Volunteer service ‘critical’ to local nonprofits

From the Sentinel:

There is no money and generally little recognition for those who volunteer to serve on boards at local organizations.

But for the people who love to give and don’t mind sacrificing personal time – in many cases, significant chunks – the ultimate reward is simply knowing that they are providing a much-needed service to both the agency and community.

“Volunteering is really critical to nonprofits and we’re all lacking in that area,” said Shari Bellish, executive director at Carlisle CARES, a nonprofit organization that offers services for the homeless in Cumberland County.

The fact is that demand for services – like shelter needs – continues to go up, she explained, and there is rarely money to pay people.

“We’re limited to what we can provide for services because we’re so dependent for volunteers,” Bellish said.

Many other nonprofit agencies are in similar financial situations, given the slowly rebounding economy.

“Volunteers are just as valuable as money,” Bellish said.

In contrast to some local agencies, Carlisle CARES has a relatively small board of directors with just eight people – each the chairperson of an advisory committee.

Same faces

Like many of its peer organizations, Carlisle CARES is usually calling on many of the same people in the community to volunteer.

“You usually see the same people and they get burned out,” Bellish said. “They try to do the job of everyone else.”

It can be challenging to recruit new people to committees and boards, she said, because a lot of folks don’t like to raise funds.

Others can’t give up enough of their time to serve. Carlisle CARES has its resource center open for 14 hours every day, its shelter for 10 hours.

To try and combat dips in volunteers, especially on its board, Safe Harbour, another large shelter operation in Carlisle, has written in its bylaws that it can have between 15 and 21 people.

According to Vice President Pat LaMarche, the current number of board members is at 16.

“We have always been fortunate that people want to serve on our board,” she said, adding that openings usually occur because it’s a decision-making board.

Some people just don’t want to be responsible for the “nuts and bolts” of an organization or the “make-it-or-break-it” decisions of an active board, LaMarche said.

“And I think some are hesitant because they don’t have money to give or a thousand skills,” she said.

If someone is considering a volunteer role on a board or just in general, they should talk to the director and find out about the time commitment and expectations, added Sherrie Davis, executive director at the United Way of Carlisle & Cumberland County.

Yes, there is a small group in the community that serves on more than one board, she said. But there are many others who call in looking to get involved for the first time.

“They have their passion for what they believe in,” Davis said, adding that the United Way doesn’t have much trouble filling its board of 24 members.

Some of the agencies contacted, including the United Way, are even looking to develop advisory groups so more people can be involved.

Cumberland County also rarely has problems filling its board vacancies, according to Deputy Chief Clerk Joanne Burkhart.

“There is always high interest in our boards,” she said, adding that the county holds applications on file in the event of vacancies.

In total, there are more than 20 county boards and authorities, many which have 12 or more members.

Read full article here

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