During National Volunteer Week, we are highlighting the efforts of several key UWGP volunteers and staff. We hope you enjoy their interviews and are inspired by their service to our community! Looking for a new opportunity to give back? Check out http://volunteer.unitedwaygp.org.
Jim Elkins, Owner, Career Planning Services
What are your current UWGP volunteer roles?
I am currently a United Way of Greater Portland Board member and serve on its Community Impact Steering Committee. I am also a co-chair for the Thrive2027 Goal 2 Cabinet.
In addition, I also volunteer in Scarborough on the Board of Directors of Project G.R.A.C.E. and with their weatherization program. Additionally, I am finishing up my ninth and final year serving on the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.
Click here to learn more about Thrive2027 and Goal 2.
How did you get involved in volunteering?
I was looking for ways to get involved in the community, but not through direct service, such as serving meals or reading to students. I read about United Way’s Investment Team opportunity and thought it would be interesting to help provide make funding recommendations. The Volunteer Engagement Director helped connect me to the Financial Stability Investment Team. I enjoyed the work and later became co-chair and then chair of the team. Over the years, I also served on the agency special review team and the Public Policy Committee. Later I chaired the Public Policy Committee and served on the search committee for a new President. I served on the Thrive2027 Council when the community goals were being developed, have been a member of the UWGP Board for the past four years, and have most recently become a co-chair of the Thrive2027 Goal 2 Cabinet.
Why do you continue to volunteer?
I’ve felt for a long time that if nonprofits could work together to identify and reduce redundancy then they could accomplish a lot more. I believe that collective impact is not about merging nonprofits but about bringing them together to work toward agreed-upon goals. United Way’s focus on Thrive2027 is exciting, and I think it will achieve a lot because of the efficiency of the collaboration.
What skills do you use while volunteering?
I’m a big picture guy, but I’m also detail oriented. I don’t have a professional financial background, but I know how to look at budgets and financials which helped me on the Investment Team. My ability to understand social systems has also been important while volunteering with United Way. I enjoy talking to agencies and helping them think about how they can do their work more efficiently. As someone who is fairly low key and not directive, I like serving in more of a consultant role and asking questions that lead the group toward a solution.
What keeps you coming back to volunteer? What motivates you?
The work is fulfilling, and UWGP staff members are great. They’re supportive with positive feedback and genuine interest in volunteers, which helps because the organization’s volunteers give an incredible amount of time. Over the past twenty years as a UWGP volunteer, I’ve seen the change and progress that my participation makes. If it were the same process without any change, I’d be discouraged.
What advice do you have for someone starting to think about volunteering?
As a career planning advisor, I always ask clients about their experience volunteering when we’re looking at resumes. I’m amazed when people say they haven’t volunteered. Volunteering can be a great way to explore professional interests, hone skills, and make connections that can lead to employment. I recommend that someone looking to get involved asks themselves some questions before researching opportunities. What skills do you have? What appeals to you? Are you a doer? A decision maker? Do you like creating policies? Do you need to see immediate results? Do you like hands-on activities? What types of activities are you comfortable doing? How much time can you give? Identify a cause and search on United Way’s volunteerism website and see what looks interesting. You may need to try several opportunities in order to find the right fit.
Please share a story about your experience.
Early on in the Investment process, team members used to participate in agency visits. They’d typically receive a tour and hear a client story. One story I remember was told by a gentleman who had never worked and was learning, through the agency’s job training program, to be a dishwasher. He was thrilled with the job and hoped to have it for the rest of his life! He was fortunate as at the time, only about 30% of developmentally challenged people had work. I believe that everyone has a skill and was especially interested in how this United Way-funded program mobilized people to utilize their skills. I enjoyed seeing the real life impact of the Team’s efforts around funding decisions when we met the individual who was actually benefiting from the program. I think people understand issues and challenges better when they’ve seen them firsthand rather than heard or read about them.
Note: The Thrive2027 Goal Cabinets are responsible for developing a framework that will best make measurable progress on each of Thrive2027’s three goals. The Cabinets monitor progress on the goals and employ various strategies, including recommending where UWGP’s community investments are made. The Cabinets replaced UWGP’s Investment Teams in 2016.