how to have an impact when volunteering

how to have an impact when volunteering

When I first moved up to Seattle, I was a self-proclaimed “professional volunteer.” I loved finding organizations and helping them. Managing social media accounts, putting stamps on invitations, sorting wigs—I did it all. I like to think that my volunteering made a long-term impact with these organizations but I can’t say that for sure. I know my help was appreciated but likely forgotten once a new crop of volunteers came through the door.

I have less time to volunteer these days, so I’m now focused on making sure my efforts support the organization in a meaningful way. There is nothing wrong with putting stamps on letters or tracking names in a spreadsheet, but you can have a bigger impact when you focus on setting up successful processes that make the organization better in the long-term.

I recently came across an article about Toyota’s work with the Food Bank For New York City. Rather than write a check, Toyota offered to share its knowledge of kaizen with the Food Bank. Kaizen, which I learned about during my days at Boeing, is a Japanese word meaning “continuous improvement.” It’s an effort to optimize flow and quality by constantly looking for ways to improve. Toyota’s offer was aimed at helping the nonprofit serve more people, more efficiently by searching for ways to streamline their process.

It worked. The Food Bank was able to speed up services and slash wait times at its soup kitchen and warehouse.

I love that Toyota’s employees shared their professional knowledge—that’s what’s missing for a lot of organizations. Volunteers can have an enormous impact on an organization’s well-being and culture, but volunteers need to be committed to making the best use of their time. They need to understand the goals of the organization and convey their skills to the organization.

If you want to volunteer and make an impact, it’s your responsibility to figure out how you can best help. For example, if you’re a writer, don’t just volunteer to write a couple of posts for the newsletter or website. You could also help create processes to make content development run smoother—like building an editorial calendar or interviewing board members for future stories. A writer could also help develop a content strategy and develop a process to get stakeholders to contribute to the organization’s blog.

Sometimes, we can get stuck on “task list” mode. Instead, we should focus on looking for opportunities to help meet the organization’s long-term objectives and find ways to help the organization think outside the box. Organizations can help foster this environment by being open to new ideas, listening to their volunteers, and helping them feel empowered to act on their ideas. This way, it’s a win-win situation.

radical rock camp for girls

radical rock camp for girls

Using rock music to engender education, self-empowerment, self-advocacy, teamwork, and leadership? Radical.

As a newcomer to Seattle, I’m enjoying learning about the diverse organizations and causes with roots in the Pacific Northwest. Each month, I will highlight a local group whose radical work inspires me to be more radical in my own work and daily life.

I love the idea of using music and community to build confidence in girls and spark social change. Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls started in Portland, Oregon, in 2000 and similar programs have opened across the country, and the world, ever since. Seattle’s Rain City Rock Camp for Girls is dedicated to building self-esteem and encouraging creative expression through music. Any girl can participate, even if she has never sung a note or picked up a musical instrument.

Rock Camp runs throughout the year at various venues across Seattle. They provide summer programs, yearlong programs, advanced programs, and even weekend programs for those of us 19 and over. The weeklong camp for girls and the weekend camp for adults both culminate with a public concert performance at a local venue. If you don’t want to be part of a band, you can donate or volunteer to help staff their summer camps. They need music instructors, camp counselors, mental health supporters, receptionists, and even a camp photographer.

The nonprofit program provides grants for tuition and educates campers on body image, song writing and the history of women in rock and hip-hop, focusing on putting an end to oppression, gender bias, and bullying. Rain City Rock Camp for Girls practices non-discrimination, and individuals who self-identify as female, trans, or gender non-conforming are welcome to participate. Everyone who completes an application, and is able to cover costs or receive financial aid, is invited to attend and are accepted on a first come, first served basis.

There’s something special about the inclusivity of the music community. I joined choir in elementary school, was involved in music programs through high school, taught myself to play the guitar, and was a founding member of a women’s a cappella group in college. Throughout my involvement – from elementary school to college – I learned invaluable lessons, made great friends, and gained confidence. Attending Rock Camp when I was a kid would have been an incredible chance to step outside the choir box and truly express myself and strengthen my skills in a welcoming, creative place. Rock Camp provides a fun, safe place for girls to learn, build relationships, and, most importantly, be themselves.

To learn more, peruse their videos and follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

going radical to save the seals

going radical to save the seals

As a newcomer to Seattle, I’m enjoying learning about the diverse organizations and causes with roots in the Pacific Northwest. Each month, I will highlight a local group whose radical work inspires me to be more radical in my own work and daily life. -bb

A band of individuals, comprised solely of volunteers, tirelessly protecting seals along the Puget Sound by setting up perimeters and literally babysitting them to protect them from harm? Radical.

From June to September, in the inland waters of the Puget Sound, Harbor Seal “pupping season” is in full swing. The pups “haul out” onto the urban beaches to regulate their temperatures, rest, and conserve calories. They have a limited number of calories to expend while they are learning to sustain themselves, and disturbing them or scaring off their mothers can—and often does—have fatal consequences.

This is where the Seal Sitters come in. Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network is a group of volunteers who do just that: babysit the seals.

Trained by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Seal Sitters provide rescue services and collect seal health and mortality data, aiding government agencies and biologists by researching the health of the Puget Sound ecosystem as a whole.

Although public education and data distribution are important, sometimes a situation becomes so dire that you must take the matter into your own – carefully trained – hands. The sitters search for seals on their own and respond to calls from the public. They set up safety perimeters near the animal, monitor its health from afar, and sit guard with the pup until it chooses to re-enter the water. If the animal is in need of medical assistance, the sitters take it to the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) for rehabilitation and, hopefully, an eventual release back into the wild. The goal is simple: Keep them safe where they are until they are rested enough to return to the water.

Due to harassment from humans, dogs, and boats, the seal population is suffering. Some people simply don’t know any better, and others don’t care. However, the sitters are making the public more aware of this issue through their presence on the shores of our urban beaches. More and more, people are notifying authorities and waiting with the pups until the Seal Sitters arrive. The message is reaching the public, and the seal population will reap the benefits.

To find out more about the Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network, visit the organization’s website and blog.

our annual contributions

our annual contributions

When I decided to start my own company, one of the things that I wanted to achieve was to ensure that the people I hired were proud of where they worked. I figured we could do so in a few different ways: do smart, creative work for great clients, provide a fun and beautiful setting for them to come to every day, enable them to have new experiences (travel, meeting cool people) and be a company that wears our values on our sleeves.

To achieve this last item, we could be outspoken about the issues we care about—in our conversations, via the content we share online—and we could work with organizations that share those values. We could also give to organizations that were working to uphold those values.

We moved into our first office on September 1, celebrated our first anniversary on October 1 and today we are announcing our first annual charitable contributions. We reached out to friends, vendors, family and clients for ideas and they sent quite a few fabulous options. Hopefully next year we’ll be able to increase the number and the size of the donations we make, but this is what we are doing this year.

Boys and Girls Club of King CountyWe wanted one of our donations to go to a group in our home town of Seattle. Haley suggested the Boys and Girls Club because, as she said, they enabled her to afford to ensure her beautiful daughter had after school care when Haley was enrolled in a full time Master’s program. Giving women the chance to further their education—and to inspire their daughters to do the same—is core to our hearts and we love having the opportunity to allow Haley to say thank you and to join her in doing so. We are giving the Boys and Girls Club $500 (actually, we’re letting Haley’s daughter do the honors) and encourage you to consider making a donation as well.

Southern Center for Human Rights: We are proud of the work we are currently doing with the Council of State Governments Justice Center and of the other people in our world who work to address the injustices of the criminal justice system. They need our help. The Southern Center for Human Rights provides legal representation to people facing the death penalty, challenges human rights violations in prisons and jails, seeks to improve legal representation for poor people accused of crimes, and advocates for criminal justice system reforms on behalf of those affected by the system in the Southern United States. We are giving the Southern Center for Human Rights $1,000 and hope you will consider making a donation as well.

Ali Forney Center: On December 17, Spencer Cox died at the age of 44. Spencer was a committed AIDS activist whose passion enabled him to contribute to saving the lives of millions of people worldwide, a fact we should all know and never forget. His family suggested three charities to which donations could be made in Spencer’s name and we selected the Ali Forney Center. The Center, in New York City, provides housing and other services to homeless LGBT youth and recently needed to invest significant resources to rebuild its drop-in center, which was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. We are giving $1,000 to the Ali Forney Center—in Spencer’s name—and hope you will consider making a donation in his name as well.

Spencer was featured in David France’s How to Survive a Plague and upon his death, David posted the amazing video of Spencer at the top of the page, in which Spencer reminds all of us what matters most: being kind, and being generous. Thank you, Spencer.

getting along is not social change

getting along is not social change

Alison Byrne Fields shares her thoughts on the tough work behind effective collaboration at “Collaboration Central” on PBS’ MediaShift.

Hint: It has nothing to do with “getting along.”

“Too often, we enter into a partnership or collaboration like we’re on a first date. We mask our faults with a coat of makeup or a new outfit, pretend to have interests and capabilities we don’t have, and assign super-human qualities to the person sitting across the table in the hopes that they might just be “the one.”