Taking Volunteerism to the Next Level through Service Enterprise

Blog post written by Lisa Joyslin

Two years ago, the volunteer program at the Minnesota Historical Society “needed a little jolt.” That’s how Jean Nierenhausen, Manager of Volunteers and Interns, describes it. The program was doing good work – engaging over 2,000 volunteers at sites throughout the state – but something was missing.  “We knew we needed to bump up to that next level, but we didn’t know how to do it,” Nierenhausen explains.

The organization found the jolt it needed in the Service Enterprise Initiative, a training and certification program developed by the Points of LIMG_5368ight Institute and managed locally by the Minnesota Association of Volunteer Administrators (MAVA) and HandsOn Twin Cities (HOTC).

According to Nierenhausen, Service Enterprise “enabled us to re-look at our program. It re-energized not only our volunteer services staff but our entire organization.”

The program offers organizations a comprehensive diagnostic assessment of their volunteer program, sixteen hours of training, and up to ten hours of consulting time. But it is different from traditional volunteer management trainings in that it engages the entire organization. The staff members trained from the Minnesota Historical Society ranged from front line staff to the organization’s deputy director, and included volunteer services staff as well. Engaging staff outside of volunteer services, says Nierenhausen, “is critical for change.”

The Minnesota Historical Society certainly has seen change as a result of the Service Enterprise Initiative. Because senior leadership became aware of facility needs, seven new volunteer workstations were set up, including computers and printers. The Education Department and volunteer staff worked together to create a video where their Executive Director describes the importance of engaging volunteers, and this video is now shown at new volunteer orientation. The organization even brought in an outside speaker for a volunteer management training and an unprecedented 55 staff attended the full-day event.

Nierenhausen and her team are making great strides as well. They conducted a “Return on Volunteer Investment” study to better quantify the value of volunteers. They completed focused brainstorming sessions with staff at a department level, meeting with 120 staff in 16 programs and generating 261 new ideas for engaging volunteers. Now they are using this information to develop a model for skills-based volunteer engagement that will better equip them for onboarding and utilizing this valuable workforce.

One of Nierenhausen’s most important takeaways from the Service Enterprise Initiative was that her department did not have to do all the work alone. Other staff were not only willing to help, but wanted to do so. Before Service Enterprise “we didn’t know that,” Nierenhausen explains.

The process of becoming certified as a Service Enterprise takes more than just the training sessions, and often takes six months to one year to accomplish. For Nierenhausen, having the Minnesota Historical Society certified was a huge accomplishment. She notes that there are not a lot of opportunities for recognition in the field of volunteer management, and achieving the status of Service Enterprise was, to her, equivalent to receiving an award. It “validates what we’re doing. Someone else is saying you have a good, quality program.”

Nierenhausen believes Service Enterprise could be the spark for a lasting change at other organizations, just as it has been at the Minnesota Historical Society. “It helped us prioritize and point ourselves in the right direction. I highly recommend it.”

MAVA and HOTC are now accepting applications for the Fall 2015 Service Enterprise cohort. Learn more information here or by contacting Sara Wessling (MAVA) at swessling@mavanetwork.org or Zeeda Magnuson (HOTC) at zeeda@handsontwincities.org .

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