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.

Pro-bono work tops nonprofits’ volunteer needs

Nonprofits need pro-bono services to improve their operational infrastructure far more than they need hands-on support delivering services directly to the community either from skills-based or traditional volunteers, a new survey says.

Still, nonprofits face challenges making productive use of volunters, says the Pro Bono Readiness Survey conducted by LBG Research Institute for a collaborative convened by Capital One Financial Corporation and including Common Impact, Points of Light and the Taproot Foundation.

While 66 percent of 1,348 nonprofits surveyed said they need pro-bono services more than any other volunteer service, roughly 73 percent said they would be more likely to see pro-bono suport if they could identify specific projects and better understand how volounteer time can be used to improve their infrastructure.

Forty-eight percent of nonprofit surveyed, for example, did not know external resources are available to assess capacity-building and infrastructure issues.

Roughly 25 percent of nonprofit surveyed never have used pro-bono services, with 47 percent of that group citing a lack of knowledge about how to obtain pro-bono work, and others citing a general lack of awareness about pro-bono support, insufficient resources to manage a project, and uncertainty about whether or not they were ready for pro-bono help.

The survey identified hurdles to putting effective pro-bono projects into place.

While over 85 percent of respondents found pro-bono support helpful, for example, 46 percent did not know how to sustain the project results without external support.

And roughly 40 percent that used pro-bono servcies involving unusual systems or technologies had the technical infrastructure to support the outcomes.

Over 58 percent said they needed stronger project-planning and time-management resources, and 36 percent were not familiar with project-management tools, with another 40 percent saying they were somewhat familiar with those tools.

Management “bandwidth” was a key challenge for nearly 45 percent of nonprofits surveyed.

Over 78 percent of nonprofits surveyed needed pro-bono marketing and branding support, 70 percent needed technology support, over 51 percent needed strategic planning and management support, and over 40 percent needed human-resources and leadership-development support.

“There are many untapped opportunities for corporations and nonprofits to achieve mutual goals through pro-bono services and skills-based volunteering, Selena Schmidt, CEO of Common Impact, says in a statement. “But as the survey demonstrates, nonprofits need a better grasp on the kind of volunteerism that will genrate long-term benefit to their organizations.”

The collaborative is developing an online Readiness Roadmap to help nonprofits understand their their operating needs and the kind of pro-bono services that would address those needs.

Firm matches social-good groups, skilled volunteers

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — Working as an investment banker after graduating from college, Rachael Chong noticed that while they had professional skills that could add value to nonprofits and for-profit social enterprises, many of her peers could not find volunteer opportunities that put those skills to productive use.

“The talent was not able to connect with the nonprofits and causes that needed it,” she says.

Later, taking a break from her graduate work in public policy at Duke University, Chong worked for BRAC USA in New York City, a nonprofit she helped found to raise money for a Bangladesh-based nonprofit.

With a staff of only two people, the fundraising group lacked the organizational “capacity” to handle tasks ranging from marketing and accounting to legal work and website design, tasks she helped address by enlisting skills-based volunteers.

So for her master’s thesis when she returned to Duke, Chong wrote a business plan for a company that would use technology to connect professionals who want to donate their skills with nonprofits and social enterprises that need skilled volunteers.

That company, based in New York City, already has registered 2,000 organizations and 10,000 professionals, and brokered the completion of 1,000 pro-bono projects.

And it recently launched a marketing effort to promote skilled-volunteerism in the Triangle.

Ninety-five percent of the nearly 2 million nonprofits and other social-good groups in the U.S. say they “need and want access to pro-bono services but do not know where to get it,” says Chong, Catchafire’s CEO and founder.

And among the 63 million adults who volunteered in the U.S. in 2010, 60 percent did not volunteer again in 2011, she says.

“The reality is that both sides of this marketplace are broken,” she says.

Catchafire lets social-good groups register, for a fee, and select what they need from a menu of 80 different projects that spell out the scope of work and templates for completing it.

The menu, with projects ranging from designing a website or customizing a database to developing brand messaging, describes the steps for completing each project, a set of “deliverables,” meetings needed between the client and volunteer, and the total hours required.

Professionals visiting the Catchafire website can fill out a profile that includes their resume and causes they care about, and Catchafire in turn lets them know about projects matching their skills and interests.

A key ingredient is the  matching fee, a requirement that ensures social-good groups have “skin in the game,” Chong says.

With the value of projects often totaling $25,000, a required matching fee totaling 5 percent of the market value of the deliverables, “shows commitment and serious needs” on the part of the social-good clients, she says.

“Nonprofits don’t always give volunteers a good volunteer experience, and if you’re time is being wasted, you don’t want to volunteer again,” Chong says. “What we’re trying to do is provide people not only with the opportunity to volunteer their skills, but also to create meaningful, impactful and fulfilling experiences.”

Freeman to guide Junior Leagues International

By Todd Cohen

After receiving a master’s degree in higher education from Michigan State University, Toni Freeman moved to Charlotte to take a job as a residence-hall director at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

She later worked as director of housing at Johnson C. Smith University and then as corporate associate vice president at SunHealth, now known as Premier.

And she joined the Junior League of Charlotte.

That League experience has served her well: Equipped with the League’s community-focused training, Freeman has been its volunteer president and held senior positions at the Charlotte Convention and Visitors Bureau, The Duke Endowment, and Mecklenburg Citizens for Public Education.

In February, she joined The Mint Museum as its first chief operating officer.

And this month she begins serving as president of the Association of Junior Leagues International.

“Our niche is training women as civic leaders,” Freeman says of the Junior League, which has 115,000 members in 293 communities in four countries and is “one of the largest and most effective volunteer organizations in the world.”

At The Mint and at the Association of Junior Leagues, Freeman will play a key role in putting ambitious strategies into place to better attract and serve clients.

Celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, The Mint has launched a plan to double its attendance to 400,000 within five years, increase the number of virtual visitors to 800,000 a year, create a North Carolina Pottery Research Center, increase its space for classrooms and studios, develop a children’s center for the arts, and increase public access to its art library.

And the Association of Junior Leagues last year launched a five-year “strategic road map” to position the organization to expand and to “fine-tune what’s core to us, which is training,” Freeman says.

That effort will address issues like the age at which women join the League.

Traditionally joining in their 20s or 30s, women increasingly “are less committed later in life, when their children are grown and their careers more settled,” Freeman says.

So the League is looking at ways to attract women “at all stages of life,” she says.

At local Leagues in 39 communities, the association is piloting efforts to “figure out what works and what doesn’t work,” including a range of options for providing training.

Those include launching a new product to integrate best practices for training and make it available online, giving League members access, whenever and wherever they want it, to whatever training approach suits them.

Training is critical to develop women as leaders and volunteers who can make a difference in an increasingly complex and challenging world, Freeman says.

Women volunteer differently, and are “community-focused” and “multi-taskers,” she says.

“If we use our training to empower women to be better leaders,” she says, “ultimately we’re going to have better and stronger communities.”

And with the economic downturn slamming nonprofits, and the demand for qualified and effective volunteers escalating, Freeman says, Junior Leagues can help train the volunteers nonprofits need.

“It’s a life-long skill,” she says. “What better gift than to give a trained volunteer at a time when the need is the greatest.”

Pro-bono lawyers in demand

By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — When the North Carolina State Bar was considering a new rule for professional conduct, adopted two years ago, that calls on every lawyer in the state to “aspire” to contribute at least 50 hours of pro-bono work a year, Ed Winslow opposed the idea.

And before the Greensboro Bar Association last year launched the Herbert Falk Society to recognize lawyers who contribute over 75 pro-bono hours a year, Winslow, then the association’s president, voted against the program.

“The nature of public service would be you don’t do it for credit, you do it because it’s part of being a professional, a part of your identity,” says Winslow, managing partner in the Greensboro office of Brooks Pierce.

The approach favored by Winslow – that lawyers should volunteer because it is their responsibility, not because it is required – seems to be effective.

Brooks Pierce, which employs 90 lawyers, including 60 in North Carolina, recently was honored by publication Benchmark Litigation as “pro-bono firm of the year” in a 14-state region in the South.

With the damaged economy creating a lot of legal problems among people who cannot afford legal services, demand for pro-bono legal work is growing, says Al Wallis, executive director of the Brown Rudnick Center for the Public Interest in Boston and co-president of the Association of Pro Bono Counsel, a national group that supports pro-bono work at commercial law firms.

After the economy collapsed in 2008 and law firms were eliminating positions or delaying the hiring of new associates, he says, many firms gave stipends to prospective associates to work for public-interest groups, and encouraged their own lawyers to do pro-bono work.

That experience, he says, has reinforced the business value of pro-bono work as a way to develop professional skills and relationships with nonprofits and other pro-bono lawyers that otherwise might not have developed.

Roughly 80 to 90 firms in the U.S. employ someone who spends half their time or more coordinating pro-bono work, says Wallis, whose firm, Brown Rundick, gives every one of its roughly 89 associates billable-hours credit for at least 50 to 100 hours of pro-bono work, based on their billable hours from the previous year.

Partners also are encouraged to engage in pro-bono work.

According to the Pro Bono Institute, lawyers at 138 large law firms that participated in the organization’s Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge in 2010 completed a total of over 4.45 million hours of pro-bono work.

The economic downturn also has resulted in cuts in government support for Legal Aid of North Carolina, cuts that have made pro-bono work by private lawyers “much more critical,” says George R. Hausen Jr., the organization’s executive director.

The statewide group, which operates 20 offices, down from 24 a year ago, last year instituted a pro-bono project that already has recruited 500 lawyers, mainly in partnership with the North Carolina Bar Association, bringing Legal Aid’s pro-bono roster to 2,500 lawyers.

Kilpatrick Townsend, a national firm that employs over 100 lawyers in North Carolina, including 60 in Winston-Salem, 30 in Raleigh and 12 in Charlotte, requires every lawyer to perform at least 30 hours of pro-bono work a year.

“We expect more, and people do more,” says Debbie Segal, the firm’s Atlanta-based pro-bono partner.

The firm’s lawyers last year contributed 30,625 hours of pro-bono work valued at $12.5 million, based on the number of hours they worked and their billable rates.

The firm focuses its pro-bono work on the needs of low-income people, organizations that serve them, small community groups and nonprofits, and human rights, civil rights and environmental issues.

Ten years ago, for example, Segal worked with the Legal Aid Society of Northwest North Carolina, which now is part of Legal Aid of North Carolina, and with district court judges in Forsyth County, to create a guardian ad litem program for the county that would train lawyers to represent the best interests of children whose parents were disputing custody.

The firm continues to partner with that program, which now is part of the Children’s Law Center.

And in North Carolina and Georgia, the firm created a “grandparent-adoption” program, representing low-income grandparents or other family members who are raising relatives’ children whose parents cannot care for them, a growing problem since the economy collapsed in 2008, Segal says.

Pro-bono efforts at Brooks Pierce include working with the North Carolina Bar Association to establish North Carolina Lawyers for Entrepreneurs Assistance Program, or NC LEAP, an effort that provides pro-bono legal services to low-wealth entrepreneurs.

And Winslow, on a pro-bono basis, provided legal counsel in the formation of the Foundation for the Greensboro Public Library, a client he still serves on a pro-bono basis.

Brooks Pierce is “very committed to the proposition that pro-bono and civic engagement is encouraged and supported,” says Winslow, “but it’s a matter of individual choice by individual professionals, and not something that the firm requires or incents in any tangible way.”

Value of volunteering grows

An hour of volunteering was worth $21.79 in 2011, up 43 cents from 2010, a new estimate says.

The estimate by Independent Sector is based on the average hourly earnings of all production and non-supervisory works on private non-farm payrolls, as determined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Independent Sector increases that number by 12 percent to estimate for fringe benefits.

Roughly 62.8 million Americans, or 26.3 percent of the adult population, donated 8.1 billion hours of volunteer services worth $173 billion in 2010, the most recent year for which data are available.

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, nonprofits employ about 12.9 million workers, or nearly 10 percent of the U.S. work force, and account for about 5.2 percent of gross domestic product, Independent Sector says.

An hour of volunteer time was worth the most in Washington, D.C., at $33.61, and the least in Puerto Rico, at $11.41.

In North Carolina, volunteering was worth at $18.80 an hour.