Opening Eyes to Volunteers’ Value

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KenMurray

Phase:  

Building

“Within the agency, this project changed minds as to what volunteers can do.”

Summary:

As a sponsor for the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), the Southern Maine Area Agency on Aging (SMAA) manages hundreds of volunteers in administrative and direct-service roles at various sites. Using the Capacity Corps model, it tapped its first leadership- and professional-level volunteers to manage its own strategic planning.

SMAA got impressive results—a new marketing plan for its Meals on Wheels nutrition program, a new SMAA strategic plan and accounting manual, volunteer advocates, and a replication guide that tells other nonprofits how to achieve similar results.

Said Director of Volunteer Services Ken Murray, “We’d never thought about or asked volunteers to participate in these kinds of ways. It was an eye-opener.” Now, SMAA encourages its RSVP sites to think broadly about the skills volunteers can offer, and it has placed some leadership-level volunteers at RSVP sites. And if SMAA has a project that’s beyond its staff’s available time to accomplish, “we can think about the possibility of finding a volunteer.”

Challenges:

As sponsor of an RSVP program since 1973, SMAA coordinated more than 500 volunteers out of its office who were scattered across various sites. These volunteers provided direct service through a nonprofit or healthcare organization or handled administrative duties in offices.

SMAA had not explored using leadership-level volunteers—yet it had business needs that could not be fulfilled within existing staff resources. Through a grant funded by the National Council on Aging, SMAA hired a part-time coordinator to tap this option.

Solutions:

Initially, SMAA developed roles for volunteers to supplement key SMAA staff to test the model. Those volunteers then helped SMAA with strategic planning, branding, marketing and income generation potential of SMAA programs.

Over a two-year period, volunteers developed the following:

  • A new marketing plan for SMAA’s nutrition program, Meals on Wheels
  • An accounting manual to track SMAA’s funding sources
  • A new strategic plan for SMAA
  • A replication guide to help other nonprofits start a similar volunteer program. It includes recommendations for program development, outreach and recruitment activity, and volunteer achievements.
  • A core group of volunteer advocates for SMAA.

Lessons Learned:

  • Be as open as possible in thinking about what volunteers can do.
  • Approach each volunteer as an individual to see what his or her skills and passions are.
  • Involve the volunteer in shaping his or her role, and be flexible.
  • Communicate to staff that the volunteers are augmenting staff efforts, not supplanting them, and that volunteers can help carry out projects staff think are worthwhile but do not have time to complete.
  • Plan to dedicate resources to this effort.
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