Conn Elementary partners with volunteers

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — At 3:45 p.m. every weekday during the school year, nearly 100 students gather in the gym at Conn Elementary School in Raleigh, remaining there until 6 p.m. to do their homework, with breaks for recreational activities and recess outside.

Operating the after-school program is YMCA of the Triangle, which also provides free child care for monthly meetings of the school’s Parent Teacher Association.

The partnership with the YMCA is part of a larger effort by Conn to generate voluntary and philanthropic support to supplement the public dollars it receives.

“As a school, we’re always looking for ways to expand what we do to support our teachers and students, and the community support we get helps us,” says Gary Duvall, Conn’s principal.

About 580 students are enrolled at Conn, and about half of them qualify for lunch that is free or provided at a reduced price. With such a high percentage of students on free or reduced lunch, the school receives federal dollars through the Title I program for schools serving low-income families.

To supplement the public dollars the school receives, Conn’s PTA last year increased to $35,000 from about $15,000 the funds it raised during its annual fall fundraising campaign.

Those dollars were used to pay for playground renovations, and to help fund 30 programs at the school, including mini-grants of up to $500 to teachers for special projects, such as buying books and materials for the school library to supplement what students learn in the classroom.

Conn also is developing partnerships with a growing number of organizations that provide volunteers for the school.

Starting this fall, three members of Lawyers 4 Literacy, a program of the North Carolina Bar Association, are visiting Conn once a week at lunchtime, each working with one or two students in second or third grade on their reading.

And once a week after school, about 10 volunteers visit Conn through a partnership with Cary nonprofit Read and Feed, which provides a meal for about 18 students in first through fifth grade. Each volunteer then works on reading with one or two students, who also receive two books each week to take home and keep.

And thanks to Amy Dameron, a literacy teacher at Conn and a member of Edenton Street United Methodist Church, volunteers from the congregation are scheduled to visit the school on October 15 for campus beautification and painting.

Another seven volunteers from the church also have applied to work on reading once a week with two students each.

And before the school year began, more than a dozen managers from Whole Foods on Wade Avenue visited the school for day of painting and beautification.

This fall, through two separate partnerships, 12 students in the College of Education at North Carolina State University will be visiting Conn once a week to mentor individual students in fourth and fifth grade on topics ranging from goal-setting and self-awareness to character development, while another 10 to 12 students from the College of Engineering at N.C. State will be visiting once a week to work one-on-one with students on science and math.

“We want to make sure all our students are succeeding,” Duvall says. “By having these small reading groups and small programs, we able to serve a broad range of student needs.”

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Volunteer center recruiting companies

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The Volunteer Center in Greensboro aimed to build on a surge it has seen in corporate volunteerism and enlist more companies to participate in its annual Martin Luther King Day of Service event today.

Visitors at the event, being held at Four Seasons Town Centre, can participate in on-site service projects, learn about local nonprofits at a Nonprofit Fair, and take part in the Volunteer Center’s Community Art Project.

The Center began in 1963 as the Greensboro Volunteer Bureau, a department of the Greensboro Community Council, which now is United Way of Greater Greensboro.

In 2014, the Center mobilized 102,000 volunteers who contributed 239,000 service hours, or the equivalent of $5.38 million in local economic impact, based on estimates by Independent Sector that one volunteer hour of service is worth $22.55.

The Center also worked in partnership with 135 schools, 112 faith-based groups, 10 government agencies, 225 nonprofits, 85 civic groups, and 200 corporations and businesses.

Each summer, at a Corporate Volunteer Council Open House the Center hosts, company representatives can meet with nonprofits.

The Center also provides a referral list of nonprofit service projects for corporate volunteers, offers a service that matches companies with small, short-term projects, and lets companies select larger assembly-line service projects it manages.

In 2015, the Center connected 10 companies with a total of 317 employees who contributed 634 volunteer hours to smaller projects, and it managed larger projects for five companies with 228 employees who contributed 688 hours, assembling over 3,000 trail-mix snack bags and over 400 toiletry kits.

In 2014, in comparison, the Center connected seven companies for smaller projects and managed only one larger project for a corporation.

The Center has a pledge card that Guilford County residents can turn in by the end of the month that lets them make a commitment to volunteer whatever number of hours they like.

Operating with an annual budget that ranges from $235,000 to $250,000 and a staff of three full-time employees, the Center is set to launch a new volunteer database this month, a new website in February, new membership options for nonprofit partners, and a new cross-membership partnership with the Guilford Nonprofit Consortium.

Charitable ‘fatigue’ seen on the rise

Americans are losing interest in volunteering and charitable giving, a survey by YMCA of the USA says.

From 2010 to 2014, the share of people who planned to volunteer time or expertise to a worthy cause or organization fell to 41 percent from 57 percent, the YMCA says.

Over those five years, the YMCA has tracked Americans’ perceptions of their community against 30 “key drivers” that it says indicate overall community strength, such as how well a community fosters active lifestyles or its delivery of basic social services to residents, Jonathan Lever, vice president of health strategy and innovation for YMCA of the USA, says in a commentary.

Asked this year how they performed on those factors, on average, respondents gave their communities an overall C-plus, down from B or B-minus in each of the previous years of the survey, Lever says.

What’s more, the overall perceived importance of those community “drivers” plunged to its lowest level in four years, he says.

Lever says Americans are experiencing “fatigue” in the face of a post-recession recovery marked by “fits and starts.”

Many Americans feel that “for all their hard work and best efforts to contribute to their communities, we should be further down the path to recovery by now,” he says. “And that’s left many Americans very tired.”

The cause of that fatigue “could lie in who ultimately shoulders the load for improving our communities,” he says.

Each year, asked in the survey “who holds the best  opportunity to make a difference in their community’s quality of life,” respondents have identified “themselves and their families,” Lever says.

But this year’s survey showed a decline in Americans’ perception of the importance of their own role in improving their communities.

“Although they still consider themselves as playing an integral role,” Lever says, “Americans increasingly feel making a difference in their community is a shared responsibility among government groups, nonprofits, faith-based organizations and educational institutions,” he says.

The silver lining, he says, could be that Americans increasingly may be seeing that fixing their communities depends on private-public partnerships.

While “it’s concerning to think that Americans may be losing stamina for engaging with and helping grow their communities,” he says, “I am heartened by the idea that, perhaps, more people are recognizing that collaboration is truly the way forward.”

— Todd Cohen

Volunteerism up at United Way, down in U.S.

The rate of volunteerism has grown at local United Ways in the U.S. but dropped in the U.S. overall, a new report from United Way Worldwide says.

Most volunteers are not volunteering for work likely to make the most impact in addressing priority community needs, says Volunteering: The Force Multiplier for Community Change.

And most United Way CEOs expect the pace of volunteering to continue to grow this year, it says.

Including volunteers engaged directly by local United Ways and those recruited for community partnerships among local agencies and United Ways, the number of United Way volunteers grew to 2.68 million in 2012 from 2.32 million in 2006, an increase of 15.5 percent, the report says.

That compares to an increase of 5.4 percent to 64.5 million volunteers from 61.2 million over the same period in the U.S. overall, it says.

The number of volunteers engaged directly by local United Ways grew to 1.3 million in 2012 from 1.05 million in 2002, or an increase of 23.8 percent, compared to an increase of 9 percent from 59.2 million volunteers in the U.S. overall during the same period.

The share of Americans age 16 and over who volunteer fell from 27.5 percent in 2002 to 25.4 percent in 2013 — its lowest point since the federal government began collecting data 12 years ago, the report says.

While the declining share of people volunteering may reflect the fact that the U.S. population has grown, the number of actual volunteers grew 9 percent from 2002 through 2012, the report says.

And in a survey of 74 United Way CEOs in the U.S. and abroad, 73 percent predicted volunteering will continue to grow in the next year.

Mentoring and tutoring

Eighty-nine percent of United Way CEOs said spending time as a mentor is the act of volunteering that generates the most lasting results for individuals and communities, and 62 percent said tutoring and teaching struggling students also is critical.

Yet, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 7 percent of American volunteers’ main donated work last year involved mentoring, and 10 percent of volunteer activity was related to tutoring or teaching, United Way says.

Another 11 percent involved collecting, preparing, distributing or serving food,; 10 percent involved fundraising; 8 percent involved general labor or transportation; and 7 percent involved serving  on boards.

Nationally, over 300,000 people have signed up on the volunteer website at United Way, which has been working to recruit volunteer readers, tutors and mentors for struggling students.

Corporations

Sixty-one percent of United Way CEOs say local employers are the best source for boosting volunteering and creating opportunities on a scale needed to improve communities, the report says.

According to The State of Health of Corporate Volunteering from the International Association for Volunteer Effort, companies throughout the world increasingly are focusing their volunteer work on specific priorities, applying all their resources — human, financial, in-kind and relational — to maximize their impact on a broad range of human, social and environmental problems, United Way says.

Personal connections

Still, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, top-down requests from employers are less effective than volunteer requests from co-workers or from people within a volunteer organization, United Way says.

People are roughly as likely to become involved with a volunteer organization through personal outreach and explanation as through someone asking them to get involved, it says.

Of those being asked to volunteer, it says, nine in 10 will become a regular volunteer when asked by a relative, friend or someone at the volunteer organization.

Schools and faith communities

In the survey, half the United Way CEOs said educational institutions are crucial players in the effort to enlist more volunteers, and 43 percent said religious communities were strong volunteer partners.

One-third of Americans volunteer most of their time through their faith communities, a trend that is even great among older volunteers., United Way says.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it says, 42.9 percent of volunteers age 65 and older did their volunteering mainly through or for a religious organization, compared to 26.8 percent of volunteers age 16 to 24.

The decline in  volunteerism could be connected to the slowdown in regular religious attendance over the decades, the report suggests.

According to Gallup, nearly four in 10 Americans say they attended religious services in the past seven days, compared to nearly five in 10 in the mid-1950s.

Gender and parenthood

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service and the National Conference on Citizenship, women continue to volunteer significantly more than men across all demographic divides, United Way says.

And working mothers continue to volunteer at a significantly higher rate than the population overall.

Among parents with children under age 18 volunteered, 33.5 percent volunteered, compared to 26.5 percent of the population overall and 23.8 percent of individuals without children.

Todd Cohen

Charlotte insurance industry supports one charity at a time

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte is home to 10,000 employees associated with the insurance industry, and a local nonprofit is trying to tap the time, money and expertise of that workforce to support local charities.

Formed in 2011, Community Matters has enlisted 60 member companies and last year donated $200,000 and over 10,200 volunteer hours to Safe Alliance, formerly United Family Services, a nonprofit that serves people struggling with domestic and sexual violence, child abuse and emotional trauma.

“It’s just been huge in helping us deal with challenges,” says Phil Kline, president and CEO of Safe Alliance and himself a 28-year veteran of the Charlotte-based U.S. insurance operation of Royal & Sun Alliance that was acquired in 2007 by Arrowpoint Capital.

Community Matters initially aimed to raise $10,000 to support a capital campaign at Safe Alliance for a new 80-bed shelter for women and children to replace a 29-bed facility.

But enthusiastic response to that effort led Community Matters to take on Safe Alliance as its sole project for 2012, says Tom Lott, a founder and board member of Community Matters and director of sales and marketing at AmWINS Group.

It expanded its fundraising goal to $100,000, a goal it eventually doubled, and also agreed to provide volunteer hours.

Community Matters, an all-volunteer organization, also agreed to continue its support for Safe Alliance this year.

Insurance industry employees, as well as their friends and families, have served meals at the shelter. They have put down mulch on the grounds, and provided landscaping. They have cleaned rooms in the shelter. And they have provided career counseling for residents of the shelter, helping them write resumes and prepare for job interviews.

On each of two occasions, when the shelter needed diapers and laundry detergent, respectively, Community Matters distributed an email alert to its members, who contributed the supplies the shelter needed the same day the alert was distributed.

“Every bit as important as the financial support is the incredible support from volunteers,” says Kline.

The assistance has been doubly important, he says, because the the shelter now is handling 115 to 120 women and children a day through the addition of trundle beds for smaller children, and sleeper sofas in most living areas.

To help raise money, Community Matters held a fundraising dinner at The Club at Longview last November that netted over $66,000, and a dodgeball tournament this past April at Sports Connection that drew over 500 participants and raised just over $56,000.

And during the summer, each of its member companies holds its own fundraising campaign.

At AmWINS Group, for example, employs can wear jeans or flip-flops on Fridays by donating $2 to Safe Alliance, Lott says.

Community Matters this year also launched a “100 days of meals” campaign, providing volunteers to prepare, donate and serve dinner at the shelter on 100 days.

Community Matters volunteers already have served half those meals, and the total likely will save Safe Alliance $25,000, Kline says.

Fundraising events this year included a “Knight Out with the Charlotte Knights” on August 17 at Knights Stadium and will include a cocktail party September 17 at City Tavern at SouthPark mall; and a celebration dinner November 4 at The Club at Longview, when Community Matters will announce the charity it will support in 2014.

Community Matters also is launching a teen program for children of its members’ employees.

“People in the insurance industry,” Lott says, “are here because they care about helping people in need.”

Volunteering seen boosting job prospects

Skills-based volunteering can boost job prospects for graduating college seniors and returning military veterans, yet less than half of them see volunteering at a nonprofit as a way to build skills and the experience they need to get a job, a new survey says.

Among 202 human resources executives who were interviewed online in February, 81 percent said experience gained through skilled volunteering would be taken into account when evaluating a job candidate, according to the 2013 Deloitte Volunteer IMPACT Survey.

Seventy-six percent said skilled volunteer experience makes a job candidate more desirable, 81 percent said it makes a college graduate more desirable, and 78 percent said it makes a member of the armed services more desirable.

Yet, despite the tough economy, 46 percent of students surveyed and 48 percent of military personnel surveyed see volunteering at a nonprofit as a way to develop skills and gain the experience needed to land a job.

“It is clear that the skills and experience gained through volunteering offer a competitive edge,” Evan Hochberg, national director for community engagement at Deloitte Services LP, says in a statement.

“However, when more than half of college grads and returning veterans don’t consider volunteering to improve their employability,” he says, “there is work to be done to help them see the upside of volunteer bridging as a viable search option.”

The survey also confirmed that volunteerism — both traditional and skilled — is encouraged at many organizations through corporate citizenship programs.

Sixty-five percent of human resources executives surveyed see volunteering as beneficial to their employees, 88 percent see volunteering as contributing to a positive reputation, and 52 percent say volunteerism is an important part of their organization’s culture.

The survey also included interviews with 202 college seniors and 101 military personnel scheduled to be discharged within the next 12 months

Todd Cohen

Volunteer Center aims to expand

By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — What began in 1963 as an arm of the Greensboro Community Council, which was a predecessor to United Way of Greater Greensboro and later merged with a similar program in Randolph County, now operates as the Volunteer Center of Greensboro, an independent agency that places 2,500 volunteers a year with local nonprofits.

Since 1993, it has raised over $3 million for 150 nonprofits through its annual Human Race, an event that over the years has worked with 5,000 volunteers and over 40 business sponsors.

And it operates with 150 member agencies that are looking for volunteers, a database of 5,000 volunteers, and an advisory council of 30 corporations.

Now, with a new executive director, the agency wants to raise awareness about its work and expand its reach by enlisting small and mid-sized businesses as it prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2013.

“Our main goal is to connect volunteers with agencies that need their help,” says Carley Swaim,  who joined the Volunteer Center as executive director in October after serving as director of development at Bell House, a community for adults with physical disabilities.

Operating with an annual budget of $225,000 to $250,000, the Volunteer Center receives all its operating support from United Way of Greater Greensboro, and also receives grants to support specific programs and projects.

For its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service in 2011, for example, it received federal funds through the Points of Light Foundation.

That event, through a partnership with the Guilford County Schools, enlisted 5,000 volunteers to participate in community projects.

A separate event in 2011 that also partnered with the school system enlisted another 5,000 volunteers for a day of service commemorating the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The Center, which had not had an executive director for five months, has just filled two other positions, including a director of programs and a director of volunteers, and also employs an administrative assistant.

It helps match volunteers and nonprofits through an online system known as VolunteerConnect that lets member nonprofits post volunteer opportunities, and lets individuals look for options to volunteer.

The Center helps manage those relationships, and follows up with agencies to see how the relationships worked.

It also provides half-day workshops every other month for member nonprofits on topics such as how to manage volunteers, work with boards of directors, and raise money.

It works with a Corporate Volunteer Council that brings together corporations with strong volunteer programs on a monthly basis to exchange ideas and talk about their programs.

Swaim says she hopes to expand the Council by enlisting small and mid-sized businesses that want to build volunteer programs, with larger companies serving as mentors for the smaller businesses on volunteer issues, and with all the companies volunteering as a group on community projects.

The Volunteer Center, which is housed in the offices of United Way, will be working with United Way to strengthen the partnership between the two agencies and boost volunteerism in the community, says Swaim, a former leadership giving manager for United Way.

On Oct. 30, the Center held its annual dinner to recognize volunteer service, an event that attracted 150 people and raised $5,000 through a silent auction.

Swaim says the Center will be working to develop a brand it can use to market itself so people turn to it as a one-stop shop for volunteerism in the community.

“We want to strengthen our recognition,” she says.