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Volunteer Centered Organizations

Lessons Learned from Organizations that Deliver Most of Their Services though Volunteers

Minnesota Alliance for Volunteer Advancement (MAVA) leader Judie Russell has pondered a question for years of how organizations that historically have made the decision to deliver most of their services through volunteers are different than organizations that deliver services primarily through staff, with a volunteer department as an add on. Now, when the pressures of tight budgets and increased demand for service have created openness in some organizations to engage volunteers in new ways, the time seemed right to explore this question for strategies useful to organizations trying to rely on volunteers in new ways.

From a discussion of close to 30 leaders from organizations that deliver most of their services through volunteers in January, 2013, in St. Paul and a follow-up discussion in April we gained many lessons learned from organizations that deliver the majority of their services through volunteers. Over the next year MAVA will be gaining insights from Greater Minnesota communities and offering workshops to share lessons learned and releasing further research on the topic. Thank you to the Otto Bremer Foundation and InCommons, an initiative of the Bush Foundation for support of this project.

Key factors for success in delivering most services through volunteers:

1. The value of volunteers is embedded in the organizational culture – everyone honors, trusts and values volunteers.

2. The role of staff is to support volunteers. If staff is not supportive of the value of volunteers they are in the wrong place.

3. The organization acts on volunteers’ ideas and gives volunteers a voice.

4. Volunteers are involved in high responsibility roles and leadership roles.

5. A good organizational structure is in places with well defined roles for volunteers. The best practices for engaging volunteers followed.

6. A focus is on building relationships – between volunteers and volunteers, volunteers and staff, volunteers and people served – true bonds.

7. The organization stays in tune with changes in who is available to volunteer in volunteer’s expectation change and adapts with the changes.