Conference Opener Calls for Change, Compassion, Innovation
Bold calls to changemakers, building the capacity of nonprofits, and a vision for the future where one’s status is based more on earned reputation than credit rating – the opening day of the 2016 Conference on Volunteering and Service served up a robust slate of speakers, workshops, and a plenary session that found Lonnie Ali, Muhammad Ali’s widow, telling the rapt audience, “The soul of a nation is measured by the goodness of its people.”
“Imagine if our status in life was determined by how we live on this planet and how we interact with others,” said Points of Light CEO Tracy Hoover at the opening plenary. “We’re working toward a world where our ideas and innovations connect us and build trust within and across our communities.”
“We come together to build and lead a more powerful, more vibrant volunteer sector,” said Points of Light Chair Neil Bush, opening the Conference of 3,000 attendees and introducing co-title sponsors JPMorgan Chase and UPS.
Honorary Conference Chair David Abney, CEO of UPS, put the spotlight on stories of the fleet of UPS volunteers who are successfully driving the company to its goal of 20 million volunteer hours. Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, announced that AmeriCorps' 1 millionth member is on the near horizon.
Those huge numbers reflect, in sum, the individual power of leaders such as Brittany Packnett, executive director of Teach for America, St. Louis. "Charity is temporary, solidarity is sustainable," Packnett said in an impassioned speech on what the end goals of service should be. Lonnie Ali introduced Veronika Scott, founder of The Empowerment Plan and recipient of both an Ali Foundation Award and a Daily Point of Light Award. Scott’s program hires homeless single parents to make and distribute coats – 15,000 to date. “Homelessness isn't a life sentence,” said Scott, “It should be a moment in time.”
Michael Smith, special assistant to the President and senior director of Cabinet affairs for My Brother's Keeper at the White House, led a panel who shared a range of experience working with opportunity youth: Tonya Allen of the Skillman Foundation, Dr. Truman Hudson of the Social Innovation Institute, Dhani Jones, a former NFL linebacker and Feeding America's entertainment council, and Lorraine Jones, a minister in Britain recognized with a UK Daily Point of Light award.
The first day of the Conference began with more than 700 volunteer managers, executive directors and nonprofit staff from 537 organizations across 19 countries convening on Monday morning at the Volunteer Mobilization session sponsored by JPMorgan Chase. Donna Murray-Brown, president, Michigan Nonprofit Association, engaged the crowd around volunteer mobilization. “Each of you makes change in your communities,” Neil Bush told attendees, “and together we can change the world." Volunteer managers at all levels learned about innovations and best practices in volunteer mobilization from Dafna Michaelson Jenet, author of It Takes a Little Crazy to Make a Difference; Dana Litwin, volunteer programs administrator, Open Space Authority of Santa Clara Valley; Gary Bagley, executive director, New York Cares; and Elana Sullivan, president, National MS Society, Michigan Chapter. JPMorgan Chase, sponsor of the Capacity Building Track, also hosted a luncheon for 200 nonprofit, corporate and government employees who are helping increase NGOs' effectiveness in recruiting and retaining skills-based volunteers.
Flashpoints in Ferguson, Baltimore and Flint spurred social movements, unearthed complex problems and sparked national and international dialogues about solutions. At The Role of Volunteers in Building Resilient Communities forum, sponsored by PepsiCo Foundation, speakers and panelists explored the role of cross-sector collaborations and volunteer service in building more resilient communities. "We have a collective responsibility to empower each other and the work we do to have a lasting impact," said Hill Harper, award-winning actor and author. Panelists said that volunteerism works best when it’s part of a layered solution. In Flint, volunteers filled a critical gap as community members were resistant to government outreach. “We said, let the government figure out the pipes, we know what our community needs," said Jamie-Lee Venable, director of community impact for United Way of Genesee County. Cross-collaboration between government, nonprofits and community volunteers can be key to building resiliency – even between seemingly unlikely allies. “Service brings us to a place where we break down barriers and realize that so much more unites us than divides us,” said Jenne Myers, CEO of Chicago Cares.
Financial coaching has been proven to help people achieve long-term financial goals and build assets. Attendees at the Increasing Financial Stability Through Volunteer-Driven Financial Coaching session learned not only about financial coaching, but also volunteer recruitment and client engagement. “Financial coaching is 80 percent coaching and 20 percent finance,” said Wynne Lum, environmental, social, and governance manager, Bank of America Foundation, leading off the session. “Just like an athlete and a coach, it is a person relating to each other. With the right coach and right abilities - you can help someone.”
HandsOn Network presented the George W. Romney Excellence Award to Ruach Tova, an international affiliate based in Israel. Ten years ago, Ruach Tova, or “Good Spirit” in Hebrew, set out to change the culture of volunteerism in Israel. Wanting to provide a low pressure and engaging entryway for individuals to give their time and create change in their community, they founded Good Deeds Day, which operates on the basic premise that “every person can do a good deed and create positive impact.” Now with volunteers from over 75 countries, Good Deeds Day includes myriad opportunities for volunteers to make a difference. From an action as simple as donating clothes, to something more involved like organizing an arts and crafts project with community seniors, there are countless ways to dig deep and do good.
A fun and interactive session, sponsored by Starbucks, introduced attendees to the Compassion Games: Survival of the Kindest – an innovative way to ignite and catalyze compassionate action in communities around the world. Through community service, acts of kindness and fundraising for local causes, the Compassion Games inspires individuals, teams, and entire cities to work together to make our communities safer, kinder and better places to live, work and play. “We want the Compassion Games to amplify what you're already doing, and to help other people discover that so they, in turn, can bring it to their own communities,” said founder Jon Ramer. “We connect through our similarity. We innovate through our diversity.”