Saturday, May 26, 2012

Face to Face Orientation

Orientation- (An orientation, as to guide one in adjusting to new surroundings, employment,activity or the like) 

While I love technology and am on Twitter, Facebook and of course Blogs nothing can replace a face to face interaction. Seeing each others physical outline, the timbre of their voice, the inflections when they speak showing humor or distaste, the look in their eye as they make a point. 
Orientation of new volunteers in my opinion is too important to be left to a video (or old school - sitting at a desk reading a orientation manual) that they may or may not watch. It is not only orientation to the volunteer organization, but an orientation of you for them and them for you. During the orientation for my unit I introduce myself to each person as they come in for the evening. Once we start I outline the evening on a slide then the next slide simply says: In 5 minutes or less tell us: 
  • Your name 
  • why you are here 
  • whether you are a medical or support volunteer 
  • What city you live in (my MRC covers 2,000 sq miles with 39 cities) 
And of course I lead by example and answer the questions and for the second question I tell them "Its my job and the best part of my job". As each person finishes their introduction i say "thank you" or "welcome" and look at the next person.  This is one of the most important parts of the evening because it makes connections!
Then I spend the next hour and a half covering how we as an organization got here what their place in the organization is. What we expect from them and what they can expect from us (actually I ask these questions out loud to get their reactions and weave them into the answers.) I talk about what we have done; what we hope to do with their help. And always preparedness! Then for the third time that night I tell them what they must do to complete processing (online FEMA Training). 
Lastly, I thank them and send them on their way.
 Seems like a lot of work after an already long day, but its worth it. Why? By time the evening is over, I have a room of 10-15 people that I know, who know me and because they are in the room with me and not on the other side of a glass screen they know I love my job and what WE are building together. 
But one more thing they can't get at home...They are now connected (even just a little bit) with 10-15 people who think like they do and feel part of something bigger than themselves. Thoughts?

Thursday, May 17, 2012


There are two things I want to say about the title of this article.   

1. If you have done everything right there may come a time when you think “If we weren’t so picky maybe we would have more volunteers”.  DON’T do it.  Remember back in “turnaround” you sat down with leadership and made decisions about what you needed to require to take in volunteers?
You needed Background checks so you were sure you had good people – a background check is cheaper than a lawsuit for not checking. 
You required IS100 & IS700 so everyone had a common operating language and understanding.
Stay the course, if you start cutting corners, you will end up with a mish-mash of folks with different qualifications, and once they talk and find out there is no standard, the good ones will be gone.

2. Work with your volunteers to figure out what parts of your mission they are excited about, and go there first.  You need to build excitement and satisfaction among your volunteers, this will lead to them talking about the great things they are doing. This will bring in more volunteers.  At this point you may get request to do things that are not your mission or that you may not have volunteers interested in doing. Don’t do it.  Many of us have a wide range of skills and tasks in our groups, but again if it’s too far out of your main mission say no.

These two steps will keep your volunteer group focused and on track to succeed.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Turn Around II

I received some questions and request for an expansion of this topic, so here goes!
The first thing to do (after recognizing there's an issue) is to make a plan.
Think of the categories that you have to audit; these are what I think are the defined areas:
1.     Planning
2.     System & Material Review
3.     Gathering constituent opinions
4.     Analyzing the data
5.     Developing an action plan to make improvements

1.    PlanningWrite a plan and validate it with others in your chain of command and some trusted volunteers. Set a time line, and stick to it.  This is important without a time line you could get mired in minutia and never finish.
2.     System & Material review is pretty simple:
a.     Recruiting - Look back at the recruiting that has happened; where/ how much time spent/ how many applicants did you get (Hint: if you don’t ask new applicants where they heard about you they won’t tell you)
b.     On-boarding process (application through your filing system) – What does the application process look like? How do you file their paperwork? How do you make sure you have it all? Is it secured? This is also where you look at compliance? Are they trained to the correct level?
c.      Orientation- how do they know they belong? What are they part of?  There is a big push to do online orientations the volunteer can watch from home. I do not like that, I want to look at my new volunteers, I want them to see that I care about them and am invested in them.
d.     Drill/Exercise/Training - What types of training is being offered? What type do the volunteers want?  What is missing? How do you keep them in the fold and not have them disappear. More on this later
3.     Ask the volunteers – use something like survey monkey. Ask them a mix of rated questions and open ended questions. Don’t worry about what they say, it’s about the program not you.
4.     Now the hard part- analyze the information – what does it say?  You really want to come up with answer to issues; below is an example issue from my turn around.
Multiple documentation pieces missing from hard copy files
Utilize the volunteer appreciation to catch these up
A new paper checklist was developed and matched to each file. This will be used in the future in order to keep all files correct

    5. Fix it. Take the information you have collected and write a timed turn around plan. make sure you fix the front of the program first. No sense adding to the problem.
You probably have a lot of data, compose it into an executive report and present it (probably in PP) to your managers and the rest of your department.  It is important that everyone know what you have to do to turn around the program.

It can be done, I took over a program that was only about 100 volunteers and dormant and in 2 years grew it to 400 volunteers and last year our volunteers served over 1,200 hours just on Public Health missions.
Go get em

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The turn around

This is the blog post I hesitate to write, but need to.  The big question is what if I take over a volunteer program that is broken? The answer is fix it.  If you are in the enviable position of taking over and fixing a program, mark yourself lucky.  It is one of the most fun and fulfilling times of your volunteer management career.
So first -Slow down.  Stop and look around, make a plan, start with where you want to end up.  
  1. End Goal - “A dynamic volunteer group with active, qualified volunteers who are utilized by other departments due to their success on previous missions."  It may take a while to get there, but it’s a goal.
  2. What are your agencies requirements? - Do the current volunteers meet those requirements (for us it was NIMS & ICS training).
  3. Survey your program from top to bottom - how do you process them, where do you get them, what do you do with them.  Internal process (paperwork, checks & balances), do you have support above for what you need to do. Think of everything, and review it.  Take your time do it right.
  4. Survey your volunteers- Do you have the right volunteers? why did you join? What do you like about volunteering with us? What would you like to see change? How can you help? How long have you been here? Ask them, they will tell you.
  5. Review your findings with your leadership. Review it with the volunteers.  Tell both groups your plan.
  6. Two communications to volunteers are next:
  • Tell the volunteers who meet all requirements thank you! 
  • Tell the volunteers who do not meet all requirements thank you, and here is what you need to do to continue as a volunteer.  I know, I know what if they leave? Then they weren't really volunteers.
You aren't done yet; you need to provide a path and encouragement for the volunteers in the second group to accomplish whatever steps are missing.  I typically do three communications, the first two by email, the third by snail mail.  After the snail mail I just stop communicating and archive their files, if they ever decide to come back they don't have to start over again.

It’s tough to turn around a program, but in the end worth it.