Episode #043: How to Tap AmeriCorps Grants & Resources with Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom 

Welcome to the Volunteer Nation Podcast, bringing you practical tips and big ideas on how to build, grow, and scale volunteer talent. I’m your host, Tobi Johnson. And if you rely on volunteers to fuel your charity, cause, membership, or movement, I made this podcast just for you.   

Okay, everybody. Welcome to another episode of The Volunteer Nation. I am so excited to introduce my guest for today, Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom. She is an expert in facilitation, strategic planning, and AmeriCorps. 

And so today we’re gonna talk about how to tap AmeriCorps grants and resources so that you can make an informed decision about whether or not you wanna bring AmeriCorps grants, different resources. If you wanna use both, and how that might help you build capacity for your volunteer engagement.  

There are definitely smart ways to use national service members and engage them in your nonprofit. And I know just from my own experience talking to people about – many people, interviewing many people both here and on the Time+Talent Podcast – that many people in our field, that’s where they started out as service members, and that was their entry into the nonprofit sector.  

And so it’s important stuff and we’ve gotta kind of remember that we’re also preparing tomorrow’s leaders, but it’s also a lot of work and there’s a lot to know about whether or not you wanna jump in with both feet. 

So, you know, in our Volunteer Management Progress Report this year, both time and volunteer recruitment were some of our top challenges that were reported by our respondents, leaders of volunteers around the world.  

And you know, I always think, imagine if you could bring some program development and recruitment assistance on board, that you didn’t have to do that yourself. 

That you could bring a national service member on board to help change your trajectory for 2023 and beyond. And it’s interesting to think, when we think about what are other alternative resources we might tap to make this happen.  

And so, this is gonna be a discussion about AmeriCorps grants, but I think it’s also, in the back of your mind also think about it as a way, of the types of questions and the way of thinking about other resources and opportunities that come your way as well. 

So I think it’ll be good both ways. So let me introduce without further ado, our guest for today, founder and CEO of Do Good, Be Good and Bloom Facilitation. Sharon is a professional facilitator with extensive experience working with AmeriCorps as a former service member – what did I say? That’s how we get into this field – and as an AmeriCorps project director. 

So you’ve definitely come up through the ranks and know this well. Sharon received her master’s degree in Organizational Development and Knowledge Management from George Mason University’s School of Public Policy. She lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, and Spends her free time volunteering at the community theater, local history museum, and tackling teenagers in rugby.  

Girl, I did not know that about you. I am major soccer fan, don’t play anymore, but played my whole life. And I used to be on the rugby team in college, I used to play on the women’s soccer team in college and the rugby, women’s rugby team. 

They’d always go, “girl, you’d be good in the scrum.” So I feel you about being a rugby player. Anyway, after finishing grad school, Sharon and her husband spent a year road-tripping across the United States and Canada, volunteering for a week in each community they passed through. Isn’t that fantastic? You must have learned a lot in that.  

Oh yeah, definitely. We saw 32 states and three Canadian provinces and slept in a tent for 137 nights and did a whole range of volunteer work. 

Wow! Amazing. After that introduction, Sharon, how about you tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into the field? You have a little bit, you know, I mentioned that you were a former service member, but tell me a little bit about your story. How did you get into nonprofit work? 

Yeah, thanks for asking. Right after I graduated from college, undergrad with a history degree, I moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, which is now where I call my home. And I had this history degree, but I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with it.  

I didn’t have a career plan with it, so I just started volunteering as many of us do. Or if you don’t, it’s a great way to try out something. And I volunteered at our local Museum of Northern Arizona, and while I was volunteering, I was looking around thinking, which of these jobs would I want to do?  

And the only job that really appealed to me was the volunteer coordinator. So I reached out to her, and I said, “Can I talk to you about how you got into that field and how you like it and what the job’s like?”  

And she recommended that I go and talk to the AmeriCorps office in town and see about serving in AmeriCorps. She had actually never served herself, but she knew that it was a pathway, and that’s what I did. 

And I ended up getting my AmeriCorps position where I was coordinating volunteers for senior services, so I was helping to match community volunteers with homebound seniors and disabled adults who needed help in their home.  

Yeah. So you get this connection between national service and volunteer engagement and capacity building, because you’ve done it. 

Absolutely. Yeah, definitely. And I went from there to getting into working for volunteer centers actually. So I worked after that for Volunteer Arlington in Arlington, Virginia.  

And then I ended up at the program director level for running an AmeriCorps program for Flagstaff. So really transitioned in and out of the world of volunteer management. 

Got it. Got it. So let’s jump straight in because some of our folks who are listening now, I will preface this by, if you’re listening from outside the US, AmeriCorps is an affirmative program within the US but it might give you ideas on something you might do to engage with students or people who are thinking about going to college. 

And also, our conversation will of course help you think about, whether or not you should take advantage of an opportunity or not. But AmeriCorps is a US-based program. But for folks who may not know what AmeriCorps is, Sharon, do you wanna tell us a little bit about what it is? 

Yeah, it’s a federally funded program, and we do consider it different than volunteering because it’s national service. These are national resources funded by the federal government, and there are a few different types of AmeriCorps programs. 

The thing that they have in common is that AmeriCorps members make a commitment to serve for a specific position, for a specific length of time, and they receive some form of remuneration, like a living stipend while they’re serving. 

o it’s a bit different from regular community volunteering. So, I keep calling it community volunteering in the national service world, that’s how we differentiate. We say national service positions versus community volunteering.  

And then in terms of the right, right – sorry, do you want me to go into the branches of AmeriCorps? 

Yeah, yeah, please do.  

Yeah, so there are big buckets, big branches of AmeriCorps that are very different. So earlier you were talking about capacity building, and AmeriCorps Vista is all about capacity building.  

And Vista members are full-time positions. They serve for a whole year, and they can only do things that are meant to build your capacity. So they can do fundraising. They can develop and coordinate a volunteer program.  

They can help you write grants. They can develop curriculum, anything that is more behind the scenes in capacity building. In contrast, the larger AmeriCorps grants, the more common AmeriCorps program is just called AmeriCorps, state and national, and those are all direct service. 

So if you were to apply for an AmeriCorps state and national grant, you’re actually not allowed to have them do fundraising or grant writing or developing a program. They have to be working directly with the people in the community that you’re serving, like giving out meals or tutoring a child, things like. 

And then the final branch is called AmeriCorps NCC, the National Civilian Community Corps. And these are teams of members and they have to be 17 to 24 years old, and they work as a team and they get deployed to specific projects.  

So they do project-based work, and it’s, again, direct service. It might be building a trail, could be disaster relief. Or it could be something where maybe they’re helping people with their taxes, but it’s always direct service and it’s always for a shorter length of time, like six weeks per project.  

So that is an important distinction to make if you have, so if you’re wanting to build capacity and get into volunteer recruitment, program development, et cetera, you’re looking at a Vista. 

And if you’re looking to recruit national service members to perhaps work alongside the remainder of your community volunteers, that we’re gonna call them community volunteers. So folks from your community who are giving of their time without remuneration.  

Then you could, is that possible that you could bring on AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps NCC folks, depending on the type of direct service to work alongside volunteers? Does that make sense?  

You could, and the way that you do that, in terms of being a non-profit that’s looking to engage with these programs is different depending on the branch of service. So let’s start with Vista.  

If you wanted to get that capacity building, you would either go to an existing grantee, someone who’s already got a Vista project, and you would ask if they are giving out vistas to nonprofits. 

So we call them an intermediary. So they would already have the funding from the federal government, and it would be their role to place Vistas in various communities where they’re needed.  

So you’d be applying directly to that grant holder or that intermediary to ask to have a Vista at your site rather than going directly to the federal government, which is really great because, you know, it’s a lot less paperwork. 

There is oftentimes a fee associated with it. But it’s more of a simple process of seeing if you fit into their needs that they’ve identified, seeing if they have Vistas available, filling out a much shorter application, and then maybe paying a host site fee to get that Vista to serve for a year.  

So where do you find these organizations? The intermediary organizations.  

Yeah. Probably the quickest way to figure that out is to go to your state service commission. There are 52 state service commissions. I believe every state other than South Dakota has one.  

And you would contact anyone at the State Service Commission to get connected and just ask, you know, are there any Vista grantees, any Vista intermediaries that are operating within the state that might align with what we’re doing, that we could talk to about getting a Vista? 

Okay. Is there a time of year when this happens or is it happening throughout the year?  

That’s a great question. Traditionally, there has been more of a time of year, but with all the disruption that’s happening with the pandemic and with challenges with recruitment, there’s often still slots available at different times of year.  

So we typically follow a fall calendar, kind of the school year type calendar where new positions start in the fall. But it does depend on just how those projects have been going and what they might have left over.  

And typically if they start, it’s better if they start the positions in the fall, then that means they’re probably looking for new project sites in the spring. So actually now is a great time to be reaching out because they wanna put those partnerships in place and get MOU and figure out what they’re gonna do ahead of time before they’re actually placing someone.  

Great. Excellent. So you’ve worked as someone who has developed volunteer programming through or strengthening capacity through working as a national service member. How should folks be thinking about that?  

How, you know, capacity building is sort of a big term and it can feel very ungainly, you know, or have a hard time putting our arms around what that really means. How might volunteer-involving organizations strengthen their capacity to recruit and retain community volunteers in partnership with AmeriCorps and specifically with Vista? 

Yeah, and I’m gonna answer that question by also maybe highlighting some of the other ways you could engage with the other branches of AmeriCorps, because I think that it is awesome.  

It is universal that no matter how you want to build your capacity, and no matter which branch of AmeriCorps you might try to partner with, you first need to get your own house in order and do your own strategic planning and understand where you are trying to go with your organization and your vision for how you can have a bigger impact.  

So for example, let’s say that you’ve started a program at a school and you have some good support at the school. You’ve got some community volunteers there, but there’s a need that pops up.  

Let’s say you need to rebuild the playground. Something like a project that’s a hands-on project that’s gonna require a lot of labor and very physical labor. I know a lot of times when I’m working with community nonprofits, their volunteer core might be made up of older volunteers. 

Or you might have just a core group of volunteers who are already at their max who don’t necessarily have the capacity or the physical ability to take on something totally different than they’re normally. 

The High Physical Labor Project, something like that would be a perfect partnership with NCC. They’ve got these 17 to 24-year-olds who have been recruited specifically to do labor-intensive of projects, and they can do a project over four to eight weeks.  

So if you wanted to have something physical done, like trail built or playground rebuilt, or things like. Again for that, you could start at your state service commission or you could go directly to the AmeriCorps regional offices.  

Because NCC is run out of regions and you’d need a long planning horizon. These are federal resources, so they do take a while. So if it’s not a time-sensitive project, you could plan ahead and try to do it with a great resource like that. 

And then that would allow you to maybe use your existing volunteers that are your core team to be project leaders, to oversee that project with the NCC AmeriCorps members who are coming on site.  

I was gonna jump to another example. You know, I mentioned that’s sort of a long planning horizon. The other thing I’ll mention at this moment is if a disaster happens, if something very unexpected happens, it’s actually a declared disaster.  

I know here in Flagstaff, we had some big flooding events this last summer. In that case, there’s an exception and you can actually request a disaster AmeriCorps NCC team, and they can be deployed within 48 hours to come and help your community. 


So I think that’s a really great resource that people don’t know about. And that does not cost you any money. There’s no outlay of money that you have to give to get that team. You can have them within 48 hours.  

They will actually come with their own vehicles, with their own uniforms and some of their own safety equipment, and be able to stay on-site for four weeks at a time and then reevaluate if they’re still needed and stay as long as they’re needed. 

That’s awesome. I love that you talk about starting with strategic planning, your own strategic plan. We talked a lot about this in the last few recent episodes. We did a VisionWeek five-day boot camp where we helped leaders of volunteers build out our strategic plan for 2023.  

So we’re huge fans of strategic planning. So it’s really about, it’s not about like, “Hey, I need more people around because we’re just working too hard, and we have too many things to do.”  

It’s more how am I going to really strategically leverage this program in all of its different perspectives? And how does it really help us move our mission forward? Is that correct? Would you agree with that? 

That is correct, and I am starting with examples that do not require you to apply for an AmeriCorps grant from the federal government because that should really be, in my opinion, the last step.  

Taking on an AmeriCorps grant is a really big step. It requires a huge administrative overhead to manage all of the federal requirements of being the grant holder, and there are really a lot of ways to put a toe in the water of working with national service before you actually take on a grant.  

And I’ve met some people who that was, you know, the very first thing they did was apply for an entire grant themselves, and they were quickly overwhelmed by it. You know, it’s this huge weight. 

And sure, it has huge potential and I’m a big advocate for expanding AmeriCorps and leveraging those resources. But I think that it can be helpful to do it in a sustainable way, which might mean partnering first with an existing grantee who you can be a host site for.  

So you can say, “Hey, you already have this AmeriCorps grant. We’re aligned in what we’re trying to do. Can you place AmeriCorps members at our organization?” Either Vistas or AmeriCorps state and national members, depending on if you need capacity building or direct service. 

And then get your experience with the whole system through being a partner site or a host site. Or hosting an AmeriCorps and Triple C team to do a project, whatever that looks like, wherever it fits with what your goals are, but doing it from that perspective first before trying to take on an entire grant yourself. 

Yeah, yeah. So going forward, AmeriCorps…you know, AmeriCorps grants right off the get-go, right out of the gate may not be the smartest move if you’re already strapped for time, if your organization doesn’t have the resources.  

And I agree. I mean, really trying to figure out whether or not, and this goes for any big initiative or any big opportunity that might come your way. Is there a way to stick your baby toe in and just get a sense of it to pilot test. And figure out the pros and cons of doing this in a bigger way.  

Yeah, definitely.  

When you think about, I wanna pivot a little bit to capacity building and volunteer engagement. What are the kinds of projects specifically that volunteer-involving more organizations might engage a Vista to get involved with, to build volunteer capacity in whatever way? You know, they feel like they wanna grow their volunteer.  

Yeah, I think there’s so many opportunities here. So the creativity that you could bring to this is limitless. What you have to think about if you’re bringing on a Vista is that you have them for one year, and there is gonna be a learning curve, because almost by definition, they’re gonna come in brand new to your organization. 

So you really do plan ahead so that you can fully utilize that person’s time. But what I’ve found with Vista is that once they’re up to speed, which might take three to five weeks, they are going to come with so much energy and so much enthusiasm that that can be its own challenge of having this person who is suddenly running with it. 

When I was an AmeriCorps member, I was only a halftime AmeriCorps member. I was the very first volunteer coordinator to work with senior services, and I remember that I suddenly wanted to arrange days of service events.  

I wanted to start a partnership with the universities to have their gerontology students be able to be partnered with seniors in the community. So I was taking multiple new campaigns and new ways of expanding our volunteer program with only 20 hours a week. 

And I think my organization was probably overwhelmed sometimes trying to keep up with the level of excitement that I had on the project. So I think you are gonna have this idealistic, excited person. Often young, but there is no age limit.  

I’ve had vistas in their seventies who are just as idealistic and excited about serving. So it really is on you to have some parameters and some vision as to where you want to expand and where to direct that person’s energy.  

So, you know, I mentioned a couple of examples. Maybe you do wanna start doing volunteer events and you wanna pilot and test that of whether it’s a partnership with a local corporate volunteering program, or whether it’s just hosting your events for the whole community.  

Perhaps it’s starting a partnership with a local university where you can align some of their student projects with volunteer needs that you have. Or maybe it’s that you wanna do some targeted recruitment.  

For example, targeted recruitment of Spanish-speaking volunteers, and you want a vista to come in and figure out how to target that population and how to provide the onboarding and training they would need. So any of those would make a good project. 

Excellent. So is it helpful to really suss out what that project’s gonna look like? What are some of the goals?  

You know, I think there’s a balance, because part of the goal, as I understand it for national service is to give those service members a little bit of leeway in order to grow themselves.  

My sense, and correct me if I’m wrong, is that you wanna give them, you’re not, it’s not a highly micromanaged position that you’re bringing on board, that you wanna give people sort of a big project goal and let them figure out.  

And provide, obviously, coaching and support, but help them do some of the legwork to really do the program development and learn by doing. Is that correct? Is that how people should be thinking about this? 

This isn’t about hiring a virtual assistant or a project assistant or somebody who’s just gonna come in and do exactly your bidding every day. Would you agree? Am I on the right track?  

It’s nuanced, certainly, for all branches of AmeriCorps. There’s a huge member development piece. So you definitely want members to also be growing in their leadership and to be learning, and you need to keep that in mind as you’re building out this project thinking, okay, at least 10% of their time is gonna be in training and in coaching. 

And you do want for a Vista, the Vistas are designed to have autonomy and to be a kind of position where someone’s gonna come in and bring their own talent and creativity to it.  

The AmeriCorps service that is about direct service is, I wouldn’t call it micromanaged, but it’s definitely more structured and there are more restrictions, and you have to account for every hour that they’re doing, and you need to make sure that you’re staying within the allowable activities and not going into anything unallowable. 

And that tends to mean that it is more prescribed and there’s less room for the member to have creativity. So I can give you an example. Let’s say you’ve got a member who’s helping with tutoring at a school.  

And because of the way the AmeriCorps state national grants work, you’ve really written into the grant, how many students you think they’re gonna work with, how many hours a day they’re gonna tutor, what are their activities going to be. And it’s all very prescribed in how you’ve written the grant.  

If something comes up during the year and the student says, you know, the AmeriCorps member says, “Well, I have an idea. I’d love to run an afterschool program where we’re teaching improv skills to the kids.” That might be a great idea and it might fit well with what your school is doing, but you would need to go through the process of getting that approved to be able to add that to the member scope if it wasn’t in the original grant.  

Mm-hmm. I can see that.  

Yeah. I mean, they wanna make sure that service members aren’t just coming on and kind of doing Jack of all trades or Jill of all trades, you know, they want folks to actually learn and get real experience on the ground, so I can see that that makes sense. 

In the last eight to 10 years, they put a lot of focus, and I don’t know if this is true generally of the volunteer world, but there was a lot more focus on measurement and on being able to have tangible performance measures and document everything.  

So that’s really where the daily activities of AmeriCorps members got more closely scrutinized and everything became more prescribed. And so now if you write a grant, you have to identify exactly what it is you’re measuring, that they’re working on, and how that’s evidence-based and how you can tie it into research.  

And so for those AmeriCorps state and national grants there, it’s very detailed and that’s part of why I say it’s a big thing to take on as a grantee because you have to figure all that out and document it all and keep track. 

Yeah. Yeah. Well, let’s talk more about bringing on AmeriCorps grants and resources after the break with Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom. Sharon, we’ll talk about grants, but I think we’ll probably lean more into just the general resources, because as you said, probably that’s not gonna be your first step if you’re new to the AmeriCorps program and those resources, you might tap. 

So we’ll be right after the break. We’ll lean into that a little bit more and explore a little bit more. So don’t go anywhere.  

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Okay, we’re back with our discussion of how to tap AmeriCorps grants and resources, focusing more on the resources side of things with Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom.  

I can’t wait to continue this conversation. More of the practical things you wanna think about now that we’ve sort of explored what AmeriCorps is. What makes sense? What are the different types of things, ways you might engage national service members in both capacity building and direct service?  

What are the benefits of applying? We talked before the break, Sharon, a little bit about why applying for the grant might not be the best choice for people because it is a lot of. So I thought we would focus more on resources.  

When people think about bringing on an AmeriCorps resource, what are the things they need to think about? What should they consider carefully before they decide to move forward?  

Yeah. As we close the door on applying for AmeriCorps grants, I’ll just put one note out there so that not everyone’s discouraged from it, but if you are a mature organization, you’ve got a proven model, you know, you already have a really great program that’s operating at a high level. 

And you just want to expand it and you wanna look to how do we take this to the next level? Then that would be a great time to start looking for applying for an AmeriCorps grant yourself. But it really does need to be for an organization that’s got robust systems in place and is mature and has a great program already that you’re looking to take to the next. 

Yeah, that’s good. 

So I’lll go to your real question about bringing on other resources, like maybe becoming a host site or bringing on an AmeriCorps NCC project as a sponsor. Um, in any of those situations, you want to think about how are you going to welcome someone into your role, and this is something I know volunteer managers think about all the time. 

Because although we love to retain our volunteers, we know that many of them are only going to be with us for a certain amount of time and one of the interesting things about working with AmeriCorps is that you know that timeframe going into it.  

Unlike a community volunteer who you recruit, and you don’t necessarily know how long they’re gonna be with you. For AmeriCorps, you’re often working on a specific start date and a specific end date. So that makes it kind of interesting to think about how will we prepare for this person or this team?  

How will we make them feel welcome? How will we orient them to our organization? How will we bring them on board knowing that they’re leaving in six weeks or six months or a year? And then how will we also capture the work that they’ve done, capture any knowledge that’s been created and transfer that before they leave? 

And I found, of course, with my background in organizational development, knowledge management, I loved being in this AmeriCorps world because it was a fascinating case study for how do you capture and transfer knowledge when you have different people coming in and out all the time in an organization? 

What are some ways people have done this in a way that’s easy because I can see all that institutional knowledge that gets built up, whether it’s new learnings about direct service delivery and new insights, or its capacity.  

If it, you know, if that person with that institutional knowledge walks out the door at the end of their service and there’s nothing that other people could pick up and run with, it’s a real loss. And we see that sometimes with volunteer leaders when they leave an organization, they take that institutional knowledge with them. What are some of the ways that organizations have done this? 

Well, I think that when it’s done really well, it becomes embedded in your culture. So you have what, in the jargony term we’d call a learning organization, where it is expected that everyone, staff, volunteers, AmeriCorps members, that everyone is sharing what they know on a regular basis, that everyone is documenting what they’re doing. 

Is putting things into containers, whether that’s a database, whether that’s a paper filing system, whether that’s color-coded sticky notes, you know, there’s a way, a container for knowledge to be captured and everybody knows what it is, and there’s enough routine and practice and a culture around this is just what we do. 

We don’t do our work in a vacuum. We don’t close the door and work in a silo. We’re always sharing what we’re working on. We’re always putting it in a place where it can be found by other people, and it takes time to find the system that will work for you.  

But just starting with the regular weekly practices of checking in, of sharing and of documenting. Right now I’m volunteering at the community theater and I’m the stage manager for a show that’s coming. And a new thing that I started doing this time around was doing a rehearsal report.  

So every time we have a rehearsal, I have a template and I can fill in the boxes of what happened with the lights, what happened with the sound, what happened with the set, and I can make notes. And then I share that with everybody involved the next day.  

And I’ve been amazed at how something, it seems kind of boring and administrative to me of just taking notes in an easy-to-read template. I’ve had so much feedback from everyone involved with the show of, “Wow, this is amazing, and I actually know what’s going on.”  

And it’s been so much more efficient and everybody can pick up where someone else left off because we all have that shared knowledge. 

Yeah, absolutely.  

I think for AmeriCorps members coming in, you know, you just wanna be prepared to orient them to how you do things because they aren’t gonna know that. And then sometimes you do have the chance to let people bring their own creativity to it.  

I know I had a member who was really great with video and very dynamic. Loved to make selfie videos, and I said, “Okay, great. Can you document what you’re doing in planning this day of service event through your selfie videos?” And that will allow us to have his visual record of how this event got planned that we can reference back to.  

Yeah, absolutely. Could not agree more. I’ve been reading this book Free Time by Jenny Blake. It is amazing. And one of the key principles in the book is, and I’ll link to it in the show notes, one of the key principles is that in order to save up your time and delegate with confidence, you need to have systems in place that are replicable.  

So inevitably, I feel like when you bring people on to do any type of program development at all, they’re going to have systems and you want to encourage them to develop. 

But I also think even in the direct service side of things, when volunteers or service members are delivering services, another way you might wanna just understand how it’s impacting them is to actually encourage service members to make presentations about it. 

You know, it’s sort of akin to the learning in the service learning world where reflection, self-reflection on the experience is really. Reflection and recommendations, I would say for, for direct service folks from National Service, that there’s a way for them to reflect on their service, but also give recommendations to the organization.  

I think that’s a great learning opportunity for young people. Absolutely. They actually did a study, it was quite a few years ago now, but I hopefully it holds true, which is that there was greater retention for AmeriCorps members when they were given structured opportunities to reflect on their service with their peers. 

So that has been proven to be interesting. Good for the organization, but good for the members as well. And when we would do training for our AmeriCorps members, back when I ran a program, one of the trainings I offered was on reflective practice and continuous learning.  

You could tell I was right out of grad school, and I taught them the difference between explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge. And then we talked about how to transfer knowledge, how to transfer any things that they created, any content or products they created.  

And then the last piece, which we don’t often talk about is transferring relationships, because of course the work we do in community is so relationship based. And AmeriCorps members, you know, you think, oh, they’re only here temporarily.  

They’re working off of our relationships. They have enough time there to form their own relationships, and they may have made a strong connection with a client you serve or with a community partner.  

They may have had an existing relationship that they were able to leverage to help get resources for a project they were working on. So when you’re preparing for their exit, it’s helpful to give them a chance to reflect on, you know, what relationships did you form or did you utilized while you were in this role? 

And are there any of those that you would be willing to create a warm introduction for someone at our organization so that we can try to continue to foster that relationship and keep it going after you leave? 

Yeah, absolutely. And even, you know, when my team, of course, these were paid employees, but when I ran a statewide volunteer program, I had folks out in the community, team members who were developing partnerships, and I actually had an MOU. 

Or you know, you could use something less formal partnership agreement that would document the agreement between the person who is developing it and not always the person who develops the relationship is the one that carries it out.  

So this can apply across the board in partnership development, both with AmeriCorps members and Vista members, but also with people out there in your network, whether they be volunteer leaders or staff who are building partnerships. 

So it’s important to document that as well. What is the agreement between the two organizations? What’s the relationship?  

Not all are that formal, but I absolutely agree. You do not want people leaving and then that relationship capital is gone and it takes a while to build that kind of trust. So very important and a really good point.  

I think let’s just talk about a couple more things before we wrap up. One is, You’ve talked a little bit about how to support members. How difficult is it to find if you’re an organization and you’ve either decided, “Hey, you know what?”  

Or identified, “Hey, it would be great to have some service members doing direct service,” or, “Hey, we want to grow our volunteer program.” When we would like to bring on a vista? How hard is it to locate the folks that would be working with you?  

Is it super difficult? Is it the responsibility of the intermediary organization? Is it your responsibility? How does that all work when you get connected with that person or that team to help you out? 

I think that finding out who are the grantees, who are the intermediaries, who are the people working with AmeriCorps is simple enough. If you can connect with your state service commission, that would definitely be the fastest.  

There’s also public reports that you can find through volunteer.gov. They do a report called Service by State, and they would do a listing of every grantee that’s managing AmeriCorps resources in each state. 

So that can also be helpful if you’re good at reading administrative reports and navigating those. And then I think the challenging part is gonna, just seeing if you can find where it’s the best fit.  

Because every project grantee, they’ve applied for those AmeriCorps resources on specific focus areas, so that can be a little difficult to navigate. If you’re working on, let’s say, housing and the focus of the Vista Project in your area is on STEM education, there just might not be a good fit. 

And there might not be an available position that’s already been identified to be flexible enough to cover housing. Does that make sense?  

It does, and absolutely people have impact areas, cause impact areas they wanna work on. By the same token, you know, you can start the conversation and if there are resources available, great.  

If not, you’ve started the conversation and maybe it’s the next round of grant funding that you’re building the relationship around, or maybe they can refer you to another organization they know that’s working in in the area that you wanna work on. 

Absolutely. So I think it’s gonna take some research and legwork, just sort of, so it takes some, I think, legwork and time doing a little research and reaching out.  

What would you say. Just as a more, a final question, I think, Sharon, what would you say is the biggest mistake folks make when they think about bringing on an AmeriCorps Vista or a National Conservation Corps member? 

Unfortunately, I can think of multiple mistakes. So I’m trying to think of just one. The first one that came here. I mean, obviously folks need to think ahead, right? They need to have a strategic plan. They need to know how this resource would fit in their strategic plan. I think we talked about that. 

I think that’s a big, big mistake is not having a plan, just saying, “I’m thinking about this as another extra free pair of hands for my organization.” That’s not the way you should approach it, right?  

Yeah. One that we haven’t identified yet, which is maybe not the biggest, but it has disastrous consequences, is if you’re looking to replace staff members by hiring an AmeriCorps member or by getting AmeriCorps member from some source, that is a big no-no. 

These are federal resources and they are not allowed to supplant paid staff members, and a lot of times you’re not doing it necessarily purposefully. You don’t even realize you’re doing it.  

It’s just that you’ve had issues with staff retention or something happened and you no longer have those staff people, but those roles need to be filled and you think, “Oh hey, this is a way to fill that gap that we have.”  

But if that turns out to be supplanting paid staff, I mean, you can get into real hot water with that. So be careful.  

Yeah. Great, great advice. It’s also just strategically not the right move. It’s not sustainable. And there’s good reasons why it’s a bad thing to do.  

Awesome. Well, this has been fantastic. I hope it gives at least a little bit of preliminary information about, first of all, that this is a resource. You know, AmeriCorps grants and resources and human resources, human talent capital. 

They are out there looking for projects and looking for ways to make a difference in the community, and I think we have to remember that. Again, also, I mentioned this at the top of the hour, that this is really something.  

It’s a way we can develop our next round of non-profit leaders and folks who understand volunteerism and those kinds of things. So it really is one. When I interview people, Sharon, you wouldn’t believe how many people tell me they started in national service before they started their non-profit career.  

And then, you know, folks work in non-profits and then like you and like me, we also moved into consulting and coaching and all, and capacity building and helping the helpers. 

So it’s a great way for people to get started to understand what our whole – you know, people don’t know what nonprofits are. We think they know. It’s easy to understand what nonprofits are, what we do, how we do it, why we do it.  

And most people on the outside don’t really understand it. It’s a special kind of community. It’s a special way of working that is much different than a corporate or private sector. I think it’s a great place for young people and retirees to get a sense of what all the opportunities that are available and also help our organizations meet our missions better.  

So, Sharon, before we log out, tell us where can folks find out more about you, your services, et cetera? 

I’m so glad you asked. I’ll also add, before I tell you where to find me, that AmeriCorps week is coming up in March, so you’ll see a lot more on social media and there’ll be events potentially in your community about AmeriCorps.  

Could be a good way to just start to learn about AmeriCorps programs in your area. So that is March 13th through the 17th. To be heads up for that.  

To find out about me, we’ve got our website, DoGoodBeGood.us. That’s all of our AmeriCorps training. So if you’re already working with AmeriCorps members, you’re already an AmeriCorps program or State Service commission, please check out our resources for AmeriCorps programs there.  

I also do facilitation work for strategic planning, assessing your capacity-building needs, helping your team, and that’s over at Bloom Facilitation, BloomFacilitation.com.  

And I have an inactive podcast that’s still out there to be able to listen to our 56 episodes that we produced called Do Good, be Good. We’ve got some great interviews with volunteer leaders and a lot of AmeriCorps alumni as well.  

That’s awesome. And I think I was a sponsor on that years ago, your first season.  

Yes. And we have some great shout-outs to you still on there.  

Oh, that’s awesome. Well, Sharon, this has been really great. I really appreciate you coming on and just breaking it down for folks a little bit. 

Gang, there’s so much more to know about AmeriCorps. It is a pretty complex and diverse program. So, you know, get with your state service commissions, reach out to Sharon if you already have AmeriCorps members working, and see if you can get some training from her.  

And if you’re in the strategic planning mode, Sharon’s available for that too. So we will post these links in the show notes. So thank you everyone for joining us today. We are going to be here same time, same place next week.  

If you found this episode helpful, would you do us a favor and share it with a colleague or friend? We can reach more people this way and make sure that we are all equipped to do the best for our organization. 

So take care everybody, and I’ll see you next week. 

Thanks for listening to this episode of the Volunteer Nation podcast. If you enjoyed it, please be sure to subscribe, rate, and review so we can reach people like you who want to improve the impact of their good cause.  

For more tips and notes from the show, check us out at TobiJohnson.com. We’ll see you next week for another installment of Volunteer Nation.