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Meaningful Engagement

April 17, 2013 in Making a Difference



  • An organization would not have staff without a Human Resources department.
  • An organization that plans to enlist volunteers and engage them in meaningful projects must have a dedicated professional ready to match the volunteer’s skills with the needs of the organization.


Welcome to our guest blogger, Lynn Schemmer-Valleau from the Multnomah County Aging & Disability Services (AAA), Oregon. Lynn answered the Call for What’s Working issued by the Aging Network’s Volunteer Collaborative in the spring of 2012, and her project was honored for its success. To learn more, download the Replication Guide.

At times, there is a struggle for organizations, programs, and schools taking the plunge and utilizing volunteers in meaningful engagement.

It happens so often. A volunteer comes to an organization or a program ready to roll up his or her sleeves, share a wealth of experience in a meaningful way, and make a deep impact on a group or on a project—but the organization is not prepared to take on this type of commitment, expertise, and passion. Organization leaders have only used volunteers for tasks that, while necessary, are often tedious, such as answering phones, stuffing envelopes, making copies, stapling papers, etc. They cry for “more help,” but when help is knocking on their door, they are not prepared to take on the role of coordinating and directing experienced-based volunteerism.

An organization would not have staff without a Human Resources department. Therefore, if the organization plans to enlist volunteers and engage them in meaningful projects, it must have a dedicated professional ready to match the volunteer’s skills with the needs of the organization.

My example today is with the public school system. Their budgets have been slashed so severely and they are staffed so thinly that they now seem to be stuck in a “pickle” when it comes to utilizing volunteers. They could use skills-based volunteers who are committed to a regular schedule to support the large classrooms, work one-on-one with students who are struggling or learning English, help out in the cafeteria by modeling good behaviors and setting the example of how to be a good citizen of the school, and the like. However, there is often no one in the school who can take on the task of orienting new volunteers, getting them connected to the students who are in need, and plugging them in to the operations that help educate all students enrolled.

Schools work well with stay-at-home parents who want to drop in and help staple together book readers or make copies or chaperone a field trip. They know what to do with student teachers who are in training. Teachers are grateful for this type of support and are usually incredibly thankful to receive the gift of a student teacher for a semester or to have parents engaged in their child’s learning. However, other types of volunteerism in the schools are proving to be challenging for some, due to the lack of available personnel to match the volunteer’s skills and schedule with meaningful student engagement.

As a professional in the field of volunteer administration, I’m always working to educate the public about the importance of volunteerism and civic engagement, and how organizations can prepare themselves to really engage their volunteers—tapping into their skills and aligning the volunteer with the strategic plan of the agency. I find myself running into roadblocks with some that are just unable or unwilling to see the value in investing in a point person/coordinator to work with volunteers for meaningful engagement. This is frustrating to me as well as to the older adults/retirees that I work with who are ready and willing to begin service as a tutor and mentor with youth in their community.

There are many models out there for using skills-based volunteers. The Corporation for National and Community Service, Points of Light Foundation, and the Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration, to name only a few, have loads of information on this topic.

What has worked in your community? How has your agency or school transitioned from using volunteers for only small tasks to using skilled volunteers to help increase or deepen the impact your organization has on the community?

Please share your ideas, thoughts, or questions in the Comments, below.

To learn more about the volunteer program at Multnomah County Aging & Disability Services (AAA), download the project’s Replication Guide. To find even more ideas for your program, scroll through other Making a Difference posts.

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