Issue VIII
The Changing Approach to Volunteering
posted by: Darrin Wasniewski
Volunteers—our programs could not survive without them. They provide leadership, move projects forward, and advocate for our cause. April, being National Volunteer Month, is a perfect time to reflect on our relationship with our volunteers. In the Main Street America™ Program, we emphasize that volunteer development should move people from merely helping to taking ownership and from free labor to active leadership—for this is how volunteers become your strongest allies within the community. Volunteering has an economic value as well. Independent Sector values a volunteer’s time at $23.56 per hour. When multiplied by the 61,000 volunteer hours recorded by our programs in 2015, that equates to an investment in Wisconsin of over $1.4 million.
At the same time, volunteering, is changing in America. Time has become one of our most precious assets, and people protect it dearly. This means volunteers are less likely to sit on a committee and meet monthly to plan projects. Instead they would prefer to be given a task with a stated goal and timeframe in mind. This is often referred to as micro-volunteering. People still want to help; they just want to make sure they are not making a perpetual commitment. If commitments are kept and your organization creates a positive experience, then people will volunteer again, and maybe even take on a little more responsibility next time.
While this may seem like a big challenge when it comes to managing volunteers, micro-volunteering provides the chance to engage with a larger cross-section of people with very specific skills and passions—people your organization may have overlooked in the past. Through their work, the volunteers will see the impact they are making, which, in turn, creates advocates and potential donors—so what’s seen by some as a negative trend also has a positive outcome.
In your interactions with volunteers, keep in mind that they also benefit from their involvement. As the article 5 Surprising Benefits of Volunteering noted, recent studies have found:
1. Volunteering time makes you feel like you have more time.
2. Volunteering your skills helps you develop new skills.
3. Volunteering your body helps you have a healthier body.
4. Volunteering your experience helps build your experience.
5. Volunteering your love makes you feel more love.
Armed with this information, you can engage your volunteers with the confidence that you are helping them as much as they are helping you. 
Let’s take a look at two Wisconsin Main Street programs that have successfully used volunteer engagement efforts to address needs within their districts.
Hitting the Trail in Osceola
Recognized for Best Volunteer Engagement at the 25th Wisconsin Main Street Awards on April 8, the Rivertown Trails Coalition emerged from Osceola Area Chamber and Main Street Program’s Design Committee. Their focus is to help the community become more aware, better connected, and more engaged with walkability and outdoor recreation through promoting local trails and an Osceola active lifestyle. Volunteers have engaged on a variety of levels, depending on their interest. They have developed marketing strategies, planned and hosted several trail events, planned and built trails, and installed trail signs. The development and promotion of the trails in Osceola contributes to placemaking, creates a walkable community, and strengthens Osceola as a destination for tourism.
When asked what the secret was to Osceola’s success with this program, Germaine Ross, executive director of the Osceola Area Chamber and Main Street Program, responded, “The bar meeting.” She continued, “People want to gather socially and make things happen.”
Engaging Young Professionals in La Crosse
“It’s all about fun,” says Robin Moses, executive director of Downtown Mainstreet, Inc. (DMI). “We want to make downtown La Crosse the most fun place to live, work, and play.” But they also had projects that they wanted to accomplish in a way that would engage young leaders and foster creative ideas.
The engagement came in simple forms  at first. Volunteers stepped forward to clean up a private area behind buildings. This led to noticing an alley that had once been adorned with bright colors, and even in the 1970’s had been known as “Painted Alley.” Then the idea came to the group: what if they returned the space to its colorful roots? They put together a pitch for the newly created LAX Soup—a a crowdfunding mechanism for local projects—and won. 
DMI’s out-of-the-box thinkers walked away with $2,600 to purchase supplies to spruce up the alley with measures including pigeon control, paint, and a mural. The volunteers are working with adjoining building owners to enhance lighting so that people will feel safe enjoying the alley at night. Although the alley improvement project made good progress, the onset of winter delayed completion until warmer weather in 2016. Still, the group used its creative spark during the winter to plan the Rockin’ in a Winter Funderland event for January 2016. The event was to feature snow volleyball and a snowman contest, but a 50 degree Saturday provided mud instead. 
Robin admits that this new way of engaging volunteers is a learning process. She recognizes that DMI benefits from closer relationships among those working in downtown. When asked about her secret to volunteer engagement success, she answered, “Understand that creatives work differently. You have to match a passion to the tasks that you need done.”

Wisconsin Association of Historic Preservation Commissions Annual Meeting and Conference April 22-23 Heritage Hill State Historical Park Green Bay Registration Link

Webinar- Lead with Your Why April 27, 10 a.m. Free Registration Link

Human Capital: Effective Strategies for Recruiting & Retaining a Rural Workforce 7 Rivers Alliance April 28 Rushford, MN Registration Link

Telling Your Story with Pride... and Having the Numbers to Back it Up May 10 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. Free The Trout Museum of Art Appleton Registration E-Mail

Telling Your Story with Pride... and Having the Numbers to Back it Up May 11 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. Free Birch Creek Music Performance Center Egg Harbor Registration E-mail

Webinar: Event Management Tools, Tricks and Tips May 12 noon - 1 Registration Link

Downtown Open House May 14 Various locations around WI Event Website

Telling Your Story with Pride... and Having the Numbers to Back it Up May 18 12:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. Menomonie Public Library Menomonie Registration E-mail

Main Street Now National Main Streets Conference May 23-25 Milwaukee Registration Link

Wisconsin Downtown Reception Wisconsin Downtown Action Council May 24 $30 Chrome East at The Harley-Davidson Museum Registration Link

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New Case Study Research Opportunity

WEDC  and UW-Extension, are working together to identify creative uses for vacant downtown buildings in small towns. The purpose of this project is to provide Wisconsin’s small communities with research and case studies highlighting different ways to meaningfully occupy vacant properties. They are looking for examples that showcase how underutilized real estate can be put to new commercial or nonprofit use.  Please send your creative examples to or 
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