Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Volunteering is not Free

In four weeks National Mentoring Month will celebrate the connections between young people and volunteers in many places around the country, including Cabrini Connections.

While this campaign supports the involvement of volunteers, all of the research on mentoring says it works best when the youth and volunteer are well supported by professional staff, and when programs are able to keep youth and involvement connected to each other longer than a few months or a year. Here's a report evaluating mentoring strategies in the UK, which points out the lack of infrastructure and unrealistic expectations.

So how do we find the money? In Minnesota, $14 million was raised in a single day to support 3,434 charities. The campaign was hosted on Razoo, a fund raising portal.

Right now every non-profit in the country is sending out Holiday Fund appeals, asking for donations. Some are spending huge sums of money on elaborate marketing. Others, like Cabrini Connections, are using email for most of our efforts, because we don't have much money, and because the money we do have should be spent on helping our kids and volunteers stay connected.

I helped the Lawyers Lend A Hand to Youth Program at the Chicago Bar Association grow from a $2,000 award in 1994 to a foundation that awarded over $200,000 to volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs in Chicago in 2007, and 2008, because I feel that businesses, professional groups and similar intermediaries could mobilize their entire industry to support all tutor/mentor programs in the city, with a lot more long-term impact than having each of us spend precious dollars competing for a shrinking donor pool.

Now, I challenge, and plead, for leaders who want to help youth stay in school, make healthy choices, and prepare for jobs and careers, to find ways to duplicate the Minnesota effort. Build campaigns in December that draw holiday dollars to volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs. Do the same in January.

Use the Chicago Program Locator to find out what tutoring and/or mentoring programs are in different parts of Chicago, and which are near where you do business, worship, or attended college. Build a strategy that support all programs in a zip code, not just the one, or two, highly visible programs.

If we can dramatically increase the pool of donors, Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection will get its share, and the money we need to help other programs grow. If we continue to compete with each other, few will have the long-term support to dramatically make a difference in the lives of more than a few inner city kids.

In fact, do this every month of the year, so we have the resources to keep our kids and volunteers connected to each other, every month and for many years.

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