Robin Fogel is no stranger to volunteering. Her parents, furniture manufacturers from near Atlantic City, engrained volunteering in her life early by being active in their own community.
“It’s so important to be active as a business owner,” she says. “You provide much needed help to others and show that you care about your community.”
This can mean being active with a chamber of commerce or Rotary Club. Fogel helps businesspeople find volunteer opportunities that meet their needs. If an opportunity isn’t a good fit, she says, the person won’t be effective.
Fogel, a career coach who runs an executive and career consulting firm in Titusville, is chairwoman of VolunteerConnect, an online service that provides information about volunteer work available in central New Jersey. She will present “Good Citizenship Means Good Business” on Friday, May 20, at 12:30 p.m. at Mediterra Restaurant. Cost: $35. Call 609-577-7096.
As the face of volunteering changes, Fogel rolls with the punches. “We’re at a time and place where everyone is concerned about economics. This is the best time to be engaged,” she says.
With the advent of the current economic crisis and people losing their jobs left and right, Fogel says more skilled workers have come into the mix. These volunteers generally want to keep their skills fresh for when they find a new job, whether that’s talking to people or helping out with marketing. It’s also an excellent way to network. “Volunteering can definitely build a bridge to employment,” Fogel says.
This is why VolunteerConnect has started a pilot program to connect these workers with matching opportunities to their skill sets. There is an influx of millennials and boomers alike looking to make a difference. For example, the younger crowd enjoys helping with tech-savvy initiatives like social media.
“The future of volunteering is changing and social media changed the market place,” says Fogel. “It’s not only helped nonprofits raise money, it’s become an excellent way for them to find volunteers.”
Facebook has been the major boon for nonprofits. “I always see events coming up whenever I open my own Facebook page. It’s really changed the way we get the word out,” Fogel says. There are also websites that allow people to raise money for anything from a film project to a powder puff football game benefiting a certain cause.
But raising money is not nearly enough, which is why Fogel says it’s so important to be actively involved. Anyone can write a check. This is why many companies are creating volunteer opportunities for their employees.
Fogel says she routinely sees successful business people serving on the boards of nonprofits. Fogel herself serves on the VolunteerConnect board and on Rider University’s College of Business Administration Executive Advisory Council. She also writes the “Ask The Coach” column for the APIW Insider (a publication of the Association of Professional Insurance Women), and presents customized keynotes and seminars to professional, service, and community organizations.
Fogel says VolunteerConnect is designed to help bring together potential volunteers and the nonprofit organizations that need them, and continually updates a list of hundreds of area nonprofits and their volunteer opportunities. VolunteerConnect also provides training, professional development, and support to nonprofits to help them effectively recruit, utilize, retain, and recognize volunteers.
A graduate of Stockton College, where she majored in finance and accounting, Fogel holds a master’s in human development from Fairleigh Dickinson. She says the two disciplines, with little in common at first blush, have melded exceptionally well in her career. She has worked as an accountant and as a banker in private industry. She began her career with the state in accounting, and when an opportunity to switch to human resources came up, she took it, and found it a good fit. Among the posts she has held are personnel director for New Jersey’s Office of Administrative Law and for the state’s Treasury Department.
These days Fogel is a career and executive coach and human resource consultant dedicated to helping businesses, not-for-profits, and individuals be more effective. She believes that that loving your work and loving your life shouldn’t be incompatible goals.
Fogel says companies that want to do more for their communities have to recognize it and then implement. Volunteer work can be intimidating at first, she says, but with the right coaching, it doesn’t have to be. “If you pick something you’re passionate about, everything will fall into place,” she says.
Volunteering will raise the company’s profile and promote active engagement. Being recognized often makes a volunteer feel more connected to their company. But to keep employees and other volunteers coming back, it’s all about appreciation. “What are you doing to let your volunteers know you’re thankful for them? You have to let them know that you appreciate them and be very clear about what you expect from them,” she says.
The biggest issue for nonprofits can be a low volunteer return rate. It’s important to think of a volunteer task as you would about giving someone a work assignment. The task can sometimes be unclear, so communication has to be the top priority. “You have to thank them for their work and be sincere about it,” she says. “You can’t take volunteers for granted.”