Project Managers Answer MLK Day Call to Service in Washington, D.C., Area

Jan 20, 2017
Project management professionals help representatives from Washington, D.C., region nonprofits scope obstacles and create action plans for their organizations’ executives.

“Dr. King calls on us to be drum majors for change … we are the doers in this room, you are the drum majors for change,” said Jenny Lawson, executive director of the Points of Light Corporate Institute, as she delivered opening remarks at the third annual DC Regional Project Management Day of Service, hosted by Project Management for Change.

This day of service, which takes place annually on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the Adele H. Stamp Student Union on the University of Maryland’s College Park campus, is an all-day pro bono event that brought together more than 120 experienced project management professionals with 60 nonprofits across the Washington, D.C., region. Each organization was invited to send two senior employee representatives who had background knowledge of their organization’s current obstacles to attend the event, the goal being to scope, or assess, a challenge and build a comprehensive action plan.

Michael Burke, a federal government employee and a part-time project management consultant, helps a nonprofit scope their challenges.

To many nonprofits, pro bono project management can be a valuable asset when limited resources prevent smaller organizations from hiring full-time support. Michael Burke, one of the project managers attending the event pointed to this limitation as his motivation for volunteering at the event.

“Small nonprofits face difficulty with project management because the executive director is often the chief fundraiser, the chief organizer, and so on. That’s not the best structure for project management,” Michael explained. He added that pro bono events like the Project Management Day of Service are really useful for building out nonprofit’s long-term plans.

The event did not only benefit the nonprofits that attended, but also the project management volunteers. “This event is a great opportunity to get involved,” said volunteer Carl Schwad “I have worked on and off as a project manager for years, so this was a great opportunity to brush up on my skills and earn some PDUs.”

PDUs, or Professional Development Units, are required for project managers to maintain their Project Management Institute-certified credentials and keep their status as project managers. For Carl, who works in banking at Navy Federal Credit Union, this event was the perfect way to give back and nurture his own professional development.

Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service

Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, delivered an inspiring keynote address about the future of volunteer service and the local, grassroots support of CNCS. She noted that in the wake of a tumultuous election season, it is uplifting to see that “maybe, just maybe, service is the one thing that [Americans] can rally around and agree on.”

In recognition of their efforts to organize the event, the Project Management Day of Service Program Management Office was honored with a Daily Point of Light Award. The vision for the event is, “…for people to take the skill sets that they do professionally and join others who do that [same thing] professionally to help nonprofits directly,” said Kendall Lott, co-founder of Project Management for Change, and CEO and president of M Powered Strategies.

Kendall continued, “Our call to action is, most specifically, project managers stand up and be counted, take your skills to a market that desperately needs you and probably can’t afford you.’”

Points of Light recognized the volunteers of the Project Management Day of Service Program Management Office, with a Daily Point of Light Award for their efforts organizing the Day of Service. (Left to right) Laura Barnard, Michael Hannan, John Cable, J. Kendall Lott, Joelle Kunkel, Marcus Parker, and Bob Ehrlich.

His powerful call to action was met in full force with a fantastic turn out of project management volunteers – many nonprofit representatives in attendance spoke up to express their gratitude to the project managers who chose to make MLK Day a day “on” instead of a day off, offering professional guidance that these organizations might not have otherwise had.

Ivonne Cameron, CEO of Hepatitis Foundation International, said the day of service had a wonderful impact on her organization, helping them take, “the ocean” of ideas they had, and trying to boil them “down into one simplistic program that we know we can implement this year and increase our fundraising and development.”

Stacey Crooks, chief development officer for Your Grateful Nation, an organization that helps Special Operations veterans translate their unique skill sets to the everyday work force, said: “I have next steps. I can go back to the board tomorrow and tell them what they need to do and what we need to do to take things to the next level.”

When asked if the Project Management Day of Service should continue next year, the crowd responded with an emphatic “yes!” From redefining marketing strategies to creating HR trainings, or even reevaluating the strategic direction of organizations, the 2017 Project Management Day of Service helped community-focused nonprofits more effectively manage their resources and gave project management professionals the perfect opportunity to give back.

Robert Montgomery