Evaluation and Fund raising and Relationships, Oh my!

Last week we had one of our Joint Training Days – a full day of training for Volunteer Maryland Coordinators and their Site Supervisors.  These days are an instrumental part of our program and I always enjoy them.  You already know that I think our VMCs are pretty fantastic, so allow me a moment to say I think our Site Supervisors are, too.  Each Site Supervisor is different.  We have people who work in development, communications, and direct services; we have Executive Directors, teachers, and people who do everything from writing grants to cleaning the bathroom.  Just like our sites are diverse in size, scope, and mission, so are our Site Supervisors.  What they all have in common is that every one of them has taken on an additional role this year – that of supervising a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator.  It’s one more hat they wear and, like many of us in this field, they have a whole closet full of hats!

One of the great things about Joint Training Days is the ability to spend a full day working on the volunteer program.  I definitely understand how challenging it can be to get out of one’s office or the day-to-day operations!  It’s far too uncommon to spend a day planning and evaluating progress when you’re already stretched thin.  So, we try to make sure that the Joint Training Days are useful – that it is worth the time and energy it takes away from the day-to-day.

So, last week, we focused on two big areas: evaluation and fundraising.  At VM, we spend a significant amount of time on program evaluation.  We know that asking good questions can help us to get at programmatic effectiveness and, ideally, help us make decisions and take actions to make our program better.  On this Joint Training Day, each VMC and Site Supervisor were able to spend a couple of hours really looking at the development of their volunteer programs, which should lead to good planning and prioritizing for the remainder of the AmeriCorps service year.  It’s these kinds of efforts that we hope help make the volunteer programs strong and sustainable.

Another thing we know we need, particularly when looking at program sustainability, is money.  That’s where our second workshop of the day came in.  For me, this was really interesting.  We had a great guest trainer join us.  Jan Kary facilitated a workshop that explained some basics of fund raising and helped us to see some of the overlap between coordinating volunteers and raising funds.

Now, as AmeriCorps members, Volunteer Maryland Coordinators are not involved in fund raising, though many of the Site Supervisors are heavily involved in development in all its forms.  One of Jan’s points was for everyone to “keep up their antennae,” to be aware of some of the linkages between volunteers and donors.  In a case study that a small group of us were assigned, we were to explore what we would do if we received a call from a large company looking to participate in a day of volunteering.  How would we approach the conversation?  Were there avenues for a longer-term relationship?  With whom in our own organizations would we talk to about donations that may come with or after the volunteer day?

One big take-away from the day at large was the value of relationships.  We have to evaluate the satisfaction of our volunteers so we can keep them engaged and serving.  We have to nurture relationships to engage volunteers and donors.  We want to think about our messaging with our community rather than to the clients we serve.

So much of our work is about relationships and this training day really reinforced that.   It’s really hard to provide training for a group of people who are doing such different things and have such varying levels of interests and experiences, but my hope is that everyone can learn a little something new each time we meet.  We can all benefit by thinking about our relationships, whether focusing on developing programs or recruiting volunteers or raising funds.

I recommend you spend a bit of time thinking about the relationships that you nurture (or need to nurture!).  How are you ensuring that your volunteers are satisfied?  How are you keeping donors engaged in meeting your mission beyond writing checks?  What relationships are you building to better serve your clients?

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