Three Days of Conferences, Four Highlights to Share, High Fives All Around

gif of clown spinning and changing into wonder woman
Actual before and after of me this past week.

Do you ever come back into the office after a few days at a conference and feel like people won’t recognize you because you’ve learned so much and you feel yourself changing all the time and you’re actually a new person now? That was me last week and again this Monday.

Last week, I managed to attend three days worth of conferences. Two were with Chelsea at the Light City U Social Innovation Conference and one solo day at the Maryland-DC Campus Compact’s Service Learning and Civic Engagement Conference. You may have seen our live-tweet feed on the Volunteer Maryland Twitter! If you didn’t (and even if you did, really), I’m going to be using this blog to highlight and unpack some of the best things I heard. 



The Purpose Economy and Volunteer Programs

Aaron Hurst, CEO of Taproot

Our morning speaker for Light City U’s first day was Aaron Hurst who spoke about the ways in which our economy will shift its focus from information onto finding purpose, what he has dubbed the “Purpose Economy,” and how this shift will influence Baltimore’s economic landscape. To Hurst, purpose is about enhancing relationships, doing something greater than yourself, and personal growth and experience, and people will be looking for that more and more in their lives.

It’s a pretty interesting and exciting idea (and I encourage you to watch the video below and learn more), but how does that translate to our work at Volunteer Maryland? It means that we have to strive to make purpose a focus of volunteering programs. This means that volunteers and potential volunteers want to be able to build relationships with others, they want to hear about the impact that they are making, and they want to know more about how they fit into the mission of the organization they are working for. So start planning those socials, sharing those statistics, and getting your directors involved in the volunteer program, because that’s what people–particularly millennials–want more of.


Thinking Better, Doing Better

Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, III, President of UMBC

As a UMBC alumna, President Hrabowski will always have a special place in my heart as the college president who walked the campus while waving at students, most of whom he knew by name. His presentation at Light City U certainly did not disappoint (especially since I got a picture with him beforehand). President Hrabowski told the story of his own journey to social justice and creating change in his communities, and he inspired us to embrace the struggle and never never never give up.

By the end of his talk, President Hrabowski had the whole of the Columbia Center standing up and chanting, “Thoughts become words, words become actions, actions become habits, habits become character, character becomes destiny.” This mantra is so important, because it means that change comes through the simplest means: thought. All we have to do is be open up our minds and we can change the world.



Skill Sharing, Just Do It!

D. Watkins, author of The Beast Side and professor with the University of Baltimore, in conversation with Lance Lucas, Founder of Digit All Systems

D. Watkins and Lance Lucas had a sort of fishbowl conversation at Light City U, where they discussed skill sharing. Both men have made their way by doing so. D. Watkins as an acclaimed columnist and author is the founder of the BMORE Writers Project, which aims to teach writing to the Baltimore community and thereby empower Baltimore to write its own story. A profile on Lucas and Digit All Systems by Baltimore describes, “a nonprofit group on East Lexington Street that offers computer certification courses, Microsoft certification, programming courses—even a class in Lego Mindstorm robotics.. Digit All Systems is providing a pathway out of poverty for unemployed Baltimoreans, one A+ computer programming certification course at a time.”

Though both of these men have spent much of their time building up industries and programs around skill sharing, they also agreed that skill sharing is simple. All you have to do is have a skill and teach it to someone who wants to learn. For volunteer programs, this might mean creating opportunities for volunteers to do some skill sharing with other volunteers, clients, or staff. When we are able to share our skills, we not only learn more and thereby increase the scope of work we can do, but we also create relationships with people further enabling that purpose-driven economy.


Asset Mapping and Building Foundations Among One Another

Alice Murray, business administration student at George Washington University

At the Maryland-DC Campus Compact’s Service Learning and Civic Engagement conference, I was able to participate in a workshop by Alice Murray, a business administration student at George Washington University, who was also volunteering with Lift, a national organization that is working to break the cycle of poverty. Inspired by her time as a volunteer coordinator with DC Engage, Alice presented a set of best practices for asset-based volunteering, community organizing, and service learning. Although asset-based approaches are nothing new, Alice’s discussion was incredibly enlightening and offered insight into how the theory can be put into practice.

Alice explained that the difference between asset-based and need-based approaches are that need-based approaches focus on filling in gaps, and asset-based approaches are founded in looking at what we already have and building from there.yarn tangle To demonstrate this, she led all of us workshop participants through a session of asset mapping, where we stood in a big circle and would throw a ball of string to people we had connections with. For example, someone might say, “I served as an AmeriCorps VISTA; who else has served as a VISTA?” This person would then hold onto one part of string and throw it to one of the VISTA alums in our circle. Then the VISTA alum would think of another fact about themselves, maybe, “I live on the Eastern Shore of Maryland,” and then throw the string to another person in the circle. The object of the activity is to connect everyone in the room with the string and and thereby create a web among us. Alice also noted that instead of getting overwhelmed by the literal gaps between each of us (needs-based approach), we create a foundation through the things we share (asset-based approach).

For a volunteer program, this means leveraging the assets that we have. For example, a small non-profit might not have a lot of money to do a big volunteer recognition event, but it might have a lot of connections among people with resources that could be used in other creative ways. A community theater might give some free tickets to a dress rehearsal, a local caterer could sponsor and donate some food. The coworker with incredible crafting abilities could create some recognition gifts.

When we employ an asset-based approach to our volunteer programs, we do what  Aaron Hurst, President Hrabowski, D. Watkins, and Lance Lucas, all champion in some way. We are creating an opportunity to share our skills among others, which further entails becoming open with others and possibly changing our thinking. Further, we are creating purpose-driven opportunities for people to grow in their communities.



Diversity 101: Four Steps for Encouraging Diversity in Your Organization

Diversity graphic with lots of different colored human figures

A popular topic these days is diversity. It is one of increasing importance in politics, education, entertainment, science, etc. It’s also a word that is especially relevant to nonprofits as they seek to create opportunities for those in need. Subsequently, it is also a goal that many of our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators strive towards as they build great volunteer programs. Many of our VMCs are working in organizations where diversity is a key value and a guiding principle, and they want to build up a volunteer program that reflects this.

A key thing to recognize about diversity in volunteer programs is that it is a process and not necessarily an end result. In other words, it’s not about reaching a quota, but about ensuring that our volunteer programs encourage people of different racial backgrounds, sexual and gender identities, national origins, abilities, religions, ages, etc. to join your group and make positive impacts. That said, I wanted to share some first steps for encouraging diversity in your volunteer program:

Do your own research and be ready to listen

The first step to creating a space that encourages diversity is to do your research. Know what sort of diversity you want to see in your organization, and see what already works in organizations that are like yours. If you or a colleague knows of a stellar program that has had some great successes in recruiting people of different abilities, for example, look into what they did to create that. This might be as simple as looking at a blogpost another volunteer coordinator wrote, or it might be about reaching out via email or phone and inviting them to a lunch meeting. Sometimes it can also just be about your own journey to become more sensitive to people different from you–this can involve readinglistening to Podcasts, etc. 

Keep in mind with this work that you don’t want to turn into what blogger, Vu Le, calls an, “askhole.” This is someone who always asks others to solve problems rather than taking the next steps to create their own solutions. In striving for diversity, be conscientious about what you’re asking others to do for you. Vu Le references his own experiences as a person of color that is repeatedly asked by his peers to speak in a committee and counsel them on how make their organizations more racially diverse. Although these askers are ready and willing to listen, they’re also not paying attention to the work that has already been done by other organizations, the books and articles that have been written, the models that have been created, etc. So before you start making your asks, know what’s already out there by doing the research.

Build partnerships and create a network

A great way to build up diversity is to create a web of mutual support among communities, groups, businesses, and other organizations. If you want more women to volunteer, consider reaching out to some women-owned businesses in your community. If you want more kids and their families volunteering, consider reaching out to a school nearby (and really playing on the need for students to complete service learning hours for their school AND for clubs they might belong to). Maybe you need more college age kids–well, most colleges have a service learning office. By building partnerships, your are (hopefully) creating a mutually beneficial system.

Keep up your relationship

Honor the relationships you forge as you to create your diverse volunteer program. Whether you’ve partnered with another organization, a colleague, a community, or maybe you’ve recruited a new volunteer, keep up that relationship by crediting their contributions and remaining receptive. For example, if you are specifically interested in recruiting more young women of color as mentors, consider creating leadership trainings (or sending them to some that already exist). In doing so, these mentors will expand their leadership experiences and also feel valued by your organization.  As with any relationship, the ones you make while you try to encourage diversity take some upkeep.

Do it

Coming back around to Vu Le’s article, we often get stuck thinking that we have to start from scratch to find solutions to our diversity problems. We can get so caught up in the problem that we don’t necessarily do the research, build up our partnerships, and keep up with our new (or old) relationships. Once we’re able to create clear and accessible deliverables and design a focused plan for achieving these deliverables, we need to start implementing them. The journey to diversity can’t stop at good intentions! We have to do it!

Some final thoughts: Encouraging diversity is about being proactive, rather than reactive. In other words, go into your diversity strategic planning with lots of your own knowledge, a willingness to adapt, and a diligent attitude. Also, sometimes the work we begin in encouraging diversity does not see tangible growth for a while, but as long as you continue to learn and make your organization a more accepting place for all people, you will be creating positive changes–and that’s really the ultimate goal, right?

Tales from the Road

As the Program Manager of Volunteer Maryland, I feel so lucky to get to work with an incredible group of individuals.  Our AmeriCorps members, better known as Volunteer Maryland Coordinators (VMCs), work tirelessly to support and refine volunteer programs at nonprofit organizations across Maryland.  With the amazing guidance from their designated supervisor (a.k.a. their Site Supervisor), wonderful things happen in less than a year of partnership.

I get to learn more about these efforts when I visit each of our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators and Site Supervisors each fall/winter.  For the past two and a half months, I have engaged in what we like to call our “site visit season.”  This is a very educational experience in which I travel with a member of our Support Team to meet with each of our 30 partnership sites.  This is one of my favorite parts of my role, as I get a first-hand glimpse of where our AmeriCorps members are serving, as well as gain the opportunity to reflect and learn more about their service.

The knowledge and stories from the site visits have been so insightful and inspiring. Listening to such positive progress is an important reminder of the great things Volunteer Maryland Coordinators are able to accomplish in such a short period of time. I’d like to share with you a few reflections from the site visits that exhibit the impact of our AmeriCorps members.

Volunteer Maryland Coordinators research and implement smart tools that refine the process of volunteer management.

For example, Brinley, VMC at Court Appointed Special Advocates of Washington County, recently instituted a new tracking tool called OurVolts.  OurVolts can be used as an app on a mobile phone, making the process of reporting hours convenient and accessible for volunteers. This process will not only be easy for the volunteers, but help the organization gain an accurate understanding of how many hours their volunteers will serve.  As a result, this data will also be useful for reporting and recognition purposes.

Volunteer Maryland Coordinators understand the importance of recognizing volunteers.

The effort to celebrate the hard work of volunteers has a lasting impact on the quality of the volunteer experience.  An example of such recognition occurs in Baltimore where Montressa develops a regular “Volunteer of the Month” spotlight to recognize outstanding volunteers who serve at the St. Francis Neighborhood Center.  Also, Jessica, the VMC for the Frederick County Department of Aging’s Meals on Wheels program, is developing ongoing recognition events, and will soon be hosting a celebration titled “We Love Our Volunteers” (cleverly tying into Valentine’s Day!).

Volunteer Maryland Coordinators build meaningful connections.

This occurs on a such a significant and multi-faceted level.  Bintou, who serves at Moveable Feast, facilitates orientations for volunteers before they assist with preparation and packaging of nutritious food that will go to individuals who are fighting severe illnesses.  Through her orientation, Bintou connects volunteers with the mission and history of the volunteer program, making the experience so much more effective and rich for all involved.  Over at Education Based Latino Outreach, Johana builds connections with staff through weekly meetings, during which they discuss the progress of volunteers and additional resources to support volunteers.  Through relationship building, the staff can work together more cohesively to best support and supervise volunteers.

While the next piece of information did not necessarily derive from the site visits, it would be a shame to not include it!

Volunteer Maryland Coordinators recruit and manage qualified volunteers as a result of their strategic outreach methods.  I’m proud to share that since October 2014, this group has recruited nearly 900 volunteers and helped manage over 4000 volunteers.  Collectively these 4000+ volunteers have served over 9,000 Marylanders.  Wow!

This is just a snapshot of some of the great work that’s being done by the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators in Class 27, and so much more is yet to come this year!

Reyna and Johana (EBLO)
Reyna (Site Supervisor) and Johana (Volunteer Maryland Coordinator) are a great team at Education Based Latino Outreach.
A group pose during a site visit with Partners In Care. Each person in the photo is or has been an AmeriCorps member with Volunteer Maryland!

Celebrating AmeriCorps20 through Environmental Stewardship

This year AmeriCorps is celebrating its 20th Anniversary by highlighting six focus areas identified in the Serve America Act and last month AmeriCorps membersBlog Post Image around the country focused on Environmental Stewardship. Volunteer Maryland currently partners with Natural Partners, MAEOE, and Chesapeake Natives, and at these sites, VMCs are engaged in activities that raise awareness and advocate for environmental issues.

At Natural Partners, Kelly Lawhorn recruits volunteers who promote environmental stewardship in many ways.  One way is through the Monarch Sister Schools Program by which hundreds of students, teachers, community members, and parents learn the importance of pollinator gardens and habitat restoration.  Through their Monarch Program Natural Partners has recruited 14 volunteers who have donated 96 hours of their time training Maryland students to be environmental stewards by helping them learn how to care for gardens and creatures that rely on those gardens for food and shelter.  Kelly believes that, “Students will gain knowledge from this program that will follow them throughout life and teach them to act responsibly when it comes to protecting and restoring our natural environment here in Maryland and beyond.”

Next we have VMC Gabrielle Cantor who serves at MAEOE and is recruiting volunteers to aid schools around the state of Maryland in increasing their levels of environmental stewardship.  The VMCs that Gabrielle recruits volunteer to assist with MAEOE’s Green School Program which establishes green school culture at Maryland schools.  By establishing this culture, the Green School Program is helping to motivate entire schools into seeing environmental stewardship as a school wide behavioral change that molds students into adults who will be more environmentally conscious.  As Gabrielle says, “The great thing about the program is that it often starts with one or a few people interested in making a change in their school,” and those like-minded people can really affect change.  In the past few months as the VMC at MAEOE Gabrielle has led 84 volunteers into serving 168 hours of service to the state of Maryland through their schools.

Over at Chesapeake Natives Inc., Selwyn Ramp is working to help promote the use of native plants throughout the state of Maryland.  Selwyn is working to engagdownloade Maryland volunteers all over the state in activities related to botany and gardening of native plants. He is also working to promote forest restoration through the removal of invasive species.  By getting the volunteers involved in these activities Selwyn is helping to educate Marylanders about invasive species management as well as teaching them how to share their knowledge and training with other Maryland citizens.  Selwyn has managed to engage a wide array of volunteers from all walks of life.  Selwyn says that the secret to his success is the fact that, “I’m able to find niches for all types of volunteers; I’ve never had to say no to a volunteer because I can also find a way for them to serve.”  Since his time there, Selwyn has served Chesapeake Natives Inc by recruiting 103 volunteers who have served a total of 1,155 hours and as a result 12,325 sq ft of environment has been preserved and impacted by grown plants.

As an AmeriCorps Program with a strong focus of Environmental Stewardship it is always rewarding for me to see the great work being done by our VMCs. As environmental stewards, our VMCs serve to aid in preserving the environment here in Maryland by not only engaging volunteers in environmental projects, but also by ensuring that knowledge is a part of the experience.  By doing this, the Volunteer Maryland Program is helping to shape a generation of environmentally conscious Maryland residents.












Horses for Courses

Another spring site visit season has come and nearly gone at Volunteer Maryland.  Each April, Program Manager Laura Aceituno and the Volunteer Maryland Peer Leaders begin traveling the state, visiting Volunteer Maryland Coordinators and their Site Supervisors.

These visits provide a wonderful opportunity for us to witness the fact that while they are all applying the same principles of volunteer management, each Volunteer Maryland Coordinator has, during the service year, become an expert on the specific needs of her service site’s volunteer program.  And now more than ever, we see what a good fit VMCs can be for their service site.

Case in point:  Laura and I had the pleasure of visiting Kaitlyn Fernald at the Greenwell Foundation in Southern Maryland, where we got to have our meeting outdoors, baby!  (see also: Livin’ the Volunteer Maryland Dream).  Among other great achievements, Kaitlyn has helped Greenwell streamline its online volunteer application and sign-up system.  It is now easier than ever for people who want to volunteer at Greenwell to do so, whether they are teenagers who would like to volunteer at Greenwell’s summer camp, or horse lovers who would like to participate in the equestrian program.

Key to Kaitlyn’s success has been her willingness to put herself in the equestrian volunteers’ shoes (which, according to Kaitlyn, should be never be soft or flimsy).  Kaitlyn had never been on a horse before her service year, but made a commitment to taking riding lessons and becoming an equestrian volunteer at Greenwell this year.  These experiences gave her insight into what equestrian program volunteers at Greenwell need, and she used those insights to craft a volunteer program that is responsive to those needs, while also ensuring that they do excellent work to help Greenwell accomplish its mission.

Go Kaitlyn!

VM Program Manager Laura Aceituno visits VMC Kaitlyn Fernald and her Site Supervisor Cara Fogarty at The Greenwell Foundation.
VM Program Manager Laura Aceituno visits VMC Kaitlyn Fernald and her Site Supervisor Cara Fogarty at The Greenwell Foundation.

You Grow, We Know: How Partnering with Volunteer Maryland Could Work for You

Here at Volunteer Maryland, we are in the midst of receiving applications from potential partners for the coming year.  Each year, Volunteer Maryland partners with about 30 organizations, each one unique in what it does and how it operates.  Going to meet next year’s partners has been exciting and inspiring for me.

What I’m learning is that nonprofits evolve into a role, and the pieces of the nonprofit grow organically with it.  If one division of the organization discovers a need for volunteers, maybe it will start recruiting.  And then maybe another staff person may have started recruiting from their own network to fill a different volunteer role.  Now, as they move forward, they need to bring all of that together and figure out key items such as which staff member do volunteers report to?  What is the written description of the volunteer role?  And who’s tracking how many volunteers there are and how many hours they give?

As the organization grows in size, the methods that may have served it once now are no longer enough.  The staff may have an intuitive sense of what is working or not working for their organization, but they may have not had a chance to check in with staff members, the volunteers, and the community they serve to really assess that all needs are being met.

Volunteer Maryland fits in here as a means to take a step back, review the entire situation, and look at what changes might make the volunteer aspect of your program thrive.  And the Volunteer Maryland Coordinator comes in providing new eyes to the problem, often providing extra manpower, that can provide new and novel solutions.  Whether our partners are responding to a new or shifting need, or are improving on what is already in place, they do so to better engage and serve their community.

Spring is a time of renewal for the world around us, and it can be a time of new beginnings for your organization too.  If you are thinking about partnering with Volunteer Maryland, do not hesitate to be in touch.  You can even join us on May 9 for a lunch & learn and have any questions answered.  It’s a relationship that can benefit both you and your community for years to come.


Managing Up

Today I had the pleasure of participating in “Volunteer Engagement Toolkit: Realities of Resource Allocation,” a fantastic training given by Kate Scherr-Adams of KS Solutions.   Sponsored by the Association of Community Services and the Volunteer Center Serving Howard County, this training focused on the true cost and value of volunteer programs.

Scherr-Adams’s audience today was comprised mostly of volunteer coordinators, and the questions we pondered are perennial:  How do we build a culture of respect for volunteerism? How do we prove the value of our volunteer programs?  And how do we leverage this respect and awareness into adequate organizational resource allocation for volunteers?

Many of Scherr-Adams’s excellent suggestions were familiar to those of us from Volunteer Maryland.   She recommended, as Volunteer Maryland does, that volunteer coordinators listen to staff about what they need from volunteers and give staff an opportunity to help design volunteer opportunities.  One great idea that Scherr-Adams shared is from Ivan Scheier’s Building Staff/Volunteer Relations:  Provide staff training on working with volunteers, and then commend staff when they have done a good job in this area.

Scherr-Adams ended by emphasizing that a big part of the “managing up” that volunteer coordinators do involves demonstrating the success of the program through both numbers and words.  My fellow Volunteer Maryland member, Stephon Hutt, was able to share with the group that Volunteer Maryland has already given her all the tools she needs to measure the outcomes of the volunteer program at Center of Help.  And Scherr-Adams’ was quick to give a shout out to Volunteer Maryland regarding the training we give our members in telling stories about their volunteers.  

Today’s training was a great reminder that all of us in the volunteer management world are continuing develop an impressive array of best practices.  And if you want to know more, Mickey Gomez, Director of the Volunteer Center Serving Howard County, live tweeted the entire training.

Describe It to Me

“We need volunteers!”   Who hasn’t heard that refrain before?  Just about every organization out there could use some help.  But a general call for volunteers tell us very little.  What will the volunteer do?  How does that task relate to the mission of the organization?  What community need will the volunteer meet?  How?  What are the requirements of the position — is there a big time commitment?  Is prior experience necessary?   What are the benefits of the position?  Sure, volunteers don’t get paid, but there is plenty they can get out of it:  professional experience, an opportunity to socialize with others, and the satisfaction of addressing a compelling need, just to name a few.

A good position description begins with a great title.  Ironically, volunteer positions should not have the word “volunteer” in the title.  For example, when people volunteer at Paul’s Place, a nonprofit that serves the community in Pigtown and Washington Village in Baltimore, they have the opportunity to help give clothing to guests.  Rather than fall back on boring descriptions of clothing distribution and a clothing bank, Paul’s Place recruits “Personal Shoppers” and “Organizing Pros”  to help guests choose items from a room that is set up like a regular clothing store.  

These fantastic job titles already do a lot of the work when it comes to explaining the purpose and requirements of the position.  The rest of the description is really just an elaboration.  In the case of Personal Shoppers at Paul’s Place, it looks like this:

Purpose: Provide personal support and foster a sense of dignity to guests while choosing outfits.

Description of Duties: Assist guests, one-on-one, with picking out clothing in the department store designed shopping room.

Qualifications: Interest in shopping and picking out matching outfits with a cheerful and caring attitude.

Benefits:  Offers hands-on experience with one of the community needs AmeriCorps addresses.  allows participants to to connect with other volunteers, and learn about poverty and its effect on a neighborhood. 

A strong volunteer position description attracts the best volunteers and allows those who are not a good fit to self-screen.  It is also a great marketing tool, in that it does a great job explaining the mission of an organization.  

So the next time you want to sell people on volunteering for you, remember:  Describe it to them.  

Hello! My Name Is…

This week, about half of the class of VM25 will meet for a regional meeting hosted by VMC Casey Lowe at the beautiful Accokeek Foundation.  Between a potluck lunch and an exploration of the beautiful Piscataway Park, we will discuss an issue that comes up time and again for VMCs:  establishing new relationships with other organizations.

One of the many lovely vistas we are sure to enjoy at the Accokeek Foundation tomorrow.

One of the earliest stages of volunteer program implementation is identifying good sources of potential volunteers.  These could be local colleges, houses of worship, nonprofits, or for-profit businesses.   For some VMCs, reaching out to these organizations easy.  Their service sites have long standing relationships with them, and reaching out is like getting back in touch with an old friend.

In other cases, however, VMCs are making cold calls.   While the VMC might have good reason to believe this new partnership could solve everybody’s problems and create wonderful opportunities all around, the organization she is about to contact has never even heard of her service site.  What should she do?

There is no one answer to this question, but here are a few pieces of advice, courtesy of the wise and wonderful Volunteer Maryland Staff:

Know exactly what you want before you approach another organization — Make a very direct ask.  Write a script if you need to!

Do your homework.  Make sure you are clear on the history, mission, culture and capacity of the organization before you come calling.  Do they have any history of helping organizations such as yours?  Is there any overlap in your networks?

Determine what is in it for them.  Why should this organization encourage its members to volunteer for your service site?  Will doing so contribute to service learning requirements?

Streamline the process.  If you have all your ducks in a row before you contact, say, a school counselor, you can pitch a very simple process that you have already developed for her to direct students to your organization.  Busy people love it when most of the work has already been done for them!

Ask a staff member from your service site to come along.  Creating lasting, sustainable partnerships with organizations whose members will reliably volunteer at your site is a long, labor-intensive process. Don’t be afraid to ask a staff member to join you in this venture.  Staff involvement in the partnerships you develop greatly increases the likelihood that those partnerships will flourish long after you have completed your service year. 

Finally, don’t be afraid!  Once you’ve done the legwork and your homework — pick up the phone — great things await.

Orienteering and Orientations, Part 2

Recently, I went to an orientation for volunteers at the Pratt Library.  Since Volunteer Maryland just had a training in which all of our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators practiced their orientation speeches, I was interested in comparing a real-life example to what we had been discussing.

I have to admit that my earlier metaphor about being dropped in the wilderness was true here; I went in knowing next to nothing about volunteering with the library.  But right away I was given my compass: an info packet containing all of the relevant information about the library and volunteering with them.  The following steps the volunteer coordinator took all led to me feeling well-equipped to volunteer with them.

One the first things the volunteer coordinator took out of the folder was a name tag for me, and stickers and a pen.  The name tag was a great touch; I immediately felt included as a part of the team.  Before I even have started volunteering, I was being treated like a colleague.  The freebies weren’t required to make me feel good, but they never hurt to give as well.

The coordinator also made sure to express how important volunteers are to the library’s work, and how much my service was appreciated.  She then told me specifically how I would be shown that appreciation: I would have the respect of the staff, have an opportunity to attend special events, and be invited to a volunteer appreciation party in the spring.  Now not only am I feeling good, I’m feeling excited!

As we started into the specifics of the volunteer position, she listed both options relevant to the interests I had listed, as well as options that were serious needs of the library.  She was genuine in expressing their needs, and then listened to me when I responded with my thoughts on which I’d like to pursue.

On my way out, I was introduced to one of their volunteers who had been with them for ten years!  I would be starting by volunteering at occasional special events, but now I had a model of how my volunteering could evolve into working as an integral part of the team.  Once the orientation was done, the coordinator followed up immediately with more information about specific volunteer opportunities we had discussed.  I felt quite well-oriented at this point and secure in traversing the library’s volunteer terrain.

It was a great experience to see an orientation at work so soon after our practice with orientations.  So many of these elements were contained in our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators’ orientations; I know they too will be able to make their volunteers feel welcomed and well-equipped for their service.