5 Tips for Volunteers

Now don’t get me wrong, but even though volunteering is one of the best things a person can do with their time, it can be done incorrectly. By incorrectly I don’t mean that there’s a right way or a wrong way to volunteer. I’m talking about people who don’t do their research and end up volunteering for an organization they dislike or for a cause they don’t truly care about. Even though their efforts are rightfully appreciated, it’s a fact that people do better and more engaged when they’re happy with what they’re doing. With that in mind, here are 5 tips to maximize your volunteering experience.volunteer

  1. Do your research: As I mentioned above, research is key to enjoying your volunteering experience and maximizing the amount help you can give to others. Make sure the organization and cause you’re working with are ones that line up with your beliefs, desires, and emotions. Remember, volunteering should move you and make you feel things.
  2. Consider your skills: If you’re skilled in a certain field, consider volunteering where your unique skills would be put to the most use. Regardless of what your experiences and skills are, there will be places where they will have the maximum effect and pursuing those options would be a great way to help as much as you can.
  3. Don’t overcommit your schedule: Volunteering is exhausting, both physically and emotionally. It also has a very draining effect on your mental stamina and it’s necessary to make sure that you take time off so that you don’t burn out. You won’t be able to help anyone if you’re too tired and drained and so don’t feel bad about taking a break — you need it too.
  4. Search for volunteer opportunities: There are some places that are known for accepting volunteers in droves — hospitals and libraries are two that come to mind. But there are also tons of lesser known organizations and places that would love to have someone volunteer. Look around your community and ask around, what you find may surprise you.
  5. Do you want to learn?: Some volunteering opportunities may end up teaching you skills and imparting information. Think about that when you’re figuring out where you want to spend your time.

These are just 5 tips to make sure you’re volunteering at your best. Read here for more!

Christmas is the Time for Volunteering

Christmas is a special time for so many reasons. When you hear the word, you can’t help but think of family, friends, food, and of course, presents. However, while all of those are great things, there’s no denying that there’s more to Christmas than just material goods. One of the most important aspects of Christmas is the spreading of love and joy to everyone, even people you don’t know. And there is nothing that spreads more joy or shows more love than helping people in need during the holiday season. That’s right, volunteering is the utmost example of the Christmas spirit.

Ask anyone who works in a nonprofit or in charge of volunteers and they’ll all tell you the same thing; when it comes to Christmas, the volunteers are out in droves and have great attitudes about helping any and all. When you think about it, it makes sense. Charity, giving, and helping people in need is a cornerstone of the Bible and for people who have a religious bent to their Christmas celebration, volunteering the day of or the day after is just the logical extension of the Christmas spirit. For those who are more secular in their celebrations, volunteering is just something that feels good and is still in line with a more non-religious version of Christmas. Christmas is a time of giving and after giving gifts to the people you know and love, you should give you time to those who don’t have the fortune that you do.

Not only are people more giving of their time, they are also more generous with financial donations. For those who aren’t in the mood to help people in person, the option of donating money is always available and donations spike during the holiday season. While it’s not the same as being there in person (though it’s also neither worse nor better), donations can be a huge boon to nonprofits that frequently struggle to raise the necessary funds to help people, especially during the holiday season.

If you’d like to read more, the link is here.

10 Amazing Tech Nonprofits, Part 2

Last month I began a list of the 10 best technology nonprofits that can be found around the world. I told you a little about them and their missions, as well as linking you to their websites so that you can donate, volunteer, or simply spread awareness about the amazing work that they’re doing with technology! Now, I’m going to finish my list and tell you about the remaining 5 and how they’re looking to change the world as we know it.jonathan offt, cedar rapids, iowa, nonprofit

  1. KoBo Toolbox: This nonprofit was developed by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and consists of an open-source set of tools for data collection and analysis in regards to disasters and humanitarian relief. This sort of data can be used to deliver needed supplies to the areas that are the hardest hurt and KoBo has partnered with the United Nations and the International Rescue Committee to make electronic disaster relief data more reliable and easier to access during times of crisis.
  2. The Guardian Project: This is a technology startup that focuses on internet privacy and making sure that people’s work and personal data is hidden from prying eyes. They make simple, customized, and secure apps for anyone, ranging from citizens to journalists, so that whatever they are working on is safe from monitoring and interception.
  3. TechSoup Global: Along with a fantastic name, this nonprofit is also doing fantastic work. This company focuses on the fact that computers are difficult to come by, especially for organizations that need them most like schools and nonprofits. They work to bring a wider access to computers to groups and organizations that need them, as well as connecting those organizations to people with the skills and motivation to use those computers to their utmost potential.
  4. Code For Progress: This nonprofit focuses on bring women and people of color into the world of technology and coding. Both of these groups are wildly underrepresented in the technology world and this company is looking to even and diversify the playing field.
  5. Change.org: This is one of the better known technology nonprofits out there (I’m sure all of you have come across a petition from them). This company is an online petition and activism portal that allows people to connect with causes they truly believe in, both through the signing of petitions as well as by giving more information on these causes.

This wraps up this series of posts about some of the most impressive technology nonprofits out there. While these are the ones I wrote about, there are so many others that are using technology to change the world. Explore them all and if you’d like to read more, the link is here!

10 Amazing Tech Nonprofits, Part 1

Technology is quickly becoming one of the quickest ways to change and improve the world. The ability to spread ideas and knowledge so easily is hugely important to addressing of inequality and lack of opportunity. Here are 10 tech nonprofits that are looking to change the world as we know it!

jonathan offt, cedar rapids, iowa

Image: One Laptop Per Child

  1. NPower: This nonprofit makes technology for social good. They have two main programs: one, the Technology Service Corps, is catered to underserved youths and veterans and the other, the Community Corps, works to connect skilled technology professionals with high impact nonprofits so that they can educated through the internet.
  2. Center for Democracy and Technology: This nonprofit is focused on the current battleground that is the fight over net neutrality. It works to maintain freedom of expression and to preserve the user experience that the internet provides. It has offices both in the US as well as abroad.
  3. Child’s Play: This is a video game industry charity that works with hospitals. It aims to increase the living quality of kids in hospitals for extended periods of time by providing them with video games and game consoles. They take donations from anyone and anywhere and also have an Amazon wish list for the children. With over 70 hospitals taking part and more signing up every week, this is a great charity to bring some happiness into the lives of those who need it.
  4. One Laptop Per Child: This nonprofit works to improve global education standards by providing rugged, low-power and low-cost laptops with internet connection. By focusing on the commonly agreed-upon truth that education is the best way to solve poverty and inequality, One Laptop hopes to educated the most underserved in the poorest countries.
  5. Code.org: First launched in 2013, Code.org focuses on expanding computer science courses in schools across the country and works to promote all STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) courses as well. With an aim to make these classes part of the nation-wide core curriculum, Code.org wants to help America regain its advantage in fields where it has been lacking.

These are just 5 of the many amazing tech nonprofits that exist in this world. If you’d like to read more, the link is here and the rest are coming in the next blog post!

Los Angeles Has A Different Type of Volunteer

First responders and EMTs are frequently the unsung and under-appreciated heroes who save lives every day throughout the country, dealing with all sorts of terrifying and depressing injuries and situations. However while these men and women are highly skilled and trained when it comes to stabilizing life and saving people, they aren’t trained when it comes to something that it arguably more difficult, caring for and comforting the relatives of those who have just died in accidents or at the hand of someone else. This is where a select group of volunteers come in. Calling themselves the Crisis Response Team, these men and women volunteer their time to comfort and help the relatives of the dead begin the process of moving on.jonathan offt, ceder rapids, iowa, crisis response team,

Frequently found at crime and accident scenes, the Crisis Response Team consists of men and women from all walks of life and communities with the greater Los Angeles area. Led by Joe Avalos, the Crisis Response Team is active at all hours of the day, volunteering their time and comfort to anyone anywhere at anytime. This team is the first of its kind in the city of Los Angeles, and maybe the entire country. There are plenty of responders for physical needs but there aren’t any to support and help those who are left behind when a loved one dies. While the team members do work on the sites of tragedies, they also work with families after the fact.

What does this post tragedy work entail? It can literally be anything and it usually is. Families who encounter tragedies like this are frequently shattered and find it difficult to function over the course of the next few weeks. The Crisis Response Team helps with everything from the actual act of comforting to calling schools to tell them that children won’t be coming in for the next few days, explaining the reasons so that the families don’t have to go through the trauma of reliving their experiences. These volunteers serve a vital role in helping communities overcome tragedy. They come in when the healing that’s needed isn’t medical, it’s emotional, mental, and spiritual. Hopefully more cities begin creating volunteer groups like LA has; the Crisis Response Team is a vital part of emergency services and there’s a serious lack of this kind of compassionate care around the country.

If you’d like to read more, the link is here.

Nonprofit Aims to Educate Educators About Autism

Autism is one of those disorders that can have a range of effects on a person and their social lives. At its best, autism can simply result in some awkwardness during social interactions and maybe some minor ticks. There might also be a predilection towards math, facts, and orderly things that make sense. However those are mild cases and not always the norm. At its worst, autism can be truly crippling, both educationally as well as socially. Children with extreme forms of autism and aspergers can be socially ostracized, not to mention the difficulties with learning that the disorders can cause. Up until now, most school districts and officials have done a relatively poor job of helping those with autism under their care. Now, however, there are nonprofits springing up to help educate the educators about autism and how it can be dealt with best.jonathan_offt_autism

Autism Involves Me is a nonprofit located in Bentonville, Arkansas that wants to educate those in positions of educational and social authority about autism and how to deal with it properly. The group just released its first round of AIM to Educate grants that were created to assist school administrators in serving the needs of students with intellectual and developmental disorders, like autism. The first round of grants totaled $22,566 and was spread between 21 teachers and therapists. The money is to go towards further training as well as setting up classes and rooms for students who have disorders such as autism.

Autism Involve Me is a fully volunteer run group and includes parents of children with autism. The group has existed for several years and both the staff and board of directors are volunteers who make no money from their activities. It is a fully local charity too in that it makes and spends money locally, although it will accept donations from abroad. Along with focusing on educating about autism, the group also works to provide financial and social support for parents of children with autism as well as fully-grown autistic adults. As more and more people learn about autism, these sorts of groups will be on the front lines, fighting for the rights of the autistic to gain the support they need to learn and live as functioning adults.

If you’d like to read more, the link is here.

Volunteering Is Good For The Elderly Heart

Volunteering your time is one of the more noble things a person can do with the free time they might’ve spent on other activities. It’s not only helpful for those that are in need and who are being served, but it’s also good for the community at large and can strengthen bonds between groups of people who might not have all that much else in common. Now it turns out that volunteering is good for something else, your health. When you think about it, this makes sense. People who are happier and who feel as though they have some sort of purpose are usually healthier than those who are miserable and float around in a daze. While this is something that most people have known and science has proven, there is now more proof that volunteering, specifically, is great for your heart and your health.Volunteering-SVG

According to a study by Carnegie Mellon University, there is a clear connection between volunteering and heart health. It turns out that adults over 50 who volunteer regularly are much less likely to develop high blood pressure when compared to people of the same age who don’t volunteer. The study goes even further and makes the claim that volunteer work might be a good alternative to pharmaceutical options aimed at lowering blood pressure due to the lack of negative side effects. Volunteering also reduces the risk of heart disease, something that becomes more and more of a threat as you grow older. For those interested in volunteering, there are a number of organizations aimed at helping the elderly find opportunities near them that aren’t too stressful or energy intensive. There are also soup kitchens, elder homes, museums, tutoring classes, and sick children that are always in need of volunteers to help bring a smile to faces and ease the passing of time.

No matter what you choose, the fact that volunteering is good for the heart is just one more reason to get out there and change someone’s life. Add the health benefits to the fact that you’re promoting community bonds and social inclusion and volunteering seems like more and more of a no brainer. So just go do it! Make a difference! Safe a life! Help your heart and mind be healthy!

If you’d like to read more, the link is here.

Nonprofit to Give Climate Change Report in W. Virginia

When most people think of West Virginia, the mind generally tends to stray towards unflattering portrayals of hillbillies, mountain people, and maybe some sort of stereotypical inbreeding situation with moonshine stills in the background. What a lot of people don’t understand is that West Virginia tends to contain some of the most gorgeous natural environment our country has and that it’s full of mountain, rivers, and forests. It also happens to be one of the largest producers and users of coal in the country and so the environmental and coal lobbies tend to congregate on the state to duke it out over climate change and governmental regulation on coal and other fossil fuels.

Due to the environmental battleground the state has become, there are constant reports being done about coal mining, fossil fuel emissions, and how they affect nature. Today a nonprofit is taking a report on climate change to the West Virginia Board of Education for their January meeting. Written by Friends of Blackwater and called “On the Chopping Block” , the report focuses on climate change impact on the mountainous regions of the state. The Friends of Blackwater is a nonprofit organization that focuses on protecting the Blackwater Canyon as well as moving over 3,000 acres of land that has been marked for logging into protected private ownership so that the forests remain untouched.

The report is going to be the first report to take a fully comprehensive look at the impact of climate change on mountainous area, specifically the Allegheny Highlands. There is already evidence to those living in the area that climate change is have a very negative effect and those in the organization, as well as those living near by, hope that this report will help show the country just how serious climate change is and how it is already affecting those living in areas susceptible to it. The hope is that this report will finally help convince all the climate change deniers that they’re wrong and action needs to have been taken years in the past and that it’s hopefully not too late.

If you’d like to read more, the link is here.

The Checkout Charity Trap

Jonathan Offt - Checkout Charity TrapAsking for donations at retail checkout counters is becoming an increasingly common trend, particularly during this time of the year. Research indicates that such drives, although not a major contributor to driving up sales for a retailer, is not altogether a wasted effort. Most of it depends on the category of the donation and also on the execution strategies employed.

Perry Yeatman, in his article for Philanthropy.com, says that generally, charity at checkout does not tend to increase spending more or enable the customer to warm up to the retailer. Sometimes, quite the opposite may happen when people feel somewhat ambushed by the expected pitch when they have their wallets already open. Most people feel guilty and awkward with people standing in line behind them within hearing range and end up donating to something they probably weren’t even listening about until the registrar asked for money. A little resentment towards the retailer after this socially-awkward interaction is therefore, warranted.

Nowadays, people are more deeply involved in charitable givings than ever before. People tend to research thoroughly about the cause and the organization before fully committing and such surprise petty pitches on something they may not even be interested in is rarely welcomed. Besides, as more retailers adopt this method, making it a regular check-out custom, people will eventually learn to be indifferent and simply say no without second thoughts.

Nonprofits need to focus on demonstrating value to attract a well-informed and motivated donor base to ensure recurring or at least, heavy donations. The ‘Impact per dollar’ knowledge helps the donor understand how their money will be used and makes them more inclined to whip out their wallets.

Short-term techniques like checkout charity will only create short-term donors. Economist James Andreoni, explains that people do not only donate to affect change, but also to feel positive about themselves afterwards. Impulse charity like checkout charity leaves the donor feeling confused, which is not exactly a desirable first impression on the people you want to keep dedicated to your cause.

Nonetheless, checkout charity is gaining popularity because of how simple it is to implement. The retailers appear generous to the customers without having to invest anything in the charitable cause. For retailers who choose to host checkout charity, the least they can do is make sure it is a charity that resonates with the customer on some level, even if it is something as simple as asking donations for underprivileged children in a toy store checkout instead of asking donations for cancer research. Relevancy is the key.

Volunteering is Declining in America

Dire economic straits always end up affecting things that were never really on anyone’s mind and in ways that are totally unexpected. One of the victims of our country’s most recent economic situation is volunteering. There are less people volunteering less hours and it’s a real issue for those who used to rely on those services to make life a little easier and more bearable. Volunteering has had a long and successful history in the United States of America and is even enshrined in our constitution (the right to form voluntary associations). Throughout history people have always been surprised at the amount of volunteering Americans do and many people have mentioned how it seems to be a defining characteristic of being “American”. Now with these rough economic times, people are no longer volunteering for a number of reasons.

The first and most obvious reason for the drop in volunteering and charity is do to money. The economy has put people in difficult financial situations and so they’re donating less money than before. Seeing as how donations and fundraising make up the majority of charity and volunteering, it makes sense that they would be the most obviously affected. People have less money to give away to those in need and they need that money to help their own families stay clothed and fed. People are also spending more time working and supporting their families. This has lead to a drop in people volunteering for activities such as driving, serving food at kitchens, and tutoring those who need extra help.

While the actual volunteering numbers differ by state (Utah has far more than Arkansas), the overall trend isn’t looking good. We need to find a way to get people interested in volunteering and charity again. Not only are the actual health benefits fantastic, there are people all over the country in desperate need of help and they can’t be left hanging in the wind all alone.

If you’d like to read more, the link is here.