Volunteer group at Floral park, Photo from KAB website
Every local government wants the perfect volunteer position – one that serves the organization and the community, as well as the volunteer. And what every local government needs is a successful volunteer program. One that is transformative, elevated, and prioritized as critical to meeting the overall mission and vision of the organization.
The successful implementation of volunteer programs can both increase meaningful engagement with residents and discover creative ways to meet expanding needs for local government services with limited resources, as many recent local government initiatives have shown. Yet there is an overall lack of focus on utilizing volunteerism, not only to meet service needs but also as a strategy for positive citizen engagement.
Here’s four volunteer program planning basics from Build a Successful Volunteer Program to Drive Growth and Recovery to incorporate and engage volunteers in local government PLUS a volunteer program planning checklist.
Identify a champion. Having an officer, leader, or volunteer professional in place to advocate for the volunteer movement is critical for institutionalizing and establishing city/county-wide implementation. The director’s office is charged with the following primary responsibilities, enabling the city/county to have a topic expert in a formal role.
- Promotes and recognizes involvement throughout city/county government and to the community at large
- Advocates for volunteer resource managers and volunteer involvement
- Fosters collaboration with community organizations; supports projects related to volunteer involvement
- Serves as the “voice of volunteerism” for the city.
Measure volunteer impact. The most often cited measure of volunteer programs tends to be that x number of volunteers gave y hours and that time spared the organization adds up to z dollars. Although those numbers show an important perspective, other key indicators of volunteer program efforts should be given careful thought.
For example, in February 2010 the City of Dublin, Ohio, embarked on a project at all departmental levels to inventory programming efforts and further integrate performance measures. In doing so, their volunteer resources department established key performance measures. Establishing such outcomes helps to align a key focus to financial stewardship, promotes development of programs in the right ways for the right reasons, and enables easier reporting of outputs and outcomes.
Using citizen input. A community needs assessment is an important part of designing any service project. Assessing community needs can be as simple as taking a walk through a neighborhood or as complex as surveying the entire city. It is important to focus on the community when identifying what is needed. By working together with community members, volunteer managers will build community awareness and help ensure community buy-in and support for the organization’s service efforts.
Program coordinators can use a variety of methods to assess community needs, including: brainstorming, community dreams, community walk, surveys, and more. Select one that fits the program’s capacity and the scope of the volunteer effort. A one-day project may benefit from an assessment technique that is less time-consuming, whereas for a long-term project, in-depth assessment ensures that resources are being utilized effectively.
Recruit volunteers. Recruitment is the process of enlisting volunteers into the work of the organization. Because volunteers give their time only if they are motivated to do so, recruitment should be seen as the process of showing people they can do something they already want to do. Recruitment may be for long term or short term projects.
Many jurisdictions have found that – aside from having their own internal volunteer service coordinators embedded within departments such as police or parks and recreation – building structured alliances with organizations such as HandsOn affiliates, the National Association of Volunteer Programs in Local Government, local Director of Volunteer Services in Agencies, university service groups, companies or corporate volunteer councils, United Way organizations, and state service commissions helps ease the stress of recruitment.