We Are All In This Together: Building a Healthy and Lively Volunteer Program

Rut Kessel and Patricia Harmon are Volunteer Manager and Executive Director of CornerHouse, a not for profit dedicated to listening to children and teens for the past 25 years. They are presenting “We Are All In This Together: Building a Healthy and Lively Volunteer Program” on June 13 at HandsOn Twin Cities. Read on for a sneak peak of what to expect from their workshop.

We have worked together for 3 years. Right from the beginning we acknowledged a mutual respect for the role we each played as Volunteer Manager and Executive Director. We worked consistently in a sort of professional “dance” in which we partnered to assure that we built and sustained a vibrant and dynamic volunteer program at CornerHouse.

We are excited about the presentation we will be making at HOTC and decided it would be fun to work on this blog together. We also agreed to ask each other questions because it reflects the mutual interest in, and appreciation we have for each other’s work. We’ll talk more about that in our presentation!

Rut: Increasing volunteer usage within a changing organization takes a special kind of change agent. How do we motivate the staff to make sure all volunteers feel welcome and useful, and projects truly benefit from volunteer/staff teamwork?

Patricia: In many ways the challenge for a change agent is consistent with the inherent issue of change in any organization: figuring out what the new approaches could be and convincing everyone that the new order will be better than the old. It’s also very important to work with individuals and teams in a participatory approach so that each person has an opportunity to contribute to the new structure.

In our organization, we needed to change the big picture before the volunteer program could grow. We needed to begin to realize a vision that we are a community organization and that we wanted to, needed to, invite the community in.

Initially, this was difficult. We did a lot of staff training and conversation about delegation, looking at what work could be shared. We also talked a lot about how to value the contributions that volunteers made. We chose leadership in our volunteer program who assured that there was success for both the staff and the volunteers. Without that leadership, the program growth would have failed.

In a couple of cases, we had to literally just give it a try. When it worked, the team came on board. They loved having volunteers sharing their work and participating in our day to day activities.

Patricia: Recruitment of volunteers would seem to have at least a couple of dimensions: one, the practical, detailed tactics and two, the energy and feeling behind finding a good match for our organization. What are some of the elements of your motivation and can you give us a couple of examples of what you find works really well in recruitment?

Rut: Recruitment for CornerHouse is very specific depending on position. In all recruitment efforts I make sure that I have the tools in place I will need, like detailed position descriptions; applications that let me find out skills and motivations; and various forms I will need for the hiring process. 

I start recruitment by casting a very wide net, and then as I receive applications and inquiries I can start my sorting process.

When interviewing for our Administrative positions, I make sure the candidates have the admin skills we will need for the various projects we have. We are always willing to teach and train, but we also have to weigh how much of that we will have time for. 

When interviewing for our Forensic volunteers, I look for interpersonal skills; skills around children; clear understanding of confidentiality; healthy boundaries and so on.  One type of recruitment is very technical while with the other, it’s more dependent on my gut reaction.

When recruiting keep an open mind and be a good sales person for what you are recruiting for. Volunteers would like to help and be part of something. But they would also like to get something out of it. Find out what that is and make sure that is something you can provide them with.

We will see you soon! We are looking forward to sharing and learning from you.

To learn more from Rut and Patricia’s experiences, join them on June 13 at 9:00am.

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