This April, in honor of National Volunteer Month and Week (April 15-21, 2018), we’ll be featuring stories of how volunteers are impacting states and the ways in which state service commissions are harnessing the power of volunteers to meet critical local needs through the federal Volunteer Generation Fund (VGF) program. Learn more at statecommissions.org/volunteer-generation-fund.
Today’s spotlight is on the Kansas Volunteer Commission (KVC).
Hello, everyone! My name is Jamie Crispin and I am the Outreach & Engagement Specialist at the Kansas Volunteer Commission (KVC) located in Topeka. My commission prides itself on being a small-but-mighty staff. I am sure many of you can relate. Our goals are all the same, right? We strive to increase volunteerism. We want to recruit the best organizations for the AmeriCorps State program. We aim to provide responsive and current training to our community partners. All the while, hoping we go another year without an IPERA audit. Eek, why did I say it out loud?
Sometimes, as a small-but-mighty commission, it seems there is always MORE we can do. We have big dreams, but a skeleton crew. We have big hearts, but restricted funds. So, what to do? Our solution! To write a competitive Volunteer Generation Fund (VGF) proposal and pray to the grant gods for their favor.
As the state service commission, we know the data shows more Kansans are volunteering. Our schools encourage a life of civic engagement, our businesses want to give back, and families are seeking volunteer opportunities together. Our state has a strong volunteering spirit and at the commission level we wanted to foster that spirit.
On the flip side, our nonprofits and especially volunteer centers are attempting to meet the increased demand. Their response is to foster new partnerships and expand their coverage areas to engage more volunteers. Of course, many of them are doing this with no change to their budget or staffing structure. The small-but-mighty staff syndrome seems to be an epidemic. As a result, we have been looking for a solution to change their flat lined funding.
To find the pulse of the state’s needs, we surveyed volunteer managers and volunteer center staff about the resources they were lacking. We collaborated closer with our hosting organization, Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE), knowing civic engagement was part of their strategic plan. We reviewed our State Service Plan to see how our priorities intersected with the above. After lots of brainstorming, we created three initiatives to generate more Kansas volunteers: 1) build capacity in volunteer connector organizations, 2) become a Service Enterprise Hub and 3) encourage school-based volunteering. We felt strongly that these initiatives would help the volunteer programs, but moreover, support the staff engaging those volunteers, too.
Well, the grant gods did look upon us with favor. On one fine day last year, KVC became one of 15 state service commissions to receive the VGF funding. For once, our small-but-mighty staff felt accomplished, progressive, and in-the-game! After high-fives and cheers all around, it was time to get down to business.
Fast forward to now, the KVC has awarded nearly $80,000 to four volunteer connector agencies in Kansas. For all four organizations, this money means hiring additional staff to do more good. In their words, this funding has filled a much needed gap and lifted some weight from their shoulders. To us, we know the volunteer connector agencies will have greatest reach in our state’s volunteerism. Recently, we conducted a day-long training with our subgrantees. Each presented on their organizations and VGF goals. We were overwhelmed by their passion, persistence, and commitment to their counties. We can’t say it loud enough. Great things are happening in Kansas, just watch!
Kansas is proud to be ranked #7 in volunteering among states according to the Volunteering and Civic Life in America report. But, as a state service commission, we have our hearts set on being in the top five. This change cannot happen without preparing our voluntary organizations for the challenge. Earlier this year, KVC was accepted by Points of Light to become the first Service Enterprise Hub in Kansas. The Service Enterprise Initiative (SEI) is a national change management program which helps organizations better meet their missions through the power of volunteers. Being an SEI Hub, means facilitating the evidence-based certification process for interested organizations. KVC will train, coach, and support organizations who want to adjust their internal culture to effectively engage volunteers. KVC is happy to report we will be recruiting our first EVER SEI cohort this year. Woot woot!
If you are wondering about the SEI impact, let me tell you this certification will change the volunteer landscape in Kansas. For those that need evidence, according to the Points of Light website, “Research shows that nonprofits that operate as Service Enterprises are equally as effective as their peers but at almost half the median budget, and are significantly more adaptable, sustainable and capable of going to scale.” SEI certified organizations will connect more volunteers to community problems. Organizations, nonprofits, schools, mentoring organizations will reimagine service and what it looks like for their mission. That means a better return on volunteer investment, and hopefully, getting Kansas in the top five states for volunteering. Fingers crossed!
We have made great progress on our VGF initiatives, but soon to emerge will be the promotion of school-based volunteering. KVC staff will communicate and train Kansas schools on how using community volunteers will meet their unique needs. KVC is certain our expertise and resources will give schools the nudge they need in the right direction to use volunteers both inside and outside the classrooms. Stay tuned for our progress.
In all, we would not have the impact or technical knowledge to support the Kansas communities without this VGF funding. This grant means so much to our commission, but it means so much more to the agencies, volunteers, and communities who will benefit from this grant award.
So, during this National Volunteer Week, I find myself reflecting on our small-but-mighty staff and how our vision has always been mightier than us. For that, we don’t apologize. We see overestimating ourselves as one of our strengths. As Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz, “There is no place like home.” (And you thought we would finish this blog without a Wizard of Oz reference!) To us, there is no better way to tackle critical needs, but in local communities through local change makers.
As state commissions, we have the benefit of being part of a national network, but being rooted in our state networks. To all of those large-but-mighty and especially to the small-but-mighty staff, we say this, “dream big.”
May your vision always be bigger than your staff! Happy National Volunteer Week!
Jamie Crispin is passionate about developing volunteer engagement leaders. As an AmeriCorps Alum and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer she understands the impact of volunteerism in our communities and on our personal development. Mrs. Crispin has over ten years’ experience engaging volunteers and recently earned her Certification in Volunteer Administration (CVA). Currently, she is the Outreach and Engagement Specialist at the Kansas Volunteer Commission. In her spare time, she chases after her two sons and enjoys listening to true crime podcasts.
Since 1993, the Kansas Volunteer Commission (KVC) has been promoting volunteerism by administering the AmeriCorps Kansas programs, strengthening volunteer centers, and supporting mentoring organizations through funds, training and technical assistance.
To learn more about Kansas’s VGF program and subgrantees, click here.