Transcripts

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Joe Supervielle:

Welcome to Voices in Local Government, an ICMA podcast. My name is Joe Supervielle and with us today to share a real world local government success story on civic matchmaking between highly skilled retired baby boomers, matching them with meaningful local projects are the co-founders of the Give 5 Program, Greg Burris and Cora Scott. Thanks for joining us today.

Cora Scott:

Thanks.

Joe Supervielle:

So Greg Burris, President and CEO of the United Way of the Ozarks and previous City Manager of Springfield, Missouri from 2008 to 2018. Long time in service of the local government and then you kind of transitioned over to the United Way, which is part of the Give 5 story we'll get to. An interesting note on Greg is you pole vaulted for your high school that neither had a pole nor a pit. Yeah, it explains a lot. Many obvious follow ups, but I actually think it's more interesting to leave it a mystery. So we're not even going to clarify for that good audience.

Cora Scott:

That's a good call. Yeah.

Joe Supervielle:

And Cora Scott director of Public Information and Civic Engagement for the City of Springfield, Missouri. So still active. You two were formally coworkers and still working together on this project.

Cora Scott:

That's right.

Joe Supervielle:

Cora also runs the Birthplace of the Route 66 Festival, which has grown in attendance from 4,000 all the way up to 65,000, which are amazing numbers just in five years. Cars are obviously one part of that festival there. So, favorite car?

Cora Scott:

This is very specific. A 1966, Corvette convertible. Red with white panels.

Joe Supervielle:

Hard to argue with that.

Cora Scott:

I've never owned one, but maybe someday.

Greg Burris:

Mine's a 55 Chevy pickup because that was my first vehicle that I owned.

Cora Scott:

Cool.

Joe Supervielle:

So Give 5 program. Greg or Cora, go ahead and just give us the basics. Give us the origin story.

Greg Burris:

When I was at the city and working with Cora, we were reading a book called The Next America. And this book is just chock-full of data and trends, and I highly recommend it, but we started thinking about could we create a program at the city of Springfield that would address multiple trends at the same time? So we identified some macro trends and these are trends where things changed slowly over multiple years. And we picked five in the end that we wanted to try and address. That is not where the name comes from, but we picked five macro trends and they were some of the trends you're probably aware of. Like 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day for 19 years. And we're about halfway into that wave right now. So if you think you've seen a lot of baby boomers retire recently, you ain't seen nothing yet, because we're not done.

              Second macro trend is this idea that one of the largest health risks for that population is not cancer. It's not heart disease, it's social isolation and loneliness.

Joe Supervielle:

Even pre pandemic?

Cora Scott:

Yeah, yeah.

Greg Burris:

Pre pandemic. And think about how that's been that's exacerbated during the pandemic. So we all got a little taste of that during the pandemic. So imagine going through that on a regular basis.

              The third trend was the idea that maybe our communities are seen less empathy than we have seen in the past. And we need to build social capital, both bridging social capital and bonding social capital and nothing does that like bringing people together for a shared experience.

              The fourth trend is that with the labor curve inverting back in 2018, we saw this coming and we knew that nonprofits were going to struggle a little bit with trying to attract and retain labor and talent. And it's difficult sometimes for nonprofits to compete with the for-profit world. As we know from local government as well. Sometimes it's difficult to compete for talent. And so I think nonprofits over the next 15 to 20 years are going to rely more and more on volunteerism.

              And then the final one is these macro trends that the largest transfer of wealth and knowledge in the history of the world is already underway. And we don't stop and think about that macro trend that, wow, there is wealth that's changing hands, but there's also this transfer of knowledge and it's in our DNA. We want to be storytellers. We want to pass on knowledge and we want to mentor people. And so those are the five macro trends that we thought well, let's try and impact all five of those with one program.

Joe Supervielle:

Right from the beginning, let's get to one of the biggest questions, no matter what the program is, which is budgeting. You two know from firsthand, budget's tough for local government. It's always a question of who's going to pay? How's it going to get paid for? So apply that to this program. For those listening out there that might want to implement something similar or even potentially license this program, which we'll get into. How is it paid?

Greg Burris:

No host organization, no host community has had to pay for it yet because we've always been able to find a presenting sponsor. They have covered the cost of the license, the implementation cost. And then for example, at the United Way where I work, we don't pay a dime for even the operation because we have operational sponsors within the community that love the program. And Cora will talk later about how it generates so much good news. But people love being associated with it. So they want their name associated with it, which means it's easier to get operational sponsors. So as an example, we don't pay a dime to run the Give 5 Program because the presenting sponsor and operational sponsors cover the cost.

Cora Scott:

Yeah, it is so attractive to sponsors twofold. One, it's the target demo of the age group that a lot of businesses want to speak with, but Greg's right. It's just like a media darling. There's just so many good stories that come out of it because these are people who have given their whole lives to careers, who are now seeking meaningful volunteer opportunities. And they're plugging in with institutions that are addressing our biggest challenges. And so they're getting out there in the community, making a difference. They're becoming well known. We call them give fivers because they become so sought after for their skills and expertise. Not just their time, that people know them. So like Greg said, companies are just wanting to be associated with that feel good aspect of the program.

Joe Supervielle:

And you heard Cora emphasize the word, meaningful, meaningful, a volunteer opportunities. So this is not just stuffing envelopes or answering the phone or filing some papers. These are different types of volunteer opportunities than that.

Greg Burris:

Yeah, I was going to get to civic matchmaking is what we said earlier. So it's not simply the volunteer your time and help out a little bit. You said earlier too, the baby boomers are tiring but you have these set of skills, whether it's in marketing or operations, logistics, you name it. People don't necessarily want to do the daily grind anymore, but they want to keep applying that knowledge and share that knowledge with others and teach others.

Joe Supervielle:

How does the program kind of sort that out or track it, with the individual signing up themselves or the organizations who need people? How does Give 5 actually pull off that matchmaking?

Greg Burris:

It's romance.

Cora Scott:

Yep.

Greg Burris:

It's a dating app.

Cora Scott:

eCivicHarmony.com

Greg Burris:

We designed it in such a way that to really kind of play on that same idea of dating apps or other kinds of applications that match people up based on the way they answer certain questions. This is more personal than that. So this is not a computer app on the phone, but it does take into account the skills the individual participant has and the needs of the nonprofit.

Cora Scott:

Yeah. It you can create classes of about 20 to 25 people per class. And they come together for five program days, spread out over five weeks. And the first part of the class is learning about their community. And in Springfield, we focus on poverty because that's one of our biggest challenges. So we show them heat maps and indicate where some of our challenges are from. Everything from low birth weight babies, to food access issues, to low median household income. And they learn about the community and they understand the context in which the nonprofits work. Then they get on a bus together, and they literally go visit nonprofits. So on the first day, they'll visit three on subsequent days, they visit five and it's really quick, like speed dating. Like Greg said, 45 minutes per nonprofit, but they get to peek behind the curtain and people really want to see what's going on behind the scenes and how these nonprofits, and in some cases, government departments, like we visited the police department and our participants were fascinated about that. But they're learning about what's the mission of those organizations.

              And then more importantly, how can they contribute? How can they plug in? And is there a match? So that's where the match comes in. They're trying to figure out where they fit in and the nonprofits or the government entities are trying to sell their agency on the opportunities they have for those skill sets.

Joe Supervielle:

Yeah. And can you expand a little bit on why that's important because it's one thing to get a volunteer in the door one time, but I think matching maybe leads to a longer term relationship. Is that accurate?

Greg Burris:

Yeah. So once you touch their heart and that's the key, is if you touch my heart and I learn enough about a nonprofit or the issue they're trying to address in the community, I'm not going to just come and volunteer for one day. I will probably come back. And research has shown that when we do it this way, the volunteerism is sticky. They come back and the research report and Cora can talk about the report that we had done by a local university. But the report shows that a lot of the people volunteer and continue to volunteer because it is a good fit.

Cora Scott:

Yeah. Even a year and a year and a half after they complete, they're still participating. And they're still volunteering, not just at one or two agencies, but sometimes three, four, and even one lady said five. We don't recommend that. That's a bit overkill. But they really do stick around and they report back to us that essentially they feel more connected to the community. They feel a sense of ownership. And I can't tell you how helpful that is, as the Director of Civic Engagement, to have a cadre of people. And now we have over 200, Give 5 alums in Springfield that are at the ready for anything that comes up. And they've already done that a few times in just the short time we've been doing Give 5.

Joe Supervielle:

And we'll cover a few more of the goals. Let's backtrack just a little bit. How did the program kind of shift from City of Springfield's run, and operated to the United Ways? I think that was part of Greg's transition up.

Greg Burris:

One of us decided to retire.

Cora Scott:

For eight days he decided to retire.

Greg Burris:

I did, I retired. And eight days later I started at United Way. That's how it happened.

Joe Supervielle:

And you're one of those examples of you retired, but you weren't ready to just go sit on the beach somewhere forever. You wanted to keep the leadership skills you had as a city manager and apply them elsewhere, so that led you to United Way. And that's how the program kind of shifted over?

Greg Burris:

Yeah. So we think of retirement as a destination, "Oh, I've got to get to retirement." And if we're not prepared for retirement, I will tell you that when you get to retirement, it's weird. Because they take away your name, badge or your key and they turn your email off and the silence can be deafening. We have a lot of nurses. We have a lot of school teachers that go through the program.

              And I think the reason the program is appealing to those people, CEOs, engineers, bankers, doesn't matter, is they're used to having a lot going on in their world. They're used to being engaged all day. And when you go sit at home on the couch and watch TV, it's weird and you lose that sense of purpose. And so we call the program couch repellent, because it gets people up off the couch and back engaged in the community. And so instead of going and sitting on my front porch with a rocking chair and a blanket on my lap and yelling at kids to get off my lawn, I'm not ready to do that.

              While I did retire from that job, I wanted to continue to be engaged in the community. So I'm a good example of that. But what about when I'm ready to stop working full-time and maybe just volunteer and engage somewhere? Well, I have sort of the benefit of having been the city manager. And so I know a lot of opportunities. Most people do not have that opportunity. They don't know what's available out there and this teaches them what's on the menu.

Cora Scott:

And the transition worked well because the city has stayed very involved. And to be honest, we reap a lot of the benefits, because the mayor still welcomes each class. He's our commencement speaker. He's very supportive of the program. The participants feel because the mayor is involved. Some of our city departments are the nonprofits that we visit. And then one of the neatest things of all is when I do presentations to the class about the issues facing the city and recruit people to be parts of boards and commissions. And that's so important. We're having trouble getting people, willing to serve on these boards and commissions that don't have an ax to grind. So for instance, they just want to be a contributing member to our community. And they're not trying to get on a specific board for an ulterior motive. My goal is for some of these give fivers to eventually become council members and run for mayor because they become so invested in understanding in the community.

Greg Burris:

Yeah. That's part of the education process. I think this is really important because most communities that I've talked to when I was city manager and would go to ICMA or go to other conferences, everybody was having the same challenge. And that is, who are the people that are attracted to serving in a lot of these volunteer leadership roles? Well, are the people who are angry. "I'm getting on planning and zoning because something didn't go my way and by God I'm getting on planning and zoning and I'm going to change things." Well, that may not be the person who went on planning and zoning. You want somebody who's going to be a little more fair and maybe doesn't have that ax to grind.

Joe Supervielle:

Yeah. I think a lot of the audience is probably silently nodding right now on we hear from these people once there's a big problem and they're going to force a change that way. Earlier we talked about trying to decrease the social isolation. I think it's pretty self-evident how this program does that, getting out and about in front of people. But even within those initial groups who go through the process together, they're able to meet each other, maybe make some new friends and just have connections and even in a more diverse way than maybe what happened in just day to day life.

Greg Burris:

I would tell you that as city manager, it was almost embarrassing how little I knew about the level of social isolation in my own community. Because you think about it, social isolation is by its very nature, it's hidden. And you don't realize it. I had people who I worked with at the university prior to being city manager who were retired and then isolating. I had no idea they were isolating because they just kind of drop off the face of the earth. You don't hear from them and it's easy to forget. And that's unfortunate. We've heard story after story of people who would literally say, "This program saved my life." That's a powerful statement and we were taken aback by it. But Cora can tell you about groups that continue to meet.

Cora Scott:

Yeah, we do reunions with our classmates, but also the ladies of class four sounds very, very interesting. They get together for lunch and they catch up and sometimes they'll call me and ask me about a development deal they've heard about or a zoning issue that they don't think that their friends have quite the accurate information and they become ambassadors for the city. They're literally on social media defending the city or at least tagging me or the city, asking, "Is this right? This doesn't sound quite right." So, that was kind of a positive unintended consequence of the Give 5 program is creating this group of ambassadors that are dedicated to getting accurate information out. Now, if they have an issue with something the city's doing, they're going to bring that up, but it's going to get a fair shake. It's going to be accurate and not disinformation, which is helpful.

Joe Supervielle:

Yeah. That's the kind of engagement you want, even if it's not always positive. People asking questions and caring is what local government really is striving for.

Cora Scott:

Absolutely. We've also had groups come together in emergency situations. For instance, when we first hit the pandemic, we wanted to stand up a public information call center and guess who were the first volunteers in the public information call center? The give fivers. Because I literally could query my database of Give 5 grads and find the ones who had call center experience or government experience or more importantly, medical experience who could at least get the calls to the right place. Later when we got our vaccines, I had our green county medical society calling me saying, "What's this Give 5 program you have and can they help us with vaccinations?" And within 24 hours, we had 20 people of medical experience willing to put shots in arms. Those are just a couple of examples of the powerful nature of having this skill set of ambassadors at the ready.

Greg Burris:

I went to a mass vaccination clinic and a give fiver gave me my vaccination.

Joe Supervielle:

So that's, that was a perfect example answering my next question, which is going back to how is this program helping solve the community's most critical issues? What else was on the top of Springfield's list that this program wasn't just theoretical, they put some people in place and it actually produced real results?

Greg Burris:

The number one thing that we were trying to do was move the needle on poverty, so that was top of mind at the time that we created this. And when we work with communities and we'll use Springfield as an example, the nonprofits that you select to participate in the program, that's how you're going to move the needle, because you're going to essentially be throwing hundreds and hundreds of talented people at something. When we work with communities, we start to work with them about what is the thing in your community that you really want to change, that you want to really move the needle on. And for us it was poverty. And so all 23 nonprofits and we actually have a stable more than 23 nonprofits. So they kind of cycle in and out, but all 23 nonprofits that a class will visit are all moving the needle in some way on poverty, some upstream, some safety net, other ways, but they're all associated with the massive move to try and influence poverty in our community.

Cora Scott:

It also brings people together for civil dialogue. That was one of the goals of the program too, is to unify people rather than always be divisive. And so we saw that time and time again, people who may not have always kind of had the same philosophies, at least learned from one another.

Joe Supervielle:

So civic engagement, and we've talked about needing more or open dialogue in local government and carrying people out. So going back to that, getting people together, whether it's on the bus, going to the next potential nonprofit, or just in the office, learning about the program, do you have any real examples of different people kind of making that connection, really getting something out of it?

Greg Burris:

Yeah, we say that they learn as much from each other as they do from the program. And I think that's probably true. It's an apolitical program. So we tell them right up front on the first day, this is not politics, but we will ask you to get into some kind of meaty issues and have discussion, but be civil about it. We had something happen in the very first class. This goes back a few years, but in the class, on the first day we ask people to stand up and introduce themselves.

              They answer a standard set of introductory questions and one guy, Don, introduced himself and then he added at the end, "Just so you know, I'm just to the right of Attila the Hun." So again, we didn't ask his political affiliation. He just volunteered that on the third program day, we were out visiting our domestic abuse shelter. And the class that was gathered around a large conference table had just heard a presentation and they were getting up from the table to go on a tour of the facility and Ira, who was also in the class, who was a retired nurse, came over to Don and leaned over and said, "Are you the guy on the first program day who said, 'I'm just to the right of Attila the Hun?'" And Don leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms, said, "Well, yes I am."

              And Ira leaned in even closer and said, "Well, I'm just to the left of Bernie." I was standing about four feet from this conversation thinking, okay, we're going to have our first fist fight on the very first class of Give 5, but instead they both laughed and they got up and they walked on the rest of that tour together. On days four and five, they rode the bus together. They sat next to each other at lunch and after they graduated, they volunteered together and they became Facebook friends. So to your point Joe, if they had met on social media, would any of that have happened?

Joe Supervielle:

No.

Greg Burris:

Absolutely not. This is the value of the shared experience, the real life experience and as corny as it sounds, when we say we're more like than different, turns out that that's true.

              And when you have a shared interest in your community and making your community better, what you find is, wow, maybe we really are more aligned on some of these things. And it really does create social capital, build social capital. It weaves the community together more tightly.

Joe Supervielle:

And they started off regardless of those left right leanings, they started off from a point of respect, where they could recognize the other person was there to who helped the community to volunteer their time to lend their expertise. So it was already that positive interaction that just grew from there. So it can happen. And that's what local government can make happen. One other question that I think a lot of the audience might be thinking of is aside from the budget concerns, which I think we've addressed, that this is really feasible through sponsorship is how are you all measuring success? If we're trying to think of doing something similar, in another jurisdiction, how do we know if it's working? Because a lot of these might be a little anecdotal or this story worked out well or this organization got some volunteers, I hate to say metrics, but what are some measurable outcomes to prove the success on this type of model?

Greg Burris:

We actually had two retired researchers approach us. And this was about halfway through. I mean, we were more than a year into the program and one of them had actually been through the program. One was the retired head of the Gerontology Program at Missouri State University. The other was a retired Dean at Missouri State University. And they said, we're both retired. We're both, both bored. And we both want to do some research. So they decided their Give 5 project would be to do a research project and Give 5. So your question is a good one, Joe.

              So how do you know whether it works? They went back and looked at the first five classes. So only the first five classes because it had been a while since the first five classes had graduated and they wanted to see, does this work, is it sticky? And what they found after looking at the first five classes were a number of things. One, 80% of those who were volunteering because of the Give 5 Program, were still volunteering after a year in that particular volunteer that nonprofit. The second thing was that the impact, the fiscal impact on the community of just the first year of volunteerism of those first five classes was more than $300,000. That's $300,000 of value they were adding back into the community. And that was just the first five classes in one year.

              The other thing they found was that it moved the needle. It actually improved empathy, levels of trust in government, their sense of ownership and responsibility of the committee. All those things went way up because of the program. And I would argue if you can find anything that increases trust, empathy, and ownership, grab it. We feel like the program is working in Springfield, like Cora said earlier, they have a reputation, give fivers have a reputation in our community.

Joe Supervielle:

Well, hard to argue with the results and also the potential of zero on the budget coming out of the local government side of things. So Cora and Greg, thanks for your time today. We're going to have a second segment that actually gets into the details on how other locations can license this program. I know there have been a few successful examples already and reiterate that no cost to them. There are sponsors out there that will pay for not only the program, but the operation side of it.

              So look out for part two for the ICMA audience. In the meantime, check out, give5program.org. @Give5Program on Twitter or Corey and Greg have been so kind as to offer their knowledge going back to the transfer of knowledge, their time and knowledge to helping answer questions, or just talk to anyone in local government one on one about this topic in general or the Give 5 Program specifically. And you can reach them at an email, give5@uwozarks.com. So thanks again, Cora, Greg for your time today. Appreciate it.

Greg Burris:

Thanks Joe.

Cora Scott:

Thank you so much.


Guest Information

Greg Burris, President & CEO, United Way of the Ozarks; previous City Manager of Springfield, Missouri, 2008-2018

Cora Scott, Director of Public Information & Civic Engagement of City of Springfield, Missouri
 

Episode Notes

Episode one in a two-part series uncovers the power of tapping into baby boomers for communities interested in improving community engagement and helping government and nonprofits address the growing workforce crunch. The Give 5 Civic Matchmaking program was started in Springfield, Missouri to address social isolation among retirees, while plugging the highly skilled boomers into the community for meaningful projects. It has grown into an initiative filling service gaps and improving trust in local government.

In Part One, Listeners Will:

  1. Learn how to recognize the value retirees and other older adults have and the positive impact they can have on our communities, including municipal boards and commissions and special projects that fill service gaps.
  2. Understand the detrimental impact that the growing (and "silent") challenge of social isolation is having on our communities and identify at least one strategy to combat it.
  3. Hear how the Give 5 program provides "fuel" to volunteer efforts that can address their community's most critical issue(s).
  4. Learn how to leverage the support of volunteers to improve civic engagement across the entire community during a time when all communities need enhanced dialogue.

Part 2 will provide specific details about how communities can partner with them to launch the program in their home cities. 

Resources

Give 5 Program Website

 

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