What is Resources Unite?
I’m going to try to explain it without worrying about how I write it. I need to share this with you from my heart, completely unfiltered and edited.
Resources Unite is about connections. It’s been three years since the Dubuque School District called my partner, Jon Filitti and asked if we could help with a problem they were struggling with. The district had more than 10,000 students. And on what felt like a daily basis, their guidance counselors struggled with connecting their student body to resources in the community. “Where do I send a kid that needs counseling?” “I’m working with a child in which the gas was turned off in his home last night. Who do I call?” “We’ve got so many kids that need school supplies. Who should I call?” Questions like this poured in…Every. Single. Day.
This is really what started Resources Unite. We met with the school district and were eventually hired to create an online resource directory that the community could access to refer people to community services. Our first tool to connect the community had been created.
Jon had been doing mental health counseling for years in the Dubuque area and I had been working in social services my entire career from Los Angeles to Dubuque. Our individual career paths brought us to one absolute certainty. In order for Jon’s clients to realize their greatest potential or for any of the nonprofit organizations I worked for to realize success, they all depended greatly on the connection they had with other people and whether or not they felt connected or engaged in their community.
Resources Unite set out to create those needed connections. Our focus became volunteerism. Jon created a website (www.resourcesunite.com) and we began showcasing the volunteer opportunities in our community much like any volunteer center that you would find throughout the country. It took us about a week to figure out though that simply listing opportunities for people was merely step one. It was too passive. We knew people wanted to get involved and make a difference, but too often we don’t know where to start. Listing countless options was only going to confuse and overwhelm someone. We asked ourselves why people get involved in first place. What makes that initial connection?
Inspiration. I think back on any time I ever volunteered and more often than not, I did it because someone or something inspired me to action. If Resources Unite was going to successfully connect community members to volunteer opportunities, we knew inspiration needed to be a main ingredient to make it happen. So we went back to the nonprofits and started digging deeper into their missions. We wanted to make sure we were effectively telling their story in a way that would connect people to their important missions.
It’s hard for organizations to tell their story or relay their mission in a way that is the most engaging when every waking hour and resource is spent on the services being delivered. And at the same time, volunteers want to feel like what they are contributing is meaningful and that they play a significant role within the organization they support. They want more than stuffing envelopes and painting fences. Volunteers want to feel connected to the people they are serving!
So to recap, we learned a few things:
People want to make a difference and feel connected to one another and their community.
Organizations struggle with establishing that connection but are in dire need of additional support.
Volunteers want a more meaningful role. They want to tap into their respective talents and strengths.
These were important lessons for us to really soak in and appreciate as a business. If we were going to effectively connect people to volunteer opportunities and resources, a much more active strategy must take place than a static list of opportunities.
To begin, we needed to focus much of our energy on supporting organizations, specifically around how to tell their story in a way that is meaningful and inspiring. Additionally, these stories must be seen and heard. Nonprofits cannot compete in the traditional sense of marketing. They don’t have the money and are too often chastised when they do spend money to advertise their work.
Nonprofits need their own platform to tell their story to help level the playing field and get noticed. This is why the Resources Unite magazine was created. The magazine was not about Resources Unite. The focus was on the nonprofits and individuals in our community that are making a difference. The objective was to raise awareness of organizations and to inspire community members to get involved with very specific opportunities. And it worked. Beautifully.
Connecting people to volunteer opportunities must be a two-way street. We knew that our team needed to spend a significant amount of time meeting with prospective volunteers. A team member takes the time to really get to know that person and what they want to do to make a difference. A volunteer profile is created and we then are able to use that information to effectively link that person to an organization that ideally results in a meaningful experience for both the volunteer and the nonprofit.
We had the online tools created and were effectively creating connections, but it was clear that we were missing the biggest piece of the puzzle. In order for us to be truly effective in strengthening our community by creating connections and to showcase the work that nonprofits do in our community, we needed a place to call home.
Enter Inspire Café. I believe it was fate that brought the Resources Unite team together with Sara Post and Scott and Julia Theisen to realize this dream.
Inspire Cafe will be the volunteer center of our community and so much more. Quite honestly, it will be like something you have never seen before. I guarantee it. Nonprofits will have a place to showcase their work. Community members will know that this is the place to learn about how to get involved. But what really will be happening inside of Inspire Café is so much bigger than all of that. This will be the place for people to connect and establish personal and professional relationships. There’s not a man, woman or child that has never felt alone or disconnected at one point in their life. Inspire Café will be the place for that person to go and feel connected once again.
It’s going to be a safe place where people will no longer feel the need to hide behind their phones, pretend to be busy or avoid eye contact. Everyone will be welcome and no one will be turned away. People will come to work there knowing that it is the creative center of our community. You will want to share your ideas openly and you will find that support for your dreams will be met with open arms.
Community engagement will soar. And why? It won’t be because we’ve done a good job showcasing volunteer opportunities or because we’ve inspired you to take action. No, that will just be a piece of it. You will get engaged because you will feel a sense of connection to your fellow community member that you may have never felt before. You won’t need to be asked. You will offer.
And here’s the real beauty of it all: once you start, you won’t want to stop. Just ask Kevin Greene and so many other volunteers in our community. Ask Kevin why he gives so much.
He’ll tell you that he loves giving back and helping others, but he’ll talk more about how it makes him feel working with other people, creating friendships and bonds that will last a lifetime.
Because in the very end, isn’t that what life is all about? Doesn’t it all come down to just two very simple things?
We want to know we made a difference.
We want a life filled with meaningful relationships.
The final lesson we’ve learned as an organization is that the greatest resource in our community is not a specific business or organization. The greatest resource is the individual community member. We’re seeing it already. From the support of individuals, problems that seemed liked mountains to some, have been overcome by the support of people like you and me. Families have been fed, electricity has been turned back on, and ramps have been built.
If we want a strong community, we’ve got to make every effort to make every person feel like they have something to bring to the table. Everyone has value. Now imagine if each person in our community was connected…or united. Nothing would stand in our way. Social issues that we see now as impossible to overcome would no longer exist.
I’m wiping away the tears from my eyes now.
This is Resources Unite.