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What Are Self-Directed Volunteer Teams?

May 16, 2013 in Engaging Wisdom

Yesterday, 24 professionals from 12 aging services organizations near Washington, D.C., were in the city to learn a new “operating system” for increasing volunteer engagement as a way to expand their organizations’ capacity to serve older adults.

Yesterday was the pilot session in the PowerUP! Training, planned by the Aging Network’s Volunteer Collaborative in conjunction with the Self Directed Volunteer Network.

PowerUP! Training, which is exclusive to Aging Network organizations and programs, guides participants in developing self-directed teams of older adult volunteers. These volunteers in turn are empowered to initiate and implement projects on behalf of the organizations in ways that strengthen the organization and expand its capacity to provide needed services.

What Are Self-Directed Teams?

After a start-up period, self-directed volunteer teams learn to take charge of the work that needs to be done at an organization.

Under the continuing guidance of the sponsoring organization and with continuing technical assistance from the Aging Network Volunteer Collaborative, the volunteer teams work together to identify, plan, and carry out projects in response to priority aging service needs and issues identified in concert with the sponsoring organization. For example, self-directed teams may raise funds for the organization, secure farmers and farmland to provide extra food for hungry seniors, write a business plan for the organization, or handle any number of tasks.

The self-directed team approach is well-suited to the mindset of many of today’s volunteers, who are ready, willing, and able to perform most any role within an organization or program as long as it is clear they are

    • needed,
    • wanted,
    • making a discernible difference in the lives of others,
    • listened to at all levels within the organization or program,
    • given opportunity for input into how things get done, and
    • treated professionally as staff are treated.

These teams also provide flexibility for volunteers to assume a variety of roles and to adjust their time schedules to travel or spend time with grandchildren, knowing team members are there to fill in.

Because the team is focused on producing particular outcomes related to priority issues or needs defined by the organization or program, the interests of the organization and the volunteer are aligned. This alignment of mutual interests produces greater satisfaction, increased results, higher levels of impact, and a continuing synergy and interdependence that sustain volunteer engagement.

For volunteers, the team experience offers an unparalleled opportunity to leverage skills, capabilities, and networks, and even uncover new talents, while enjoying the camaraderie and added power that a team provides. A positive team experience also empowers volunteers to undertake new projects or to contribute in other ways to their community.

Organizations that engage teams will discover ways to address important issues, extend their mission and reach, and make tangible contributions to their community. Self-directed volunteer teams also can generate fresh interest in an organization while engaging different types of volunteers and utilizing current volunteer skills in increased capacities.

What Does the Training Really Do for the Aging Network?

PowerUP! Training is designed to provide aging services professionals with the tools to encourage self-directed teams. Through the teams, they can carry out this year’s Older Americans Month theme, “Unleash the Power of Age.”

The training is built on evidence-based research compiled from a range of demonstration initiatives conducted in the recent past under the auspices of the Administration on Community Living (ACL), with additional funding by the MetLife Foundation and The Atlantic Philanthropies. For additional information visit the Self Directed Volunteer Network.

PowerUP! Training teaches participants, a key staff person and a lead volunteer from each organization, to align three dynamics:

  • the mission of the organization or program,
  • the characteristics of today’s volunteers, and
  • the priority aging service needs of the community.

Training participants also learn how to assess their organization’s readiness to utilize self-directed teams, position the teams for success, sustain them over time, and create metrics to measure their teams’ impact. In short, PowerUP! Training produces a trained, experienced, highly motivated complementary workforce to the Aging Network. .

Ultimately, PowerUP! training will create a ripple effect that strengthens and expands the capacity of the aging services network through an energized, expanded force of volunteers.

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To learn more about the PowerUP! initiative, download PowerUP! volunteer recruitment materials you can customize for your own agency, and stay informed of future trainings and other opportunities, visit PowerUP! online.

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To find more perspectives on volunteering, please scroll through other Engaging Wisdom posts.

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