Wednesday, November 21, 2007

November Tutor/Mentor Conference Part 1 - Volunteer Recruitment Workshop

Last Thursday and Friday, we had our November Tutor/Mentor Conference at Olympia Fields Country Club in the south suburbs of Chicago. It was a great success and I really appreciate everyone who showed up and participated in our conference.

On Thursday morning, I had the privilege of leading a panel discussion on volunteer recruitment (and along with that volunteer retention and strategies for collaboration between programs). Along with me, Erin McPartlin from Cabrini Green Tutoring and Alex Cornwell from Chicago Lights at Fourth Presbyterian Church led the panel. I cannot say enough how appreciate their wisdom and experience in helping out with this discussion. Without them, I wouldn't have had such success with the panel.

Our panel touched on several important points - the first being where to find volunteers. A lot of people were unaware of the plethora of websites including our own Tutor/Mentor Connection website where volunteers can find out about programs, as well as websites such as Volunteer Match where organizations can find out about people wanting to volunteer. Also, I think people forget the good old method of word-of-mouth and in our panel discussion we emphasized the power of encouraging current volunteers to recruit their friends, co-workers and loved ones to volunteer along with them.

In volunteer recruitment, we also forget that retaining volunteers is an issue. Many programs that start in September are lucky to have 60% of their volunteers by the end of the year. A lot of this is due to outside circumstances (notably being transferred for a job) but a lot of people lose volunteers due to dissatisfaction on the volunteer's part. What Erin, Alex, and I emphasized is that our programs are really businesses that are selling a product - which is the product of helping a child out. Our volunteers are really our customers and if they're not happy with our product, then something needs to be changed. Something that might seem obvious, but that seems to work well with our programs is encouraging the volunteers not only to interact socially with our students, but also with each other. A lot of the volunteers in our program are young, 20 or 30-something professionals who are either single, or married but don't have kids yet. A great way for them to socialize is by going out after tutoring and having fun with each other.

Finally, the point that we wanted to drive home, and that I also tried to promote in my volunteer recruitment campaign is the importance of collaboration. Difference programs are NOT competing for volunteers, but rather working towards the same goal and have a lot to learn from each other. I certainly learned a lot from Erin and Alex and their programs and I think everyone who attended the panel did too.

Friday, November 9, 2007

My Own Personal Brand

Earlier today, my boss, Dan Bassill, pointed me to fantastic blog called Perspectives from the Pipeline, written by Rosetta Thurman, a young African-American woman working at a non-profit in the Washington DC area. I recommend that you read all of her entries, but the one that Dan recommend I read, and which I thought was especially relevant was titled "Get Yourself a Reputation: Blogging for Personal Branding." In this post, Ms. Thurman discusses the issues that young people of my generation face in entering the work force that is dominated by our parents' and grandparents' generation. Ms Thurman's approach to this issue of making a name for herself and setting a positive example of people of our generation. She accomplishes this through her blog - a way of creating her own personal brand and she has been extremely successful with this way of branding. I too hope that through my blog and my outreach I will also create a personal brand that people will recognize as positive and want to invest in as I get further along in my career. Probably one of the most personally gratifying things that I've heard in the past week is when an acquaintance from Northwestern who's a recent graduate as well and who is also working in the non-profit sector told me "Oh Nicole, I love reading your blog!" Hopefully people will be inspired by Ms. Thurman's blog and all that she has accomplished and eventually be inspired by my blog as well.

Another blog that I have recently discovered is that of Will Okun's, a young teacher working in a Chicago inner-city high school. Mr. Okun is one of the bloggers for Nicholas Kristof, one of my favorite columnists, New York Times column. Mr. Okun rights about triumphs and struggles of working with inner-city African-American teenagers - something that I can definitely relate to. In his latest blog post, "Understand?", Mr. Okun writes about the question of whether black teachers are better able to connect with and help black children succeed than white teachers. This is something that I have often asked myself - "What is a white girl from Eugene, OR with a degree from Northwestern University doing working with black kids from Chicago's Cabrini-Green Housing Project." I've found that with some kids I can relate to automatically - we'll discuss hip hop music (I even introduced them to some of my favorite artists who are more underground), tv shows such as Family Guy and Chappelle's Show, and how we love our large, crazy families (one of my students asked, when I told him that his description of his "auntie" sounded a lot like my beloved Aunt Gail, "oh you love your Auntie too!") But then there are some kids who I think just don't understand what I'm doing working here. After one of my middle school girls called me "white girl" (no, I have a name, thank you very much) I told my frustrations to one of the graduates of the program who I've become friends with. He sighed and expressed his dismay over the lack of role models that these kids have and told me "Just keep doing what you're doing, because it's obvious you love them and you're a great role model, especially for our girls." That pretty much made my day and it made me realize that despite the fact that all these kids need positive, African-American role models who have experienced what they have experienced, doesn't mean that you loving them and helping them isn't doing them a world of good too.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Blurring the Lines between Non-Profit and For-Profit.

Last night I attended a very interesting panel discussion on the need for more interaction between for-profits and non-profits. Three women, who all had worked in both the for-profit world and the non-profit worlds talked about the importance of the intersection of the two, because both would benefit. The panel discussed everything from the different ways for-profits can help out non-profits to ways non-profits can become more like for-profits. One interesting fact that I learned is that $295 billion is donated to non-profits each year, but only 4% of that is from corporations. This statistic is changing as corporate social responsibility is becoming a hot topic and companies such as the Gap or Motorola are selling products that benefit certain organizations, but still much more could be done in the for-profit world to help out the non-profit world.

One of the best things about last night's discussion was that it was sponsored by CampusCATALYST - a new organization started by Northwestern students that (in its mission statement) states that it "seeks to direct the innovation, ingenuity, and problem solving skills of America's future leaders towards community development by cultivating a rich academic and social entepreneurship experience for college students and tangible solutions for nonprofits." This winter, CampusCATALYST will put on a seminar at Northwestern where students will become consultants to non-profits in Evanston and help them work out organizational issues and come up with innovative ways to make the non-profit more successful.

A question that I posed to the panel was how could business schools become more involved in helping out non-profits. There is an issue of business schools staying away from teaching about non-profit management because it's not "glamorous" enough (in the words of one of the speakers who was trying to start a non-profit management program at the University of Illinois at Chicago.) However, Kellogg School of Business Management - Northwestern's business school has been instrumental in having business students be consultants to non-profits and offering a degree in non-profit management. I have discussed the wealth of opportunities that non-profits could offer to business schools and that business schools could offer to non-profit in previous blog posts. All of the panelists agreed with this assertion and hoped that students such as those who attended last night's panel discussion would be advocates for more non-profit management programs at business schools and more opportunities at business schools for students to work with non-profit.

A great way that business people could get involved in non-profits is at the Center for Economic Progress, where people involved in the financial and accounting world can help low-income families become financially savvy. A fantastic program they have, that begins in January is a program where people take courses to become volunteers to help low-income families fill out their tax forms. A lot of these families' tax forms are a lot more complicated than yours or mine and a lot of them qualify for Earned-Income Tax Credit, which can add up to a lot of money. Please visit their website to find out more.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Civic Engagement at Northwestern University Conference

First of all - apologies for not blogging in almost a month! We're gearing up for our November Tutor/Mentor Conference, which will be held Thursday November 15th and Friday November 16th at Olympia Fields Country Club in the south suburbs of Chicago. I've been e-mailing all of our contacts in our Tutor/Mentor Connection Program Database and inviting them to come. I will also be leading a panel discussion on volunteer recruitment. I invite anybody who is interested in the subjects of tutoring and mentoring - or just helping kids in general to come.

Meanwhile, I have been doing other things as well in regards to expanding my knowledge about civic engagement. Last Friday, I attended a day-long conference about civic engagement and Northwestern University. Throughout my four years of college, I came to realize that Northwestern does a fantastic job of giving students opportunities to volunteer and become active in both the local and global communities. However, there doesn't seem to be a lot of coordination between the various service organizations, fellowships, and studies that all are going towards somewhat the same goal. That's why I was so pleased to see that Northwestern was holding a conference on this very topic.

The conference began with speakers who spoke about the psychological reasons for why certain people are more inclined to engage civically. We then had a panel discussion by three people from Stanford, Brown and Duke Universities who all have successful models for centers for community service, public service, or civic engagement -all different ways of describing the same thing. Basically, Northwestern is now looking into making their various opportunities for community service into a center where all these opportunities will be coordinated.

What was especially great about this conference, was during the afternoon, we had breakout sessions in small groups to discuss what were the key steps towards that Northwestern could take in order to make this center a possibility. One of my key points, which was very positively received, was to create a facebook-like social networking website where students, faculty and members of the outside community who dealt directly with Northwestern could share ideas, learn from each other, post opportunities - both service-wise and academically. Everybody agreed Northwestern had the resources, but needs the support of the administration in order to make this happen. However, I think this conference was a great first step towards a goal that I think is very necessary if Northwestern wants to fulfill its commitment to being civically engaged.

Finally, for your reading pleasure, the Chicago Tribune recently published a series of articles on the plight of ex-convicts finding jobs after leaving jail. One organization, North Lawndale Employment Network is combatting this problem by starting their own business run and operated by ex-convicts. The business is called Sweet Beginnings and they raise honeybees and make their own honey-based beauty products called Beeline Beauty Products. At organizations such as Cabrini Connections, we are trying to break the cycle of cradle to the prison that is so prevelant in communities such as North Lawndale and Cabrini Green. However, organizations such as North Lawndale Employment Network are extremely important too because they are trying to combat another cycle of being in prison over and over again because the difficulty for ex-convicts in finding jobs. The articles are both inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time and I highly recommend them.