This week we are shining our volunteer spotlight on a member of the PlanHero™ family, co-founder Jennifer Berman. Her experience and insights are truly inspiring; you don’t want to miss her five key volunteer tips from her time in the trenches!
Tell us a little about yourself, both BC and AC (before and after children):
Before I had kids, I founded an investment real estate firm specializing in multi-family acquisitions and management. When my kids were very young, I still worked insane hours. So when they started school, I was anxious to volunteer as a way to be involved in their lives. After only a couple of years on the PTA, I ended up being president. In 2006, I stepped up to create a huge new signature fundraising effort for the school that I co-chaired until 2017. Even though my kids are long gone from the school, I still play a significant volunteer role each time it comes around because I believe in the event.
In 2010, my daughters (now 17 and 21) joined 4-H. By 2015, I was a Community Club Leader and Project Leader for Public Speaking. I currently head evaluator recruitment for 4-H County Presentation Day and am now an advisor for the 4-H County Ambassador program.
Tell us about one of your most rewarding volunteer experiences.
Certainly one of the most rewarding experiences has to be the very first year we pulled off the new signature fundraiser at my kid’s school. Conventional thought before this event was that getting people drunk was the only way to raise serious money. My co-founders and I rejected this idea and instead planned an old-fashioned day of family fun. To date, this event raises more money for the school than any other and 13 years later not a drop of alcohol has been served. I was told by so many that this event would not be a success. My victory dance at the end of the day was definitely my most satisfying and rewarding volunteer moment, especially when the most vocal opponent came up to congratulate me on the dance floor.
What keeps you coming back for more?
Since my kids joined 4-H in 2010, I have become increasingly passionate about this organization and the even greater potential it has to provide kids with cutting-edge career skills. As a local leader, I coordinate projects on topics such as public speaking, job interview and resume writing, and the basics of social and professional etiquette. While these used to be considered “soft” skills, they are now the “hard” skills kids need to distinguish themselves in a workplace that is becoming increasingly automated. 4-H is America’s largest youth development program with 6 million members. That’s a lot of kids and an enormous established network!
My goal is to work with 4-H at the national level to develop curricula that teaches these important skills and to make this programming accessible to every member of the organization. 4-H is the only organization with this magnitude of influence. My involvement allows me to be impactful at a local level while taking advantage of national resources.
Jen’s Top-5 Takeaways:
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about being a volunteer and about being a leader of volunteers. With over 2000 volunteer hours racked up, here are my top five key takeaways from this much time in the trenches:
- Leaders need to see the big picture, understand the mission and be able to communicate it to their volunteers. They have to whole-heartedly believe in their cause in order to get the volunteer buy-in needed to be effective. Passion drives volunteer efforts forward.
- Never underestimate the power of a personal invitation. It’s the best, most underutilized, volunteer recruitment technique I have found. And a personal, sincere thank you seals the deal on retention.
- Match volunteers interests, gifts and talents with tasks that need to be done. Many people resist volunteering because they think they will be asked to do things outside of their comfort zone. Make your volunteer appeal a big tent. What you discover about the abilities of your volunteer base can change the approach to your effort.
- Make volunteering as easy as possible. Minimize the need for volunteers to reinvent the wheel. Provide them with the “how-to” tools, direction and technology they need to be successful.
- Emphasize volunteering as a great opportunity to connect and form meaningful relationships with people otherwise not normally met. I made many of my dearest friends while working on volunteer projects together. It’s in people working together for the greater good that makes volunteering so rewarding.
How about you? Do you have any words of wisdom to add about PTA or 4-H volunteer leadership? Or volunteering leadership in general?