Still Using Spreadsheets to Manage Volunteers? Here’s a Better Way

As little as five years ago, most volunteer coordinators were managing their volunteers and events with nothing more than a spreadsheet. Sadly, many nonprofits still struggle with outdated volunteer management systems. Spreadsheets are powerful tools for managing budgets, but when it comes to coordinating events, volunteer hours and information, those unwieldy cells and rows can leave even the most savvy volunteer coordinators feeling frustrated and overwhelmed.

Even online sharable documents don’t give coordinators the ability to seamlessly communicate with volunteers, post open shifts or provide important, easy-to-read analytics.

VolunteerMark is a cloud-based volunteer management system that provides nonprofits a low-cost, easy-to-use solution to this problem. Online software provides many benefits that traditional desktop software programs simply can’t provide. Here are three simple but powerful reasons to dump the spreadsheets and invest in a cloud-based volunteer management system.

  1. Reduced IT costs
  • No tedious system installations. Traditional software requires users to have minimum system requirements and manually install the software on their computers. Cloud-based software can be accessed in a matter of seconds by signing in through your browser.
  • Access to automatic and immediate upgrades. Cloud-based software allows users access to system upgrades as soon as they’re implemented, so there’s no down time, ensuring that all your staff and volunteers have the most up-to-date tools and features.
  1. Flexibility
  • Work when and where you want. With the rise of smartphones, most volunteers and staff no longer need a wifi connection to access the internet. Since VolunteerMark is managed on a remote server, you and your volunteers can sign-in anytime, anywhere.
  • Onsite sign in for volunteers VolunteerMark’s Sign-In Kiosk app allows volunteers to easily sign in at any event using a mobile tablet. Event coordinators have instant access to their up-to-date volunteer roster from any location and can quickly cover shifts using the back up bot, which sends out an email to available volunteers. This feature saves time in trying to manually coordinate and share information via text and phone calls.
  1. Consistency
  • Get everyone on the same page. Traditional, desktop-based software requires multiple, manual software updates.  Making sure everyone on your staff is up-to-date can be a challenge. VolunteerMark provides extensive, up-to-date tutorials in our online Learning Center. Here, both staff and volunteers can easily access self-guided video tutorials to help with the onboarding process. In addition, there’s a content-rich FAQ page that can quickly answer most questions 24/7. And for those who’d like additional help, we provide 24/7 chat with experienced customer service agents.

Learn more about how a cloud-based volunteer management system can benefit your nonprofit by chatting with one of our client success staff members or scheduling a demo today!

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3 Ways VolunteerMark Sign-in Kiosk App Improves Any Nonprofit Event

Anyone who’s ever managed an event knows firsthand how chaotic it can be to organize and mobilize your army of volunteers in a timely and orderly fashion. From getting everyone signed in to directing them to their proper stations, there are multiple logistical details and record-keeping requirements that can be a nightmare to control without an efficient system in place.


With VolunteerMark’s handy Sign-in Kiosk app, volunteers can sign into events with just a few, simple clicks on a tablet. Simply open the app and direct volunteers to sign into their positions as soon as they show up for the event. All sign-in records are automatically recorded so you can access them before, during and after after the event.


VolunteerMark’s latest feature allows administrators more efficient and simple look-up options.

  • Need to see if a volunteer showed up for an event? Search the Sign-in Kiosk app by volunteer name in the position details page.
  • Want to see specific details about a particular event shift? Now you can search for those details by querying the position or shift name within the app.


While most volunteers give their time because they care about the cause, there will be volunteers who also need to log their hours for school, work or organization like the Boy Scouts or National Honor Society.

With VolunteerMark’s convenient Sign-in Kiosk app, records are securely and safely stored on the cloud, unlike paper records that tend to get misplaced or lost. Additionally, volunteers can quickly and easily access their volunteer hours on their mobile devices, saving you hundreds of hours in tedious paperwork and emails.

The best part of the VolunteerMark Sign-in Kiosk app is that there’s no additional charge to you or your volunteers. At VolunteerMark, we understand that you’re already overworked, understaffed and working with a limited budget.

Our number-one priority is to make the volunteer management process as efficient as possible so you can focus on what matters most—your mission.

Learn more about how VolunteerMark can help your organization or schedule a demo with one of our dedicated customer success professionals today.

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VolunteerMark Adds New Features to its Web-Based Volunteer Management System

Kansas City, May 31st—VolunteerMark announced today that they’ve added several new features to its web-based volunteer management software program. These enhancements will provide users with even greater ability to coordinate, communicate and manage their volunteer base while improving the user experience.

“One of the tools our clients have been asking for is the ability to quickly cover positions when volunteers have to cancel. We answered that request by developing a backup bot that automatically provides the names and contacts of available volunteers that signed up for the position’s waitlist. Already, we’ve received incredible feedback on how much time and stress this feature is saving people,” said VolunteerMark president, Dominic Ismert.

In addition to the backup bot, coordinators can now upload documents to the new volunteer checklist such as background checks and waivers. To streamline processes, software engineers added the option to send email attachments within the software, the ability to approve and deny notifications directly through email without the need to login to the software, and a feature that delineates problems with Internet connectivity vs. software issues.

“Listening to the needs of our clients is what’s allowed VolunteerMark to grow and constantly improve our software. The coordinators and volunteers use the software every day and best know what features and tools they want, and there’s a great satisfaction when we can make their jobs easier,” Ismert added.

All of the new features are immediately available for both current and future users for all pricing plans. Click here to sign up for a free trial in minutes!


About VolunteerMark

VolunteerMark is an online volunteer management software company located in the heart of Kansas City. Our mission is to provide nonprofits safe, secure and affordable software to train, manage and recruit volunteers along with cutting edge reporting tools. Always free for volunteers, VolunteerMark is dedicated to improving the processes of nonprofits; we focus on the software so organizations can focus on their mission.

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7 Books That Will Make You a Better Volunteer (and Human!)

For book lovers, there’s no better time than summer. Lazy weekend afternoons on the beach, in the park or by the pool is made even better with a great book to escape into. And while there are hundreds of perfect “beach reads,” there are also just as many books that can improve our minds and souls as we improve our tan.

Volunteering requires many skills, but empathy and respect for our clients tops the list. When we better understand the complex factors that brought our clients to a place of need, and we suspend judgment in favor of compassion, everyone is better off.

The following seven books share stories of people who have faced difficulties in their lives and allow us to walk vicariously in their shoes for a mile. While we cannot fully appreciate their struggles or fix them, we can become more empathetic humans.

Make this your summer of love!


Being Mortal, Atul Gawande

Modern medicine has allowed humans to live longer than any generation in history. Yet in the quest for sustaining life, we often forsake quality of life. Dr. Gawande’s examination of how we treat end-of-life care and the people we’re purporting to help forces us to reconsider our assumptions of what makes a life worth living.

Read to:

  • Recognize that our need to sustain life at all costs may not be worth it to those we’re trying to “”
  • Consider that success in medicine may not always be measured in length of life but in quality of life.
  • Value a person’s autonomy in deciding how they want the last of their life to be lived, even if that decision is painful for the survivors.

Takeaway Quote: “Our ultimate goal, after all, is not a good death but a good life to the very end.”


Lab Girl, Hope Jahren

Humans, as cruel as we’ve shown ourselves to be throughout history, also have a limitless reserve of compassion for other forms of life, from the cutest abandoned puppy to the ugliest spider we gently scoop up and toss outside. Yet, Jahren’s memoir brings out an even deeper level of empathy for all forms of life, in this case those in the plant world.

After reading her meditative and reverent prose on all things botanical, you’ll no longer be able to cut down trees or plants without a twinge of guilt. More importantly, Jahren reminds us how vitally important it is for us to be good stewards of plants and trees and respect their existence for the miracles they truly are.

Read to:

  • Gain a better appreciation of the role of scientists in the world and why we should mentor and encourage children toward the sciences.
  • Realize how little we really understand about our natural world and how many mysteries still wait to be uncovered.
  • Appreciate the stigma and discrimination many women in the sciences and academia still deal with in their fields.

Takeaway Quote: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are given exactly one chance to be. Each of us both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.”


Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City Matthew Desmond

“Home is where the heart is” or so goes the saying, but what if your home is under constant threat being taken from you because you can’t afford the rent? That’s the dilemma faced by millions of Americans every day. American sociologist, urban ethnographer and MacArthur “Genius” grant recipient Matthew Desmond follows eight poor families in Milwaukee during the recession as they struggle to provide housing for themselves and their families.

Read to:

  • Gain insight into the tenant/landlord relationship, the eviction process and the struggles poor people face in securing and keeping quality housing.
  • Understand the lack of power poor people have within the legal system.
  • Recognize the emotional and physical toll a lack of housing causes on people, their ability to work and do well in school.

Takeaway Quote: “Eviction is a cause, not just a condition, of poverty.”


Janesville, Amy Goldstein

The 2016 presidential election strained American social norms of civility and tolerance. Both sides of the political spectrum unleashed a fury of disgust, vitriol and accusations against each other, but Goldstein’s well- researched book provides an insight into a few of the economic factors that contributed to this deep divide.

While Janesville is about the economic and social unraveling of one Midwestern town after a GM plant closure, these stories are representative of hundreds of towns across America that have been forced to reinvent themselves as well-paying manufacturing jobs are no longer a stable ladder to middle class life.

Read to:

  • Understand how the closing of one American factory can have long-lasting ripple effects within in the community.
  • Recognize how quickly economic stability can be undermined, and appreciate how losing a job affects not just the parents but also the children.
  • Understand the economic and emotional difficulties of mid-career reinvention.
  • Develop greater patience for nontraditional students who haven’t been to school in decades.


Coyotes, Ted Conover

“Build the wall. Build the wall.” It’s a refrain that has echoed throughout political rallies for the last two years. But Conover’s immersive reporting provides readers with an up-close view of the illegal immigrant’s journey from Mexico into the United States.

No matter your political stance, his year experience—from working and living with migrant agricultural workers in Arizona and Florida to crossing the Arizona desert—highlight the desperation, poverty and literal hunger that drives 1000s of Mexicans to America every year. Even though this is one of the older books on the list, its message and stories still resonate even in 2018.

Read to:

  • Understand the economic reasons that drive Mexicans to the US and the current laws that make legal immigration from Mexico so difficult.
  • Hear the personal stories of illegal immigrants and what motivates them to risk their lives and leave their homeland.
  • Recognize that 99.9 % of illegal immigrants aren’t rapists and murderers but mothers, fathers, children and teenagers who dream of a better life for themselves and their families.

Takeaway Quote: “Over the past few days I had absorbed much of the technique of citrus picking—and had been thoroughly disabused of the notion that this was some kind of unskilled labor.”


Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic, Sam Quinones

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 42, 249 people died from an overdose of opioids in 2016 alone. Acclaimed journalist Quinones deftly examines the intertwining factors of black tar heroin, aggressive marketing and over prescription of painkillers that contributed to one of the country’s worst drug epidemics since crack cocaine in the 1980s and early 90s.

Read to:

  • Appreciate that drug addiction transcends age, gender, class and socioeconomic status. It can happen to anyone.
  • Develop a greater understanding of the emotional and financial burden drug addiction places on families of addicts.
  • Understand the iron grip heroin and other opiates have on addicts and why recovery is such a difficult, almost Sisyphean task.
  • Become educated on the economic and regulatory factors that contribute to such an epidemic.

Takeaway Quote: “Oxy prescriptions for chronic pain rose from 670, 000 in 1997 to 6.2 million in 2002.”


Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant: A Memoir, Roz Chast

For many readers, Roz Chast’s memoir may be their first experience with a graphic novel. And while caring for aging parents might, at first, seem an odd topic for this genre, readers will quickly find the colorful and darkly comedic drawing disturbingly apropos. At turns brutally honest and deeply poignant, Chast gives readers permission to express our deep fears and frustration at the absurd and bewildering role reversal children face as their parents age.

Read to:

  • Understand there are many reasons (financial, personal, physical) a child may chose to have a parent in a nursing home. It’s not our place to judge that decision.
  • Recognize the emotional stress of managing an aging or deceased parents’ home and their belongings.
  • Appreciate the important role elderly caregivers have not only for the clients but also for the children of those clients who are emotionally, financially and physically tired and often overwhelmed.

Takeaway quote: “Dealing with all this “real-world,” official, and essentially bureaucratic stuff combined two of my least favorite feeling: boredom and anxiety. If you can pass the job on to someone else, I’d recommend it. If not, you have my total sympathy.”


Learn more about VolunteerMark’s commitment to improving the volunteer management process here or email us for more information.

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A Lesson in Humility: The Importance of Empathy in Volunteer Work

A conversation with SAFEHOME operations manager, Desiree Long


“If he beats you, why don’t you just leave?”

That’s the question, stated or implied, that plagues victims of domestic abuse. It can be difficult for people to understand why anyone would choose to stay with an abusive partner. Leslie Morgan Steiner, Harvard graduate, author of Crazy Love and Mommy Wars and abuse survivor offered a succinct and surprisingly simple explanation in her 2012 Ted Talk: She simply didn’t see herself as being abused.

While many of us have trouble understanding this seemingly lack of self-awareness in victims of abuse, it’s important for volunteers, domestic shelter staff, advocates and even family members to recognize that our unconscious bias could have negative consequences for the very people we’re trying to help. In fact, the most dangerous time for a person in an abusive relationship is after they’ve made that difficult decision to leave. Studies show that up to 75% of abused women who are murdered are killed not during the relationship but once they’ve ended it.

That’s why shelters are such vital (and sometimes one of the only) resources for victims of domestic abuse and their children. Often, these survivors escaping abuse have no money, transportation or housing; they literally leave with little more than the clothes on their back. Providing a safe place, money, counseling and, above all, a judgment-free environment, is crucial to helping them rebuild their lives.

Desiree Long, operations manager for SAFEHOME, a shelter in Kansas that provides emotional and financial support for survivors of domestic abuse, knows firsthand how important these safe havens are for survivors and their families.

Long left a successful corporate career at General Electric to work as a client advocate at Hope House, a domestic abuse shelter in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. She was drawn to the work because of her own family history of domestic violence. Both her brother and brother-in-law currently serve time for domestic abuse crimes.

Even though Long didn’t have a degree in social work or any experiences in social services, she knew people needed help and she needed to be ready to meet them where they were emotionally. Over the years, she’s gained a lot of insight and experience that she shared with VolunteerMark.

Have perceptions of your work and your clients evolved over the years? Was there any moments that stand out in that evolution?

I know the general perception of clients at domestic violence shelters is a negative perception. That negative perception, however, can go both ways. Some people may see our clients as victims, while others see them as using the system. Either way, that is not how I see our clients. Our clients are strong, they are survivors, and they are resilient. They know how to survive and get their needs met.

Some clients come to us with challenging behaviors, and staff and volunteers are often frustrated with these maladaptive behaviors, but we always come back to the understanding that these are the behaviors they have learned in order to survive. If those behaviors become unsafe for our environment, we may have to ask them to relocate and that is always challenging.

When we have to make that tough decision, though, I am often reminded of just how strong, resilient, and resourceful our clients are. When I am feeling particularly frustrated or judgmental about a client or a situation, I come back to a moment I had with a client early in my career.

I had fallen into a place of judgment about how our clients spent their money and didn’t save so they could transition and become independent. I was working with a client that I knew didn’t have many resources, and I saw she had her nails done. I was frustrated, but I complimented her on her nails anyway. She said “I know I shouldn’t spend my money on my nails, but, I do it to feel better about myself. No one ever compliments me on anything except my nails, and I need to have that in my life.” That is a conversation I will never forget and it is a conversation I come back to frequently when I feel frustrated.

A lot has changed in the domestic violence service world in the past seven years. I have experience at three different domestic violence agencies, and in that time I’ve moved from a client advocate role to a manager role. When I started in this field, policies at shelters were far more controlling than they are now. Although social justice advocates Emi Koyama and Lauren Martin published a power and control wheel that represents how agencies can exert power and control over their survivors in 2002, agencies have been slow to respond and adapt.

Often, agencies are reluctant to adapt less controlling practices by grantors. For example, in recent years, some granting agencies have required recipients to accept people of all gender identities in their programs unless the program can demonstrate its facilities would not be able to practically adopt such a policy. Most grants also now require programs to be low barrier, meaning they can’t require residents to participate in case management, therapy or support groups.

I am fortunate to work at SAFEHOME where we have enthusiastically worked toward reducing the power and control we exert over our residents. We want our residents to make their own decisions. We try to evaluate our policies frequently to make sure we are not restricting the agency of our clients. My understanding of my role has changed from that of an active enforcer to one of a passive influencer or facilitator.

How do you train volunteers to be emotionally and intellectually ready for the job?

Our agency has a strong volunteer program, headed by our volunteer manager, Susan Lebovitz. She provides an extensive eight-hour training and orientation to our new volunteers every quarter. We also provide on-the-job training for volunteers in whatever capacity they adopt as their home base (events, childcare, hotline, front desk, donations, etc.). Susan works with the volunteers during the orientation to educate them on domestic violence, trauma and allowing clients to make their own choices.

What traits are particularly well suited to volunteering at a shelter?

  • Flexibility is key. Understand that when you arrive, there may be total chaos or there may be down time, and you need to be open to that.
  • Lack of judgment. You also need to understand that survivors need to be free to make their own choices, and the shelter should be a judgment-free zone. Also important is a strong understanding of secondary trauma and how that can affect both the volunteer and the staff as they can get burned out too.
  • Service oriented. Be able to offer friendly and unconditional service to clients; understand and be open to the idea that sometimes we need to say no.

How do you help your team deal with compassion fatigue?

Compassion fatigue and secondary trauma are real and experienced by staff and volunteers every day. Sometimes we combat it by using dark humor, which can be confusing to outsiders, but if we can’t laugh, we can’t manage the stress. We also have generous time off for staff and flexibility with volunteers. We take breaks and pass the torch when we realize we are burned out. We do frequent education on secondary trauma and encourage staff and volunteers to identify their triggers and ways to cope with those triggers in the moment.

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned in your role?

The greatest lesson I have learned is a lesson in humility. You can’t know what other people are experiencing, and you can’t compare your experiences to theirs. Our behaviors and decisions are influenced by everything that has come before. We have to learn to meet people where they are, knowing their life experience is different than yours, often without knowing what that experience involves. Don’t make assumptions, don’t make comparisons and don’t assume we are all approaching the situation from the same place.

What’s the best way to help the shelter?

Honestly, money 🙂 Gift cards are super helpful. Our residents often don’t have health insurance or transportation, and that is especially hard for us at SAFEHOME because we are nowhere near a bus line. Gift cards to Quick Trip help our clients find friends and family that can help them with transportation. Gift cards to Hy-Vee help us buy medicine for clients that don’t have insurance (we have a relationship with the Hy-Vee on 95th and Antioch). Apart from money, other donations that are very helpful are earbuds, alarm clocks, pregnancy tests, and beauty products (perfume, makeup, mascara, eyeliner, etc.).

Volunteering is also very helpful. In the shelter, we really love volunteers that come to us with a specific project in mind. For example, making a meal is always a need; Planning a special event such as an Easter Egg hunt, craft night, movie night, game board night, Santa visit. We also always appreciate the more physical house tasks like painting a room. Anything is helpful!

Click here to learn more about SAFEHOME and the services they provide.

Desiree Long has a BA in Sociology and English and an MA in English. She’s worked at General Electric, Hope House, Synergy Services, the University of Missouri, Kansas City and is currently shelter operations manager at SAFEHOME.

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National Volunteer Week Spotlight: The Genesis Project


  1. That’s the average age of entry into prostitution. It’s an uncomfortable and heartbreaking truth but one that Seattle’s The Genesis Project knows all too well. Founded in 2011 by Andy Connor, a deputy with the King County sheriff’s office, The Genesis Project is a faith-based nonprofit community of local staff, volunteers, law enforcement officers, state legislators, churches, community groups and international partner organizations that help rescue, restore and release girls from a life of sex trafficking.

As a deputy patrolling the streets of Seattle, Connor realized that his options to help these women were limited—he could ignore them, arrest them or take them to a non-criminal youth facility, yet none of these options provided real, lasting help for these girls.

In seven years, Connor’s idea for a forth option—now The Genesis Project—has grown into a fully functioning organization that serves not just the immediate needs of the girls—shelter, food and safety—but also education, rehabilitation and, most importantly, love and kindness, something many of these women have never had.

It takes a special person to volunteer for The Genesis Project. That person must be loving, non-judgmental, patient and a good listener. When we asked volunteer director, Jodi Wheat, to share a volunteer she admired for National Volunteer Week, she said she had so many, but one of her volunteers really stood out—Marlee Dubnow.

Marlee is one of those humble volunteers who is willing to help with anything needed – whether it’s taking out the garbage or helping with a fundraiser. She expresses love and acceptance to the clients, hugging and kissing them on the cheek as they leave the center. Marlee believes in the mission of The Genesis Project to help women out of commercial sexual exploitation. Love is at the core of what these women need, and she shows them unconditional love without reservation.

Marlee has made volunteering at The Genesis Project her priority, as shown by her consistent presence and willingness to help with anything. In January, Marlee took charge of assembling baskets with donated items to be auctioned at our annual fundraiser, and every basket was purchased!

Clients often say that they feel so much love when they come to the center, and Marlee plays a big role in that. She’ll spend the night with clients at the emergency shelter, making sure their immediate needs are taken care of in a spirit of generosity and love.

Once, a client visited the drop-in center for a few hours before flying out of state. Marlee made a special effort to hug her, kiss her on the cheek and let her know she would be praying for her. Marlee asked her to let everyone know how she was doing as well. It was a special moment to watch, and really showed everyone how wonderful a person Marlee is.

In honor of National Volunteer Week, VolunteerMark wanted to highlight our clients and their amazing volunteers. We can learn so much from others’ acts of kindness, and the following interview with volunteer Marlee Dubnow clearly highlights those traits we all strive for in becoming a better human.

  1. Why did you join The Genesis Project?

I have been volunteering with The Genesis Project for a year and a half. For several years I was interested in ways I could help girls who were victims of sex trafficking but had no idea how to go about it. I thought sex trafficking was all about girls (and boys) being kidnapped and sent overseas. Little did I know it was happening in my own backyard. Then two years ago I found out about The Genesis Project, a local resource center for young women who wanted to escape prostitution. The fact that it’s close to my home and faith-based was a deciding factor for me to become involved.

  1. Why do you stay?

I stay because I have a heart for girls/women who have been abused and oppressed and who, more often than not, have been forced into a life not of their choosing, i.e. prostitution. And The Genesis Project offers a safe, nonjudgmental loving atmosphere to everyone who walks through their doors, whether they be a client or a volunteer.

  1. What is your favorite part about your volunteer work? Where do you find the greatest joy?

My favorite part is when I have opportunities to work directly with the clients. I love helping them with whatever they might need, whether it’s assisting them in finding something clean to wear from our stock of donated items or listening to them talk about their lives. I find it particularly rewarding when I can pray with the girls, which is always an encouragement to them as they come to know there is Someone beyond themselves who cares about them and sees them as beautiful and worthy of love.

4. Do you have a favorite story or favorite memory about your volunteer work that you’d like to share? 

This is just one of several favorite stories. GP likes to celebrate special events in our clients’ lives. One particular client mentioned she never had a birthday party in her life so we threw her one. We showered her with gifts then took her to her favorite restaurant for dinner. During dinner she told us that when she first came into the center a couple months earlier, with her then two- week-old baby boy, she was shocked at how loving and kind we were to her and how she felt no judgement at all for who she was. She said we were like the family she never had. This was not the first time a client has told us this, but every time I hear this it makes me realize the power of genuine unconditional love and what privilege it is to be part of sharing that love with these beautiful young women. This humbles me to the core.

  1. Many people want to volunteer but say they don’t have time. How do you make time in your life to volunteer?

I am fortunate enough to be in a position where I do not need to work, so I think this makes it easier for me to volunteer. But even if a person has just one hour a week or month, it can make a difference. Some volunteers bring meals to the center once a month for the staff and clients. Some come on Saturdays to pray for the girls. Others volunteer a once or twice a year for the fundraising events. I do not think it is always a matter of how much time you give as much as why you give of your time.

  1. What skills have you learned from volunteering with The Genesis Project?

Well, this has been a learning experience for sure. The population we serve is difficult due to the fact there is no simple short cut to healing the broken lives they have lived.

There are multiple layers of brokenness to their lives such as delayed and immature social skills, drugs and post traumatic stress disorder. Because of this, I learn how to listen and observe more carefully to what they are saying and doing and ask the right kinds of questions that might encourage them to share their thoughts without making them feel judged or attacked. I’m also learning the skill of when to offer suggestions for a problem they may be facing or when to just listen with an empathetic ear followed by a big, loving hug.

Marlee’s Key Takeaways:

  • Listen more and talk less.
  • Ask the right kinds of questions based on personal interactions and observations.
  • Know when to offer advice and when to offer a hug.
  • Even one hour of volunteering a week can make a significant impact.
  • When deciding on where to give your time or money, consider looking in your community first. Chances are, there will be plenty of opportunities that fit you.

In Seattle and interested in learning more about or volunteering for The Genesis Project? Contact them here.


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Non-Profit Leader Spotlight: Aimee Tilley

It takes a special person to work in the non-profit world. That person must be creative, resilient, tenacious, big-hearted, and, above all, resourceful. Even in the best of times, non-profits have to consistently scrap, beg, barter and cajole funding to serve its clients and pay its staff, and that level of stress can lead to high levels of burnout and turnover. But  for those who’ve stuck it out and learned to navigate this prickly, precarious world, the payoff is a wealth of hard-earned knowledge and wisdom–wisdom that we at VolunteerMark have tapped into with our new blog series “Non-Profit Leader Spotlight.”

Each month, we’ll bring you industry veterans and innovators–folks who’ve learned a trick or two along the way and are happy to share their insights.

This month’s leader spotlight is Aimee Tilley, a nonprofit marketing and communications guru with 19 years of experience under her belt. As the current Director of Special Events for Liberty Hospital Foundation, Aimee has done it all, from writing grants and securing last-minute funding to driving a semi-truck in downtown Kansas City traffic. Her latest success was managing a 1/2 marathon through the streets of Liberty, MO that not only met but also exceeded their funding goals.


What initially drew you to work in the nonprofit sector?

It was pretty simple—I just wanted to help others.  My very first job was with Starlight Theatre (a local KC non-profit theatre), and after a short 12 months, I knew I wanted to be more hands-on in the programming/service side of non-profit work. I was fortunate to land a job with the Girl Scouts, where I worked for nine years, creating programs for girls, writing curriculum, managing grants and planning events.  Currently, I work for the Liberty Hospital Foundation as their Special Events Director.  I love working with the Foundation – we are a small (three employees) but mighty team.

What was the most significant difference you noticed when left the nonprofit sector for the business community?

This will probably sound strange to some, but I think one of the most difficult things for me was wrestling with resources and budgets.  When you work at a non-profit, you pinch every penny, you search out any opportunity/group/resource that can assist you in your project for free or for very little cost – even if that means you are up until 2 am assembling invitations/mailers or driving a box-truck across town.  (True story, my 5-foot self really did that!)  In my for-profit experience, while being a good steward of your resources is important – you actually have a budget to spend and staff to assist with big projects.  Having a team and funds was a welcome change, but difficult to get used to.

What are the key lessons/strategies you kept and applied when  you went to work for Liberty Hospital Foundation?

I think the biggest thing that has stuck with me over my career is you absolutely have to know your audience.  Whether you are working with a potential donor or with an existing client, it’s important to know how they like to communicate, receive data, make decisions, etc.  If you speak their language, youre able to build trust and an understanding relationship  – it can make your job so much easier!

What advice would you give to people who transition from the business to the nonprofit world?

 Be prepared to get hands-on and creative to get the job done.  For example, I recently reached out to a Christmas lighting company to help with one of the Foundation’s outdoor summer events.   Our event is not a holiday-related fundraiser, but I know this company has more equipment, expertise and know-how to get the lighting we so desperately need to light the evening, helping our guests linger longer and bid more.

Whats the biggest adjustment(s) you had to make from managing employees to managing a volunteer team?

Always have a plan B.  When you are working in a for-profit setting, if an employee fails to complete their task/job – you have some recourse.  When you are working with volunteers – not so much.  I have learned if you are clear with your expectations, communicate the plan before during and after the project, volunteers are much more likely to not only show up, but do an amazing job.

Aimee Tilley is currently the Director of Special Events for Liberty Hospital Foundation and has over 19 years of fundraising and nonprofit experience. She’s a graduate of University of Central Missouri, but her heart will always be for Alabama—Roll Tide!

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5 Surprising Expenses You Can Deduct as a Volunteer (and 4 You Can’t!)

Oh April. The month of buttery yellow daffodil heads peeking out of the snow, baby chicks wobbling around the farm and the collective sigh of millions of Americans as they prepare their tax returns. But while there’s no love lost for the IRS, they do offer a surprising number of deductions for volunteers. Here’s a handy guide to determine what volunteer expenses you can and cannot deduct from your 2017 taxes.


  1. Gas.

The cost of oil and gas getting to and from the place(s) you volunteer is considered a deductible expense. While costs may vary, generally the IRS allows you 14 cents a mile. Be careful to keep track of mileage and receipts, and be prepared to show that the trip was exclusively for volunteer work.

  1. Uniforms

The cost of buying and cleaning a uniform can be deducted if the organization is a qualified organization, the uniform isn’t suitable for everyday use, and you’re required to wear it volunteering. So we take that to mean that those black pants are a no go, but the bunny costume you wore while handing out eggs is golden. For clear guidelines on which organizations qualify—typically 501 (c) organizations—read the IRS Publication 526, Charitable Contributions.

  1. Out-of-pocket expenses for underprivileged youth

Reasonable and unreimbursed out-of-pocket expenses  paid for underprivileged youth to attend athletic events, movies or dinners are okay with the IRS. However,  the youth(s) MUST be selected by a charitable, qualified organization whose goal is to reduce juvenile delinquency. Only the youth’s expenses can be deducted—not yours, so the XL tub of popcorn is on you.

  1. Non-volunteer travel expenses

Unreimbursed travel expenses to attend a volunteer convention, event or trip if you go as a representative may be deducted, but don’t slip in any of the personal expenses such as theatre tickets, excursions or other events for you, your partner or children during the travel. The primary purpose of the trip must primarily be for volunteerism—not fun—to be eligible. However, that doesn’t mean you have to be miserable to get a tax break.

  1. Whaling captain expenses

Who knew? But for all you mighty whaling captains out there doing those important whaling things, some of those activities just may be tax deductible!


  1. Your time or service.

While your volunteer time is valuable, it’s not a qualified deduction with the IRS. For example, you may earn $50 an hour as a freelance artist, but only cash or items—not labor—can be used as an itemized deduction. And while we think there’s a strong case in favor of it, blood donations can’t be deducted either.

2. Contributions to an individual.

Many of us have donated to online crowdfunders, dropped a few bucks in a jar at the gas station and helped friends and family out in difficult times. While those are commendable acts of generosity, contributions to individuals aren’t recognized as monetary deductions—those are reserved for donations to qualified organizations.

  1. Reimbursed expenses.

If the organization you volunteer for reimburses you for out-of-pocket expenses, you cannot claim those as a deduction on your taxes as that would be double dipping in the tax jar.

  1. Contributions from which you receive a benefit

You know that 5k you ran that almost killed you? While it may feel like you didn’t benefit from those 3.1 mile of torture, the IRS takes a different perspective. Same goes for raffle tickets, church bingo, or any other exchange of money for goods or services, even if your money benefits a nonprofit. The one benefit you can get from a donation and still have it qualify as a viable deduction is a sense of goodwill—that one’s okay with the IRS.

Remember, your tax returns this year are due on April 17th, two days later than normal, so use the extra time to make sure you’re getting all those volunteer deductions!


This information, while helpful, is for informational and guidance purposes only and is not intended to be construed as financial or legal advice. Always consult the IRS webpage, representative and/or licensed accountant or tax advisor when preparing and filing taxes as laws and rules change often.

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50 Ways to Show Your Volunteers Appreciation

National Volunteer Week—April 15-21—is a little less than a month away. Established in 1974 by President Nixon, this week encourages Americans to volunteer for one of the many deserving nonprofit programs in our country. In addition, it’s a perfect opportunity for organizations to formally recognize the hard work and effort of their own volunteers. While there’s no doubt we are incredibly grateful for all our volunteers do, sometimes we forget to express that gratitude in a way that resonates. This article offers 50 low-cost ways to say thank you to the heart and soul of your organization.


  1. Create a Social Media Campaign. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are the perfect platforms to share volunteers’ contributions to your organization. You can showcase individual or groups of volunteers, post pictures of events or share client success stories. Plan an editorial calendar for the week, so you’ll have enough time to gather compelling photos and tell an inspiring story. Not only does this show your followers how much you value their volunteers’ contributions, it could also inspire future volunteers to work with you
  2. Work with a local vendor or business to secure a volunteer discount. Most businesses are happy to offer a discount to entice new customers to use their product or service. You can also make a list of businesses that have already created special discounts for that day and compile to your volunteers. *Tip: Creating strong local business relationships provides useful connections for future events and fundraisers.
  3. Host a breakfast, luncheon or happy hour. Good food in a relaxed environment is the perfect way to express thanks. It can be a sit down, catered event or a potluck built on the kindness of community and staff donations. Either way, your volunteers will enjoy the delicious food and chance to talk with fellow volunteers and staff. *Tip: Know your volunteers, so you can plan your time accordingly. If most of your volunteers work 9-5 hours, an after-hours event will be better attended than a breakfast.
  4. Host an open house thank-you party. If getting all your volunteers together at one time proves too difficult a challenge, consider hosting an open house thank you where volunteers can stop by the office, say hi, have a snack and take home a small gift of appreciation. *Tip: Take the time to decorate and show your volunteers they’re worth the extra effort.
  5. Host a group outing. Organize a fun event that brings together volunteers who might not otherwise cross paths. Bowling, hikes, picnics or even going to a new movie premiere can foster a sense of community with your volunteers. *Tip: Don’t be afraid to request a nonprofit discount; it never hurts to ask!
  6. Make a Memory Book. With so many online stores like Mixbooks and Shutterfly, creating a photo book of events and volunteers is not only simple and cost effective, it’s also a great way to document all their work in a way that’s emotionally resonant. *Tip: Use the memory books as recruiting tools at events. Leave them out in the office for visitors, vendors and potential volunteer to thumb through.
  7. Create custom lanyard pins or patches. Ok, let’s admit it. Many of us love earning distinctions, whether that’s a tangible badge, racing medal or virtual level in a game. Create badges or pins that signify valuable qualities and traits in your organization and hand them out to deserving volunteers. *Tip: This public recognition will encourage volunteers to work toward those goals. You can also post your pin/badge designs on Pinterest as inspiration for other nonprofits and bring awareness to your organization.
  8. Create a video collage. While this one will take a little more time and planning, a photo/video collage of the year is an excellent way to highlight volunteers, their work and show others what they do. And with many moviemaking apps to choose from, you don’t have to be a Hollywood director to put together a meaningful and quality video. *Tip: For as little as $10, you can boost your video post on Facebook and reach 1000s of potential new volunteers and donors. You can also use the video as a recruiting tool, keep it on a loop at the office for visitors and use as part of your onboarding/training program.
  9. Create a volunteer page on your website. Post photos, stories, quotes and short videos of your volunteers on a separate volunteer page. Make a list of all your volunteers (make sure to get permission first!), so people can see all the wonderful people in your organization. *Tip: Use this page to tell a visual story and narrative about your organization. Most potential donors and volunteers will peruse a website before they commit time or money to an organization, so showcase your nonprofit’s true culture and personality.
  10. Designate a Volunteer of the Week/Month parking spot. While parking far away for exercise is great in good weather, nothing beats an upfront spot on those rainy days when most of us forget the umbrella. Put up a prominent sign that lets others know and recognize the volunteer’s special distinction. *Tip: Don’t forget to share photos of your volunteer of the week/month on your social media platforms.
  11. Nominate a volunteer for a national award. The President’s Volunteer Service Award honors volunteers based on yearly cumulative hours, from the bronze award all the way to the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Along with presidential recognition, recipients will receive a personalized certificate, an official pin or coin and a congratulatory letter from the president of the United States.
  12. Nominate a volunteer for a local award. In addition to national recognition awards, many states, local communities and organizations honor volunteers. For example, The Columbia Daily Tribune has held Hero awards since 2002 that recognize outstanding volunteers in the mid-Missouri community.
  13. Design specialized volunteer award certificates based on each volunteer’s unique personality and contributions and ask staff and peers to nominate and vote for the awards.
  14. Honor milestones and lengths of service. National Volunteer Week is a great time to recognize significant anniversaries.
  15. Reach out to a volunteer’s alma mater. Universities, colleges and high schools recognize alumni for special achievements such as community service. *Tip: Most schools share these awards on their own channels, which helps gain awareness for your organization.

Low-Cost Gift Ideas

  1. Books. Most of us have a plethora of extra books at home. If not, used bookstores are a frugal resource for gently used books. Try to match books that fit the interests of your volunteers, and don’t forget to write a personalized message on the inside cover. If you have a larger budget, order books that are relevant to your organization. *Tip: Don’t be afraid to ask bookstores and/or publishers for nonprofit and/or large quantity discounts.
  2. Personalized Journals. Online printing services like Vistaprint offer inexpensive journals that you can add your organizational logo to for nominal cost.
  3. Seed Packets. From a mix of wildflowers to pumpkin seeds, seed packets serve both as a metaphorical and practical way to show your thanks.
  4. Plants. While a bouquet of daisies never fails to brighten someone’s day, a hearty plant can bring joy for years.
  5. Personalized tote bag. From an eco-friendly way to haul groceries to dry cleaning, reusable bags are a useful gift for anyone.
  6. Baked goods. Too many of us nowadays don’t have time to spend baking delicious goodies. Recruit staff and community members to whip up some chocolate chip cookies or homemade breads as a way to show appreciation for your volunteer’s time.
  7. Hand-written thank you cards delivered via post. Bills, junk mail and unwanted catalogs clog our mailboxes. A hand-written letter in a colorful envelope is guaranteed to put a smile on your volunteer’s face.
  8. Acknowledge birthdays. Everyone from our dentist to our insurance agent send us postcards or emails. Add volunteer birthdays to a calendar and take a minute to send an email, a text or a card in the mail. *Tip: Don’t rely on memory. Download a free app like B’days to send you reminders.
  9. Create a Volunteer Board. Pinterest is the go-to website for the ambitious and creatively challenged alike. It offers hundreds of examples of inspirational designs to help you create a personalized volunteer spotlight board for your organization.
  10. Send random thank you texts or emails. Why wait for a special occasion to reach out to your volunteers? Keep a stack of pre-stamped thank you cards by your desk and when your volunteer really shines or puts in extra help, take a moment to write a thank you and drop it in the post.
  11. Pitch the volunteer’s story to a local paper, radio or news station. Even in today’s 24-hour news cycle, media is constantly searching for a good story to share. Just last week, The Courier Express ran this article about a local student who’d won the Presidential Volunteer Service Award and a Certificate of Excellence from The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.
  12. Know your volunteers by name. While this one may seem obvious, knowing your volunteers’ names goes a long way to making them feel appreciated. *Tip: Use the volunteer’s name every time you speak with them until you’ve got it memorized.
  13. Acknowledge volunteers in organization’s newsletter. While most volunteers don’t seek out public recognition, it feels nice to have our efforts spotlighted. Have a Volunteer of the Month in your newsletter and highlight the reasons why they excel at their jobs. *Tip: This public, positive reinforcement will inspire other volunteers.
  14. Parent’s night out. Even volunteers need a time to relax. Gather an army of staff and community members and offer a night of babysitting for your parents to get away for a couple of hours.
  15. Volunteer car wash. A water source, a couple of buckets and a warm Saturday afternoon is all this idea takes to lighten the chore load for your volunteers.

Volunteer Gift Labels

Who doesn’t love a good pun? The following punned phrases add a little extra to volunteer gift labels and help provide matching gift ideas.

  1. Thanks sew much.
  2. Thanks a latte.
  3. I donut know what we’d do without you.
  4. You are pear-fect.
  5. Thanks a bunch.
  6. Thank you very mochi.
  7. We’d go nuts without you.
  8. Thanks for going the EXTRA mile.
  9. Hands down, the best volunteer in town.
  10. Mani thanks!
  11. We need S’more volunteers like you.
  12. We really appreciate your commit-mint.
  13. No one can hold a candle to you.
  14. We can Nutella how much we appreciate you.
  15. You’re a Lifesaver!
  16. We’d go to pieces without you. Thanks for all your hard work.
  17. There aren’t enough Kisses in the world to say thanks for all you do.
  18. You’re the balm.
  19. This place would be a zoo without you.
  20. Thank you for the important roll you play in our organization.

Whether it’s a gift, a dinner or simply a face-to-face “thank you, “ gratitude goes a long way to volunteer retention and happiness. Do you have good volunteer appreciation ideas? Share them here! Find additional volunteer management tips in our VolunteerMark blog.

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5 Tips to Building a Strong Volunteer Base

Millions of individuals in the United States choose to give their talent, time and skills to help causes they believe in, and most nonprofits’ ability to operate and grow depend on that free labor. But even when your labor comes from the heart, managing different personalities and schedules is challenging.  

Effective volunteer management is vital to an organization’s success, and while each organization has its own strengths and challenges, there are fundamental management strategies that greatly improve a nonprofits’ chance of recruiting, retaining and keeping their volunteer workforce happy and engaged.  

And while some challenges are unique to the nonprofit sector, most management issues are similar to those in the for-profit sector. People want to feel valued, respected, intellectually and emotionally engaged, and proud of their work. By providing your volunteers clear and direct communication, administrative consistency and genuine appreciation of their work, you’ll set a strong foundation for your organization.

This article provides five simple but essential tips to better manage and overcome those challenges and build a community of long-term volunteers for your organization. 

  1. Find and Keep Great People

Finding and keeping great volunteers isn’t easy. In rare cases, you’ll get a passionate and skilled volunteer who walks in off the street, and when that happens—celebrate!  But more often than not, recruiting and retaining dedicated people to meet all the needs of the organization depend on many complicated factors.

Attrition is natural, but smarter recruitment may help you build a better matched core of volunteers from the beginning. Developing a dynamic and clear internal communications plan is the first step.  

In your marketing materials, start by communicating the benefits new recruits will experience, such as:

  • Fulfillment of social and/or community obligations.
  • Becoming part of a like-minded social network.
  • Gaining new social perspectives.
  • Learning new skills.
  • Sharpening existing skills/talents.
  • Personal enjoyment/fulfillment.

While attracting and marketing to volunteers is one component of organizational success, retaining those hard-won volunteers is just as important. When key volunteers leave, it may signal a sign of a problem within the organization to others.

Making things easy and understandable for volunteers keeps them engaged and reduces frustration. Clear and accommodating scheduling is key, but trying to keep track of volunteer hours, schedules and changes manually is nearly impossible. Like everyone, volunteers have varying degrees of availability. The right management software platform can automate these tasks and give your volunteers autonomy and flexibility. By providing your volunteers with a choice of fixed and flexible positions as well as one-time events, you’ll be able to better cover your shift needs, and volunteers can quickly choose a position that works best with their own schedule, whether that means a regular reoccurring shift, like afternoon tutoring, or a one-time event, like handing out water during a 5k. And if a volunteer has to cancel unexpectedly, having an automated communication system to quickly cover those shifts helps ensure your event or program can continue to run smoothly.

2. Provide Good Volunteer Training and Skill Match

Passion about the cause is one of the most important traits you want in your volunteer. But even passionate volunteers need training, which can range from job-specific skills to cultural sensitivity.  One strategy is training volunteers on multiple jobs/duties. Volunteers with more than one skill can when an unexpected cancellation or no show occurs.

Another strategy is to best match volunteers with their unique skills and interests. While some volunteers may want to stretch outside their comfort zone and try a new skill, try to match people with the jobs and duties they signed up for or have expressed an interest in. Even if matching work does not exist in the moment, a volunteer’s abilities, education and skills should be acknowledged.

Time and effort are saved with the ability to filter results by keywords to quickly identify skills and/or causes. This should begin by enabling volunteers to establish skill sets and causal interests when creating their personal profiles. Additionally, this approach can help volunteers find the right organization while simultaneously allowing organizations to get an idea of what a volunteer’s strengths are before meeting them.

3.  Develop a Consistent Training and Onboarding Process

Volunteers join your organization because they are passionate about your cause. However, without an organized onboarding and training plan, even the most well-intentioned volunteers can become frustrated. Every successful onboarding plan meets the following criteria:

  • Defines the organizational mission.
  • Defines clear expectations of the role and/or job.
  • Provides clear and simple communication tools to reach leaders and peers.
  • Provides access to all the necessary tools to do the job well.
  • Provides access or links to educational literature.
  • Provides online access to organizational calendar of events and
  • Autonomy to sign up for events, fill out forms and provide feedback and/or concerns.

4. Keep the Volunteer Passion Burning Brightly

While volunteers’ motivations for giving their time to your organization varies, most stem from a genuine desire to help make the world a better place. Their reward comes from a sense of knowing they’re making a difference in the world. Even though many in the for-profit world also find joy and satisfaction in their jobs, let’s be honest—we put up with a lot because of the paycheck. Volunteer work, however, doesn’t have the same incentives—they know they’re valuable and in high demand and can walk away at any time. Your organization is one of many responsibilities in their lives, and demonstrating a respect of their time is key.  To keep volunteers happy and passionate about the mission, here some key questions to periodically ask, both through formal surveys and through your everyday conversations:

  • Do you enjoy your work?
  • Do you feel valued?
  • Do you feel you have access to all the tools necessary to do your job well?
  • Do you feel supported?
  • Do you receive timely and adequate information?
  • Do you feel that your work furthers the organizational goals/mission?
  • Do you feel the work you do is making a difference?

Ongoing communication is key to maintaining passion levels among volunteers and reminding them they aren’t alone. Management software must be able to support ongoing communication via multiple channels like group text messaging and/or targeted emails to individuals and groups that may be tagged according to skillsets, events, programs or departments. These and other tools will maintain high levels of interest and engagement and show volunteers your serious commitment to the cause.

5. Show Gratitude

Everyone wants to feel appreciated and valued. It can be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day activities and forget to say thanks or acknowledge how valued your volunteers are to the success of the mission. Volunteering is, at its roots, an emotional endeavor. Having a software program that gives quick access to see your volunteers’ hours, length of service and feedback allows you to communicate that thanks through multiple channels, from a quick text or email to a phone call. Dr. Laura Trice, in her 2008 Ted talk, explains the power of the words “thank you.” These small but appreciated words of gratitude not only let your volunteers know their indispensable contribution, but it builds loyalty too.  

Although we’re biased, VolunteerMark has all the necessary tools to effectively recruit, retain and keep volunteers happy and engaged. From quick and easy communication through multiple channels, simple and varied event set up and robust reporting tools, VolunteerMark allows nonprofit managers to automate many time-consuming tasks and focus on the bigger, more complex organizational challenges for sustainability and growth. Are you ready to take your organization to the next level? Sign up for a free trial here.



VolunteerMark is an online software application that helps nonprofit organizations and their volunteers maximize the volunteer experience through communication, scheduling, and reporting tools.

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