As a designated Employer of National Service, MPS has a strong Community Engagement program. In June, our Community Engagement Manager, Shannon McGuire attended four days of intensive workshops and a leadership training through the Points of Light Conference. Our Communications team wanted to find out about the conference, as well as learn more about Shannon’s ideas on Community Engagement.
COMMS: First, Shannon, tell us a little bit about community engagement and you.
SHANNON: Community Engagement and Volunteerism have always been a big part of my life. I grew up in a household where volunteerism was promoted. It was a way to make an impact, a small impact, just by donating your time. And you never know how much that can make a difference in somebody else’s life. So when I got to college, and throughout my professional career, it was really important to me to maintain that level of service to my community.
COMMS: Describe past volunteer work you’ve done. The real hands-on stuff
SHANNON: I’ve done a lot of health and hospice work. In high school I volunteered at an organization for individuals living with Alzheimer’s. I’d hang out and talk to them, listen to their stories, play games with them, and make sure their needs were met. I also worked at a food kitchen to help prepare and serve meals to homeless and lower income individuals. I also worked with kids as a teacher’s aide in an underserved neighborhood in DC.
COMMS: I believe before you came to MPS you worked in a cancer center, do you want to briefly touch on that?
SHANNON: Yeah. I used to work at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts. It’s a local DC nonprofit that promotes a holistic way of looking at cancer and offers classes around healing.
COMMS: What were your duties there?
SHANNON: I coordinated with the executive level management to enhance internal communications. I also worked in the development and operations departments, to support fundraising and gift giving, ensuring state licenses were met, and supporting events as needed.
COMMS: Was part of your attraction to MPS related to the service aspect?
SHANNON: Definitely. I think that was the Number One thing I looked at. I was trying to transition into the corporate and government space, but still maintain that level of connection through public service and community engagement, and MPS was a really good fit for me, to help make that transition. I immediately got involved in pro bono projects and making volunteerism count at MPS.
COMMS: Can you tell us about some of the pro bono projects you’ve worked on at MPS?
SHANNON: I worked with Friendship Place in their Family and Youth program, to help develop metrics for a new program they were launching. I helped them work out how to measure success with their current activities, and how to better align the overall structure so they can make those program improvements.
I helped develop a disaster tracker for First Book, to determine where all their resources were going. Because in 2017, there was Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Maria, the fires…all the natural disasters were happening, and they needed a better way to track inventory – to be proactive, rather than reactive.
I worked for Points of Light, with their strategic initiatives. For that project, we surveyed their stakeholders to better align their strategic initiatives, to make sure they was more inclusive and that people’s voices were heard.
COMMS: On the subject of Points of Light – can you tell us about the conference you recently attended?
SHANNON: I attended two events in St. Paul, MN, both put on by Points of Light (POL) and their partners. Every year, POL hosts a conference; the theme of this year’s conference was “The Civic Century.” They are trying to create a culture that promotes more civic engagement in every community. It doesn’t have to be on a grand scale. It can just be picking up trash in your community, which can then trigger other community activities, and enhance participation, engagement, and just…friendliness…if that makes sense?
COMMS: That makes total sense. So who were the attendees? And what were the various activities you participated in at the conference?
SHANNON: The attendees were primarily nonprofits and stakeholders who are interested in learning how to better manage volunteers, how to build pro bono projects and work with corporations. The annual POL conference was two and a half days.
Then there was a Leadership Academy, which I had to apply to. In the leadership training, all the participants took a 360 Skillscope® assessment, and we had our coworkers take it as well. We worked through how to honestly evaluate ourselves; how to give feedback; and how to help guide people through change.
COMMS: What were some of the highlights or your biggest takeaways from the entire week?
SHANNON: Well, I learned that leadership is really a social process, and the goal is to empower others to want to continue to grow. But it’s hard when you get stuck in your day-to-day activities, and that can rub off on other people. So time management is crucial.
Other takeaways would be that the dynamic, the interaction between nonprofits, government, and corporations is becoming ever more interwoven. Everybody needs to support each other to make it work, and to see the change that you envision. Nonprofits are on the ground doing the work. Government leads the policy change. And corporations have the funding and resources to make it happen. That relationship needs to be leveraged more to support the nonprofits and make the long-term change.
We discussed things like data analytics and using corporate social responsibility to partner better, and make more strategic moves.
COMMS: So did you come back with ideas about how MPS can maybe leverage some of the concepts to better help our community?
SHANNON: Definitely. Part of the Leadership Academy dealt with action-planning and goal-setting, which was super helpful. One thing I’m working on now is to increase community engagement participation at MPS, which is hard, because we’re all over the map and even in different states now. I know I’m not going to reach 100% participation. So right now I’m just gathering research on those who are heavily involved. Then we’ll reach out to people who are less involved, and figure out how to get them more involved, and tailor our efforts to fit their needs as well.
Another idea that came out of the conference is that we’re partnering with other companies now in the federal space. Why not open up volunteer opportunities to them? Where we all donate a couple hours after work or on the weekends?
COMMS: I think that’s an excellent idea. Some of our contracts in particular engender a strong team spirit. Why not take that to the next level and bring it into the community? Can you describe briefly the different ways MPS reaches out to the community?
SHANNON: Basically it breaks down into four categories: the pro bono projects that we spend a few months on; that and volunteering are the two biggest categories. Then there are corporate donations, which include the monthly corporate donations, where staff nominates nonprofits they want to promote, and we all vote to select one to receive a $500 donation. And beyond that, MPS matches any consultants’ personal donations, up to $300 per year.
COMMS: What about MPS contracts in the nonprofit space? Are you involved in that at all?
SHANNON: Not directly, but what I would like to see is a way to work out volunteering opportunities for our staff, so we could partner with those clients on another level. It would enhance the work we do for them, and make for a more robust, well-rounded relationship.
COMMS: Can you outline for us the types of services MPS offers the nonprofit community?
SHANNON: I’d say one of the most sought-after services that we provide is market research. A lot of nonprofits don’t have the time or resources to do that. We also provide program support, evaluation. We bring an outside perspective, which definitely helps when it comes to developing recommendations based on our research. We facilitate change management for nonprofits that are growing or downsizing or increasing capabilities, but they don’t know how to get there…shifting focus…
COMMS: Yeah, because trends change, needs change.
SHANNON: Exactly. We also provide stakeholder management – identifying the players and helping them prioritize like who needs to be involved in a strategic initiative, and building out a process plan for them of how they’re going to get to their end state, their end goal. Really digging deep at what their problem is, so that the end goal aligns with solving the problem.
One of the workshops I attended was about maximizing the potential of corporate pro bono projects. There were representatives from a couple of high-profile organizations, who talked about how they developed their pro bono program. And I have to say, MPS has done a really good job at building our program out, and making sure that the capabilities really align – that people are engaged and want to work on those projects. It’s been a challenge, because everybody’s really busy, but at the end of the day our pro bono program would not exist without the huge contribution we get from our consultants, just giving an hour or two every other day, for example. That makes a huge difference to a nonprofit that doesn’t have the time, the people, the skill or capability to make it happen.
It was a really helpful workshop, but every challenge that somebody identified, I was like, “Oh. MPS already does that. That’s great!”
COMMS: Wow! Can you name a couple of those?
SHANNON: One of the issues they brought up was how to leverage the skills of the individuals at your company that would be helpful for nonprofits, and how to make those skills align. At MPS we all have a pretty good tap on what everyone else is doing – their skills and abilities, as well as their interests.
COMMS: So do you tap into that when you’re looking for people to staff the pro bono projects that come across your desk?
SHANNON: Definitely. For example, recently one of our clients requested that MPS facilitate a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® assessment for a new cohort of staff, and I knew Patti McMullen is a certified trainer. So she led the project, and she also worked with another of our consultants, Kat Negrouk, to familiarize her with the MBTI® material, and sort of get her comfortable in a facilitation role.
SHANNON: So knowing what people’s capabilities are, who is certified in Project Management or Scrum or Agile or MBTI®, is really helpful for me.
One of the other workshops was on “Eight Strategies for Creating a More Inclusive Volunteer Program.” At MPS, our volunteer program is essentially our consultants, and I would say we already fulfill most of the requirements. We’re a fairly diverse and inclusive group. We’re open and flexible…ready to enter new situations. For example, the way we can move easily from one contract to another as necessary, and adjust quickly. We make new people feel welcome. We communicate effectively, and build relationships to empower others, which makes for a stronger organization. We’re really good at removing barriers. We can go into a situation, identify the challenges and why they exist, and figure out what it takes to move beyond them. We are able to identify what the ideal state should look like and how to get there in order to have a more productive and efficient process. All that helps us in the work we do with nonprofits, as well as the Federal Government.