At a recent Northeast MN District Council meeting, we heard from Taelyn Phillips, a Volunteer Recruitment Representative with the American Red Cross.
Taelyn shared their story of harnessing the power of feedback to reimagine volunteer opportunities to attract student volunteers.
We identified some steps in that process, and I think they show that innovation doesn't have to be as complicated as we sometimes think.
Step 1: Listen
The American Red Cross was already interested in attracting student volunteers, and had begun the work of reimagining some of their roles. And one off-hand comment from a high school student helped serve as a catalyst.
Taelyn's co-worker was visiting a local high school last year to promote Red Cross volunteer opportunities. A student approached him and said, "I know the Red Cross -- you said I couldn't give blood because I didn't weigh enough."
Apparently the student had been turned down from donating blood, and something about that experience put a bad taste in her mouth. Instead of dismissing the student, Taelyn's co-worker listened. He even asked the student for her contact information, and if she'd be willing to share more. The American Red Cross wanted to know how their organization was perceived by young people, and here was a young person who had a negative experience and wanted to share about it. They took the chance to listen.
Step 2: Get curious
They invited that student to share more with them about her perceptions of the Red Cross. Because she was interested in volunteering, they asked, "What does your ideal volunteer schedule look like?"
They also invited a recent college grad and former board member to share about her experience with the organization. They were interested to know: "Why did you choose the position you chose?"
"We can't just open up a new position for youth volunteers," said Taelyn. "First we need to ask them what they want and need from volunteering."
At first I asked Taelyn if she would call Step 2 Research And she said, "it's research in a sense, but it's really about putting ourselves into the shoes of those volunteers we want to attract."
Step 3: Tweak an existing role
After their conversations with volunteers and prospective volunteers from their sought-after group, they saw that student volunteers wanted roles that were "easy and interesting" with a balance of support and independence.
They took those learnings back to an existing volunteer opportunity: The youth recruiter role, which does virtual canvassing and outreach to recruit other volunteers over a large geographic area.
(Pro-tip: Rather than starting from scratch, which can feel like an overwhelming prospect, how can you take what you're already doing and make some minor changes to get closer to what people are asking for? Starting over is fine and good, but making tweaks can feel more approachable!)
Here are some of the tweaks that emerged:
- Developed a virtual work-along session as part of their onboarding for the role. That way, students can see what the volunteer opportunity was all about and better understand what they'd be doing. Also, If questions arise during the work-along, the supervisor is right there to answer it.
- They were able to create a role that students can do any time of day, with a set, virtual check-in meeting every other week to go over the priorities.
- To communicate, they offer various avenues: Redcross.com emails created for volunteers, a Microsoft Teams channel, and a texting service called Remind.
Step 4: Do a small experiment and listen some more
After tweaking the role, Taelyn's team started small, with one new youth worker. She said, "This was still new to us and we didn't want to overwhelm ourselves!"
They've brought more people on board and had huge success with the experiment, thanks to the continuous feedback they're getting from volunteers.
"We ask them, 'if you could change something about the role, what would it be?'" Taelyn said. "They want to know their voices are heard. That's how we've kept them engaged!"