The Benefits of Dedicating Yourself to One Cause

These past weeks, between the podcast and several blogposts, we’ve had some highly meaningful discussions about ways that we can recruit dedicated volunteers to our causes. I can’t thank all of you enough for getting involved in these conversations – I’ve absolutely loved being a part of it, and have learned a great deal from your involvement. If you’vebeen reading, but have been shy about commenting – please don’t be! We’d love to have your voice on here, or on the podcast.

Okay – so on Monday, I shot you a guide for the types of companies that I’ve seen offering paid volunteer programs. I’m hopeful this will serve as a resource for you as you connect with area businesses to recruit long term volunteers. I want to add to that conversation today by sharing a powerful philosophy that we can use to empower our volunteers. As I mentioned in this article, businesses can provide an awesome pool of volunteers that are both dedicated, and paid by their employer. But oftentimes, this won’t be enough. As volunteer coordinators, we also need to convince people that dedicating themselves to our cause will make them part of a movement that is much larger than any of us. If we fail to do this, it will be a challenge to recruit volunteers for the long haul. So, I want to share with you my personal philosophy on this as a way of providing you with another story you can share with prospective volunteers:

Over the years, I’ve been pretty involved with community service… I devoted a year of my life to AmeriCorps, worked for 3 years at my college’s community service office, served indigenous farmers in Peru, and have been involved with Habitat for Humanity and World Relief for a number of years now.

But, despite this seemingly solid record of giving back – I have to admit that I really never felt focused in my volunteering until I recently chose to commit exclusively and regularly to World Relief . Before I really dedicated myself to one cause, I felt fairly scattered in my attempts at serving my community. The simple reality was that the pressures in my life (and I really didn’t have pressures beyond the ‘normal’ pressures we all face) made it highly difficult to give my all to the multiple causes I was involved in. By dedicating myself to just one cause, I’ve been able to serve families more deeply, understand my cause more fully, and enjoy a much richer experience at the non-profit I volunteer with.

I cannot deny that my experiences volunteering at many places were extremely powerful and important for me. In fact, it’s really the only way I was able to zero in on my central cause. In the long term, however, I think we need to be focused on bringing in recurring volunteers because this is the only way to truly transform our communities. I know that sounds like a difficult task, but I truly believe that by focusing the efforts of our volunteers, we can reshape volunteering. I’ll give you an example – about a year ago, I decided that I was going to focus my 5 hours serving each week (I think just about everyone should have 3-5 hours of volunteering each week, but that’s another topic for another day…) on just one organization – World Relief. World Relief helps incoming refugees acclimate to life in the U.S. The reality is, the number of families coming far exceeds the capacity of World Relief’s support staff, so they need volunteers to help families navigate tasks such as renting an apartment, grocery shopping, and making appointments. For refugees thrust into a strange country because of circumstances beyond their control, even the small things become daunting. I knew I could help, so I work with the same family each week. I teach them English, help them navigate appointments, and generally make sure they aren’t lost in a system they don’t understand…

See, the key here is, I’m building a relationship of trust and deep friendship with them. Because I only focus on them, we can really get into our English lessons or just go to a cultural outing on a Friday night. Again, it’s not more than 3-5 hours every other week, but its focused, it’s deliberate, and I will be a part of their lives for the foreseeable future. I know in my heart I’ll make a far deeper, far more meaningful impact in their lives than through a one-time service event.

What if we all did this? What if everyone had one cause they devoted five hours (and heck, while I’m at it, 10% of their resources) to each week? We could change our country! Every kid struggling to read could have a reading partner every week who, get this, wouldn’t disappear!! No refugee family would have to arrive to the U.S. only to be defeated by systems they simply do not understand. Most importantly, this would do more to bridge the gap between races, between the rich and the poor, between refugee and resident than just about anything else out there.

5 hours. 1 cause that has meaning for you. Enough to change the world.

How can the above help us as we try to motivate volunteers to commit for the long-term?

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Competition Among Charities


Are NPOs fighting to stay relevant?

The main reason why a nonprofit organization would join the United Way is because the UW allocates money to its member agencies. So if the United Way of Kansas City has decided to allocate $39,043,234 (2010 990 Form) to the 116 member agencies, each organization will receive a piece of the pie. In 2010, the recipients of the largest (United Way Kansas City) grants were the American Red Cross ($1.5 million), Family Conservancy ($1.1 million), and the YMCA ($1.1 million) whereas the smallest (UWKC) grants went to Belton School District ($5,200), Harrisonville NETT ($5,243), and Hope Haven ($5,292). The disbursement of funds is decided by

The United Way of Greater Kansas City conducts an annual review of grantee programs and agencies. This review includes the submission of reports that include year-end units of service, program outcomes and financial data, as well as in-person interviews with representatives of funded programs. In addition, uwgkc’s funding agreement with each recipient agency requires compliance with more than forty standards of accountability. When agencies first seek uwgkc funding, they must demonstrate compliance with the standards by completing a self-assessment questionnaire and participate in an on-site interview with United Way representatives. Certification and community impact board committees have responsibility for oversight of this process. when significant problems or concerns are identified, a mechanism is in place for additional meetings and/or reporting, as needed, to monitor the viability of funded programs and organizations.

So by being a member agency of the United Way you could potentially receive quite a bit of funding, but (hopefully) organizations are demonstrating that they are operating responsibly and are committed to achieving results in the org’s mission.

Chasing the money

NPOs are not exempt from corruption. What’s to stop an organization from doing just enough to convince the United Way that they are deserving of the money? Is it even important whether or not an organization is effective in accomplishing their mission, so long as they can prove to the issuer of grants that they are deserving of the money? Sadly, the answer depends on who you are asking. The United Way agencies can even become protective of their ‘sugar daddy’. Consider a town with 30 UW member agencies that has for the last 10 years remained fairly constant. If a new organization enters town boasting claims of higher efficiency and better results- those 30 organizations must step up their game to achieve comparably levels of return on investment if they want to continue receiving their accustomed monthly stipend. Instead of meeting the challenge, forming new partnerships, sharing resources, and increasing collaboration to meet the new expectations, it would be much easier to gripe and complain and even try to sabotage the more successful organization. Human nature is to be protective. According to Fundraising Strategies and Challenges Of Nonprofit Organizations:

The findings in Barman’s article suggest that competition may have important effects at the level of the field. The pressures of competition incite nonprofits to adopt the exact opposite strategic response. Organizations seek one another to identify and fill different roles. Nonprofits may attempt to construct a hierarchy of comparison so they come out on top and an organizational field will exhibit diversity across its organizational members. The field will be one in which nonprofits are constantly negotiating and positioning themselves in relationship to each another.

How then can we incentivizenonprofits to be successful?

Being the best

NPOs have to market themselves. Many organizations within the same geographic area are in fact doing the same things. How can a person wanting to support a good cause know where their time/money will go the furthest? It’s overwhelming. And choosing wrongly could result in a damaged perception of NPOs in general potentially leading that person to be less likely to get involved in the future. Perhaps the organization with the best marketing strategy will win the donor’s heart. How can we really know which organization is the best?

Competition drives innovation and motivates us to be better. But only if we look at it that way. Consider how competition helps businesses and now lets apply this same way of thinking to nonprofits.

A sustainable approach

Robert Egger is one individual who is advocating for a 21st century model of social enterprises for charitable organizations. The DC Central Kitchen which he started in 1989, “prides itself on being “more than a soup kitchen” and invites homeless people, former felons and other struggling individuals to learn how to prepare food in a working environment to give them the skills necessary to find employment. Nightclubs and restaurants donate excess food to supply the organization.” So rather than just being another soup kitchen, this operation is sustainable in that the employees are formerly homeless individuals who are now learning employment skills and the food comes from a free resource as well: leftover food that would have otherwise been thrown away. Genius!

Another cool social enterprise is the Recycletronics Recycling Program in Georgia. The program provides jobs to people with disabilities. A growing problem in the area was the abundance of outdated electronics that were ending up in landfills because they were too costly to properly recycle. So the Tommy Nobis Center opened up a new business to recycle these materials. Individuals and businesses donate used computers, tvs, cell phones, and other electronics to the center. The center has recycled over 55,000 pounds of electronics and has created 13 jobs for youth and adults who otherwise would be considered unemployable.


The not-for-profit world is exceedingly challenging. Not-for-profits and businesses alike must concern themselves with issues of money and competition. Nonprofits, rise to the occasion and reinvent yourself with an innovative and sustainable approach to change the way we look at problems!


Asserting Difference: The Strategic Response of Nonprofit Organizations to Competition. Emily A. Barman, Social Forces. Vol. 80, No. 4 (Jun., 2002), pp. 1191-1222

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Nonprofit organizations

Charities are a growing trendimage

Non-profits are cropping up all over the place. According to this article,, non-profit organizations have a remarkably high grow rate and revenue increases when compared to standard businesses. Today there are over 1.2 million non-profits in the U.S. (and more if you factor in the ones that have less than $25,000 revenue).

What does having more charitable organizations mean?

Bigger need for social services? More population? Is there money to be made in the field?

Sure, you would have a pretty good argument that today there is more of a need for social services than ever. Unfortunately I did not yield any fruitful data from my research using online databases courtesy of the Kansas City Public Library. I was trying to find statistics about the number of “poor and needy” people in the US over the past 20 or 30 years. I did find that, “nearly one out of every five American children lives in poverty — one of the highest poverty rates in the developed world (Neuman 2008). I find it important to keep in mind that what it means to be considered “poor” should be considered controversial. There are certain political gains to be made by raising or lowering the “poverty line”. Plus, how accurate can our data be? Whether we are looking at percentages of the population that make less than a certain amount or the amount of people that are served by social services, the number of people who are caught in the cycle of poverty continues to stay the same or slightly increase (I do not have a source for this so please give me some evidence if this is not true). Non-profits serve many different societal needs besides just the poor and disenfranchised. However, I think there is something alarming about the fact that the number of new non-profits is growing rapidly with literally millions of organizations and yet nothing or very little seems to be happening in terms of yielding sustaining results.

Yes, the population is growing. Slightly. Unfortunately the only statistics I could find were 10 years old, but in the year 2000 it reports that the percentage of poverty has remained the same over the years (Indiana Business Review 2000). So with non-profits springing up at such an impressive rate, there are more charitable organizations today than ever before yet the same amount of poverty and social needs. So are non-profits really helping the world??

There isn’t any money to be made in the field. Of course unless your plan is to embezzle funding or in some cases CEO’s can make $1.2 million salary but you are crazy to enter the non-profit world to try to get rich.

The industry does create a lot of jobs. The non-profit sector is responsible for 7% of all US Jobs. So this might be a good place to look for employment opportunities and by the look of things, the trend of new nonprofits will only increase.


Neuman, Susan, ed. Educating the Other America: TopExperts Tackle Poverty, Literacy, and Achievement in Our Schools. Baltimore, Md.: Brookes, 2008.

Poverty in the United States. (2000). Indiana Business Review: IN Context, 1(10), 8-9+. Retrieved August 20, 2011, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID: 65228836).

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