Sunday, February 3, 2013

How many volunteers do you REALLY have

So you have worked hard, probably for a couple of years building your pool of disaster volunteers, and in a moment of empty space you think "How many of those names will show up if we need them?"  Which is either followed by a satisfying sigh or EEEKKKKKK!

When I was at the Red Cross we planned on only 40% of our volunteers showing up, due to many factors; vacation, they can't get off work, they were part of the affected population, they can't get there, they are not comfortable in the environment (Think H1N1).  Many searches of web articles list 50% show rate.  So whats a Disaster Volunteer Manager to do?

If you have 500 volunteers then best case you have a show rate of 200.  Is that enough to fill your mission? How many locations do you have to staff? How many shifts do you need to fill? How many people will work more than one shift?
The above are some questions you need to answer.  

The danger is if your management looks at your numbers and think you can deliver ALL of those volunteers, they are going to be disappointed in you.

So what can you do to get the maximum turn out for a disaster?  Here are some things that work for me and my program:

  • Communication - this is one of the most important steps. Don't sign them up and forget them.  If you deploy disaster volunteers, make sure you let EVERYONE know what the deployment group accomplished.
  • Train them - if they feel comfortable with the equipment they will need to use they will be more likely to show.
  • Train them how to protect themselves - I went to great links to get someone in to train on working in a Nuclear environment, why?  Because we have a Port! Because working with radiation is scarier than it really is.  Because its one of the scariest things that we could work in.
  • Deploy them - So I know the title is disaster volunteers and you can't just make disasters (well you can, but its illegal). But what will they do in a disaster? In my case its medical care, so we looked for opportunities to do medical care.  We currently provide care for the homeless at two shelters on a monthly basis.  We support city and Red Cross shelters with medical support, we do medical counseling at neighborhood fairs.  So look around and find someone who needs help and help them.
  •  Did I mention communicate - Email, Face Book, Linked In, give them things to look at, things to read. Tell them about the cool things THEY are doing!
  • Survey says - Annually (I usually do it in April) survey your volunteers; ask them some things you want to know. How long have they been volunteers? How often do they respond? What ideas do they have?, etc
  • Involve them - Give them projects. Give them leadership positions. Ask them questions.
  • Thank them- Remember they are volunteers, recognize their sacrifice and genuinely thank them for what they do.
 Lastly, make sure your leadership understands what it takes to do all this, that finding them, recruiting them and keeping them takes time and money. 
And please explain that you don't really have 500 volunteers!

Disaster Dave

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