Real talk: Nonprofits need volunteers beyond the holiday season - Generocity Philly

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Jan. 3, 2019 1:00 pm

Real talk: Nonprofits need volunteers beyond the holiday season

Why this Back on My Feet program coordinator says those who can only help out a few times or just during a certain time of year could end up doing more harm than good.

Back on My Feet runners prepare for a race.

(Courtesy photo)

This is a guest post by Back on My Feet Philadelphia Program Coordinator Elizabeth McHale.
The holidays are over, and nonprofits need your support now more than ever.

It’s not that your favorite charitable organization doesn’t appreciate your time during an especially busy time of year (because we certainly do!), but what about the months following the holidays when volunteerism starts declining?

Like many nonprofits, Back on My Feet, an organization operating in soon-to-be 13 cities nationwide that combats homelessness through the power of running and community, also sees a steady increase in volunteers and corporate volunteer projects leading up to and around the holiday season.

The foundation of the Back on My Feet program is the morning runs which take place near partnering homeless shelters and recovery facilities at 5:30 a.m. three days a week. We ask volunteers to commit as “morning runners” at least one day a week with their main role being to encourage, motivate and support members — individuals experiencing homelessness — as they run or walk beside them.

Back on My Feet's community can’t exist without consistent volunteers.

On one hand, it’s nice to have more individuals participating during 5:30 am runs around the holidays especially because it can be a difficult time of year for those experiencing homelessness. Many members can’t be with their loved ones, so having a group of people that greets you with warmth and hugs really makes a difference.

However, that community can’t exist without consistent volunteers. Back on My Feet, like many nonprofits, relies on repeat volunteers throughout the year — not only for the sake of limited time and resources for training volunteers, but also because the heart of the program is to create community by building meaningful, trusting relationships between individuals from all walks of life. When volunteering drops off after the holidays, it can have a negative effect on members and the entire team.

Willie, a member who runs with Back on My Feet Team South Philly, shared: “Ever since the holidays, I’ve noticed not as many people have been coming out and it can be discouraging. But the show must go on. I have to keep being consistent.”

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Willie is a highly self-motivated and not much could stop him from getting in his early morning miles with the team, no matter how big or small. But that’s not always the case. When volunteers stop showing up, often members do, too.

Those who can only attend a morning run a few times or just during a certain time of year could end up doing more harm.

Although the intention to volunteer is inherently good, those who can only attend a morning run a few times or just during a certain time of year could end up doing more harm. When Back on My Feet members are able to maintain their attendance to the morning runs and stay connected with the community, they are more likely to find employment, housing and regain their independence.

Alexandra Ernst has been volunteering with Back on My feet for nearly four years and has held leadership positions on her team, Team Point Breeze. During her time with Back on My Feet, she has seen a trend in volunteers who participate more long-term and those who don’t.

“At Team Point Breeze, we have our highest attendance rates when volunteers and members are invested in showing up for one another — when they know each other’s names and struggles and aspirations,” she said. “All this magic happens by showing up and being present consistently.”

So, what if you can’t volunteer consistently and still want to give back during the holidays? As a volunteer coordinator, I always appreciate when volunteers are open and upfront about how much time they can give. If their time commitment isn’t quite right for one volunteer opportunity, I try to connect them with one that’s more suitable which may or may not take place during the holidays, like volunteering at our annual race Stroehmann Bakeries Back on My Feet 5-Miler.

Similarly, if you want to get involved during the holiday season, don’t hesitate to ask what the organization needs. They might not need volunteers but could use in-kind or monetary donations which are equally, if not more, important to the organization’s impact and sustainability.

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