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Volunteerism: Your Path To A Fulfilling Life with Karen Knight, Volunteer Management Consultant

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Did you know that volunteerism can be a path to achieving happiness? It’s no coincidence that the concept of serving your fellow man is included in every 12-step program on the planet. The reason is simple. Volunteering your time to others that can benefit from your effort actually makes you feel good! Join Corinna as she connects with Karen Knight, a volunteer management consultant that helps not-for-profits engage with volunteers so they can extend their reach and build more successes.

We talk about a variety of charities, including Lasagna Love, a volunteer organization that provides food to those who need it when they need it in communities around the globe, Give to Get, a volunteer-driven company that asks people to volunteer their time to attend amazing benefit concerts, and Team in Training, the volunteer arm of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) that builds volunteer teams that raise funds for the LLS while training for marathons and triathlons.

Time Stamps:

00:00 Introductions

02:30 Karen’s path to volunteerism

08:30 Volunteering as a career development path

12:00 Give To Get, Grady Lee’s not-for-profit

13:00 Team in Training fundraising example

19:30 Dr. Vimal Thomas George

23:30 Choosing how you’ll make a difference

27:00 Closing comments & how to unleash your inner activist

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CMBB 64 | Change To Grow
Your Path To A Fulfilling Life: Together WE CAN change the world

Volunteerism: Your Path To A Fulfilling Life with Karen Knight, Volunteer Management Consultant

Today. We’re going to talk about activists. Volunteering and the many ways in which we can all contribute to creating a better world to delve into this topic. I’m joined by Karen Knight. Karen, welcome to the show.

Thank you so much for having me.

Well, it’s lovely to have you here.

This is something I’ve wanted to dive deep into for a while because, you know, heck even my reasons for starting this show all connect to activism, to wanting to make a difference. And so with your work specifically in volunteer management, as a consultant who helps not-for-profits leverage their volunteers so that they have greater impact.

I’d just like to know a little bit more about what your history is, what led you to do that. And ultimately kind of use that as the starting ground of stoking our fires and really thinking about what we can each do to give back to our community.

I came into the field as someone who works with volunteers from a rather convoluted path.

I started out originally as a trained cabinet maker. I built kitchen and bathroom cabinets. One day, I had had a disagreement with my boss and I went home that night and I thought, what am I doing. I had been volunteering for decades, but I never thought of it as a career.

And after this one, rather horrible day at work, I thought I’m getting no satisfaction, no life feeling out of all of this. It’s just a job. So why am I doing it? I have so many skills that could really help people. So, I sat back and did some thinking and I decided that what I really wanted to do that would make a difference in the world would be to help not-for-profits with their volunteer programs. You see, there’s so many not-for-profits out there. They use volunteers and they love their volunteers, but they don’t know how to use them well, to optimize their impact. So, their impact in the world is reduced because of simple tips that I knew I could help them with. So this is the way I can actually make a real difference in the world – by helping others.

Wow. So what was the not-for-profit that kind of started it all off for you?

Oh, I don’t even know what it was called. I started, but I started volunteering when I was around 11 years old. I was visiting my grandmother, and she was quite disappointed because the bingo they were going to have that afternoon had been concelled because they didn’t have anyone to call it. So I said, “well, I can call it.”

And they sat me up and everybody was really happy that their bingo didn’t have to be cancelled. And everybody came up to me afterwards and said, “oh, you made my day. We were so disappointed.” It wasn’t going to happen. And that just lit a fire under me. That’s the start of my volunteering journey. I loved that it made me feel good because it also made other people feel good.

I think a lot of people have this perception of volunteerism as being something like going to a soup kitchen at Thanksgiving and handing out food or working with Habitat For Humanity to help build a house, but it can look like so many different things. So perhaps you can share a little bit about that specifically and the types of work that get done or that heck these not-for-profits need done.

Volunteerism: Build a deeper connection to your community to lead a more fulfilling life

If you think of any paid job, there is a volunteer organization out there who wants help in that. So, say for instance you love social media and you’re on it all the time, you might be able to help your local animal shelter, post stuff on social media for them, and drive their adoption rates and fundraiser success as a result.

The, the field is wide open. If you have a skill or if you want to learn a skill, reach out to a not-for-profit and tell them. Say, this is what I want to do. And if they have need for the work to be done, they’ll gladly take your support.

In an earlier episode, I was able to connect with Rhiannon Menn, founder of Lasagna Love. And she shared the story of how she got that not-for-profit started. And I thought we could use it as kind of a case study or an example, right. If you’re not familiar with lasagna love, just go to lasagna, But what this organization does is they have essentially identify. That people want to give back and want to help their communities.

And so the whole impetus, the whole idea started from Rhiannon’s kitchen. She started making lasagna and offering them on social media to groups saying, is there anyone out there who needs a lasagna? I’ll give you some “lasagna love”, so to speak. And so they were paying it forward using their own ability to cook and have food to other people who either had lost their jobs because of sudden COVID disaster or who just needed a little support.

In some cases, they were just moms who needed a little “lasagna love”. Think of these COVID times. You’re a busy mom. Your kids are stuck at home due to school and daycare closures… And now you’re trapped within the walls of your home. And that effort, that initial ember, it took hold like wildfire. So Rhiannon did a media tour. She got featured on some big nationwide television stations. And then she had reached out to some students at MIT saying, I could really use something to help me to essentially go from this manual process to something more automated that can match people in their communities. They answered that call. So now, if you sign up on their website, and say, I want to make a lasagna for someone — they’ll match you to someone else in your community who needs it. Right? And so these are the sorts of things that can happen for you if you’re running a not-for-profit, sometimes you just need to put the ask out there. You can even reach out to your local university.

You can create a listing for a job board for an unpaid intern through local colleges or even online platforms like Indeed. Whether it be data analysis. Or website work or, or, or, and then individuals who are interested in doing that type of work can find out about it.

If you are a person sitting at your home and you decide, Hey, I really like this particular charity. I’m going to reach out to them. They’re serving my local community and I’m going to tell them these are the things I can volunteer with my time and my skills.

And then ultimately you’re offering something up. You’re doing good in your community. And if your resume’s looking a little light, you can go ahead and put something like that on there too, which can be future career development. So it’s all kind of part of the same thing, right?

Yeah. And if you’re working on building your resume and your volunteer coordinator, your volunteer leader can be a job reference for you. You can get really good job references because it speaks to your dedication and your reliability. All these skills that employers are looking for, you can get covered through your volunteer work.

So Karen, can you tell us a little bit about the work that you’ve done over the last 25 years and connecting, not for profits with individuals who need to volunteer?

I help them with all aspects of their program, their, their management and recruitment and everything recruitment, especially in the last couple of years, of course, because of COVID has been focused a lot on virtual volunteers, getting people to volunteer virtually, and there’s dozens and dozens of different ways.

You can do that, but mostly. It’s about getting the word out for, for not-for-profits it’s it’s making sure people know the need. Is there, there are hundreds of thousands of people who want to have. And they just need to know where and how I just tell me one thing I’m doing organizing right now in, in my local city.

I’m in central, British Columbia, Canada. And in my city of about, I don’t know, I think there’s a hundred thousand people here I’m organizing a volunteer fair. So just like a job fair. Anybody who needs. Volunteers will come in and set up a booth and we’ll just bring the general public in to look at each of the organizations that are looking for help and saying, Hey, that sounds really interesting.

That’s something I can really help you with and match people that way. So that’s a really fun way of doing it is have this big, fair cause everybody can get together. And the energy in it is just, just delightful.

So given that we are in the types of COVID restrictions that we’re seeing now, there is a little bit less, I think, volunteerism even happening in some cases, because people are not necessarily gravitating towards more screen time.

Like if anything, what they’re missing is that in person kind of connection and collaboration. So are you aware of any of these. Happening now, or the, are you starting to see them come up a little bit more or any other creative things that you want to share with the team?

They are starting to come back. We are slowly getting a handle on COVID and we know it’ll never completely go away, but now that people are really understanding better, what it takes to be safe, then those events are starting to happen more often. A lot of. Not for profit organizations that had kind of shrunk down and hunkered down and tried to wait it through are realizing that’s not a good option.

We do have to keep going. And because of that, they’re trying to find ways to bring people back, not only virtually, but also in person and do it safely. It is getting to the point where a lot of not-for-profits that have been quietly sitting in waiting this out are saying, okay, let’s, let’s open back up now.

So there’s going to be a huge cry for volunteers in the very near future.

Yeah. One of the episodes I launched this summer was an interview with Grady Lee who has the not-for-profit give to get, and they organize big events, right? Like at radio city, music hall and, you know, with big stars and people essentially volunteer their time to earn a ticket.

Typically those are sponsored by very big companies like Sony or mega Vox or something along those lines. And that enables them to cover. Basic costs and then be able to give back to charities through this volunteerism. And I just love the ethos of that. It just makes so much sense to me as somebody who loves music, I would absolutely go volunteer a couple of hours of my time to go see a band I love, but we’re looking, I think at a populace of people that’s really itching to get out there, have these in-person interactions be able to contribute.

CMBB S1 9 | Social Justice
Volunteerism doesn’t have to look like leading rallies and speeches. It can be anything you can dream up.

I’ve seen similar things where if you volunteer here, you get something special for you. It seems kind of counter-intuitive. But for every hour you volunteer, you get far more than you could ever get with a pitch. You really do. And not just in intangible things like tickets or, or getting the opportunity to, to meet a hero of yours or something.

Cause you’re, you’re helping them pick them up from the airport or something to bring them to the venue, but just the, the sense of self-worth and, and the idea of the impact that you’re making in the world. It may just be a little bit, but you are making a positive difference to the entire world. By just a few hours of helping out.

Yeah. Or you could do something a little more involved. Like I ran marathons with team and training and team and training is a division essentially of the leukemia and lymphoma society, LLS. Right. So one of the things that I think we should all think about is that it doesn’t have to look like a standard either I’m volunteering office time or I’m volunteering my skills in person by being the sort of manual able.

Labor of this particular arm of this particular charity, it could look like running marathons to raise funds for a charity. It could look like being a coach for one of those marathon teams. So you’re utilizing your coaching skills and your personal development skills to help people learn to train and run long distances.

I ended up doing that when I ran. For our team and training, I ran two full marathons and five half marathons through the course of three seasons, working with them as a training captain and the lighter two of those. And what that enabled me to do was to showcase some of those skills to motivate other people.

It’s forged strong friendships and also not get bored with the process because I’d already done the training. And this gave me a way to stay engaged and involved with the next couple of seasons of recruits that come through. And through the course of that time, I was able to raise $20,000 for the charity, which would fund an entire single researcher like one researcher doing cancer risks.

For half of a year, and those are tangible ideas that you can get behind. Yes. I got a certificate to hang on my wall too, which is nice. I also have many completion certificates from marathons and also the metals that go along with it also make me feel good about everything that I did physically, personally and professionally.

There’s just so much that you can get. And one thing I tell the nonprofits that I work with is no matter what you have, your volunteers do draw a direct line between that task and how it moves the mission forward. So even if you’re filing. Tell the volunteer that yeah, if the files weren’t kept up, it would take us so much longer to find information and that’s time taken away from our client care.

Right? So by, by doing this filing, you are making a real difference to how we serve our clients. So if you can draw a direct line between those two. It makes the volunteer field that much better because then they can see why they’re doing what they’re doing

And something else that I think it’s important to bring up, like even when you’re volunteering, there is a possibility too, if you really enjoy doing that style of work, maybe you were stretching yourself into a new area that you hadn’t spent as much time working on your personal or professional development that could end up being a job charities do have paid jobs too.

And this is one way to get your foot in the door.

I have seen that. I don’t know how many times somebody comes and volunteers for an organization for awhile, but I have a close friend. Who’s a volunteer coordinator in a, in a not-for-profit and she started out by volunteering and. Liked her. And she was organized and she was reliable and this job came up and they said, are you interested?

And she essentially had the job if she said yes, at that point, right?

Right. And that happens a lot. I see that a lot.

In my local town of Santa Cruz, we were able to initiate the build of a memorial garden to honor my dear friend, Shannon Collins, at the Walnut Avenue Family & Women’s Center. We did this in part by gaining sponsorship from one of the vendors that sold their products through her shop, Camouflage in downtown.

So we were able to leverage a sponsor relationship, community and all these volunteer hours, to build out a garden to honor of Shannon. So again, volunteerism can look like any number of things. It doesn’t have to be just doing that soup kitchen work or, or, you know, building that building. It can be something that you’re really passionate about that engages community and other people that you want to build a stronger connection with as well.

So I just encourage people. Think about the, the things that matter to you, the charities that you like form those relationships, consider making donations, if you can. And if you can’t make a donation, you always have your own time. That is something that is absolutely impact.

One thing I really like, and it becoming more popular now that that virtual volunteering is expanding the number of people who can volunteer now, who never could before they may be postponed for medical reasons, or they may have emotional disorders that make it difficult for them to go out into the, into the general community.

And now. Organization that they’re passionate about. They can actually help directly rather than just by sending money. I’ve seen so many people who have reached out and said, this is amazing. I can now I just sit on the phone and I can, I can contact people. And I’m making a difference besides just Monday, because money’s nice and it’s needed, but it doesn’t give you the same joyful feeling that donating your time.

It seems to be more like, okay, well we’ll send money and it just kind of disappears into this black hole, but if you’re there and you’re doing something for an organization, it touches your heart so much more.

This gets back to a discussion I had with Dr. Tommy Vimal Thomas, George.

He said, you know, the best things in life are free. And this is one of them. It’s community engagement. It’s time together, it’s experience. And that time, energy and effort. Hey, it has a value too. And so let’s think about how we engage with one another and how we build a better future.

One of the things that I think many people just, they get kind of stuck on is that they don’t know where to act – especially when it comes to big systemic issues like racism and global warming. Because these issues feel like such a big task that you just don’t know where to start. So what kind of advice might you have to offer somebody who cares and who wants to act?  

Besides, just do it basically?

Yes, it is a massive. Massive problem. And no one person can solve it, but every single person who does some little thing adds to this aggregate of change and the more people who do that little, little bet, the bigger that little bit becomes an altogether as a community, we can make incredible changes. So don’t look at it.

All I can do is this, and that’s, that’s nowhere near enough. Just add your bit to the hole because that’s, that’s what it’s, what’s going to build it. It’s we’re going to just make this massive, big group of people and ideas and thoughts and beliefs, and then we can solve those. Yeah, we all have to chip in.

Yeah. And one of the things I will say time, and again, is it’s important to have your voice heard by your local legislative branch, your senators, those that are part of your specific area of influence, because the reality is each of our voices comes together in aggregate one of the topics that Aiden Nepom and I discussed when she came on, my show was politics. And the fact that she had spent some time working an internship and as an assistant and a legislative office, and they found that they made decisions based on not necessarily the number of phone calls or the number of emails they received, but the thickness of the.

How many of my constituents cared about this versus who were on the other side of it. And so being a loud minority can even have a strong effect when it comes to the decisions that will be made. When it comes to our legislative branch. And so if you organize with people, if you just build your own phone tree or email tree or something along those lines, you can be a part of that change as well.

But my biggest point of advice, typically to people specifically when it comes to climate change is to choose one piece of the puzzle that you’re passionate about and own that for me, it has a lot to do with wait. I try to reduce waste streams as much as possible. I spent a lot of time reaching out to even my local waste facilities to say, look, you know, you have all these ways to go ahead and take care of yard waste.

Why aren’t you also handling compost yet? It just ends up in landfill. And so that was something I chose to go ahead and get pretty serious on. And I just, this last month received a notice in the mail. I didn’t get a call back. I didn’t get an email, none of that, but I received a notice in the mail, the same standard marketing piece that they sent to everybody in my community that I could now put all my compost waste in my green waste bin. And the thing is, my voice alone didn’t do that. Right? But it was part of the aggregate that did. And so I think that’s the absolute point we should all be thinking about. We can each be part of the change that we seek to build. And this is something that we all need to keep front and center in our mindsets. I can make a difference right here.

Just find out what you want to do to give back. What, you’re most passionate about.

Passion carries through in everything you do. If you really believe this, everybody you talk to is going to end up believing it too. At least be carried along a certain distance with you because of that passion.

So yeah, go, go for what you really care about. That’s how we make a difference is by caring.

Well, and this is also part of the science of happiness, right? You spoke of joy of getting joy for this. Like that’s the payout in the way. It may not be cash in your pocket could turn into that. Just depends on how you look at it, but really it it’s giving you joy to your life.

There’s an individual that I’m connected with through podcasting and her name is Beth Craig. She is somebody who helps people see that by giving. They can actually get more. One of the things that she has manifested for herself as essentially by putting more like 10% of her earnings and to. She’s actually found that ch share her income has increased.

She thinks there’s a psychological connection. And I plan to bring her on a future shows that we can talk about this a little bit more in depth, but there is science that shows that giving helps to bring you this kind of wealth of experience. And there may even be a connection to having this abundance style mindset and being able to attract.

More as a result. So interesting topics for another day. Of course.

Yeah. It is something that I believe in. The more you give the more you get back. I mean, it’s, it’s really quite simple that there is no one size of pie. And if you give this much, then that much is gone. It just, the pie can just get bigger and bigger and bigger.

The more, the more you can give. The bigger the whole world gets.

That’s right. Well, and it’s kind of like the concept of love, right? You put more love, you tend to get more love too. You put more love into the world. You tend to get more back and it’s not like you can really put these things on an equation scale for one to one, or put a specific value on something like that.

It’s the joy of living. And I think if we’re all committed to being a part of that community, That joy of living gets to be paid forward again and again, and it creates something that’s more like a tenfold on itself. So that’s my perspective. Yeah. Well, is there anything we haven’t talked about that you wish we had a question that you would’ve liked to have been asked?

I just encourage everyone to volunteer. As I mentioned earlier on Canadian and. Uh, I don’t know what the stats are in the states, but here in Canada, 78% of people have volunteered in the last year. Wow. And that’s a huge number. People want to help. They just need to know how to reach out.

If you have something you’re passionate about, find an organization in your community that does that. And, and just say, I want to help. How can I, chances are they will just be delighted to have.

I love that. I can’t think of a more perfect note to end on. So I just want to thank you so much for coming on for this time together.

How can our audience best connect with you?

They can visit my website, — CA because I’m Canadian

If you want to email me, it’s I’m also on LinkedIn and Facebook.

That’s fantastic. Well, thank you so much, Karen.

This has been a wonderful conversation. Glad you had me on.

I appreciate you. And all you do. For anyone in this audience that is interested in unleashing your inner activist.

I encourage you to go to care more and be You can sign up for our newsletter and as your welcome gift, you will receive unleash your inner activist. It’s a five step guide that I created just for you. There’s even a few links to charities that we really respect and the climate action space.

Do you have something that you’d like to share about today’s episode? You can do that straight from Share what you’re doing to volunteer any ideas you might have for future episodes that we can host on this show. If you love today’s show, I hope that you’ll share it with your family and friends.

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Stay curious, ask questions, and get involved. Thank you listeners now and always for being a part of this pod and this community, because together we really can do so much more. We can care more and we can be better. Thank you.

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