Starting a Volunteer Program – Online Chat with Tom Endres

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Phase:  

Beginning

On July 25, 2012, the Aging Network’s Volunteer Collaborative held an online chat on starting a volunteer program.

Thomas E. Endres, Director of The Aging Network’s Volunteer Collaborative, facilitated a discussion that covered orientations and trainings, compensation, recruitment and more. See what he and your peers have found works best.

For additional information, download materials from our webinars on this topic.


Topics:

  1. Volunteer Orientations for a Small Group
  2. Social Events for Volunteers
  3. Docent Programs
  4. Trainings, Mentors and Ambassador
  5. Compensation
  6. Forming a Steering Committee
  7. Recruitment Messages and Tools
  8. Letting Volunteers Lead
  9. Continuing this Conversation

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#1: Volunteer Orientations for a Small Group

Judy
I’d like to ask about Volunteer Orientations when you have just a few (5) volunteers applying and ready for an individual assignment. It’s hard to keep them waiting for an orientation but is it detrimental to have them attend with just one or two people in attendance?

Tom
It’s best not to have too much lag time. Ask trained volunteers to help or let new recruits shadow experienced volunteers.

Patricia
With so few folks in attendance, it does offer more one-on-one attention. Which can be a benefit.

Judy
But I would think you would want the cohesiveness that a group can bring to the volunteer – especially since they are assigned one-on-one with clients in their homes.

Julie
This is Julie Agan from Louisiana SMP. I have some experience with this. It is always great when you can get your volunteers together in the same room…but with many programs, that just doesn’t happen. We have 3-4 volunteers in different cities all over the state. We have done orientation with as few as two at a time. Patricia is correct in that it allows for lots of one-on-one. You really get to know your vols.

Tom
Cohesiveness is important and we need to think of new ways of allowing volunteers to participate and share – conf call, etc.

Julie
You also get to know what they are looking for from your program. And that information is very helpful when it comes to volunteer retention.

Tom
It is really all about building relationships and looking for any and all ways to strengthen/deepen them.

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#2: Social Events for Volunteers

Patricia
Though they may not meet at an Orientation, perhaps volunteers could meet at a social event? A morning coffee event with pastries, or something low-cost that might invite them to get together. Something low-key, with the focus on gathering together.

Tiffany
I find that my volunteers do not enjoy social gatherings purely for the sake of meeting each other. They have historically gotten annoyed, actually.

Julie
I think it’s important when you first speak with potential vols to explain that your program might not have much social interaction. When vols know ahead of time that working with your program is not a “chance to meet new people,” they will be okay with working independently.

Tom
I like the idea someone suggested about a “buddy system” for new volunteers.

Julie
Our vols work almost exclusively with clients. They don’t work with each other more than a couple times a year. They are okay with that because they understand that’s how our program works.

Patricia
Tiffany – it may not be for every group or every individual.

Tiffany
Possibly, I just get that feedback from all four Center Directors.

Julie
Ditto what Tiffany said. Some of our vols don’t want to attend the appreciation luncheon we host. They say they didn’t volunteer to be “rewarded.”

Judy
Management is strong on numbers at an orientation. My volunteers are across 8 counties and work individually with clients as well so it’s very difficult to get many of them together at one time.

Julie
We host a monthly webinar for our volunteers. They don’t all participate, but it’s a great chance for them to get to talk to one another and share stories.

Tom
Folks are finding that just a thank you or an acknowledgement of consistency, accomplishment works. Intrinsic.

Tiffany
I send birthday cards to all of them. It’s little, but it’s nice.

Patricia
Tiffany – that’s a great idea.

Patti
Locally here in Maine, we host quarterly meetings for volunteers for the EBPs, and it is a time for connection to the org and other volunteers. It is time to address fidelity and have a little fun too.

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#3: Docent Programs

Susan
We would like to train docents but are worried about “down times” and boredom for them.

Julie
My advice to Susan is have the orientation even if you have just a few volunteers. Better to get them started then to have them waiting. That’s a sure fire way to have them lose interest.

Tiffany
Down time between signing up and volunteering?

Tom
For Susan I would take the suggestion above about being clear re: the nature of the assignment. Downtime hasn’t been a problem with many docent programs.

Tom
And there is always docent training and updating.

Judy
I think it’s always good to have a back-up plan if you’re using tour guides or docents. No one likes to sit around when they’re ready and willing to help. Something else they could do to help the agency.

Tom
Good idea, Judy.

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#4: Trainings, Mentors and Ambassadors

Tom
Is anyone using leadership volunteers? In what ways?

Penina
Our program has volunteers visiting seniors in Assisted Living Facilities, Nursing Homes and Adult Care homes. The volunteers are not “Certified” until after they complete 3 assessments and 3 complaint investigations for field work. Our goal is to have it all completed in 90 days.

Tom
Do you find that the certification builds prestige and esprit de corps?

Tomika
Certification seems to be rather important to our group of volunteers, but we’ve kinda stalled in terms of developing a certification program.

Jan
We have a mentor that shadows each new volunteer.

Penina
We do too. It is very good and allows for lots of questions.

Julie
We have community leaders. Or I should say we have tried to have them. We are set up for 6, but only have one. She works with new vols and also helps us stay engaged with what’s happening in that community.

Judy
Love the mentor idea. It’s usually me who introduces volunteer to client for the first time to give a level of comfort. Then they’re on their own with checks from me as to how the relationship is progressing.

Tiffany
I’ve wanted to start an ambassador program, Julie.

Tom
The key question is why? Volunteers need that answer. What is the issue, need they are helping to solve?

Penina
We have District Offices in Florida, and each is staffed with a Manager and an assistant. If the volunteers have quality support staff, they are able to function at a higher level.

Patricia
Penina – is either the manager or assistant a volunteer themselves?

Julie
Ditto, Penina. We have found that level of support is key to retaining strongly engaged vols. Our vols rarely see our staff, but they call, email, text to us all the time and they know we are here for them.

Tom
Tiffany, the use of ambassador is great idea. What about Senior Adviser?

Penina
We have such a great program, that the National organization of Ombudsman has asked to use it.

Tiffany
We have four senior centers and I’d like to start a program at each — they would be “buddies” to new volunteers and help with new members in general. I’ve never heard of Senior Advisor — thank you!

Tom
Congrats. Please consider sharing with the Volunteer Collaborative. The collaborative is intended to be an aggregator of what’s working so others can use more volunteers effectively.

Jan
We have 6 week meetings with additional training pertinent to our goal and time to share individual issues; we have a holiday potluck and a spring appreciation luncheon. Our volunteers are close knit with access to each other’s expertise.

Jan
We keep close tabs on our volunteers, keeping them informed and including them in training new vols.

Tom
Tiffany et. al. – We tend to think in term of individual volunteer position descriptions and nothing wrong with that. However, I think we need to expand options. E.g. I would think in terms of a small group of folks helping with an issue or problem and creating role options.

Penina
We give out awards for Ombudsman of the month in each district as well as an annual award, during a statewide meeting. We have to operate within State Statues, so our standards are pretty much set for us, as a Health oversight entity.

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#5: Compensation

Julie
Tiffany, do you plan to have any compensation plan for the ambassadors?

Tiffany
Julie — no. Our volunteers as a whole reject compensation. I had never witnessed it before working here. Volunteering shouldn’t cost them as they are already giving of their time.

Penina
Training vols is important. We include things like Communication Skills -How to approach someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Our vols are reimbursed for their mileage to and from facilities and meetings.

Julie
Some of our sister groups in other states have Senior Advisor type roles, but they do provide compensation. We haven’t done that, but I’m wondering if it would produce more interest.

Jan
We no longer have compensation….very little money. We have only 3 paid staff, the rest is volunteers. They stay because they feel they make a difference in people’s lives.

Tom
There was a demo that allowed stipends. Those that began with stipends found they were not needed. However, we need to be mindful that covering some out of pocket expenses might make the difference in serving or not.

Penina
If the program does not reimburse them for expenses, I believe that they can claim certain things on their taxes if they have appropriate records. Our Statewide Council is sort of our Steering Committee.

Siena
Re deductions: It is correct that there are a number of volunteer expenses, such as travel, that can be deducted. We advise volunteers in handbooks and at orientations to look this up on the IRS website or ask their tax preparer – we do not commit to interpreting tax law!

Penina
We don’t either. We encourage them to ask an accountant.

Julie
Lots of folks…especially older ones with paid mortgages don’t itemize…so they can’t claim those expenses.

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#6: Forming a Steering Committee

Patricia
I have a question for the group. A community member posted this in the “Water Cooler” and I wondered if anyone here might have some input: “I’m thinking of starting a Steering Committee to assist me in developing a stronger volunteer program. I’m a one-person Volunteer Program manager and we do so much hand-on volunteer work with clients, friendly visiting, lawn care, handyman repairs and home maintenance, housekeeping, office work, etc. I feel really scattered and can’t keep up with everything happening at once. Anyone have a Steering Committee from outside your organization?”

Judy
I had the question about the Steering Committee. Our program is fairly new, so I’d like a committee from our board, etc. to evaluate materials, help with promotion of program and recruitment of volunteers, etc. Anyone had luck with that?

Siena
Hi, I am with an Aging and Disability Resource Center, and we are required to have a Steering Committee. I think this or some version – advisory committee etc, is very important and helpful. If just for input, it gives credibility to the decisions about the volunteers. If you have it have operational volunteers (i.e. chair for publicity, chair for orientation, chair for recruitment, etc.) it is even more helpful to actually do things for your organization.

Tom
Agree. All the Senior Corps projects are also required to have an advisory council. I think the challenge for these councils is that they will want to play an important role e.g. measuring volunteer satisfaction, etc.

Tom
Siena’s point about engaging the Board as a committee, steering committee is a good one. We tend to forget that we need to not only communicate up to the governance level about value and importance of volunteer contributions but engaging them is really the way to go.

Penina
I agree, Tom.

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#7: Recruitment Messages and Tools

Tom
I have a question about future chats. I think we should focus in on a particular topic such as “Here are recruitment messages that work!”

Penina
That would be great.

Tiffany
I agree.

Penina
We have had the most successes through volunteers bringing in their friends and through brochures on display in public libraries.

Jan
Well, while we’re on that topic…. We tried everything to get volunteers and nothing worked until I started writing articles for the local paper, and then whooppee, we got a bunch. The stories need to be personal and emotional.

Penina
We try to do the same thing, Jan.

Penina
We ask vols for success stories at each meeting and use them for Press Releases.

Julie
That’s a great idea. Turning success stories into press releases!

Tiffany
I use success story quotes for flyers.

Penina
Many radio stations have programming for community news and activities. We have had a few successes with that as well. 1/2 hour interviews or 5 minutes – it all helps get the message out.

Melissa
I’ve asked volunteers direct questions about their experiences via quick surveys and email- when I get a good quote I ask them if I can use it in promotional materials- works great!

Tom
If we want “new generation” volunteers to share their training and expertise we need to continue to think about new avenues to make the ask. Word of mouth remains a great recruiting tool, but it takes doctors asking doctors, lawyers asking lawyers, or professionals asking professionals. Perhaps the Chamber of Commerce?

Penina
Our vols are on local councils and each council has a Chairperson as well as someone (a different person) who represents the local council on the State council.

Jan
Speaking to local civic organizations may work, but flyers haven’t been successful for us. Doesn’t mean they aren’t for others, but articles have been the best.

Tiffany
Where do you distribute flyers?

Julie
We have practically begged our volunteers to invite their friends, family to work with us. We generally get a “no.” Not sure why, but that’s been our experience. The vols don’t want to help us recruit.

Jan
We tried leaving flyers at churches, health food stores, sr. centers, you name it. We even had a billboard. But the articles (am I getting redundant) worked the best to recruit.

Tomika
Local Chambers of Commerce, libraries, and social clubs like Rotary have been great resources for us. I agree with you, Julie. Vols rarely are a viable means of recruitment.

Melissa
A common question we ask our volunteers is “where can we find more of you” – it starts a conversation that usually leads to a group or location to concentrate recruitment – for example the NAME of a contact at a church or other group. The volunteer isn’t asked to recruit – but at least we can use their connections to do our own recruiting. We also give volunteers rack-cards to post places they frequent.

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#8: Letting Volunteers Lead

Tom
What happens when we let go and let volunteers lead?

Melissa
Tom – I like the topic of how to let volunteers lead. We are in a place where we have great dedicated volunteers providing one- on-one service, and some ready to take on more leadership roles so we can increase program capacity. This is new territory for me – how to let volunteers lead, and how to create the environment where volunteers are comfortable taking on a bit more responsibility and challenge.

Penina
We have started an Internship Program – to offer to Universities and Colleges. We already have a few on board.

Tom
Melissa, this is an area I want to focus on. Recent demos show that when skilled volunteers are engaged in capacity building roles, the ROI for the organization is on average 8:1. This demo involved 44 non-profits.

Siena
As far as letting volunteers lead, I think it is very important to give them ownership of particular programs or projects. Also, in Red Cross, each staff manager has a volunteer partner chair that they work with. I have found this an excellent way of ensuring that staff involve volunteers at the leadership level and that volunteers know they have career progression – if they want to, they can develop their skills and go from serving operationally to making decisions for a program, as well as then serving on committees and boards.

Chloe
I encourage folks to look up The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations. It is a book on organizations being member/volunteer led.

Tomika
Thanks for the recommendation, Chloe.

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#9: Continuing this Conversation

Patricia
ALL: Just want to point out that if any of you want to connect beyond this chat via email or messaging, there is an option to click on “COMMUNITY” under your “WELCOME, ______” dashboard on the right-hand side of the screen. When clicking on community, you get a listing of everyone registered here and you can click on individuals to message privately to connect. There is also the “Water Cooler,” too, which is a lot like a Facebook wall where comments can be made and responded to.

Patricia
ALSO: community members are able to use the “General Chat” whenever they like, should they choose to schedule their own chat with colleagues across the country.

Tom
Well, this has been a great exchange! Some outstanding ideas and clarity about challenges. We hope to work with you all to reach our goal of one million volunteer providing elder services by 2015

Penina
From your mouth to G-d’s ears!

Patricia
Agreed, Tom! I appreciate everyone’s engagement and willingness to put questions out there and to provide advice and input where they’re able. Collaborative staff will be taking off, but please, if you have the time, this community is for you all. So feel free to continue sharing ideas and information now or any other time.

Penina
Thanks so much.

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