Bonnie Andrews, Volunteer Milwaukee Manager at NPC, recently shifted to a part-time role with the organization after 16 years of full-time leadership and service, and after receiving the 2016 Governor’s Volunteer Engagement Award this June. We took the opportunity to ask her to reflect on her time with Volunteer Milwaukee and NPC, the changes she’s seen in Milwaukee volunteerism, and what she plans to do next.
NPC: What is your favorite experience from all the years you’ve spent on volunteerism?
Bonnie: Volunteer Milwaukee connects volunteers with opportunities to serve, so our customers are both the volunteers and the nonprofits.
Every year we have a volunteer celebration and we get nominations of people who are doing great work in the community – but thy are often the unsung heroes out there doing terrific things every day, and I love meeting them. Working with the volunteers, people who want to help out of the goodness of their own heart, is wonderful. It’s so satisfying to meet people who are good and want to help.
My other favorite thing has to do with working with the nonprofits, especially with the Service Enterprise Initiative. This is a national model to train and support nonprofits as they engage volunteers throughout the organization and at every level to help them accomplish their mission through volunteer engagement. The Service Enterprise Initiative is something I’ll continue to work on, and we are recruiting now for our next group to begin in November.
NPC: What have you learned about volunteerism during your time at Volunteer Milwaukee and NPC?
Bonnie: One of the things I’ve learned is that there’s a role for everyone to play here. No matter who you are, there is something you can do to help the community as a volunteer. On the nonprofit side, I’ve learned that all nonprofits are unique. The way they engage volunteers might be different, they all might have a slightly different process. Every nonprofit has to take the principles and best practices I’m giving them and customize them to fit their own unique organization. In order for volunteering to work well, it takes effort and commitment on both the part of the volunteer and the nonprofit to make it successful.
NPC: You mention there’s a role for everyone to play through volunteering within the community. How would you suggest to someone to get involved in volunteering who has never done it before?
Bonnie: For some people it’s about what they care about. Some will say, “This problem really bothers me, so I want to help the cause to solve it.” Other people may not be as driven by the cause, but have a skill they want to use, or they just want to interact with people.
It starts with looking at yourself, determining what your motivation is for volunteering, and following that; that’s when you’ll be successful, when you understand more about yourself and why you want to volunteer.
You can start your search by doing a search on our website, volunteermilwaukee.org. The other thing is to just be open, because requests will come your way, or you’ll read an article online and you’ll see how you can help. If you determine what you’d like to do and are open for volunteering, if you keep your ears and heart open, you’ll find a place.
NPC: How have things changed in volunteerism over the years?
Bonnie: I think millennials wants something different than people in past decades. Everyone’s volunteering; students are volunteering, there’s service learning-goal directed volunteering, millennials are volunteering and they may want to volunteer for more short-term opportunities and not make the long-term commitment, so it may be more skill-based or project volunteering. Families are volunteering.
Corporate volunteering has increased. There’s more of an interest on companies to get their employees out volunteering. Because more people are volunteering, more people see the options. Some people volunteer just because they want to help, and other people have a specific learning objective. They want to gain skills they can use in their work or in finding a job. People want to make connections, or get into a new field. Some people volunteer because they want to help, and there are lots ad lots of other reasons.
NPC: In your opinion, why is it that Milwaukee is so good at volunteering? How did we get to be number three of all the cities in America?
Bonnie: Isn’t that amazing! We have been in the top five for a number of years. In order for us to be in this place, it requires volunteers who want to help. There’s all kinds of research done about why people volunteer, and one of the reasons is commitment to community. People who are long-term residents of a community feel a connection, and that’s true of people in the Midwest. People from the Midwest volunteer more than people in any other parts of the country.
We also have the non-profits who want to engage them. There has to be a place for those people to volunteer and we have that too. We have a lot of non-profits in Milwaukee, which includes schools, congregations, and other organizations who might utilize volunteers. Our non-profits are ready to engage volunteers effectively.
The third thing you need is a connector. You need a way for people to find one another, and that’s where we come in. We have a resource here, Volunteer Milwaukee, that helps people connect. We have all those three things in place.
NPC: You’ve given a lot of time and energy into promoting engagement in the community. How would you like people to remember your time with Volunteer Milwaukee?
Bonnie: Everybody wants to feel like they make a difference in the work that they do every day. We had a volunteer here a number of years ago who did some marketing materials for us, and she said, “What we’re all about is more people volunteering more effectively.”
Wouldn’t it be great if the result of the work we are doing is that more people volunteer and the nonprofits engage them more effectively to increase the impact on the community.
I was at a meeting a couple months ago and heard the story of a man, an older gentleman, who had a serious surgery and he couldn’t wait to get back to volunteering. That’s where his connection and meaning came from. No matter who you are, there’s a place for you as a volunteer, and it can be so satisfying.