If you’ve been reading the VM blog for at least a few weeks, you’ll know that my fellow Regional Coordinator and I are in the middle of our second round of site visits to our current partner sites. The first round of site visits, during November, December, and a tiny bit of January, were held to discuss the Volunteer Maryland Coordinator’s work plan and their goals for the year. The second round of site visits is held to discuss the VMC’s successes and challenges so far, continue the ongoing conversation that we’ve been having all year, and talk about plans for sustainability of the volunteer program. You see, VMCs are in a unique position in that they only have a year (well, 11 months) or sometimes two (if their site applies for a second year) to build a volunteer program that will last beyond their AmeriCorps year. Each year, approximately 90 percent of site partners report that they significantly increase their ability to recruit and manage volunteers as a result of the VM partnership. What’s the secret? Well, these second site visits are part of it, but another part is talking to VMCs about sustainability from the very beginning.
VMCs work hard to make their volunteer programs last and even if you don’t plan on leaving your organization any time soon, thinking about what would happen if you were not there tomorrow to run the program can be really eye opening. Does anyone else in your organization know where your volunteers come from, how you recruit them, what to do when someone calls to find out how to volunteer, how hours and volunteer contributions are tracked, and so on, and so on? No? Well, it would be a good idea to start thinking about that. Volunteer programs are more successful when the entire staff of an organization is invested in their success and a good first step towards getting that investment is making sure everyone knows how things work.
Whether you plan on managing the volunteer program at your organization until you retire or moving on in the next couple of years, here are a few tips to ensure the sustainability of your volunteer program:
- Create a volunteer program calendar. Include the dates of major events as well as deadlines for creating marketing materials, recruiting and interviewing volunteers, and volunteer recognition. Include ongoing volunteer management deadlines such as monthly outreach, recognition, and anything else you do on a regular basis.
- Make a volunteer program flow chart that details all of the steps in the process, from when someone calls to find out how to volunteer with your organization to what happens when they retire from volunteering or are asked to leave (that never happens though, right?).
- Make electronic versions of important documents that only exist on paper or in your head. If you don’t have time to scan or type up all of these things, recruit a volunteer to do it for you! This works for those paper documents as well as that wealth of knowledge about your organization’s volunteer program that resides in your head. Having to dictate your thoughts about the volunteer program to someone else will help you to understand what about the process isn’t clear and may need more explanation for someone less familiar with the program than you.
- Organize your contacts. There’s nothing worse than knowing that another organization (school, business, etc.) has provided great volunteers in the past but not knowing who to contact at that organization to get the ball rolling on another partnership. Make sure your contacts are up to date and stored electronically so that they can’t be lost.
- Make sure someone knows where all of this important information is stored! Better yet, make sure everyone knows where this information is stored. It doesn’t help to get everything in order and then not tell anyone about it!
Of course, these are just a few tips for creating a sustainable volunteer program not all of them may be right for your organization, but they are a great jumping off point. If you’ve left a volunteer management position before to go to another organization, how did you ensure the sustainability of your program? How do you work towards sustainability in your current position?