The National Conference on Volunteering and Service never fails to excite and inspire and the 2012 edition is no exception. From moving first-hand accounts of what volunteering means on the frontlines of service, to empowering keynotes by heavies like Kevin Bacon (SixDegrees.org), Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Second Lady Jill Biden and J.R. Martinez to new models of impact from social entrepreneurs like Lauren Bush Lauren (FEED Projects), the convention hall is abuzz with ideas and conversation. But I think former First Lady Barbara Bush stole the show – or at least the Opening Plenary – with her wit and sincere remarks about the power of civic action and her husband’s indelible impact on service in America.
The theme this year is ‘Turning Point’ and the agenda really highlights a redefinition of citizenship not constrained by traditional definitions of service, but empowered by new models and accelerated pathways to change. Discussions of skills-based and pro bono volunteering abound, as do conversations about digital engagement and the power of technology.
What has impressed me most this year, is a new focus on cross-sector knowledge transfer. I’ve never seen so many sessions that feature corporate and nonprofit partners sharing joint learnings from long-term initiatives – partnerships such as Chase and World Vision, which teamed up to enable disaster relief or Capital One, Points of Light Institute, Common Impact and Taproot Foundation, which teamed up to deliver a new pro bono volunteering resource (http://readinessroadmap.org/) to the sector. Additionally, there are several sessions that feature corporate practitioners sharing trade secrets to their nonprofit counterparts. A session titled “What Nonprofits can Learn from Corporate Social Media Managers” with representatives from Edelman, Dell, McDonald’s and the City of Chicago was particularly effective in illuminating social media best practices, but also in reassuring nonprofits that companies struggle with the same things.
In my opinion, social challenges are best solved when collaboration brings the right resources together in the right way at the right time irrespective of in which sector (nonprofit, private, government) those resources may originate. I’m encouraged to see the lines between sectors blurring and a true common purpose emerging – at least here where everyone has ‘drunk the Kool-Aid’ and understands how such an approach can make a difference.
My favorite take-away from the event comes from Mark Hoplamazian, CEO & President of Hyatt, who spoke at the Business Track Opening. According to Mark, successful corporate responsibility strategies succeed when you have an authentic application paired with a clarity of purpose. By ‘authentic application’, Mark means that you’ve enlisted the hearts and souls of your audience and they have made a genuine commitment to the cause of their own accord. By ‘clarity of purpose’, Mark means that you have defined an objective that everyone can relate to and embody. For example, in the 1960s, if you asked anyone at NASA what his job was, he would reply that he was working to put a man on the moon - it didn’t matter if he was a machinist on the line or an astrophysicist. For Hyatt, the clarity of purpose is to ‘provide authentic hospitality by making a difference in the lives we touch every day’.
What’s your company’s clarity of purpose? And how do you apply it authentically?