Converting good intentions in to greater impact

Principles in Action, Principle 1: Collective Effort towards Greater Impact

Principles in Action, Principle 1: Collective Effort towards Greater Impact

By Brian Agnew, spring and summer 2014 Bank of America Service Leadership Fellow with Reimagining Service

Reimagining Service recently surveyed over 300 individuals who have signed on in support of the four key Principles to find out how these principles have come to life in their organizations. Let’s start off by revisiting Principle 1.

Principle 1: The volunteer ecosystem is more effective when all sectors participate in its evolution. Volunteerism doesn’t exist in a single sector and the responsibility of successful volunteer engagement resides beyond nonprofits alone. We are interdependent when it comes to this work and together we can increase the impact of volunteerism by working to improve the system across all sectors (i.e., nonprofit, private, faith-based, education, government).

But what does Principle 1 actually look like in action?  What are the practical benefits?  What obstacles might an organization encounter along the way?  What can be done to overcome these struggles and form better partnerships?  Principle 1 is about getting everyone involved, about building relationships and sharing ideas that advance the knowledge and practice of volunteerism, which requires communication, persistence, and commitment.

What are the pay-offs?

Our respondents mentioned several things when the volunteer ecosystem represents a diverse group of players, including these highlights:

  • Buy-in from multiple sectors increases legitimacy and community support
  • Sharing resources and skillsets amplifies long-term impact
  • Dedicated attention is needed to preserve the volunteer ecosystem concept
  • All sides of the partnership benefit—volunteer suppliers, volunteer recipients, and individual volunteers themselves!

The United Way of Dane County, Wisconsin hosted a summit to bring leaders together across sectors within their community to re-envision volunteerism in the area.  Participants heard about the TCC Group’s Core Capacity Assessment Tool (CCAT) research, which examines the connection between nonprofit capacity building and volunteer engagement, and discussed how to apply the Reimagining Service principles to their work and how to start and sustain volunteer engagement partnerships. Each participant left the conference with an individualized action plan of next steps that will contribute to the community’s collective approach to volunteerism.

Reading Partners in northern California directly credits the variety of volunteers they get from cross-sector partnering to its ability to meet strategic objectives.  Reading Partners offers one-on-one tutoring to kindergarteners through fifth graders who struggle with literacy skills. Having a larger pool of personalities and interests among their tutors allows them to better match tutors with kids in need.

The National Park Service’s new strategic plan increases its emphasis on partnerships.  As an example, the federal agency intends to align educational opportunities with local, state, and national standards, partner with nonprofits and community groups to educate and reclaim parks as “places of healing,” and to share resources and materials with volunteer organizations.

Businesses benefit through marketing and teambuilding, but also by offering leadership development opportunities to employees.  Employee volunteers may also act outside of the skillset used for their day jobs, giving them the chance to develop personal and professional interests.

Common Obstacles

The common theme across all responses is getting everyone on the same page.  Expectations of the individual volunteer and all sides of the partnership must be clear.  This factor is important in recruiting and retaining volunteers, applying volunteer skill sets to meaningful and valuable work, and in showing volunteers that they can make a real difference.

Students Run LA, among other respondents, suggests seeking strategic partnerships.  Aligning missions between cross-sector partners is essential, but it is also important to match what volunteers want to give with what the organization needs.  Over time, partnerships form closer relationships so that each side can be more responsive to the evolving needs of the other.

Partnerships sound great, but do they affect the whole community?

Yes!  The Gap Foundation, beyond its role as a funder, has partnered with local nonprofit organizations across the country and started valuable professional development programs for youth-serving nonprofit leaders like the Gap Leadership Initiative.  Specialists and private-sector experts from the corporate side of Gap volunteer their pro bono services for strategic planning and web design among many other professional skills.  To quote Gap Foundation President and Reimagining Service Chair, Bobbi Silten, “[i]t’s been hugely transformative for our foundation to integrate skilled volunteering into our work.  We couldn’t have the kind of community impact we are having if we only relied on our cash.”

Cross-sector partnerships are fruitful for everyone!  Stay tuned for more blogs on the other Reimagining Service principles.