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.