more information, tips, and resources, view the full newsletter. You can also view the current issue or subscribe online.