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hot takes

Volunteer Engagement Leadership Conference: Hot Takes

June 5-7, 2024



Breakout Session Descriptions

(subject to change)

Brave Boundaries and Why They Matter

Marilou Chanrasmi

Are you feeling like your life is off balance? Do you say “Yes” when you mean “No”? In this offering you will a) learn about different types of boundaries and how to recognize what kind of boundary is right for you in the moment, b) you will experience embodied practices and learn to listen to the wisdom of your body, and c) you will learn about the balance and the dance of boundaries and boundless states.

We will reflect, learn and call upon the collective wisdom of the circle to bring forth lived experiences and traditional knowledge around what boundaries are, what boundaries we hold consciously and unconsciously, and how they shape how we show up and connect with others. And we will practice reclaiming our voice and setting and holding boundaries aligned with who we are and what matters to us.

Beat burnout and turnover: establishing role clarity and making it stick

Mary Uran

It’s time to address the elephant in the sector: nonprofits are infamous for wearing their staff thin. Self-reported employee burnout and voluntary turnover are higher at nonprofits than in other sectors, and recent surveys show that large numbers of nonprofit staff are considering departing their roles within the next year.

As a nonprofit leader, you may feel like your hands are tied: after all, there’s only so much money in the budget for raises and bonuses. But money is only a small part of the problem—and the solution. The next frontier of burnout prevention and mitigation begins higher up on the job listing; it shows up in every interview, meeting agenda, and staff retreat. In this session, Mary Uran will share lessons from Compass Pro Bono’s own journey of stepping back 22 years after our founding to strategically restructure a 16-person team of staff. She will discuss how role clarity can drastically increase the impact and efficiency of staff time, what it really takes to maintain divisions of labor day-to-day, and how to set employees up for long-term success when they encounter the “grey areas” between their own roles and those of other staff (or even volunteers).

Participants will walk away with step-by-step frameworks for advocating for—and achieving—role clarity at their organizations. what matters to us.


Patti Neiman and Zeinab Mohamud

Volunteers have been classified as “outdated” in 2024! Oh no! Challenges in recruitment, engagement and retention of young adult volunteers is something we have a great deal of experience in, it can be quite the roller coaster considering the multiple transitions they face in their late teens and early 20’s! We will share our University YMCA experiences while we engage in creative fun as we rename, redesign the concept of “volunteers” and leave with a refreshed perspective on the gifts and challenges of young adult and volunteerism in general for 2024 and beyond.

Bridging Informal & Formal Volunteering: Exploring the Intersections

Brianna Stapleton Welch
We'll collaboratively explore the places in our organizations and communities where informal and formal volunteering intersect. Hear a story from Little Free Library about how the organization is navigating formal and informal volunteer roles. Then, connect in small groups as we reflect on the benefits and challenges of informal volunteer roles. When does it enhance engagement to add structure to a volunteer program? When does that structure build barriers for volunteer engagement? Bring your own stories about constructing or deconstructing a volunteer program to share!

Can We Talk? Getting Comfortable with Uncomfortable Conversations

Karen Pattison

Most of us have probably read all the books about having those difficult conversations with volunteers, but reading and doing are two very different things. In this workshop we will collaborate with each other as we role-play real life scenarios, using our experience and skills to coach our peers through those difficult face-to-face moments with volunteers.

We’ll be creating our roles as volunteer manager/volunteer with the help of brief general outlines, and will be talking through performance issues, policy compliance, appropriate communication with co-workers, and many more uncomfortable topics! Come to this workshop prepared to share, laugh, and maybe even cringe as we bring out into the open one of the most challenging aspects of volunteer management. Who knows, there may be an Oscar in your future . . . 

Creating Affirming Spaces for LGBTQIA+ Volunteers

Anne Sutkowi-Hemstreet

Being a part of spaces that are affirming is essential for ALL of us to be able to show up as our authentic selves. To create affirming spaces for LGBTQIA+ volunteers, organizations, and their employees, there needs to be intentionality with their procedures, policies, and behaviors.

This workshop will offer strategies and insights for co-creating respectful and affirming spaces for LGBTQIA+ volunteers. Topics include strategies for recruiting LGBTQIA+ volunteers, training volunteers to show up for LGBTQIA+ youth, adapting physical spaces to be more inclusive, and more.  

Bridging our Differences

Karl Samp

In this session, participants will experience how different people apply different meanings to what they see and hear based on their roles, values, and experiences. They will practice letting go of the primacy of their own view through focused listening and sending a clear message; valuable skills in our current polarized society.

Disabled People Are Human: Why Disability Inclusion Is Vital In Volunteer Work

Ashley Daniels

Disabled people are not allowed to be human in the eyes of non-disabled people. We are seen in one of two ways: we are seen as 'inspirations' for daring to exist in disabled bodies, or our humanity is not considered, and non-disabled people often forget to include disabled people in conversations all together. Infantilism of disabled people is real. So real, that the term 'special' to describe our human needs was created by non-disabled people to make them feel more comfortable describing us when 'disability' and 'disabled' are neutral, descriptive terms that describe a human experience. Competence is not assumed, and disabled people have had to fight for our humanity to be recognized. Volunteer work is a way to recognize humanity. To do good in the world for others who need support. Disabled people are just as worthy to provide said support as non-disabled people, we just need to be given an equitable chance to do so.

In this session, 

  • I will provide an overview on visible vs. invisible disabilities by using universal designs for learning in combination with sharing my lived experiences with my own disabilities and ways I need to be accommodated.

  • I will use my own disabilities of autism and ADHD to simulate "This is what it can feel like" to explain certain aspects of my experiences to help Volunteer Engagement Leaders understand the barriers disabled volunteers can face. 

  • I will lead groups through scenarios, in order to critically think about and discuss how they would provide accommodations in order to include the volunteers in the scenarios.  

My workshop will help Volunteer Engagement Leaders take steps (for some it might be their first) into the world of anti-ableism work by being able to understand what ableism is and ways to combat it when the norms of our society are to ignore it. There are a lot of uncomfortable truths that come with a workshop like this, as most people participate in ableism without even realizing it. To recognize ableism (especially intersectionally), is to deviate from "business as usual." To take actions to call out and stop ableism from happening, will radically transform a world that was not built with disabled people in mind.

At the end of the session, Volunteer Engagement Leaders will be able to: identify implicit and explicit ableist biases, name a variety of ways in which to accommodate disabled volunteers, and know the importance of servicing the whole volunteer through disability inclusion efforts. 

Hot Approaches to Innovate Engagement and Organizational Capacity

Noel Landuyt

Regardless of size or mission, nonprofits have an opportunity to engage community members in the work of generating social impact. Catalyzing the power of volunteers requires resources and a curiosity to explore organizational strengths and weaknesses. This session is for leaders interested in how evaluation and assessment can lead to greater insights, strategic resource allocation and, ultimately, an organization with meaningful and effective volunteer opportunities. This session has four parts:

• a brief introduction to the diagnostic tool (Index of Volunteer Engagement)

• facilitated discussion of the human service value chain and evaluation strategies currently being used by participants

• sharing preliminary findings from the first year national sample of organizations of the Index of Volunteer engagement data

• best practice sharing and use of data moving forward conversation.

I Help People Find (Unpaid) Rewarding Jobs!

Robin Hunt

We are all looking for innovative ways to attract volunteer talent for our team. This session will share some recruitment strategies that will help you: grow a student volunteer population, promote special programs like Pet Therapy and enlist traditional volunteers that are loyal to their organization.

During our time together, get ready to roll up your sleeves and dive into an immersive workshop experience.  You’ll craft your ideal volunteer profile and learn the art of securing enthusiastic commitments.  Whether you are new to volunteer management or a seasoned VET, you will walk away with valuable insights and game-changing strategies to not only attract dedicated volunteers but gain those committed to your mission’s success.  Don’t miss out on this opportunity to supercharge your volunteer recruitment efforts!

A New Vision of Youth-Led, Youth-Driven Service

Alli Zuel

What do you consider youth service? Does it encompass the aspects that young people consider service? Join America's Service Commissions for a discussion on youth-led, youth-driven service including new research and studies from a partnership between The Allstate Foundation and the Center for Expanding Leadership & Opportunity (CELO). We'll cover the new research and discuss what that means for leaders of volunteers and the volunteer engagement space. We'll also brainstorm ideas on how to shift and incorporate this expanded understanding of service into your work to reach more youth and engage them meaningfully. 

Our Hot Take: You're Using the Wrong Language to Recruit Volunteers

Geng Wang

Imagine sparking a conversation that's not just heard, but genuinely felt. This session will teach you how! We'll explore how the right words can ignite a powerful connection with your audience by using the language market fit framework. From heartwarming stories to relatable messaging, we're here to help your nonprofit bridge the communication gap and build lasting relationships. Additionally, you'll leave equipped with an array of technologies to amplify this language. Whether you're a grassroots organization or an established cause, this session is your guide to crafting messages that will recruit your next batch of volunteers. 

Say it Plainly to Spark Interest: Using Plain Language Communications for Better Public Engagement

Christine Petersen

For more than a decade, governments have been required to use plain language communications in materials that may be accessed by the general public. Increasingly, businesses and non-profits are expected to do the same. This idea is often met with reluctance. Why? Look up synonyms for plain and you'll find a long list of uninspiring words such as ordinary, simple, average or ugly. Those associations make plain language seem boring, insufficient or perhaps insulting to the audience. But look deeper and you’ll also find these descriptors of plain: clear-cut, sincere, perceptible and accessible—reminders that plain language is actually about making your communications more relatable and useful to the audience. Workshop participants will learn about plain language communications, practice translating jargon-heavy or wordy materials to achieve clarity and tell stories, look at the use of design and layout strategies for better readability, and take home resources to help implement what they've learned.

Self-Centered Volunteerism

Michael Nguyen

What's in it for me? Take a unique approach to giving back.  Let's look at various motivations for someone who needs to get a benefit when making a difference. Challenge traditional perceptions of volunteerism and discuss the intersection of self-interest and altruism. Discover the unexpected ways in which self-centeredness can inspire genuine acts of kindness.

Supervising Culturally Diverse Volunteers: Key Principles to Keep in Mind

Dr. Luiza Dreasher

Globalization and increased immigration are forcing organizations to change their practices and processes. What worked before no longer applies to our multicultural environments. In today's diverse work environment, supervisors often find themselves collaborating with volunteers from various cultural backgrounds. It's crucial for supervisors to not only understand these cultural differences but also to effectively work well across these differences.

The problem is that our cultural orientation often gets in the way we act. Our culture is like a rulebook that dictates the way we think, feel, and behave. If we, however, understand the underlying causes of why people behave the way they do, we are more likely to anticipate how they act or react in a variety of situations. Misunderstandings and miscommunication will most certainly occur if we fail to take cultural differences into account. Understanding cultural differences and their impact on the work we do is key to creating productive, and truly inclusive interactions.
After this workshop, participants will
• Recognize a few major barriers to effective cross-cultural interactions.
• Learn what to consider when working with culturally diverse volunteers.
• Gain a deeper understanding of how culture impacts behavior.
• Understand how the meaning of “effective leadership” varies a great deal between groups.
• Learn the importance of going beyond the spoken world so they can communicate more effectively with culturally diverse volunteers.
• Apply what they learned by analyzing a cultural incident.
• Share learnings and how they will apply to their interactions with culturally diverse volunteers.

Stop Under-Reporting the Results of Your Volunteer Engagement

Tony Goodrow

The hours your volunteers contribute are an important metric, but those alone do not accurately communicate the value to the community that is created though the volunteer engagement you manage. Most Leaders of Volunteers under-report the real value but there’s a simple process you can use to make a substantial difference in your reporting.

In this workshop you’ll learn:

  • A new approach to using for the Wage Replacement Value provided by the Independent Sector,
  • How to determine the overall Community Benefit Value (CBV),
  • New approaches to volunteer placement that increase CBV and contribute more to your mission,
  • How to prepare new types of reports that create compelling fundraising communications and can fuel data driven decisions.


The Forbidden Truth: Volunteers and Donors Are the Same People (You Just Didn’t Know It)

Joshua Meyer

Volunteers are the lifeblood of so many nonprofits. They can also be some of your most reliable and consistent donors. Research shows that volunteers are 80% more likely to donate and make larger gifts. (And donors who volunteer? Their retention rate is through the roof!) In this session, you'll see how you can turn your volunteers into loyal and engaged donors. You'll learn how to pinpoint what motivates your volunteers and donors, tips for segmenting your volunteers (so you tell them the right story!) and how to double down on your storytelling to volunteers. So if you're one of the many nonprofits who are reluctant to ask their volunteers to become donors and their donors to become volunteers, come to this session and stop leaving money on the table.

Volunteer Managers Can Rule the World: Translating your career skills & positioning yourself for growth

 Kelly Mortvedt

We all know volunteer managers have the skills to run the world. But others don't. If you've ever looked for a new opportunity at your current organization or applied for a new job, this may sound familiar: "Oh, you work with volunteers? Cute. How fun to hang out with people all day!" Hot take: It can be difficult to break the volunteer professional stigma but it’s possible with a bit of creativity and a whole lot of intentionality.


In this interactive workshop, we'll explore tools and resources to:

- Translate your skills to others

- Write a proposal for a new stretch project, new position or title, or a raise

- Leverage networking for increased opportunities