What I Learned at United Way Worldwide's 2012 CLC

What I Learned at United Way Worldwide's 2012 CLC

Earlier this month, United Way staff members from across the globe convened in Nashville, Tennessee for the annual Community Leaders Conference to share ideas, celebrate accomplishments and see what lies ahead for the 125-year-old organization. Below, United Way of Greater L.A.'s Volunteer Services Manager Jessica Yas, a first-time attendee, recounts her experiences.

With a burst of hot, humid air in our faces, we stepped out of the airport terminal and into the city of Nashville. While many new arrivals found the climate oppressive, I saw it as a great start to the week and just considered it a warm Nashville welcome (read: 98 degrees).

There were several sessions I wanted to attend on strategic volunteerism, but even with my personalized schedule of speakers and workshops, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Representatives of more than 200 United Way chapters came together to discuss the challenges of community leadership and engagement. My first stop? The “Learning Lounge.”

This was the first year a room was reserved strictly for the exchange of ideas and materials - a space which mimicked an intellectual salon. Since not all local United Ways are created equal, the kiosk in the center - chock full of pamphlets, toolkits and “how-to” materials - was meant to offer guidance for those who needed it and suggestions to those who welcomed them.

A major realization for me during this conference was that the notion of volunteerism with, by and for United Way is still in its infancy. Historically, we've operated as referral centers for volunteers to work with our community partners, but are now trying to shift the focus back to our pillars of work all while maintaining direct engagement with volunteers.

However, this transition hasn’t always been easy and is taking on different forms in different cities. From UW Boston’s Emerging Leaders Business Plan Mentorships (where members mentor students through the process of finding seed money, writing a business plan and presenting it at their annual Gala) to UW Detroit’s “Engagement Pyramid,”  which assigns donors and the general public a certain engagement level in the CRM system then shepherds them into higher echelons of involvement.

Though all are unique, each United Way counts creativity, innovation and teamwork as crucial components of building an effective and lasting volunteer program.

Now, I all had to do was sift through the enormous pile of guidance and suggestion materials I corralled and apply it to the practical things I would learn in the workshops.

To be continued…



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