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Letting Volunteers Guide Your Program

Holly Daniels | Published on 3/2/2022
Holly Daniels, MAVA's Greater MN Program Manager, recently interviewed Bev Speltz, Volunteer Coordinator at Winona Volunteer Services in Winona, MN

Winona Volunteer Services offers programs such as Client Education, Coordinated Assistance, Food Programs, Home Delivered Meals, Holiday Projects, and The Clothes Shop. Their favorite MAVA benefit is Service Enterprise.

With COVID it sounds like your programs had to adapt quickly. How did volunteers handle all of the changes?

I can't praise our volunteers enough. Here was a group of volunteers who stuck with us as we Closed the Clothes shop from March to the end of June, changed the way we operate the food shelf by distributing pre-packed boxes of non-perishables, along with fresh produce and bread. The Home Delivered Meal program saw an increase in clients, however at some homes we were not able to change the way we delivered the meal, our volunteers still needed to enter the homes other clients were able to set a table by the door so we could deliver their meal and still be able to greet them from afar. 

But, I firmly believe that any time you have to change a process, you need to gather the input of those folks that are doing the job. It would have been really easy for us to say: “This is the way we're going to do it.” But instead we said, “The food bank is changing the way we are getting our food order. They're looking at packing boxes — how can we best distribute those? And what are your thoughts on this?”

And I think our Groceries on the GO program was a result of collaborating with clients and volunteers to meet the needs of our community, and asking together: How can we get those groceries from the food shelf to our clients? New services are created by listening to your clients, and asking, what are the needs of the community? And by analyzing currents trends and reviewing your data, and then asking, what does that indicate?

Another example is that we continue to mask here. In fact, we just had our volunteer meetings last week. And you know, Winona County is still kind of what we call a hot zone, meaning our transmission is high. And so we asked the volunteers, “What are your thoughts on continuing to ask shoppers to mask?” And they said, “You know what, at this point, with cases being high, we feel more comfortable if everyone continues to mask.” And so that's so be it, that's what we're doing. 
And we all pretty much agreed that, you know, once our transmission is lower, we will lift that masking mandate, but you know, it’s been ever-changing.

Have you had issues with your masking policies?

If somebody kind of makes a little bit of a fuss about wearing a mask, like, “I don't know why you're making us do this.” My response is always, “We just need to keep our volunteers safe and comfortable so that they can come volunteer with us so we can continue to have the food shelf open.” And then they’re fine with it. So it’s about meeting them on their level and having some grace for them because everyone’s frustrated.

When you talk about changing a process and first asking the volunteers what they think is best. Do you email? Do you survey them? Do you ask in person?

I do a combination of all. It is so important to listen to your volunteers.

We meet with our groups of volunteers every three months. And then we usually have two events per year. We have a spring event where we might have a picnic. And then we have a fall event for volunteer recognition. So I feel like we establish relationships with all of these groups of volunteers, and they know they can talk to us. 

We are currently in the process of designing a new building that will streamline the services we provide by having those services under one roof, we met with the volunteers of the food shelf, loading dock and Clothes Shop and asked them questions regarding their current work space (likes and dislikes), common threads were identified and we value the input received.

And you know, sometimes we have to make those hard decisions, that may not be what they want to hear. But, it’s giving them the reasoning behind why that decision has been made. And saying, if you have questions or concerns I'd be happy to meet with you one on one.  

And we may not exactly be where volunteers want us to be yet. But I tell them, “You know what, just give me some time. We're creatively thinking about a way to change this process. But just be patient with us. And I value your input.”

What would you say is the biggest value of MAVA to you?

I am a firm believer that Service Enterprise makes us reevaluate our processes. It makes us reevaluate our programming. It makes me as a volunteer coordinator take a look at how we do every part of volunteer engagement. It empowers us to want to follow best practices. But it's also just made us more streamlined with our peers. It creates a network of other agencies who have taken that step to create a volunteer management program that is superb. And we strive to be that.

And I love MAVA’s networking opportunities. I want us to be a role model for another agency that is potentially going to be or wants to become a Service Enterprise. You know, I want to be able to network with them and say, “Here are the job descriptions we’ve created. Here, this is our volunteer handbook.” And there are other volunteer coordinators who could be a great resource for me! I think that’s part of us getting together in our SE District Council group. and I’m excited to see where that’s going to go.