By Julie Holdaway
Published in the Orange County Register on April 1, 2013
Nonprofits can drum up more support by giving a precise, personal picture of the good work they do.
I do not work for a nonprofit by accident.
It's my passion. It's what drives my interests.
You can imagine what that means for my family and friends, who frequently are conscripted to paint murals and collect books; to plant and dig.
And I'll be honest. As much as we are out and about engaging with nonprofits throughout Orange County, my family has favorites. There are a handful of nonprofits that I can always get young and old excited about.
For example, my family loves volunteering at the Orange County Food Bank.
Who would think that making and breaking down boxes and stuffing them with rice, powdered milk and peanut butter would be ...fun?
The true magic is the Food Bank's ability to translate a repetitive activity into a genuinely meaningful experience. The key ingredient is "The Brief."
The Food Bank starts each volunteer shift with a query: "Can you imagine what it is like to go without food?"
Mark Lowry, director at the Orange County Food Bank, does not talk vague statistics about the too many seniors hungry in our communities. Instead, he connects each of us to their cause by talking of the "Grandmas and Grandpas" among us who are hungry. Those are real men and women we can identify with whose incomes do not stretch through the end of each month.
As volunteers, we are invited not to be inspired by the number of boxes we handle, but by the number of healthy meals we are providing to "Grandmas and Grandpas."
Of course, Mark and his team are not the only ones providing briefs at the beginning of each volunteer activity. As nonprofits, we are telling our story all the time. We excel at stating our mission. (The nonprofit where I work, for example, annually connects 40,000 volunteers to nonprofit projects).
By highlighting "The Brief," I make a distinction between our mission and day-to-day marketing messages to suggest that too few of us translate the work of each and every volunteer into direct impact.
"The Brief" is as important as getting your volunteers to your organization. It sets context. Before you focus on the tasks at hand, focus on two key elements about each specific volunteer project: task significance and impact to you clients.
Can you tell me why painting a wall, coaching a soccer team, and even answering phones can revolutionize someone's life?