Happy 2016!

Happy New Year!

2015 has been one for the books, and we’re so excited about what’s to come in 2016. This year marked a huge increase in clients and registered volunteers. We even expanded our team with two new VolunteerLocal hires. And we have plans to do it even bigger and better in 2016!

Say “Hello” to the Newest Staffers!

Jenny is our Account Manager, finding new clients to benefit from VolunteerLocal and working to get them up and running. She graduated from Creighton University in Marketing and Spanish, and interned with VolunteerLocal before becoming full time. She’s a soccer pro and has an affinity for Mexican food, and has been a joyful addition to the team.


community_builder_lucy-1Lucy is the Community Builder and Customer Support Rep, ready to answer any and all questions while overseeing the blog and social media. She is a graduate of University of Iowa in English and Creative Writing, and worked at various nonprofits before joining the VolunteerLocal team. She’s a book nerd with a sweet tooth, and is thrilled to be the newest Williams.


Sparkly new Conquer Plan

You may have noticed a new plan-type on the VolunteerLocal Plans & Pricing page. The Conquer Plan is here to conquer all of your needs with credit card processing, shift swapping, name badges, minimum shift requirements, volunteer certificates, and bulk shift assignments. Bonnaroo & FloydFest have already signed up, and we’re looking forward to even more Conquerors in 2016!

Why, hello Justin Beiber (we’re on YouTube, too)!

You have questions. We have answers! Check out our tutorial videos to learn how to get started, create reports, communicate with your volunteers, and more.

Coming to a 1 Million Cups Near You…

We utilized the 1MC Passport Program to present VolunteerLocal in six cities across the country, with more happening in 2016! Big thanks to Kansas City, Cedar Valley, Des Moines, San Diego, Colorado Springs, and Cedar Rapids for being great hosts.

Partnerships and Discounts

We made some exciting new partners in 2015, and we’re offering discounts to their customers. Whether you’re affiliated with imATHLETE (receive up to 15% off), USA Triathlon (receive 10% off), or USOCR (receive free Grow Plan upgrades), we’re thrilled to have you on board!

We look forward to continuing to support you and your volunteers in 2016. As 2015 comes to an end, we propose a toast to our customers, followers, and friends for being loyal and all around fantastic. Cheers to you, and to the New Year!

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Getting Friendly on Ambler Farm

VolunteerLocal was created and headquartered in Iowa, so you could say we’re fans of the great outdoors. We’ve spent our fair share of time among the cornfields, and we even tipped a few cows back in our day (we’re not proud).

Ambler Farm knows a thing or two about agriculture. The 200-year-old working farm has 22 acres of gorgeous land, and is one of Wilton, Connecticut’s best kept secrets. The farm was built in the 1790s by Revolutionary War veteran Josiah Raymond, and was continuously owned and occupied by his descendants for 200 years. In 1999, after the last surviving family member passed away, the town of Wilton purchased the land with overwhelming taxpayer support as part of an open-space initiative. A non-profit group called Friends of Ambler Farm was formed, and a mission was crafted to celebrate the town’s agrarian roots through active-learning programs, sustainable agriculture, responsible land stewardship, and historic preservation.

Today, Ambler Farm is active and fruitful with productive gardens; a successful farm stand; numerous educational programs for children, adults and families; and annual community events (maple syruping, anyone?). Many of these events are now Wilton traditions, as the town comes together to enjoy the best of what the farm offers and to celebrate the cycle of the New England year.

The Friends of Ambler Farm relies heavily on volunteers to help manage fundraisers, such as the annual Ambler Farm Day and Holiday Greens Sale, with over 100 volunteers needed for each event. “The reporting functionality has made it easier to track who is signing up and has allowed us to effectively acknowledge individuals for their service,” says Laurie Masonson, Marketing Board Member of Friends of Ambler Farm. “By keeping track of volunteers, we’ve also been able to use the database as a recruitment tool for reaching out to volunteers and requesting their support with other events. Demonstrating a more organized manner of recruiting volunteers promotes a sense of professionalism as we are working towards growing our volunteer base.”

 VolunteerLocal has also helped keep volunteers happy (the ultimate goal!). “To date, we’ve received positive feedback from our volunteers that they appreciate the VolunteerLocal system,” says Masonson.

So next time you want some one-on-one gardening tips, or are craving a delicious farm-to-table meal, consider giving Ambler Farm a visit. In the meantime, you can learn more about their amazing history and exciting upcoming events on their website.





Photos courtesy of Amber Farm

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Great Flowers and Good Feelings

In life, we all know that it’s important to stop and smell the roses from time to time. For those of us enduring a Midwest winter, that can be harder said than done (we don’t even remember what green grass looks like by February!) – but we do remember the feeling we get from smelling fresh flowers, it’s the same one we get giving back to our communities. 

Friends School of Minnesota knows all about great flowers and good feelings. Founded in 1988, the K-8 progressive education school is grounded in Quaker values. It strives to meet children’s intellectual, emotional, and spiritual needs, with the belief that children learn best as active participants, collaborators, and problem-solvers within a community. The school boasts a very diverse community of students, and supports many of their families with need-based financial aid.

Friends School of Minnesota’s main fundraiser helps offset this cost of financial aid. Each year on Mother’s Day weekend in May, people gather for the biggest fundraising plant sale in Minnesota –  what began 27 years ago as a small affair held at the school is now a huge, sprawling event at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.

Each year, the Plant Sale offers over 2,500 varieties of plants for sale during the three-day event. The fairgrounds are packed with lines of annuals, perennials, climbing plants, native wildflowers, and vegetables, as well as selected water plants, roses, trees, and shrubs.

The sale is entirely volunteer-run, with more than 1,200 volunteers working 80 different jobs, and over 350 shifts. This is quite an undertaking for a small school like Friends School of Minnesota, with an enrollment of only 164 students. “We built our own volunteer management sign up system a few years ago,” says Garth Morrisette, Business Manager at Friends School of Minnesota. “While our system worked well and served our needs initially, it was expensive and time consuming to maintain.”

“We’ve been with VolunteerLocal since 2014 and we love it,” says Morrisette. “VolunteerLocal’s system is easy to use and manage, and also doesn’t break our budget.”

If you’re looking to smell some (virtual) roses, check an amazing timelapse video of the Plant Sale. You can also learn more about Friends School of Minnesota and ways you can get involved at their website.


Photos courtesy of Friends School of Minnesota

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How To Feel Good and Do Good this Holiday Season!

The holidays are upon us! As they say, ‘tis the season to give back. Instead of stressing about shopping for a picky Dad or hosting those weird cousins of yours, why not try your hand at a little charity? We’ve got a few festive ideas to help you get involved in your local communities.

Photo cred: acfb.org
Photo cred: acfb.org

Support Your Local Food Bank

Donating food is an easy way to make a huge difference. We all have canned goods in our pantries – dig them out and deliver them to a food pantry near you. Toys aren’t the only gifts to find a happy home this holiday season.

Give Warm Fuzzies

Clothes are always needed, especially in the wintertime. Homeless shelters are often looking for coats, hats, scarves, and mittens to keep people warm during the harsh weather. Reach into your closets (and your hearts) and donate any extra winter-wear you can. It’ll warm your spirit.

Photo cred: bloomington.in.gov
Photo cred: bloomington.in.gov

Puppies, Kittens, Rabbits, oh my!

We KNOW you adore little animals just as much as we do. Show your love by donating blankets, toys, or food to a local animal rescue shelter. Our furry friends need a little holiday cheer, too!  

Donate Blood

Roses are red, violets are blue, blood is both – so donate! Sorry, we know that didn’t rhyme. Look, we all hate needles, but if you’re willing to get poked, it’ll help to save lives. Find blood drives happening near you. Plus, free cookies!

Get Moving!

Photo cred: gsruns.org
Photo cred: gsruns.org

Sign up for a holiday 5K, 10K, half or full marathon that donates a portion (or all) proceeds to a local charity. Work off that eggnog while supporting a great cause.


The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Make a charitable donation in someone’s name. Having a donation made in your name is better than any pair of socks you could receive. It’s truly a gift that keeps on giving.

While you’re out there making the most of this holiday season, don’t forget that really every month is a great month to give back. Studies show that December is the most popular month to volunteer or donate, but organizations always need help. Spread the cheer this season (and every season) to make our communities more cultural, safe, vibrant and fun!

Happy holidays, and happy volunteering!

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Puppies and kittens and more, oh my!

Last month, our very own Kaylee Williams decided it was time – she wanted to adopt a kitten. So we took a VolunteerLocal field trip to the Des Moines Animal Rescue League (one of our clients in the Des Moines Metro!). We were so impressed by the enthusiastic and helpful volunteers – and it was amazing to see the staggering number of animals they had rescued and were actively working to place into loving homes.

The Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League in West Palm Beach, Florida, is another example of an efficient, caring and safe environment for animals of all kinds to find refuge. Established in 1925, the Peggy Adams Rescue League services more than 30,000 animals each year, providing shelter, medical attention and protection for lost, homeless, or unwanted animals. The League also advocates for animal welfare through community events and educational forums.

“Humane education is very important in any community. Healthy animals mean healthy families, and healthier communities,” explains Tara Pregnolato, Manager of Volunteer Programming at the Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League. “The League provides care, education, tools and resources to help our community’s animals.”

This nonprofit hosts a number of fundraising and social events to bring the community together for the love of animals – such as the Christmas Ball, Off the Leash, Walk for the Animals, Blessing of the Animals, Spay Days, and Countdown2Zero. “I enjoy the Blessing of the Animals,” says Pregnolato. “It’s not a major fundraiser, but a feel-good event. We invite the community to visit our campus with their animals for a morning of song and inspiration. It’s a warm event.”

Before using VolunteerLocal, the Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League relied heavily on email blasts and spreadsheets to schedule their volunteers. This led to missed messages and technical errors. “The work I do on the backend to create roles and shifts takes some effort, but not having to field dozens of calls and emails and changes has freed me up to focus on event instructions and details,” says Pregnolato.

“We upgraded our account to a Discover Plan so we’d have the communication tool available. It’s been a very effective tool for us.”

To adopt your own “forever friend,” volunteer for one of the League’s events, donate, and more, check out their website here. And, for those of you undoubtedly wondering, Kaylee did get a new cat. Her name is Basil and we are all a little bit obsessed.


Photos courtesy of www.peggyadams.org

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The Pursuit of Happy Volunteers

Every year our country remembers the acts and declarations of our forefathers. And every year, 30,000 runners take in the sights and long-standing history in the city of brotherly love. As George Washington once said, “Let’s run this thing!”

The Philadelphia Marathon was founded over 60 years ago and is consistently listed among the top ten courses in the country. While the theme changes every year, the course and the people remain favorites among the runners trotting along the water and through downtown Philly.

Photo cred: racingtoregister.com

Christine Waite is the volunteer coordinator for the ~3,500 volunteers it takes to make this race happen each year. Between the Kids Fun Run, 8K, Half Marathon and Marathon, she says the event could not be the success it is without these volunteers.

While this is a long-standing event with many repeat participants and volunteers, the process to get there has been far from seamless. In fact, they have switched volunteer registration processes three times in the last three years.

Photo cred: blog.citysports.com
Photo cred: blog.citysports.com

With the ability to send confirmation emails to volunteers, customize volunteer roles, and run up-to-date reports, the Philadelphia Marathon has finally found their perfect match with VolunteerLocal. Waite says, “Compared to last year’s system, it is 100 times better!”

It’s not too late to help these founding runners!

To life, liberty, and happy volunteering!

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We heard it through the Grapevine (Texas)

Courtesy of Grapevine Texas

You may recognize the name “Grapevine” as one of your favorite dance moves, but did you know that Grapevine, Texas is a nationally-acclaimed destination spot in the Southwest? Boasting 80 locally-owned shops, wineries and restaurants amid the gorgeous scenery of north Texas, it’s no wonder thousands travel here every summer for a relaxing, tannin-infused getaway. 

Beyond the local attractions, Grapevine is also the home of multiple events, such as GrapeFest®, the largest wine festival in the Southwest; the Christmas Capital of Texas®, which features 1,400 Christmas events over more than 40 days; Main Street Fest, a three-day family-friendly festival of fun; and numerous others. Grapevine has even been officially recognized as a World Festival & Events City by the International Festival & Events Association (IFEA).

Courtesy of Grapevine Texas
Courtesy of Grapevine Texas

These events are made possible by the Grapevine Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). “The Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau is the destination marketing organization for the City of Grapevine, Texas,” says Luke Wolfard, Festival and Event Manager at the Grapevine CVB. “It’s our mission to attract new and repeat meetings and conventions, leisure travelers and local residents to experience the superior level of attractions, shopping, dining, annual events and more.”

These festivals are also a way to support the local community. “Grapefest (and others) are very important to the community because the proceeds help finance the Grapevine Heritage Foundation,” explains Wolfard. The Grapevine Heritage Foundation is a not-for-profit community organization committed to promoting the preservation, protection, and economic development of Grapevine’s physical and cultural heritage.

Before switching to VolunteerLocal, Grapevine recruited volunteers using paper forms that volunteers filled out by hand, and then mailed, faxed, or dropped off at the CVB. Data was then manually inputted and stored in (you guessed it!) Excel spreadsheets. For an organization that recruits up to 1,000 individual volunteers for some of it’s largest events, VolunteerLocal has made it much easier to organize and communicate.

“[VolunteerLocal’s] ease and online use for the volunteers to sign up for shifts has enabled us to recruit a larger amount of volunteers with greater efficiency,” Luke Wolfard, Festival and Event Manager at the Grapevine CVB says. “I will continue to use VolunteerLocal at our future events and would definitely recommend it to others.”

When you’re planning your next family vacation, or simply craving a glass of the best wine the southwest has to offer, consider Grapevine, Texas: it’s as fun (and accessible) as your favorite dance move (step-behind-step-touch)!


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Trot Your Stuff at the Turkey Trot!

VolunteerLocal was created and is headquartered in Des Moines, so we guess you could say we’re biased when it comes to our love for the city. But it’s for good reason. With the amount of young professionals, awesome restaurants, affordable housing and more, there’s no reason not to love this metropolis.

Photo cred: Raygun

Michael Zimmerman, founder of Rip Roar Events, agrees with us. “The cost to culture ratio in Des Moines is great. You can afford to take a risk and start a new company. People are trying to do things that might cause great change without worrying about paying thousands in rent or for groceries. Instead, people can reinvest into things that benefit the community.”

Rip Roar Events was created with that idea of culture and community building in mind. Zimmerman founded the company in January 2015, with an interest in children’s endurance events. This November, they’re hosting their first ever Turkey Trot, a 5K and 5Mile race on Thanksgiving day which encourages runners of all ages. Beyond featuring an awesome route, it will also include a community meal, to bring the people of Des Moines together.

Turkey Trot Vector Logo-page-0 (2)
Courtesy of Rip Roar Events

“We’re focusing on community and culture building events,” Zimmerman explains. “We thought, ‘What are we going to do that’s actually going to benefit the community?’ So we created the Turkey Trot, which I believe provides people with an outlet to do something besides sit around the TV… We’re having a community meal, and one of the options when registering is asking if you want to buy a plate for somebody else. We already have 150 plates bought, so people are saying, ‘It’s Thanksgiving, let’s continue to make Des Moines great and give back.’ Everyone will be coming around the table to share a meal that perpetuates that [greatness].”

VolunteerLocal has been a useful tool for gathering new volunteers–and it doesn’t hurt that it’s a local business. “It’s great that we’re using something that was developed locally by young people, people that we know in our community. We try to do as much within a local platform as possible to say, Des Moines kicks butt and we’ll prove it in every facet,” says Zimmerman. “For a first year event that’s up and coming, and trying to establish consistency, it’s fantastic to be able to give people this very professional platform… [VolunteerLocal] is a total luxury for a small up and coming race.”

So while we understand the temptation to stay on the couch in your most forgiving sweatpants, we recommend taking part in this year’s Turkey Trot. It’s an event that promises to benefit the community, and you. We’re positive it will make those turkey legs and mashed potatoes all the more satisfying.

Click here to sign up and learn more about volunteering opportunities for the Turkey Trot 2015!

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5 Steps to Volunteer Greatness

Now, we understand that volunteers can be a complex group to pin down. They run the gamut from teenagers to seniors; some are looking for community involvement, some want a free parking spot. We like to think that most volunteers are passionate about the work they’re doing – if they care to give, odds are, they’re giving because they care. With that in mind, we’ve put together five easy steps you can take to hone your volunteer force into loyal, informed and enthusiastic advocates for your event.


Step 1: Train Your Volunteers

Make sure those volunteers know their moves.

Photo cred: wikipedia.org

A training session should include a step-by-step of their actual job duties. Bonus points if you can bring in returning volunteers to give newbies the real low-down on how things will work. Do they know where to check-in when they arrive? Do they know what to bring? Who to talk to if they get lost or confused? Introduce the volunteer coordinator; it’s always helpful to associate a face with the name of the person who’s choreographing the big dance.

Pro tip: a pre-event volunteer training session rarely has perfect attendance, but don’t sweat it. You just need a handful of informed volunteers to lead the rest of the pack.


Step 2: Let’s Get Digital

Welcome to 2015. Your volunteers will almost undoubtedly turn the volume up on your events – through Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, you-name-it. As representatives of your organization, be sure they understand the gravity and implications of what they post online.

Photo cred: phoenix-society.org
Photo cred: phoenix-society.org

Our best advice? If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Leverage social media to draw attention to your event. Create a hashtag you’d like your volunteers to use when they tweet about their experience. Share with them your Facebook page and encourage them to “Like” what you do online. Ask your volunteers to tag your event in their photos (you might even consider hosting a photo contest!). There’s nothing wrong with a little free publicity – just make sure it’s the right kind of publicity.


Step 3: Repeat After Me…

Your volunteers are the most visible representation of your organization on-site; make sure they know the lingo. All your volunteers should be able to speak intelligently about your event in case they find themselves on the recording end of a microphone by a media or news outlet.

Moreover, equip each volunteer with a map of the event grounds or venue where they’ll be working, and make sure they can locate information booths and bathrooms on a dime.


Step 4: Always Assess Risk

If you’re running a post-race beer garden or beverage tent, prep your volunteers on the signs of alcohol poisoning and where to find birthdates on IDs. Set up wrist-banding stations and coordinate with the local police force wherever possible.

Photo cred: njtreefoundation.org
Photo cred: njtreefoundation.org

If it rains, provide ponchos. If it’s starting to get late, put together a hospitality crew to distribute fresh fruit to your folks on the course. You’re the kind of coordinator who looks out for your volunteers – rain or shine. Keep them happy, hydrated and nourished throughout the day.

If there is the possibility of physical injury during your event, be sure to explain proper protocol to your volunteers and get those waivers signed. Liability less, volunteer more!


Step 5: Volunteer Appreciation

The last (and perhaps most important) step of this process is a simple “thank you.” Volunteers love a little kudos (don’t we all?), so make sure they know how much you appreciate their hard work. From a t-shirt to a candy bouquet, a handshake to a milkshake, there are myriad ways to show your gratitude. Try a little tenderness: it’s the key to happy volunteers.

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New VolunteerLocal team member!

Hey VolunteerLocal! I’m Lucy, the new (Happy) Community Builder. I can tell you that I am literally the happiest to be getting this opportunity to work with such awesome people dedicated to volunteering.

I graduated from the University of Iowa in English and Creative Writing. I was initially worried that those degrees would lead to me becoming a starving artist, and I love food way too much for that. Instead, it took me down an amazing path working with different nonprofits in the Chicagoland area and doing local volunteer work until I landed here, your new VolunteerLocal customer support rep, ready to answer any and all of your questions. You’ll also be seeing me on the blog and over on our social media.

I can further tell you that I am addicted to tacos, I am both a dog AND a cat person (breaking barriers one fluffy creature at a time), I was a synchronized swimmer for exactly one year in high school, and I am an expert knitter.

I’m absolutely overjoyed to be a new part of this community. Tweet me at @luceedubs or follow VolunteerLocal on Twitter, Facebook, or Linkedin

Happy Day, Happy Volunteering!

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