From VISTA Pulse: Aw, SNAP (or VISTAs and food stamps)

The following is an excerpt from a post I wrote for VISTA Pulse, a blog for-and by- AmeriCorps VISTAs in the field.

Plenty of jobs come with perks. For some these come in the form of company cars, dental insurance, or a spending allowance. For VISTAs, it’s food stamps. On second thought, food stamps aren’t so much a perk as a necessity. The only kind of living you can really do on a VISTA “living stipend” is eat, sleep, and go to work. By taking taking care of the “eat” part, food stamps help you feel a little less broke at the end of the month.

For the uninitiated, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) provides support to those in poverty in the form of food stamps. Run under different names in every state (example: EBT or Link in Illinois, CalFresh in California), SNAP benefits have long since abandoned actual stamps for ATM-style cards. The concept is still the same: those who qualify are given a set amount of assistance every month based primarily on their income. And since VISTAs are all paid at or near the poverty line, all VISTAs qualify for food stamps.

While web-based applications make applying for food stamps very easy, that’s only half the battle. Inefficient bureaucracies, confusing policies, and other factors make many VISTAs lose their appetite for the whole thing. But believe me, it’s worth it. After checking out various VISTA conversations and resources, we’ve put together a few tips for those of you who are thinking about getting Food Stamps:

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New Blog Partnership: VISTA Pulse

I’ve recently joined my fellow VISTA and social media enthusiast Robyn Stegman blogging on all things VISTA-related at the VISTA Pulse blog. I should be posting there every two weeks, and although I will be cross-posting them all here as well, you should feel free to check out VISTA Pulse if you’re interested. My first post was a guide to Food Stamps- a resource that most VISTAs come to love, even if they loathe the bureaucracy it entails.

Aw, SNAP! (Or VISTAs and Food Stamps)

Food stamps

Plenty of jobs come with perks. For some these come in the form of company cars, dental insurance, or a spending allowance. For VISTAs, it’s food stamps. On second thought, food stamps aren’t so much a perk as a necessity. The only kind of living you can really do on a VISTA “living stipend” is eat, sleep, and go to work. By taking taking care of the “eat” part, food stamps help you feel a little less broke at the end of the month.

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Social Media 101: “POST IT!” Method

Dancing With The Stars

Photo by Jason Parks

Getting started with social media can be an intimidating thing. Peering across the vastness of the Internet, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. You might ask yourself, “Do I need a Twitter?” Or even worse, a voice in the back of your head keeps chirping “I need a Twitter!”

The best thing to do at this point in your social media journey may seem counterintuitive at first: take two steps back.

Starting with the tools first, from Facebook to Twitter to Myspace, is the most common misstep in the social media dance. It turns out, social media is just like any other marketing activity, and having a plan is essential to being successful. But sometimes we need to remind ourselves to slow down and count out the steps “1-2-3-4.”

To guide those first awkward moments I always recommend an acronym that I use on a regular basis: POST IT! This is something that I adapted from Forrester’s great “POST Method,” which I think leaves a couple of important steps out. The letters stand for:

People: The audience that will be targeted by your social media efforts. Focusing on the audience first forces you to make sure that in the end, whatever you’re doing addresses the specific needs, desires and habits of those the people you hope to reach. Just like any good “social” relationship, you should try to put others first.

Objective: Quite simply, what are you trying to accomplish with this whole endeavor? The more measurable any goals you consider are, the better. By knowing what you want to accomplish from the beginning you can pick the right tools for the job.

Strategy: This is potentially the most difficult part of the planning process. Sometimes working backwards can be helpful, starting with your ideal view of what your audience will be doing as a result of your efforts. Then step by step figure out what you have to do to get them to that point, until you make your way back to your present circumstances. Keep realistic expectations about what your relationship is with your audiences and court them appropriately.

Technology: Each social media tool has its own strengths and weaknesses. Whether you need to communicate in real-time with a group of experts or deepen the relationship of a few core supporters, finding the right mix of social media is important.

Integration: Now that you’ve decided which social media tools you’re going to use, the trick is weaving them through your organization. Identify any resources you may already have at your disposal, from workers who are already social media power users to media that is being produced on a day-to-day basis. These are your best sources for content. Also, make sure your online activities connect with the rest of your marketing efforts.

Tracking: Set up a tracking and reporting system so that everyone can stay on the same page and you can measure your successes. Social media activities are rich with statistics, but take the next step and connect them back to the Objectives you outlined earlier in the process. Something not working? Tweak, mix, repeat.

Bonus: !: Have fun! Just like dancing, your social media efforts are much more convincing if it looks like you’re actually enjoying yourself, and not just going through the motions.

Anyone else have any handy acronyms that they use for social media planning? Any other adaptations of Forrester’s POST Method?

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The Takeaway: Essential Elements of Volunteer Management

The following is cross-posted from Compassion Takes Action, the blog at The Volunteer Center of Northwest Suburban Chicago, where I currently work as an Americorps VISTA

Our latest workshop, the Excellence in Volunteer Management Training Series brought volunteer managers and nonprofit professional from all over the region to The Volunteer Center. One of the main points that seemed to stand out to attendees was that successful volunteer management can really be broken down into five essential elements. These five different elements are all essential components of the whole, and by looking at each element separately, volunteer managers can identify how to make their program as successful as possible.

For new volunteer managers, or those looking to improve their programs, these five essential elements are the following:

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The Takeaway: The How & Why of Nonprofit Communications

The following is cross-posted from Compassion Takes Action, the blog at The Volunteer Center of Northwest Suburban Chicago, where I currently work as an Americorps VISTA

We had two workshops back-to-back this Wednesday, the first on “Tapping Technology Resources” for nonprofits and the second on the changing media landscape, presented by Thom Clark from the Community Media Workshop. The first workshop, which I hosted, included a wide range of web-based tools that organizations can use to become more efficient and increase their impact. The second highlighted how nonprofits can market themselves in this post-paper age. So this version of The Takeaway is a limited-edition double feature:

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The Takeaway: 9 Ways to Reduce Stress

The following is cross-posted from Compassion Takes Action, the blog at The Volunteer Center of Northwest Suburban Chicago, where I currently work as an Americorps VISTA

Our latest workshop at The Volunteer Center was presented by Jerry Pinney, who is a professional coach and . The workshop was all about how people in the non-profit world can reduce the amount stress both in their lives and in their workplace. His lessons seemed especially valuable in our current situation, with so many organizations facing rising needs for their services but decreasing funding from state and other sources. Needless to say we’re all just a little bit stressed. So, here were nine things that Jerry said everyone can do to reduce stress every single day (along with my comments on some of them):

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Sample Social Media Policies for Non-Profits

This is a selection of a post from my blog at work, Compassion Takes Action.

If you are involved with a non-profit that uses social media, or if you’re looking to venture into that arena with your organization, it’s important to have a common-sense policy in place that gives your employees some idea of what’s appropriate and what is not. While the policies may seem common sense, having an official stance on what’s appropriate and what isn’t can prevent plenty of headaches.

Adapted from comments on a post on “Beth’s Blog,” the policy points listed below are originally from the Easter Seals. It’s a policy can easily be used for any non-profit, especially when there’s no formal one in place. At the very least, they’re things to keep in mind as you move forward in your own blogging endeavors.

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