Sara McCracken and Mary Kimball are the Volunteer Resource Department (VRD)

For our “People of P+P” series, we will be interviewing all of the various teams of people we have running the show at Prepare + Prosper so you, our supporters, can get to know all of us a bit better. We are starting this month with our Volunteer Resources Department (aka VRD), who as you’ll read below, are kinda the core of our mission and our work.  The following is an interview with Sara McCracken and Mary Kimball.  Answers have been edited slightly for clarity.


Q: How would you describe the VRD team’s role within P+P?

Sara: Well, we have a big role to play!

Volunteers are a really essential part of P+P and the work we do. The work we do wouldn’t be possible without them. We’re responsible for making sure volunteers have a positive experience and that they come back to volunteer year after year. Many of them do come back. We have a lot of really long-term volunteers; I think 26% of volunteers have been around for more than five years and then something like 12% have been around for more than 10 years!  We do the recruitment for both the tax clinics and the Money Mentors program.

We also ensure that volunteers are all ready for tax season, including things like getting everyone signed up for training in the proper order, completing their background checks, logistics like that.

Then we do the scheduling. So that’s collecting information on when and where people want to volunteer so we can build a schedule that works for everyone throughout tax season. And then during the tax season, we manage the schedule. We forecast gaps and look for substitutes. We also address any issues or concerns that volunteers might have. We focus on making sure that our volunteers have a really good experience with us.

We try to make volunteering fun and engaging. I think for many of our volunteers, the work itself is enough to have them coming back. But we also like to do fun things on top of that, like happy hours and game nights. Mary took everyone ice skating last year. We had the volunteer appreciation picnic, and we try to do things for people who don’t want to come out to those events. We’ve held contests like Guess the Oscars, we recognize hourly milestones, we do site visits, and we send volunteers a weekly newsletter during tax season. All kinds of stuff to keep people connected and engaged.

Mary, how would you answer that question?

Mary: You covered most of it. My elevator pitch of my job specifically is that I’m half H.R. and half camp counselor for all our tax volunteers. And I have a lot of fun doing that. I think the event planning and that sort of outreach is something I particularly enjoy because as you said, for many volunteers, the work is enough. Giving the volunteers opportunities to gather is fun. We had the game night last week and it was really exciting seeing people meeting and talking to each other, I enjoyed their interactions and I think P+P provides a very nice place to create community. That’s also part of our mission and it has a concrete impact. So yeah, I think it’s pretty special.

Q: What makes your team function successfully together?

Mary: It’s good that we like different parts of the same things we have to do, I would say. And we definitely have different strengths and that just works very compatibly. You should definitely add more to this, Sara, but I feel like you’re a bit more detail-oriented and keep us on top of the things that sometimes I have a hard time envisioning further ahead. And then I enjoy doing some of the stuff that you don’t like as much. We enjoy different parts of our job. That’s what I’m trying to get at.

Sara: That’s exactly what I was going to say, and it works so well. We could never have planned this. It’s just perfect. It’s amazing.

Mary: Ohh no way!?

Sara: Really, the stuff that I find most challenging just so happens to be things that you’re really excited about, like planning an event or connecting with people which you’re so good at.

Mary: Oh, thank you! I think I’m pretty extroverted and I like doing that sort of outreach. That’s always what I’ve enjoyed in my previous jobs. The event planning is super fun and I feel like Sara, you excel at our work planning stuff and making it all happen.

Sara: Yeah, I love to be in front of a spreadsheet.

Mary: And I don’t, so that’s perfect.

Sara: Yeah, so together we make a really good team.

Q: What strategies do you use to motivate each other and your work?

Sara: I don’t know if you can think of anything Mary, but I can’t think of any planned strategies or any overt things that we do to keep each other motivated. Speaking for myself, I really like my job because I have a personal interest in the work that we do, so that’s why I’m here. I also really like my coworkers and the volunteers. It’s funny because I was just talking about how you’re better at events and stuff like that, but I really do feel super motivated and focused after we do an event. I’m a shy person, so leading up to an event, I’m like “aghhhh” pretty nervous, but then once it’s over with I feel really good and connected to people and the work that we do and excited to jump back into our everyday routines. So, I find that motivating. But it’s not a specific strategy we have.

Q: How often do you both meet to discuss your day or your week or what’s coming up?

Mary: Ohh, we talk every day about something or another. We don’t have a formal check in because a lot of our tasks overlap very heavily, so I feel like we’re always chatting about something and that sort of makes the motivation part of it easier because I feel like Sara and I both tend to know, at least to some extent, what we’re working on and what needs to be happening. I also think something that’s good for my motivation is if I’m having a slow day where my brain is just half-powered, I can tell her that, and I feel like being able to tell someone that I’m tired today or I’m off today, sharing that helps me manage.

Sara: Yeah, I would totally agree with that too. I think we just work really well with each other so we’re constantly communicating. If we’re both working remotely, we’re just kind of chatting on Teams, and when we’re in the office, we share the same space, so we’re just always talking and checking in with each other.

Mary: I am a bit of a chatterbox, to be honest. I think I distract you sometimes. Nothing too bad, but like, “Oh, my gosh, Sara, look at this thing I saw on Twitter.” I don’t know. I’m glad you appreciate that!

Sara: And it works! My favorite people are usually chattier than I am. If someone else brings that energy and I can just bounce off of it, it’s perfect.

Mary: I think that’s why some of the volunteers get along with you quite well, because I think sometimes I scare our quieter volunteers a little bit. I think they don’t always know what to do with me. We have different energies and that helps because the volunteers are like “Alright, I’m going to be able to understand at least one of them.”

Sara: We’re like someone for everyone. There are social butterflies who are volunteering in part because they want to make friends, and Mary can be their best friend. People who just want to do taxes will hopefully appreciate my quieter approach.

Mary: It’s a good balance.

Q: What is your team working on now and how can a P+P supporter be helpful?

Mary: Recruuuuitment!!!

Sara: Yeah, definitely recruitment.

Mary: Sara and I have different specialties in recruitment. Sara talks to our corporate partners and organizations, and I talk to students and professors. Which again I am very glad that that is how it shook out, because I am so less intimidated by the idea of reaching out to professors and students than big organizations. I had so much fun.

But for recruitment, basically, Sara and I are starting to reach out to literally everyone we’ve ever spoken with before about getting connected with potential volunteers.  For me that looks like connecting with professors who may have students who would be interested in volunteering. Or who would be able to volunteer for some sort of requirement. Like for the Business 200 class at Saint Thomas, they need 40 hours of some sort of service during the semester they take that class, and every year we have a few Saint Thomas students who volunteer here to fulfill that. So, I reach out to professors and ask them if I can visit their classroom to give a short pitch about volunteering, share materials, or basically offer to do whatever they’d let me do in order to have some time with students and have them figure out if volunteering with us would be a good fit.

If there are any P+P supporters, any students, faculty or staff at local colleges or universities that might be related to or have people interested in this field, send them my way:

And it’s not just accounting. We’ve had students from pre-law, there have been some really supportive social work professors because a lot of students in social work want to know more about basic tax and financial literacy issues. So even if it’s not a direct fit, it could be great for someone. Also, if someone studying Spanish and is getting near fluent, we always need more volunteers who speak more than one language, and this could be a great opportunity to put some of that to use and provide service with your time practicing the language.

Sara: Recruitment is in full swing starting the first week of September. So, anything that anyone can do to help us spread the word is great. Word of mouth is one of the top things, actually I think it’s THE top way people hear about us.

Every year around 10% of new volunteers have heard about us from a family member, a friend or a current volunteer or coworker. And that’s how they decide to get involved. So just telling someone, “Hey, I think you might be a good fit for this organization!” is really helpful. Send people to our website and people can sign up for an information session to learn more.

Also, a lot of corporations have departments that specifically focus on community engagement or social responsibility. So if you or anyone you know has a workplace where they know who is in charge of their community engagement, send them my way. I’ll give them basic information about what we do and the volunteer roles we’re recruiting for, and they can help us spread the word within their workplace. Even if you don’t have a specific department for stuff like this, just sending an email to coworkers explaining what we do and what we’re looking for is a big help.

The bottom line is to just tell people about us.

Q: So last question and let’s keep it brief: How does the VRD team help fulfill our mission?

Mary: We ensure that we’re volunteer driven because we help supply the volunteers. I think that’s really the most concise way to put it. Do you have anything to add to that, Sara?

Sara: I like that. And we always emphasize that we’re not able to provide our services without volunteers. We’re not able to provide free tax prep or financial services and coaching without volunteers, because we don’t have a whole fleet of staff members who are going to be able to provide those services. So, without the existence of volunteers, we can’t do the work that we do.


Sara McCracken is the Volunteer Resources Manager, and Mary Kimball is the Volunteer Resources Coordinator.



Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly.Update my browser now