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Three Takeaways from Volunteer Conference


Stephanie South 

Working for one of the largest private foundations in the Rocky Mountain West is an interesting way to get your start in the nonprofit sector. Instead of cultivating relationships with donors or recruiting volunteers, we spend our time reviewing grants and studying the impact Foundation dollars have on a community. However, one of the things that I am most grateful for in the Fellowship is that our professional development is not confined solely to the grantmaking side of the sector. We actually do have the chance to experience the nonprofit world from all angles—and this pays off.

For example, last week, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to attend the Colorado Conference on Volunteerism (CCOV), presented by Denver Directors of Volunteers in Agencies (Denver DOVIA) and Johnson & Wales University. Now, in my present position, I do not recruit and retain volunteers, but considering I have plans to stay in the nonprofit sector following my term as a Fellow, it is likely that I will sometime in the future. Recognizing this and investing in my future, El Pomar Foundation offered me the chance to attend.

Initially I thought that perhaps being an employee of a private foundation--at a conference meant for volunteer coordinators--would be odd, but the committee for the Colorado Conference on Volunteerism did a wonderful job of making the conference relevant to all who might be in attendance by viewing a nonprofit sector employee as a whole person. They covered a wide range of topics, everything from how to use social media to how to eat right in order to maintain a positive attitude.

Below, I share with you some takeaways from my favorite sessions, and I hope you not only gain some insights from them but also consider attending the 2012 Colorado Conference on Volunteerism.

(1) If Facebook was a country, it would be the world’s third-largest country.

Over 50 percent of the world’s population is under 30, and young people ages 18-25 are the largest demographic of users of social media. Social media is here to stay, and it is not merely a marketing tool. Social media is a communications innovation that is changing the way we interact with each other. If you and your organization tend to fall under the “digital immigrant” category, consider putting some time and resources into developing a social media strategy—your objectives for using channels like Facebook and Twitter and a plan for the next three months to a year. And, if you know it is not your thing, consider hiring a “digital native,” someone who came of age during the rise of technology and social media, to help you out.  As far as trends go, be on the lookout for mobile marketing and geo-tagging. They are the next big thing.

Session:           Strengthening Relationships with Social Media
Presenter:       Kim Mears,
Mears Consulting 


(2) Think outside the box; skilled volunteers are a tremendous resource.

Volunteers want to give of their time and sometimes their treasure, but nowadays, what they want to give even more of is their talent. Skilled volunteers, volunteers who have more to offer than performing clerical work and filing papers, want to help your organization, but you have to let them. To truly have a successful and efficient volunteer program, you have to trust them with more than those tedious tasks. Start trusting your volunteers and outsourcing what you can in order to increase your productivity and that of your organization. Consider the following questions and their answers to help you think outside the box when it comes to volunteers and what you are giving them to do:

  • What can you realign?
  • What are your strategic priorities?
  • What are your dreams?


Session :          The Key to Organization Capacity-Building
Presenter:       Jill Friedman Fixler,
JFFixler Group 


(3) Eating right and going green are more than just trends; they’re part of our well-being.

When I showed up at a conference on volunteerism, I was surprised to see sessions concerning health and environmentalism. However, after attending them, I realized that there is indeed a great deal of relevance in these topics. The food we are putting into our bodies does play a part in the emotions we experience and how we react to situations. What we eat can determine how happy we are, how much we sleep at night, and how we handle stress. If we know that we tend to hit a slump in the afternoon after lunch, perhaps we should be working more protein into our diet. Likewise, how we deal with waste and energy utilization can affect our budgets and our reputation with our clients. Consider your organization’s recycling policy or consumption of energy; it is likely that a few small changes could make a big difference.

Session:           How Food Affects Your Mood
Presenter:       Laura Brieser-Smith, Johnson & Wales University

 Session:           It’s Not Easy Being Green
Presenter:       Carey Rangel, Environmental Analyst


Overall, I learned a tremendous amount from the Colorado Conference on Volunteers Conference, and although I chose to focus many of my sessions around social media and its effective utilization, there was a wealth of information to choose from. I could have chosen tracks on working with faith-based volunteers, utilizing special needs volunteers, or applying for national and community service federal funding. No matter your position, your organization, or your reason for attending, this conference offers fresh perspective and innovative ways to help your organization make an impact.