14. How to Effectively Engage & Connect with School Volunteers with Cristin Caine

Do you want to be more involved in your community? Whether it’s connecting your school to volunteer work, engaging the right volunteers for your school, or participating in opportunities outside school, volunteerism can be a lifelong, fulfilling part of anyone’s life. In this inspiring episode, Cristin shares how to empower volunteers by connecting them with work that is aligned with their skills, passions, and goals. She demonstrates how schools can use this strategy to create a foundation for community service and inspire students to be lifelong volunteers.

About Cristin Caine:

Cristin Caine is the founder and CEO of Charity Connect, a nonprofit which facilitates volunteerism through personal connection. Cristin’s background in special events fundraising and as a Montgomery County Public School teacher combined with her own fulfilling volunteer positions led to her passion to ensure that everyone who wants to be volunteering is volunteering. Cristin currently volunteers as a mock interviewer with SEEC and as a resource family for Generation Hope.

Find Cristin Caine:

Show Transcript

Tara: Welcome to Mindful School Marketing. I’m Tara Claeys. 

Aubrey: And I’m Audrey Bursch. Today, we’re joined by Cristin Caine. Cristin is the Founder and CEO of Charity Connect, a nonprofit which facilitates volunteerism through personal connection. Welcome Cristin. 

Cristin: Hi. Thank you so much, Tara and Aubrey. I’m so happy to be here.

Tara: Oh, we’re so glad to have you. I’m really looking forward to this conversation. Can you tell us more about yourself and about Charity Connect? 

Cristin: Sure. It’s my favorite subject. My favorite topic of conversation is volunteering and helping people to find the right fit, volunteer opportunity. So I have a background in special events fundraising, and I was a public school teacher. And I’ve been a lifelong volunteer since I was four. I was fundraising for cystic fibrosis because I had a friend with CF and ran my daughter’s girl scout troop for eight years and really have done tons of volunteering in the community and had people wanting to get more involved. And I thought, well, great, I’ll be your cheerleader. And then I realized there were a lot of barriers to getting people from wanting to be involved, to really incorporating volunteerism into their life. And I thought, well, I could do that. So I started Charity Connect five years ago and has been just loving, solving the puzzle of trying to find people’s right fit, volunteer opportunity. And it’s been awesome. 

Aubrey: That’s good and I love that. I can just see you as like little Cristin out there, you know, you know, and getting support for CF. So that’s fantastic. I love stories like that, where it’s kind of been in you for so long, and then you make that connection.of like oh, I could help other people with this problem that I saw for myself. And I’m so passionate about. So, that’s so cool. And what a great story. I’d love to hear more about, so, as you know, our audience of school is like school leaders and professionals, and they might be like, some of the people you’ve run into who are hesitant about volunteering and I’m not quite sure how and where to start, are there some tips that you can give our audience about getting started with volunteer work?

Cristin: Absolutely. And I love that mindful is in the title of this podcast, because that is a word that I am shouting from the mountaintops. I think it’s really important for people to be mindful about what they want to do as part of their volunteering and even what they don’t want to do. We’re really challenging these long-held beliefs, that volunteering should be self-sacrificial and it’s really about, you know, it doesn’t matter what I want. It’s how I can help and how I can help others. But it’s kind of that, you know, put your oxygen mask on first idea. That if you think about what your true interests are, what your true availability is, what goals you might want to accomplish personal or professional through your volunteering, what skills you want to use, what skills you don’t want to use, really think about it, and then communicate that to the nonprofit.

That’s what we do at charity connect and help people, part life coaching, I think really, you know, with that service channel of having people identify, you know, what do you really want? And we ask people, why do you want to volunteer? And they’re not allowed to say, to make a difference in my community or to help others.

We’d get that, that’s inherent in the word volunteering. So it’s, what else do you want to accomplish? And if people really kind of mainstream that volunteering into their lives, they will be able to fit it in and reap all the benefits. Yeah. 

Tara: I love that. And I think it probably also helps retain volunteers. I mean, I’ve tried a bunch of different volunteering. Right? I know that like stream cleanup is necessarily not necessarily my thing, but mentoring kids is, you know, I love it. So I think it helps you stick with it when you find that thing. But I’m sure a lot of people don’t really know what they like. So how do you help people discover that? Do they try things and say don’t like that? 

Cristin: How does that work? So a couple of things I want to respond to your insightful comment about how. If having that mindfulness and really determining your right fit and communicating, it really helps the non-profit.

And I also work with nonprofits on volunteer, engagement, management, and retention in terms of what do they, you know, I’m hearing from volunteers, what’s working and what’s not working. And so I’m giving that information to nonprofits to kind of smooth out those edges and get people volunteering in a sustainable and meaningful way.

And the second part of your question was how could people discover that about themselves? What they would like and not like. So we have developed, because I realized I was having these conversations and asking, you know, some questions I ask of everyone. And they’re really important. We developed this self-inventory tool, that’s on our website and it’s what we use to match clients, but anyone could go there and take a peek at it, ask themselves those questions.

And then there’s an experiential learning component. We kind of call it charity shopping. So as long as you communicate with a nonprofit and say, I’m interested in this, I think it’s a good fit for me. I want to try it out. So they know that you’re not promising a longer engagement at the start. You can go and volunteer and then come and be mindful about it again.

So what did I like about it? What didn’t I like about it? I feel like that mindful evaluative approach has helped me in my life path in terms of when I was in special events, fundraising. There were things I didn’t like about it. The thing that I did like about it was teaching people and teaching families how to fundraise.

And so I continued my education to get my master’s and became a teacher. And then when I was deciding to go back to work, I felt, what do I like that education piece and the social impact. So it’s applying that mindfulness is good for all aspects of your life. 

Tara: Very true. Very true. Thanks for explaining that. So, because we are talking to mostly a school school staff, people who work in schools, I want to kind of take this conversation and apply it to schools. And my mind is going in a million directions. I have so many questions and things I want to talk about, but I think for schools, there are two things here. And I know when we kind of talked about what we’re going to talk about, I’m gonna throw in something new. So, there’s one element which is using service and volunteering within the program of your school. And then there’s also volunteering , as part of your school’s way of getting things done.

So having your community volunteer within your school for independent schools, that can be a really critical thing. And people, parents, families who are in the community have a lot of skills to give. So I would think that this sort of matching thing could really apply to that. So, two different directions. You can go, with whatever one you want to start with, but I love to hear more about how schools can incorporate what you do into their school philosophy about volunteering in general. 

Cristin: So I have a lot to say on this, so you’ll have to time me out and help me remember each part of your questions address. I’ll start with the end of the list because I think that’s a shorter answer. So when you’re talking about engaging volunteers in the work that the school needs to have done, as far as the parents association, I would really advise you number one, to think about that right fit, and to have a conversation with people that are interested in volunteering and ask some of those questions that are available on our self-inventory to kind of talk through what the right fit for them is.

And sometimes their skills, even though it looks like, oh, they have these great skills. They’re great. People have said on great in sales, I don’t want to do sales. So it doesn’t matter. My dad is still so upset I’m not in his business of financial advising. It doesn’t even if you look like you’re a good fit for something, it may not be where your passion lies.

So trying to find that intersection between the interests, the availability, and then the need is really important. And as far as kind of applying our approach to volunteerism to schools, we have worked to help schools with preschool all through high school. And I will tell you that in a preschool I actually did a puppet show once, I did a Bert and Ernie puppet show, and I watched Sesame Street to get down Bert and Ernie’s language, their accents, I watched it like Rosetta Stone and I did a puppet show about hunger. And two year olds could understand that Ernie was sad because he couldn’t get a job at the toy store. And that’s why there wasn’t food in their refrigerator.

So there is no too early of an age to start speaking about it. Issues and causes in the world. So doing something like a puppet show, not everybody wants to speak like Burton, Ernie. I don’t know if I could do this to this day. That was about 10 years ago. Please don’t ask me to do it. But books, it’s books, books, books is a huge way to engage children in the causes and the needs in the world.

And you would read a book. One of my favorite books for this is called Maddie’s Fridge. And it’s a story about friendship that also explains food insecurity and just gives me goosebumps it’s the best way. And so reading that aloud and then having students, I’ve done this in other schools, having students make meal bags or snack bags, where they could decorate the bag. They could put a card inside. They could all bring in snacks, non-perishable snacks and pack it in and then give it to a nonprofit in need. In this case, we did a nonprofit that serves, kids provides free after-school enrichment and summer camp for kids from low-income families.

So engaging, having students identify with the characters of the books so that they can understand the issue first and then have the action. And then as we get older in middle school and high school, starting to teach students to have that mindful approach. So starting to teach students about what is the right fit, volunteer opportunities.

What do you want to do while you’re volunteering? Do you have an outside interest such as playing the piano and you’d love to incorporate into that, that into your volunteering, or do you want to be active while you volunteer? So really the way we would teach students to find a job, we should teach them to explore volunteer opportunities.

So I really appreciate it, and I know it’s taken the extra step to try and customize the volunteer programs for students. 

Aubrey: There’s so much there. I love it. I love it. And first of all, I would love to hear Burton or any, but you don’t have to do it on the podcast. So maybe you can do it for some children in another time.

But I think there’s so much to unpack here because what you’re saying is. It really comes down to understanding what people’s desires are and what their strengths are. And just because they’re, you know, a financial advisor somewhere doesn’t mean that they want to do the financials for your school or volunteer with an organization in that capacity. And the lifelong connection and tying it all together is truly finding the passions and really tying it to the need of the organization and the organization thinking about what the different components are and how they can kind of talk about them. Right. And pair the volunteers. And then what you just said about teaching children, especially, I’m just thinking of my kids and my next question is going to have to do with this, but I’m just thinking my kids and this, the story reading activity. I mean, my, my little ones are still young-ish. Right. And just the impact of a really good book and then the action following up is key because they’re learning and then they’re doing. I think I’ve made the mistake of the reading. And not the doing. And so it kind of feels half the cycle, half past the cycle there. So I’m wondering if you like to speak, you know, we have a lot of parents in our audience. How can I, as a parent really bring that home and really encourage my family to embrace volunteerism at home. 

Cristin: So I think everyone should think small, it doesn’t have to be huge and you want to make it work for you. So, If you want to read a book and pack snack bags, you don’t need to pack a hundred snack bags.

You don’t have to spend all that money. You could do a play date with a purpose and have people. And we’ve done these virtually too. So I know we’re going to get in person soon, you can get together outside and have somebody, you know, have everybody bring one thing of granola bars or something that costs $5 and then divide them up and have the kids read the story, have the kids pack the bags. And then everyone goes to play. What I did often with my kids when they were younger was meal preparation. So, if we were making a lasagna for our family, then we would make two or three lasagna and donate them. And one of, one cool memory that I have with my kids is we did this. We made the lasagna and we also took some things we no longer needed over to a homeless shelter. And every time we visited this homeless shelter, I would take the kids to get Slurpees after. And it was it bribery? No, but if it has a nice positive association, I’m okay with that. So we were getting Slurpees and we saw a young boy riding, a tricycle that we just dropped. So that was super visual.

And I will say, and this was kind of something I really want to emphasize for any age, the single most powerful measure of volunteer satisfaction is that you should understand your impact. You should be able to see how, what you did made a difference. And even though we all have different likes and dislikes and we want to volunteer and different ways, that is something that everyone has in common.

They want to know what they did and how that helped. 

Tara: Yeah, for sure. Yeah. I work with a lot of nonprofits and I see that in their marketing messaging, right. As a nonprofit to talk about the impact that you have, because people feel better about participating or donating. And so I’m going to talk a little bit about marketing now, I’m going to ask you a little bit about that because that’s also one of the subjects of our podcast and I don’t want to, you know, I think there can be like an awkwardness in this discussion of motivation behind volunteering or motivation behind having a service learning element in your curriculum. Obviously, the motivation to do that, all of the benefits that it reaps in terms of teaching children about the benefits of helping and the causes in the world and the problems in the world and in their communities, there also is a very compelling message that so you need, that can be a very unique selling point as the marketing term for a school that offers that.

So can you talk a little bit about that and maybe touch on how. How that’s okay to think about it that way. 

Cristin: It’s more okay, it’s necessary. And I personally get super frustrated and I don’t understand why there’s all this shame around volunteering, shame and guilt. And we need to just flush all of that.

I think it is absolutely part of your social responsibility to spread the word about any good work that you do. So not only is that showing what you value as a school, but that work could inspire others to do something similar. And it can also bring attention to the nonprofit. So you’re also advocating for the nonprofit.

So I a hundred percent support that. And in fact, when I’m looking at schools, the first thing I do is look for a tab on their website about community service. And you’d be surprised at how many schools do not have that. And I think all the schools, all the businesses, all that, everybody should have a tab on community service. You should be serving. You just need to find the way that it works for your community. So again, it’s back to that right fit. So from the mountaintops, yeah. 

Tara: I wonder if more people did that, if it would seem less performative or, you know, people can be very critical of showing off that. That thing that you do, because it can seem maybe not humble or like a performance or taking advantage. So I think that’s where people maybe have a struggle in how to communicate that. But maybe if it was more widespread, if everybody did it, it wouldn’t feel that way, I’m not sure. 

Cristin: And even thinking personally, when have you ever looked at social media about somebody doing something good and thought?

Yeah. Right. You’re always, you never think negatively of someone else. So why do we think someone would think negatively about us and think about how ridiculous that is? Oh, I can’t believe X my school went and brought their kids to go volunteer somewhere who is going to actually say that? And if they do, I don’t personally want to be friends with them.

Aubrey: I love that. I think it’s so true. I mean, there is that hesitancy to highlight the community service, the ways that we’re incorporating that into schools. And I think the market is shifting greatly. So when we’re looking at prospective families and what they’re looking at, in a school. I mean, you mentioned you’re looking on their website for community service.

So how was that living and breathing in the school and then how has that messaging and marketing, you know, showing up on their website and their social feeds? I think it’s so important because it’s going to be intriguing, but my guess would be. That as things continue to shift that parents are going to be looking more and more of those elements as the benefits are huge.

I mean, now there’s all this information about how impactful these experiences are for students. And for faculty and staff too. Let’s not forget that. 

Cristin: I think you could use that idea that I planted as far as kind of talking about your social responsibility in an effort to inspire others, show your values and highlight non-profits. So you could use that in your wording. You could say we’re thrilled to let you know about our new nonprofit partner. We want to let your, you know, put that mission-based language into your marketing and that. Kind of hopefully dispel any of that shame. 

Tara: I agree. I think it’s a key to make it, not just a tab on your website that talks about the community service things that you do, but to weave it into the culture of your school and your overall mission.

So I think that’s what sets it apart is that you’re not just putting it out there because you’re checking a box, but it actually is part of how you live as a school value. 

Cristin: Yeah, yeah.

Aubrey: Absolutely, we’re not just checking the boxes were actually, you know, doing it because it’s part of our mission and a part of what we want to do for our students.

Cristin: And the more that it’s the right fit, the more that’s all going to feel. Natural and organic. Yeah. Remember right fit that I keep saying. 

Aubrey: I love that. Now, we are shifting towards one of our favorite parts of the podcast, we’re going to dive into some questions that we ask all our guests.

So I’m going to kick us off. What are the most important things you do to grow personally and professionally? 

Cristin: So talk to people like I’m doing today going out of my comfort zone, like maybe I’m doing a little bit today. Not with you all, but just the whole recorded part and continuing education. I’m currently enrolled in a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion business certificate program through the University of South Florida’s Business College. So, I really like learning and continuing to grow that way. 

Tara: I love that. That’s great. Yeah. Continuing education is important. It’s harder to do as we get older, but there are many ways to do that. Right? You can do that through college, or there are so many courses and webinars online these days. Second question is what is one of the most important things we can do to be more mindful? 

Cristin: So of course, I’m going to tailor it towards service. And I really just can’t emphasize enough to just stop and think and be evaluative. I’m sure that my brother Danny didn’t coin this term, but every time I use it, I think of him. He always says what’s working and what’s not working. And I think being evaluative that way, but then also I’m a big fan of transparent communication. Of course you have to be nice during it, but advocate for what you want and what you don’t want and do that through service as well because that’s helping the organization. To utilize you in the right way. If you just go, oh, I’m Cristin, I’m here to serve. I’ll do whatever. And you really don’t want to do whatever. Then you’re going to have a bad experience and you’re going to waste their time onboarding you, and then you’re going to volunteer less. So. 

Aubrey: I think it’s so important. I mean, I’m just thinking back to, you know, my high school years, or even my junior high years, how impactful that sort of mindfulness that you just talked about would have been, I mean, if I had found the right fit volunteer, you know, because I was probably one of the volunteers is sure, I’ll do whatever. And I really wanted to work with animals, but I ended up like making the cage cards for, you know, the local animal shelter. So it wasn’t pairing the need and like my desire and passion with exactly what they needed. So I think that’s so transformative. Okay. Well, we are hopping into our rapid fire questions, which is the end of our segment. So I’d like to kick that off with, if you could put one book as mandatory reading in the high school curriculum, what would it be? 

Cristin: So I picked a book that I read several years ago upon a recommendation from my daughter called Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. And it’s about a high school student who has cerebral palsy and is non-verbal and it’s, it was for me not knowing too many people who are non-verbal. I felt like I really got to know her and I just, I think everybody should read. That’s a great read. 

Tara: Excellent. I will look it up. Thank you. Okay. What is one app that you could not live without? 

Cristin: So it’s a tie. If I’m allowed to have a tie it’s actually Facebook because I use Facebook to share our volunteer stories and highlight non-profits and ways to serve. And then I also fill my feed with all of my nonprofit partners and nonprofits that I want to get to know. So it’s like just warm fuzzies and people doing good, which I love. And then the other one is my Google Calendar app. I can’t, I was a paper calendar person devoted for just the longest time. And once I switched, it’s really cool.

Aubrey: I love how so many people are talking about like the negativity of social media, but you filled your feed with positivity. I think that’s so amazing. And what a great takeaway for people listening to just have, it feels like a warm hug because you’re looking at all the amazing things these nonprofits are doing.

Cristin: Yup. 

Aubrey: So can you tell me, what are you reading right now? 

Cristin: So I am reading again upon recommendation from my daughter a novel called the Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. And it’s really interesting. I don’t want to tell you what it’s about because I’m afraid I might spoil it. But it’s really different and I’m enjoying reading.

Tara: All right, I’m going to put it on my list, I’m thinking we should have a Good Reads list for Mindful School Marketing, Aubrey. 

Aubrey: Absolutely. Cause I was thinking the same thing. I’m like, oh my goodness. I’ve got to add them to my list. I’m looking at the bookshelves. I’m like, I’m going to forget it. I don’t want to forget it. So. Great. All right. 

Tara: You heard it here, folks. The birth of the Mindful School Marketing Good Reads list. Okay. Last question, Cristin, what is one great piece of advice that you’d like to leave us with today? 

Cristin: So while it may sound a little cliche. I really believe in it. And especially moms, I think we don’t always follow this put your oxygen mask on first. So take care of yourself so that you can better take care of others and that applies in your personal life and your professional life, as well as your service life. 

Aubrey: Great. Thank you. I love that one. 

Tara: That’s great. So, so true. Absolutely. So true. 

Cristin: Hard to do sometimes. Yeah. 

Tara: Yeah. Thanks. Well, we are, unfortunately out of time, Cristin, it’s been, I could keep talking forever and I probably will, after we stopped recording. But where can people find you online? 

Cristin: So, I mentioned Facebook is my favorite and I love that because we’re posting pretty regularly about good things. And that is actually Charity Connect.Impact because there’s another CharityConnect abroad. And then our website is CharityConnect.us because you guessed it, Charity Connect.org was taken. So that’s where you can find out we’re also on Instagram and then I’m on LinkedIn as Cristin Caine.

Aubrey: Great. Thank you so much. Thank you. It was such a pleasure to have you here. Thank you so much for being here and sharing your words of advice. 

Cristin: I appreciate being here so good to see you all. 

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