GivePulse 2019: The Year in Review

GivePulse has had an incredibly exciting 2019! Between the product enhancements and business operation improvements, we’ve been investing further to ensure our platform performs as efficiently and effectively as possible to empower social good. We are so grateful to all of our clients and to all of the amazing volunteers and organizations whose work is making an impact in their communities! Read on to learn more about what we have accomplished this year. 

Product Updates

GivePulse continues to grow and improve constantly. Our fantastic team of engineers, in addition to working around the clock to ensure that any bugs are quickly fixed, have heard suggestions from clients, and have used these, along with their own ideas, to make GivePulse more intuitive and efficient. Early in the year, we combined the Sign-In app with the GivePulse app to make our mobile functions more extensive. We then made additional mobile app improvements on our administrative kiosk mode to collect additional custom fields, and added the abilities to verify impacts on the go and the usage of a QR Code for clock-in/out. If you haven’t yet, download the GivePulse app on iOS or Android so you can record and verify hours in addition to our mobile web responsive experience! In the spring and summer, we improved our SMS capabilities and calendar functionalities, particularly with the addition of a deeper integration with popular calendar applications like Google Calendar (email to learn more or to activate these additional functionalities!). Later in the year, we made significant improvement to our internships functionality to help scale placements for institutions. Beyond these, we have continued to make all aspects of our site more customizable (for example, we have added the ability to add images and tables to email templates, the ability to customize confirmation emails for each specific event, and an increase to the amount of recurrences allowed in a recurring event), among the many, many other changes we have had the chance to make. These are just the tip of the iceberg — for more updates, check out the Recent Updates section of our support portal, attend our product meetings, join our listserv by creating an account, or schedule a time to chat with us!

Conference Updates

This year saw us attending over 20 different  conferences, including IARSCLE, Gulf South Summit, The Impact Conference, Campus Labs Connect, and much much more. Some key takeaways from our time at these conferences includes the importance of hyperlocal engagement, the need for deep institutional commitment in order to sustain change, and the need to assess and tell stories about the work being done. We use what we learn at these conferences to aim enhancements and changes to GivePulse toward making the most effective and sustainable change, so we are always excited to learn from these fantastic opportunities! 

Content Updates

We were thrilled to get the chance to highlight the work of many of our incredible partners this year on our blog. This year, our spotlights focused on how GivePulse could be used at universities large and small, on how GivePulse is used to help engage communities to fight food waste and education inequity, and on amazing volunteers engaging with GivePulse. We also looked back on our team’s adventures and offered ideas for how to recruit volunteers and celebrate important holidays in community-oriented and engaging ways. We are excited to continue to spotlight our fantastic partners next year — we already have some great pieces in the works for you!

Team Updates

This year, we welcomed new engineers and business teammates to our Austin office, and have benefited from their insight and enthusiasm already. We can’t wait to see what is in store for this team next year! We certainly anticipate more eating and more bonding — and perhaps we will welcome some more folks to join us in these adventures next year. Stay tuned! 

With 2020 coming up, GivePulse is entering a new decade for the first time since its founding in 2012. Between 2012 and now, we have grown extraordinarily, and that is entirely due to the amazing efforts of folks who use our platform for the greater good. Let us know what you would like to see from 2020, and we can’t wait to connect with you in the new year! 

GivePulse Holiday Retreat — Reflecting, Relaxing, and Rallying for the New Year

With the end of the year (and the decade!) fast approaching, our team took a few days to rest, look back at our growth this year, and bond as a team. We gathered in beautiful Marble Falls, Texas, just over an hour outside of our home base of Austin. 

Although the week leading up to the retreat was chilly and grey, our holiday retreat was filled with sunshine and warmth, both from the people and the weather. Here’s a glance at our weekend, and some takeaways for companies hoping to encourage a productive and tight-knit team:

Rest Up

Clear air, rocking chairs, hammocks and rivers — between all of these elements, we were able to enjoy a truly restful few days. Our team took time to sit and talk on the comfortable porches, to watch beautiful sunsets, to play a game or two of soccer (as well as of Mafia), and to sing songs by a bonfire. All of these moments, while seemingly the most simple, were among the most important for our team. They drew us closer together, encouraging comfort and vulnerability that our team can call upon in the office whenever we have any questions, need help, or are excited to share good news.

Takeaway: It’s the quietest moments that can make all the difference in a busy office environment. Giving your team unstructured time helps them to forge the connections that will bring your company together in times of both stress and joy.

Eat Up

Whenever we gather together, we enjoy preparing and eating big meals (see, for example, our recent Worksgiving)! When we arrived at Marble Falls on Friday afternoon, we immediately set about preparing dinner — and snacking in the meantime. Every day, our team worked together to prepare, cook, and clean, always looking for ways that we could help, checking in with one another to plan an efficient and delicious process. And at night, we sat down for family dinners together, laughing over wine and food, sharing stories and hopes in our cozy cabin. Cooking highlight: five hours spent making delicious mutton and chicken karahi! All agreed that the end result was well worth the time. 

Takeaway:Food brings us together, and cooking as a group teaches us to delegate tasks and consider ways to nurture one another. These are skills that are vitally important both in and out of the office, and will help your team to work together efficiently while never losing track of the people that your work nurtures at the end of the day.

Team Up

On Saturday, we spent the day at Candelight Ranch, a nonprofit offering outdoor opportunities to special needs and at-risk children. Here, the wonderful volunteers guided us through team building exercises that solidified our belief that there’s nothing the GivePulse team can’t do. Some highlights from this day include resourcefulness on the island-hopping activity, where a lost wooden plank couldn’t dampen the good mood as we hopped from platform to platform; support as we helped one another over a sheer wooden wall, helping our team to learn that we were capable of more than we even believed; and facing fears through ziplining and the Canyon Crawl, a tightrope walk across the canyon! We also, of course, enjoyed befriending some four-legged friends through horse groundwork.

Takeaway: Our team worked closely together in a setting that pushed us all outside of our comfort zone — and in doing so, we learned the power of positivity, listening, problem-solving together, and pushing ourselves past our perceived limits. These are all critical skills to a productive, vibrant, and efficient work environment!

Gear Up

This retreat gave us the opportunity to gear up for next year. We did so by looking back at some of the highlights from this year (learning and sharing more about our rockstar volunteers, nonprofits, universities, and corporations; improving both our mobile and web presences, particularly through advances to our app, our corporate matching platforms, and our internship capabilities; growing our team of incredible engineers and success managers), and used this period of reflection to think about what comes next. We are excited to continue growing our team of incredible, community-motivated individuals, and to continue working toward our mission of transforming everyone into engaged citizens. 

Takeaway: At the end of the year, make sure to reflect over the many advances you have made, and to share your appreciation for the growth your team has enabled. Sharing this love and gratitude will give everyone the boost they need to engage whole-heartedly in the New Year, helping you to meet your 2020 goals. 

With a team like this, we know we can’t go wrong. For any office, time spent relaxing together is crucial to maintaining individual mental health and to strengthening the company. In the end, this time spent resting together is indicative of what is most important to GivePulse — people. 

We hope that you have the chance to rest this holiday season and to spend time with the people you love most. Keep an eye out for an upcoming product summary of GivePulse in 2019, and we look forward to sharing more stories in the New Year!

Treat Your Community this Halloween

Treat your community: Volunteer at a Trunk-or-Treat, Donate food and treats to local food bank, compost your jack-o-lanterns, and more!

It’s the spookiest time of year, but that doesn’t mean it’s all about tricks. Treat your community by volunteering and giving back this Halloween!

We’ve got a list of ideas to get you started:

  1. Volunteer at a trunk-or-treat
    If you have a car, you can participate in a trunk-or-treat! By decorating your car and offering candy in a preset location, you can be part of a safe and fun Halloween experience for your community. Check your local community organizations for Halloween volunteer opportunities for a trunk-or-treat, or for other safe trick-or-treat events. Volunteer to pass out candy, work a game booth, or dress up to entertain the trick-or-treaters!
  2. Donate food and treats to your local food bank
    For many, the highlight of Halloween is sharing food (in most cases candy) through trick-or-treating. This is also a perfect opportunity to think about food rescue and hunger. Members of your community experiencing food insecurity often rely on food banks — help make their Halloweens brighter by donating what you can!
  3. Organize a post halloween cleanup
    Fake spiderwebs, candy wrappers, and glow sticks — oh my! Halloween events can leave behind a lot of waste. Organize a neighborhood cleanup! Litter is bad for the environment as well as for morale. Make sure that Halloween doesn’t leave a spooky trace behind, and your whole community will be much happier.
  4. Compost jack-o-lanterns
    Jack-o-lanterns are the treat that keeps on giving. These fun pumpkin decorations can be composted after they make their Halloween debut. This reduces the waste created by the Halloween festivities — and, even better, can improve the quality of your soil. That jack-o-lantern will keep your thumb a bit greener the rest of the year!
  5. Goodwill or repurposed costumes
    Buy your costume from Goodwill or another thrift shop and ensure that your purchase has a positive impact. In doing so, you will be supporting these organizations in their work while also recycling a Halloween costume (instead of buying an outfit that will end up shoved in the back of your closet until next October). Better for the budget, the earth, and the community!
  6. Participate in a fun-run
    Halloween is the perfect time to join a fun-run! These runs, open to participants with any level of running experience, raise funds for causes that will impact your community. Bonus — this may give you a chance to wear that costume again! Run away from ghouls and goblins while supporting a good cause.

Have an idea that we didn’t mention? Leave us a comment!

Campus Kitchen at UGA Spotlight: Building Sustainable Food Rescue

This post is part of our Spotlight series, where we spotlight our incredible partners. We are so thrilled that GivePulse has been able to work with these nonprofits, institutions, and corporations!

Fighting food waste and hunger

University of Georgia has been affiliated with the Campus Kitchens Project since 2012. While the project’s national arm, DC Central Kitchens, recently announced that they will be moving on to their next phase, UGA’s close relationships with community partners will help them to continue fighting food insecurity.

UGA students deliver food to the home of an individual served by the Athens Community Council on Aging.

Their operation is shaped by the seven years working alongside the network of Campus Kitchens. Brad Turner, the Campus Kitchen Coordinator with the Office of Service Learning at UGA, says this has given students different perspectives on the commonalities and differences of fighting food insecurity in different parts of the country. He believes that the benefits are mutual: the Campus Kitchen at UGA hopes to  “give people encouragement that really wonderful things can happen when you’ve got people all rowing the boat in the same direction.” 

“Really wonderful things can happen when you’ve got people all rowing the  boat in the same direction.” 

In the case of the Campus Kitchen at UGA, this direction aims toward food security for senior populations, particularly for seniors raising grandchildren. This focus came about after an assessment conducted by the Athens Community Council on Aging and a group of Women’s Studies students as part of their service learning project. The assessment found that among the families served by the ACCA, 78% were food insecure. The Campus Kitchen at UGA focuses their efforts on this population. Turner notes that UGA, the 33rd Campus Kitchen to be established, was one of the first to focus on senior hunger. 

An interdisciplinary project 

UGA’s motto, “To teach, to serve, and to inquire into the nature of things,” is well suited to the university’s Campus Kitchen. Turner says that Campus Kitchen certainly fits these three models of what service learning aspires to do. Students volunteer with the Campus Kitchen at UGA for a variety of reasons. Some want to combat food waste, and in doing so learn more about older adult issues; others are invested in issues facing senior communities and ultimately learn more about food justice. In its nature, this is an interdisciplinary project. No matter what the reason, all students engage with Campus Kitchen, Turner says, “in the spirit of not only growing professionally, but also serving their community, meeting a need that affects the public.” 

UGA student carries bags of produce to be delivered with Campus Kitchen. 

This service can change the lives of students involved. The interdisciplinary nature of this work prepares students for careers that may require them to work on teams that involve many different roles. “That’s something we’re seeing more around the country,” Turner notes. “You need a diverse range of experiences, especially if you’re in a nonprofit or direct service sector — you need to understand the context in a lot of different factors (societal, interpersonal) that are impacting the needs and assets in a community.” 

Feeding the community

The Campus Kitchen at UGA influences volunteers in another way — it teaches them to cook. “We’re getting people who are learning how to peel a potato or dice an onion for the first time at Campus Kitchen,” Turner says. “That wasn’t at all our intention, but what that tells us is that people are willing to step outside of their comfort zone for the sake of love and for the sake of their community. You get students who might not want to go to a cooking class, but they are interested in serving their community. It’s a really humbling, great privilege to be a part of that for a student, and to honor their humility by giving them this great experience.” 

“People are willing to step outside of their comfort zone for the sake of love and for the sake of their community.” 

The actual kitchen of the Campus Kitchen at UGA has made a conscientious shift to avoid seeming like a commercial kitchen, while still maintaining, first and foremost, health and safety standards. They must manage operating at an economy scale while creating an environment where people have room to be novices. “We’re trying to balance both feeding the community and making the student experience one that’s going to have a regenerative effect on the student’s life on campus,” Turner says. To do so, UGA has implemented a model in which each shift has less students and more time. In these two hour slots, Campus Kitchen provides a tangible outlet for students to explore an issue that they may be learning about in class. 

The Campus Kitchen at UGA helps students learn to cook as well as learning about food waste. 

The students get the chance to learn about food waste firsthand, as the Campus Kitchen at UGA must work to avoid waste in their own kitchens. One method they use is composting vegetable scraps, which they can then take back to the campus garden that in turn grows vegetables for Campus Kitchen. For items not suitable to the garden, Campus Kitchen uses the university’s bioconversion plant, which converts these items into usable forms. 

Waste avoidance will continue to be a challenge as the Campus Kitchen at UGA grows. Turner notes that the larger the scale of operation, the greater risk there is for waste. However, food waste is not necessarily something to be pessimistic about — Turner considers it an untapped asset in the fight for food justice. Through asking grocery stores to donate food and ingredients that otherwise wouldn’t be eaten, Campus Kitchen is using food that typically might be wasted to combat food insecurity.

A commitment people are willing to make

This, of course, relies on a number of partners in the community who can provide food that Campus Kitchen uses. Their main partner for food recovery is a local Trader Joe’s, which donates anywhere from 500 to just shy of 1300 pounds of food per donation day. They provide goods that are cosmetically imperfect or are nearing expiration. Other donors include the UGArden, the Foodbank of Northeast Georgia, Athens Farmers Market, and Collective Harvest.

Trader Joe’s donates food that will be cooked and delivered through the Campus Kitchen at UGA. 

The Campus Kitchen at UGA also works with the Athens Community Council on Aging to ensure that the program is sustainable and safe. The UGA Campus Kitchen works with 54 of the ACCA’s clients and their families; because of this close relationship, the Campus Kitchen complies with ACCA’s trainings and background checks. Turner says that this organization has been incredible to work with, particularly in the mutual trust and willingness to take risks that has allowed their Campus Kitchen to grow.  

All of these partners have had to be willing to trust that Campus Kitchen was going to work in the best interest of their community. “When people hear that it’s a food recovery network run by students, the knee-jerk reaction is to question,” Turner says. “It’s a well-founded concern to wonder about the sustainability. We just made it a point that when we establish a relationship, we quickly document how the shift is best done and recruit students to serve in a specific role for a semester at a time. And students just want to be a part of this. They love having a clear role, seeing how this connects, so it’s a commitment people are willing to make.”

Managing growth

The Campus Kitchen at UGA uses GivePulse to schedule and track student engagement with their organization, and has found that the organization has grown to 372 students, with more and more referrals coming through word of mouth. 

As they grow, the Campus Kitchen at UGA utilizes GivePulse’s reflection features to incorporate student feedback and ensure that the program remains productive for everyone involved. They can also use this to better verify volunteers even as their numbers grow. Prior to GivePulse, they often had service-learning students that were using paper sign-in forms and requiring signatures, which Turner says was difficult to manage centrally. But with GivePulse’s verification system, Campus Kitchen “transitioned to coaching students to report impacts and share that data with their professor, knowing that any verified impact has already been signed off on by the staff of our program. That has been great for improving efficiency, particularly as we’ve grown and incorporated more students.”

Doing everything they can

As they grow, the Campus Kitchen at UGA plans to continue looking into ways to address the underlying issues that lead to food waste. Turner is confident that given the right inspiration and connection, people are going to find innovative solutions. He believes the role of the Campus Kitchen at UGA is “to give people encouragement that it can be done, that you really can do amazing things in your community, that incredible trust is built through food.”

“Incredible trust is built through food.” 

The Campus Kitchen at UGA also wants to help supply other organizations engaging in food security, doing more work with homeless shelters, food kitchens, and similar organizations. 

Food waste is an untapped resource for fighting food insecurity. 

Turner doesn’t lose sight of the bigger picture — solutions need to occur at a higher tier. “The data suggests that the further up the supply chain you go to reduce food waste, the better the savings, reduced environmental impacts… the producers are gonna be getting smarter, it’s in their best interest to cut food waste from their stores.” 

Because of this, he sees reason to hope: “It’s my belief that a time could come when there won’t be as much waste in grocery stores. The question that remains for us, what are we gonna do until that day comes? I’m convinced that we need to do everything we can. People are still literally hungry and in dire need, so we have to do everything we can while today is still today. Our goal right now is to do as much as we can for the time we’re graciously given, and do the best good we can.”

“Our goal right now is to do as much as we can for the time we’re graciously given, and do the best good we can.” 

National Day of Civic Hacking: Coding Tips for Change-makers

Whether you are an expert at full stack or just starting out, coding and software engineering are powerful tools to make a difference, one line at a time! 

Tomorrow, September 21, 2019, is the seventh annual National Day of Civic Hacking. This year, the National Day of Civic Hacking is focused on restoring rights to those impacted by the criminal justice system, particularly through expungement and other forms of legal help. It coincides with the first day of National Expungement Week. According to the Code for America website, fewer than 10% of those eligible for record clearance receive it — yet expungement is shown to boost wages and reduce recidivism (relapse into criminal behavior).

George Luc and GivePulse cofounder James McGirr at the ATX Startup Crawl holding the Dewey’s civic award.
George Luc and GivePulse cofounder James McGirr at the ATX Startup Crawl holding the Dewey’s civic award.

GivePulse cofounder George Luc was honored as a White House Champion of Change after developing GivePulse at the ATX Hackathon for Change 2013 with cofounder James McGirr. 

We asked George why he thinks it’s important to participate in National Day of Civic Hacking.

Here’s what he said: 

  1. Cultivate new friendships and perspectives, or even find your next business co-founder(s): On the National Day of Civic Hacking, you work alongside people with a variety of backgrounds. You may jump in with a team of people you’ve never met before! You get the chance to meet like-minded and similarly motivated people working in your field and in fields that you care about. These may become future colleagues, mentors, mentees, or close friends. Sometimes (or many times) it can be a great crash course to dating or determining your next cofounder for a business. 🙂 
  2. Step out of your comfort zone with new coding languages: In order to participate in the hacking challenges you are presented with, you may need to code in a language that you don’t find familiar or comfortable — or even a language that you have never worked with before. This is a great opportunity to increase the languages you know, improving your coding skill set (which you can add to your resume) and offering an exciting chance to branch into new knowledge.
  3. Gain more project management and collaborative experience: You’ll be working to solve problems that span disciplines, meaning you get to experience collaborating with and managing groups with diverse skill sets and knowledge bases to make change. You may be working alongside leaders in activism and nonprofits, as well as individuals whose coding experiences are in different languages and contexts than your own. As you plan together, you will learn to manage many facets of the project, even beyond your own knowledge base. 
  4. Immerse yourself in a fast paced environment with the goal of making quick decisions and delivering on work products: The National Day of Civic Hacking takes place over the course of a single day (or sometimes a weekend). Because you are trying to work toward a technological solution to a social justice or inefficiency problem in this brief span of time, you will learn to dive headfirst into problem, iterate and deliver products as effectively as possible. 
  5. Get a pulse of all the potential issues and challenges technology can help address: Everyone has a skill to contribute. If you’re thinking about participating in the National Day of Civic Hacking, you likely have a skill or a desire to help change the world for the better. Your participation will open you up to more ways where you can do just that. You’ll be inspired by the change-makers around you and will have the chance to expand your own view of what is possible. 

For further hacking inspiration, check out this list of amazing civic hacking work that’s already happening across the nation. Want to attend an event? Find your local event here. 

Learn more about expungement through the National Expungement Week website, and check out the Rights Restoration Project and other groups working to restore rights to millions of Americans. Whether or not you participate in the National Day of Civic Hacking, learning more about this issue will help you be an informed voter and engaged citizen.  

And of course, check out GivePulse — we are proud to support work that changes the world and look forward to seeing the future of civic hacking. If you have any collaborative ideas with GivePulse, please do reach out to

Add Joy to Your Life: Say “Yes” to Giving

A lifetime of volunteering

Connie Brown has been volunteering for the majority of her life. When she was a young girl growing up near Cleveland, she would shovel snow to clear driveways for neighbors who weren’t able to do it for themselves.  “I just have a heart for people,” she says. “I enjoy serving others. No one made me do it; I just enjoyed doing it.” She adds, “That was a long time ago. I’m 72.”

Connie Brown, top center, volunteers regularly with the Samaritan Center, a “grace-driven nonprofit organization with a mission to serve the hurting and hungry of Northwest Arkansas with dignity and compassion on a regular basis.”

You can see Connie’s love of volunteering in the impacts she logs on GivePulse. Between June and August of 2019, she recorded over 400 volunteer hours with four different organizations — and that’s just a scratch on the surface of her volunteer efforts. “I’ve had and enjoyed a lifetime of volunteering,” she says.

Unique giving culture

Her recent volunteer efforts have been in Northwest Arkansas, where she says there is a unique giving culture.“We have Walmart, we have other large businesses; we have a diverse community, a diverse population, and everybody gets along,” she says. “It’s very unique I think — I came from an area where that was not the case, it was a very divisive community over race and ethnicity. But here everybody gets along, everybody helps each other — it feels like we all partner to help those who need help.” 

When she first moved to Northwest Arkansas eleven years ago, Connie says, “I was looking for volunteer opportunities, places where I fit in, where I liked their mission. I just kind of slowly tried different places out, and saw that I fit, and that I liked their mission and I liked making a difference with them.” 

“You end up having that community of new friends when you volunteer… When you get acquainted with them, they become your friends, your family.”

For Connie, these organizations offered a community of like-minded individuals. “Many of the volunteers are long-term volunteers who have volunteered faithfully at the same place for 35 years — here they are week after week, day after day. To me, it’s amazing. It just shows the commitment of people in our community to organizations that make a difference and that help others in our community that need our help.” For example, Connie recalls fellow volunteer Jan from Helping Hands, who worked alongside her on Wednesdays until she moved away last year. Connie says, “When I’m working alongside Jan, who is 100 years old, I’m thinking ‘Oh my gosh, when I grow up I want to be like Jan!’” 

By returning to these same organizations on a regular basis, Connie says, “you end up having that community of new friends when you volunteer… When you get acquainted with them, they become your friends, your family; you get so much more than you give… I enjoy the volunteers that I meet; I enjoy serving the guests we have for lunch at the Samaritan Center, or the VA hospital, or the people who come to the food pantry at Helping Hands.”

Connie Brown serves pie at the Samaritan Center.

A heart for people

Connie believes that volunteering is a crucial part of life. “For the people who don’t volunteer at all, they’re just missing out on so many opportunities. It takes a village of all of us, and I’m just so glad to be a part of that village.” She adds, “Giving to others will never lessen what you have — it increases what you have exponentially. You give and you get so much more back.” 

“Giving to others will never lessen what you have — it increases what you have exponentially. You give and you get so much more back.”

The key tenet of volunteering, she says, is to have a heart for people. “You need a heart for people. You don’t need to be judgmental. You just need to have a heart for people and a willingness to serve.” 

For those who have not volunteered much before and are looking to start, Connie has this advice: “Look at areas you’re interested in. Try a place… Just try it. If you don’t like it, move on. You don’t have to be on the frontline of anything that’s done, you can be in a supporting role. I’m not the one leading the band; I’m a band member. But to just simply try it, and take that risk. You might like it, you might not like it. Ten to one, you will find a place where you really fit, where you really support their mission of what they’re doing, and where you found a new place to make a difference.”

A new place

Discovering something new about your community is another critical benefit of volunteering. Through volunteering, “you get opportunities to be with people you would not ordinarily be with — face to face with a homeless person, face to face with childhood hunger. When you’re serving those children lunch, and they’re eating and eating and eating.You get to see a side of what’s going on in your community that you may not in your own circle get exposed to… There’s people that kind of stand out, who you meet, and they make their mark on you just like you make your mark on them.”

“You get to see a side of what’s going on in your community that you may not in your own circle get exposed to.”

Two years ago, when Altrusa International celebrated their one hundred year anniversary, Connie took this idea of trying new things to another level. Altrusa International, a nonprofit focused on children’s literacy, asked their volunteers around the globe to volunteer one hundred hours that year. Connie recalls, “I thought, ‘Well, I do that in a month, what would be a challenge for me?’ This wasn’t required. I thought, ‘I’m gonna try 100 new places to volunteer.’ Now that was a challenge! It was something worthy of celebrating Altrusa International’s 100th birthday.”

This photo was posted on Altrusa International of Bentonville/Bella Vista AR’s Facebook page, which Connie maintains. Gay Kiker, President of Altrusa International of Bentonville/Bella Vista AR, describes Connie as a blessing to the organization.

In this personal challenge, Connie says, “I did all kinds of things — I did things I was interested in, things I had never done before, and it was just really eye opening and challenging, and a lot of fun.” In one of her new adventures, Connie volunteered for Trifest MS, a weekend long triathlon event that encourages participation for adults and children with disabilities. Connie was an encourager on the bike course: “I would holler at each one and high five.” Connie says that at first she wasn’t sure about the fit of this, thinking, “A bike course? Me?” She loved the experience and says it reminded her that “you just have to be open to new opportunities, and be willing to say ‘Yes.’ ‘Can I help serve 2000 hot dogs in an hour?’ ‘Yes!’”  

When you commit to stepping out of your comfort zone, Connie says, “You get to see what other organizations are doing, you get to be a small part of it.” She adds, “That was a really fun different experience for me. It was amazing when I was done. I was thinking, look at all the things I’ve done! Look at all the places I’ve done in NWA! Look at all the things that I’ve learned. It was a cool experience.”

Looking forward

Connie is passing this love of volunteering on to her grandkids. Her granddaughter has been volunteering alongside her in the food pantry at Helping Hands since she was four years old. “She couldn’t reach the tables,” she recalls, “but she was willing, and we worked side by side. I flipped over a plastic container that she could stand on. We would fill the bags with the staples that each family got, we would get the shopping carts out of the parking lot, we would recycle the cardboard and select the bread. I can vividly remember the first day we took her — when we came home, her mama asked, ‘Did she enjoy it?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you wanna go back?’ ‘Oh yes — they need me.’ She felt needed, she felt wanted.” 

Connie herself has no intentions of stopping anytime soon. “I hope the day I die I’m volunteering somewhere.”

We highlight partners and volunteers in this “Why I Give” blog series to showcase why they are passionate about their work and ultimately inspire others to be passionate as well.

Inspiring Minds Spotlight: Empowering Providence Students

This post is part of our Spotlight series, where we spotlight our incredible partners. We are so thrilled that GivePulse has been able to work with these nonprofits, institutions, and corporations!

A volunteer with Inspiring Minds Power Lunch program uses his lunch break to mentor elementary school students

Inspired volunteers

With programs spanning the Providence public school district, Inspiring Minds maintains deep ties to the Providence, RI community. Inspiring Minds has several programs that work with elementary school students in Providence; according to Melissa Emidy, Executive Director of Inspiring Minds, “the underlying theme of all of our programs is that adults go into classrooms in Providence public schools and create relationships and support academic success.” 

These relationships rely upon effective and consistent engagement from volunteers and the nonprofit. Emidy defines engagement as “being authentic and listening to the needs of your community, and providing services that are impactful and effective and to the benefit of your community.” This focus on authenticity and impact has shaped the recently updated mission of Inspiring Minds: “Inspiring Minds empowers students for success in school and life by supporting them with trusted relationships, tutoring and mentoring from inspired community members.” Trusted relationships are at the forefront of Inspiring Minds’ mission. 

If volunteers are to create trusted relationships in Providence public schools, they must recognize how their own backgrounds and those of the students impact their work.

Building bridges

To accomplish this mission, the volunteers need to understand the context of their work. In order to create trusted relationships in these schools, they must recognize how their own backgrounds and those of the students impact their work. 

“Both students and teachers come with background information, most from different places,” says Emidy. “We work with elementary school kids only, and 95% of those kids are students of color, 86% are poor, and our teachers are overwhelmingly white middle class women. They have different backgrounds.” This is where the volunteers come in: “By bringing community members into the classrooms, we build a bridge between those two worlds.” 

While many teachers commute in from towns and cities beyond the Providence border, volunteers are members of the Providence community. Through Inspiring Minds’ programs, Emidy says, “Kids build a relationship with someone who’s in their supermarket — how cool is that? Having community members in the class is awesome.”

Functioning within dysfunction 

The work being done by Inspiring Minds and their volunteers is necessary and complicated. Providence public schools were recently the focus of national attention when an investigation by Johns Hopkins University researchers found that students in Providence public schools were performing drastically below the national average, with 90 percent of students not proficient in math and 80 percent not proficient in English. The reasons for this are widespread, including extensive issues of bullying and fighting, low student engagement, and low teacher morale.  Emidy describes the report as “93 pages of absolute heartbreak.” While she notes that there are good practices happening at some schools, the underlying conditions surrounding Inspiring Minds’ work remain complex: “We are a community agency functioning within dysfunction.” 

“The underlying problem,” Emidy adds, “is systemic racism, and that’s a big issue to grapple with, especially for people who haven’t been on that journey to understand their privilege.” In this context, training and volunteer management are crucial, particularly as the volunteers’ actions in the school can be life-altering for students. “In a lot of cases,” Emidy says, “these trusted relationships between community members and students makes [the student’s] day.” To build this trust, volunteers must learn how to communicate with and inspire these students. 

“We are a community agency functioning within dysfunction.”

New model

Before Inspiring Minds started using GivePulse, volunteer management took up a significant amount of time that could otherwise have been used for training volunteers and interacting with schools. But with GivePulse, “We are so much more efficient,” Emidy says. “We can spend more time in schools supporting volunteers; our whole entire agency has shifted because of GivePulse. We don’t spend nearly as much time matching and placing — we spend much more time at schools.” 

An Inspiring Minds mentor helps a student to work through his assignment 

This shift in focus from volunteer management to program enrichment is evident in the roles of the Inspiring Minds staff. “In our new model,” Emidy says, “we have a program director who is going to be meeting with teachers and learning what our kids’ needs are through data and conversation.” With the extra time provided by a responsive management system, this director “can then go into a classroom and coach [the volunteers] in how to work with that kid.” According to Emidy, this is “transformational from where we were two years ago.” 

Inspiring Minds worked to set up GivePulse in the summer of 2018. Emidy says that the best thing Inspiring Minds ever did in setting up GivePulse was to hire an intern whose role was to learn and train others in the platform. “Anyone that’s going to change and have a new system is going to have an implementation plan,” Emidy says. “You’ve got to have a subject matter expert, and you’ve got to have someone who’s going to do the tedious work and then train your staff.” 

In regards to these trainings, Emidy adds, “Be patient.” It may take time for volunteers and coordinators to engage fully with GivePulse, but once they do, the organization will transform. Overall, Emidy says that switching to GivePulse “has changed our organization tremendously. I’m happy with it; I tell people all the time.” 

With GivePulse, Emidy says, “We don’t spend nearly as much time matching and placing — we spend much more time in schools.”

Increased information

A key facet of this change is the information Emidy is able to gather through GivePulse. Before using GivePulse, Inspiring Minds wanted to get everything on one sheet of paper, and because of this did not ask any demographic information. 

Emidy says that switching to GivePulse “has changed our organization tremendously.” 

With the online application she has added through GivePulse, Emidy says, “Now I can tell what the demographics are of my volunteers. I now know their employment information, and the big question — does your job do matching gifts? I can look at their employer and know that XYZ employer matches gifts and get that information to that volunteer, so that I can not only get the volunteer’s participation and time, but I can also get a corporate gift.” 

Tracking volunteers

Interactions with both volunteers and donors have been altered significantly by implementation of the platform. “We interact so much more. If you go back to when I first got here, we didn’t even know how many volunteers we had out there on any given day.” Now, when Emidy wants a funder to come and visit a program, she “can just log in to the system and do a little magic and find out how many volunteers [she has] at one location at any given time.” 

When she wants a funder to visit a program, Emidy “can just log in to the system and do a little magic and find out how many volunteers [she has] at one location at any given time.”

Moreover, these operations can all take place at the very start of working hours: “Operationally, I can do everything I need to do before I hit the office, which in a small shop is beautiful.” She can access critical aspects of volunteer management “anywhere. It’s all in one spot.” 

Trust is developed through play as well as tutoring in Inspiring Minds’ programs

Volunteer tracking and coordinating benefit from this easy access to information. Emidy can easily “message people who need to know one certain thing. I can message all of my RIC students a RIC notice; I can email all my Brown work-study students and tell them their timecards are due; I can message an entire school and tell them that next week is eighties day.” These targeted messages allow for efficient volunteer coordination, opening time for actions that more directly impact the elementary school students.

Looking forward

Now, Emidy can focus on creating trusted relationships through both work and play. Inspiring Minds is currently planning for trainings that will address how to move forward after the Johns Hopkins report, including a panel discussion on the report’s findings. 

In addition, Inspiring Minds will be working with an Americorps fellow to manage volunteers with GivePulse. Beyond this, they have “a couple of new things in the works,” including a burgeoning work-study partnership with Providence College. 

Even as these elements change, Inspiring Minds’ emphasis on mutual trust and growth remains the same. Their play-based model relies on understanding how different contexts and backgrounds influence interpretation. Emidy says that in her trainings, she can watch this understanding grow. Students are far from the only ones who benefit from this engagement: “It’s such a cool, eye-opening thing when you say that to adults… having that community member in the classroom, it’s learning on both sides.” 

“Having that community member in the classroom, it’s learning on both sides.”