Meeting the Changing Needs of Local Volunteerism
At the Community Foundation, we have an entire team dedicated to creating a stronger, more connected ecosystem for community action across our region. The Civic Innovations team collaborates with local nonprofit and civic organizations, business leaders, institutions of higher education, and government entities to ensure our neighbors have the tools and resources to use their time and voices in ways that feel meaningful and generate the most impact.
Throughout the past year, our team has expanded partnerships and launched new programs to meet the changing needs of volunteerism in Greater Richmond. “People have been challenged by the pandemic — they’ve been pushed to their limits in lots of ways and they’re re-evaluating what’s important to them,” said Vanessa Diamond, Senior VP of Civic Innovations. “What we’re seeing is that volunteerism, or being a part of the solution for Richmond, is a way for us to continue to heal. People want to get involved, and there are so many ways we can meet you, your family, business, or group where you are and connect you with meaningful volunteer opportunities in your community.”
Assessing Volunteerism During COVID-19
How have local nonprofits adapted their volunteer programs during the pandemic, and what might this mean for the future of volunteering? To answer these questions, the Community Foundation has partnered with Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Richmond for a comprehensive survey of our region’s volunteerism landscape. By analyzing nonprofit data from surveys conducted in both 2020 and 2021, we can better respond to how nonprofit and volunteer needs have shifted in the last year.
The full study will be published later this year, but a preliminary analysis shows notable increase in the number of different ways organizations are engaging individuals in volunteer efforts, with a new interest in virtual and DIY volunteer opportunities. “Nonprofits have been continually responding both to COVID-19 and the social impacts of the pandemic over the past year,” Diamond noted. “These organizations are nimble and creative about the ways they’re delivering services, and they are continually altering the ways they can bring the community into their work.”
Engaging the Business Community
To support businesses in achieving greater social impact, ChamberRVA and the Community Foundation recently launched the Business Community Engagement Collaborative (BCEC) – a convening of community-minded business professionals interested in building relationships and sharing best practices on volunteer engagement and philanthropy. “In order to address the critical needs in our community, it takes all sectors coming together, and businesses are a big part of that,” shared Megyn Robertson, Corporate Program Coordinator. “This program is creating a space for the business sector to build the necessary skills and knowledge for collective effort, and to develop meaningful connections with one another.”
The next BCEC meeting, “Driving Employee Engagement,” will be held on Sept. 16. Keep an eye on the ChamberRVA website for details to come.
Facilitating Skills-Based Volunteering
As overseers of our region’s volunteer and civic engagement hub, HandsOn Greater Richmond, our team has spent years building relationships with local organizations to understand their unique volunteer needs and establish solutions that provide an optimal volunteer experience. A recent trend we’ve seen is an increased demand for skills-based volunteering, which involves volunteer projects that require a specific expertise to complete. This provides critical support to organizations who are striving to stretch their resources and expand their impact – and allows professionals to engage their talents to strengthen the capacity of nonprofits.
“We know that there’s so much incredible talent and expertise in this region, and we want to harness it for good,” Diamond said. To match skilled volunteers to the needs of local organizations, we launched Skills Connect. This program enables nonprofits to define upcoming projects and allows volunteers to specify their skills and declare interest in the projects relevant to them. In the past year, this pilot program has facilitated 26 skills-based volunteer projects serving 20 different local organizations, with project focuses spanning from graphic design to database management.
If you want to volunteer your skills and time, you can get started at the Skills Connect webpage.
Planning for Individual Action
Because there are so many ways to be an agent of change in our community, deciding on a path forward can seem overwhelming. “Community issues are super complex, and it can be hard to figure out where to start and how to navigate the nonprofit community,” Robertson said. “Finding clarity around what motivates you—including your values, interests and abilities—can ensure that you’re having the greatest impact and also having the best experience.”
Through the program Civic Life Today: A Plan to Action, we help individuals align their interests to actions that can amplify change in areas of community need they care about most. This 60-minute session explores nine different ways to be civically engaged, examines core issues in our community, and creates space for participants to uncover their own personal motivations that will propel their actions forward. To date, over 200 individuals across the region have sharpened their community engagement through Civic Life Today.
The next Civic Life Today session takes place virtually on August 18 from 4:00-5:15 p.m. For groups of 20 or more, we can create a custom Civic Life Today session for you – contact Megyn Robertson at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.