Volunteer experiences—times are a-changin!

by Ashley Kasprzak, JVA Consulting

I primarily help my children’s elementary school by fostering afterschool activities that spur creativity and critical thinking. I’m practically an expert on Odyssey of the Mind and chess club. At the same time, I must admit that I am aware of other parents doing so much more. With that knowledge, or should I say guilt, I recently offered to help with a juice packet fundraiser. I assumed this would be a quick, weekend job, but it wouldn’t be long before I found myself reflecting on an old adage about the spelling of the word “assume.”

That aside, the school will get paid two cents for each juice packet sent back to Terra Cycle. Mind you, this only equates to $80 for 4,000 juice packets. I learned this from my sister-in-law over Easter dinner who has actually collected that many from her kids’ school. I haven’t actually washed or counted any packets myself. My packets are just stinking and leaking in my garage. Although gross and low financial return on investment, this is clearly a good environmental project. If you want to put on a pair of plastic gloves and help me clean up these packets, let’s schedule a time! All I can say is that I know there are better ways to volunteer.

In fact there are millions of ways for volunteers to engage in the community. Many volunteers set their expectations for volunteer experiences too high, and then when they are dissatisfied, they spout off or simply walk away. This last phenomenon is what Melinda Higgs from the Colorado Nonprofit Development Center calls “people voting with their feet.”

In order to better match volunteers to meaningful volunteer work, JVA Consulting has dedicated a great deal of brainpower and time to thinking about how best to link baby boomers with civic and volunteer engagement. So that they don’t walk away, it’s key to find out each volunteer’s interests, skills and talents, and match volunteers with projects where they can shine. Nationally, Atlantic Philanthropies is leading the boomer volunteer movement. In Denver, Rose Community Foundation, with the support of Atlantic Philanthropies, is implementing its Boomers Leading Change initiative, which motivates boomers to apply their energies in new and creative ways that benefit Colorado communities.

Volunteer experiences that require minimal involvement or commitment are also popping up nationwide. Bringing people together to tackle a challenge is called “crowdsourcing.” To learn more about crowdsourcing, read Wired magazine’s 2006 description.

Extraordinaries is one organization using crowdsourcing and changing the way people volunteer. Imagine taking your wasted moments at a doctor’s office and using that time to help others. Or, while taking your child or grandchild to a park, photograph the equipment with your cell phone. KaBOOM! offers you the chance to play at the park and help create a national map of play spaces. Your photos can also alert them to dangerous play areas across the nation. I actually worked at the Children’s Museum of Denver in 1993 when a little boy suffocated in a city-owned playground outside. That was a terrible day and reinforces the concept that casual photographing of dangerous spaces may actually help save lives.

Go ahead and be extraordinary! Try a ten-minute volunteer gig. Report back and let me know your thoughts.

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4 Responses to Volunteer experiences—times are a-changin!

  1. Dave Parker says:

    Great post Ashley!

  2. Judi Greenup says:

    I have found much reward in volunteering and will continue and yes keep an eye out for the “too good to be true fundraisers!” Love the KaBOOM! to keep kids safe I will pass it along to everyone I know!

    • Ashley Kasprzak says:

      Judi,

      That’s nice of you to comment! You should feel proud that you have given so much of your time to Van Buren. It sets a super example for Hailey and James, plus you’ve given them incredible experiences they wouldn’t have otherwise.

      Ashley

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