From Printing Press to WordPress: Sharing Volunteer News Through Blogging

April 28, 2011

Providing relevant news and timely updates to volunteers is a huge component of our work as volunteer coordinators.  Up until 2010, our Volunteer Services department at Children’s Hospitals & Clinics of Minnesota shared this news in a quarterly print newsletter, “The Volunteer Star.”

As our department editor, my feelings about pulling together each issue were akin to watching a fifteen-inning baseball game:  I enjoyed parts of it, but overall, felt as though the entire thing took far too long.  In order to produce three “Star” issues in a calendar year, I collected submissions in April, August, & November. This system worked well in terms of advance planning (and allowing enough time between issues to fill up each page), but was problematic for events that occurred immediately after these publication deadlines.  For example, if we published a newsletter in the last week of April and held our annual scholarship dinner during the first week of May, this scholarship news wouldn’t be published until nearly three months later.

After collecting the content (articles, photos, statistics, etc.) for each issue, I submitted this information to our communications department, at which time a graphic designer formatted our issue and prepared it for printing.  We then shipped the proofs to a printing company in order to produce approximately 1800 paper “Stars.”

From beginning to end, the process took a great deal of time, money, and energy—and at the end of the day, we weren’t even sure how often people were reading the newsletter that we’d taken such great care to produce.  Our department decided that it was time for a change—and this change came in the form of transitioning the “Volunteer Star” newsletter to a WordPress blog, now called the “Red Vest Review.”

Our department has experienced the following benefits by transitioning from a newsletter to a blog:

1.  Cost Savings

            By utilizing an online blog, rather than a newsletter, our department has been able to save the hospital over $4,000 in annual producing and printing costs.  We are able to produce this blog 100% “in-house,” with no outside contracts for editing, printing, or graphic design.  Setting up a blog on WordPress (or a similar site, such as Blogger) is incredibly user-friendly, and entirely free of charge.

2.  Going Green!

In this age of sustainability and environmental awareness, our department increasingly felt as though we could not justify producing 1800 12-page newsletters, three times a year.  We transitioned into the blog initially by sending the “Star” out as an electronic newsletter; however, the 12-page, picture-filled document proved to be too large of a file for many computers to download.  Moving to a blog was a perfect solution:  we saved paper AND cut down on filling volunteers’ inboxes.

3.  Relevant, Accessible Communication Within Our Primary Demographic

Here at Children’s Hospitals & Clinics of Minnesota, two-thirds of our volunteers are 25 and under, ten percent are under 17, and our average volunteer age is 29.  The majority of our volunteers at Children’s are students (or adults on the go!), and we’ve discovered that it’s much easier for them to visit a blog than it is to keep up with sending paper newsletters to constantly-changing addresses/campus mailboxes.

4.  Increased Ability to Communicate News in a Timely Fashion

Perhaps the best part of the “Red Vest Review” is that we are now easily able to communicate news & updates to volunteers in “real time.”  With this blog, we are immediately able to post pictures that we take, or write news updates within minutes.  We can easily print out blog entries for volunteers to take home, and, in fact, this has been a wonderful way to connect with volunteers of all ages.  We have an eighty-two-year-old volunteer who has been at Children’s for thirty-three years.  We highlighted her on our blog for Volunteer Recognition Week and printed out several copies of the article for her to mail to her family.  She was also able to share the web address with her children and grandchildren, which was an awesome way for the entire family to see her profile almost immediately after it was posted.  Our volunteers have greatly benefited from being able to view volunteer news and updates right away, without a several-month lag in production from newsletter to newsletter.  The entire process is efficient & easy.

I invite you to check out the Children’s Volunteer Services blog at www.childrensmn.org/blog/redvestreview to view some of our recent updates!  Also, if you’re thinking of developing a blog for your own Volunteer Services department, please also feel free to contact me via the e-mail address…I’d love to chat further with you!

Happy blogging!

-Jenna Barke, Volunteer Coordinator, Children’s Hospitals & Clinics of Minnesota

jenna.barke@childrensmn.org

 

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Volunteer Experience on Resumes

April 7, 2011

Placing volunteer experience on your resume is a way to demonstrate your full range of skills and capabilities, show productivity in employment gaps and to set yourself apart as an involved citizen, willing to take on new experiences and make things happen.  Now the tough question is where to place this experience on your resume.  Keep in mind that volunteer work should be presented with the same value, importance and level of achievement as paid work.

There are a few different placement options that numerous people have taken note of:

1. Add a section to your resume called “Community Service”, or    something of the like

  • Shows interest outside of work experience

2. Present volunteer experience along with paid work

  • Gives ongoing volunteer service same weight and importance as a paying job
  • Most recommended placement of volunteer experience

As with posting your paid work experience, try to include as many similarities between the prospective position and the applicant’s experience.  For instance, if you are applying for a management or lead position you could focus on your volunteer experience leading other volunteers or taking charge of a project.

To emphasis that volunteer work should be presented with the same value, importance and level of achievement as paid work, consider these resume-writing suggestions:

    • Prepare a service statement. This summary includes volunteer position title, a description of duties and responsibilities, skills required, dates of service, number of hours contributed and training received. Also include evaluation of performance and contribution to the organization; in-service training; workshops and conferences attended.
  • Numbers stop the eye and reinforce the value of the volunteer experience. Employers want to know quantifiable results as well as skills. Explain the outcome of your work with some data: amount of money raised, number of clients helped, percentage of successful interventions, etc. You can also assign a dollar value to volunteer hours in each assignment, so that volunteers can point to the equivalent monetary worth of their contributions.

It is recommended that you NOT use “volunteer” as a job title.  It’s an adjective and alone does not convey the work that you have accomplished.  If you volunteered teaching children you could use the title “Tutor”, or if you volunteered in an office setting, “Office Assistant.”

The following guidelines can be helpful for volunteers (and others) when writing resumes: (http://www.energizeinc.com/art/resumes.html)

  • Use an easy-to-follow format. Use bullets and phrases that are clearly written and can be read quickly.
  • Use the same format throughout. For example, use all CAPS for the job title and Caps and Lower Case for the name of the organization. Or vice-versa, highlighting whichever is the more important.
  • The specific address of the organization is not necessary; city and state are sufficient.
  • Make sure there are no gaps in the time sequence. If there are, explain them in the cover letter.
  • Use “Professional Experience,” not “Employment History” as a heading. This broader phrase very nicely includes volunteer work.
  • If the volunteer position was full-time or ongoing, clearly note that on the resume. Most employers will assume that volunteer work is very part-time, short-lived, and/or sporadic.
  • Continuing education and on-the-job training should be placed after high school and college information. The volunteer manager’s records should help volunteers recall various training sessions. This information serves to verify that skills presented elsewhere in the resume were learned in a formal setting.
  • A Summary of Skills and Experience is the area of the resume for volunteers to emphasize special skills, whether formally or informally learned. List three to five bulleted points at either the beginning or end of the resume. For example: “Proven motivational skills” or “Easily adapt teaching style to reach all age groups” or “Excellent organizational and project coordination skills.”

Watch for future research being done by MAVA dealing with job seeking volunteers.

Nicole Burg

Member Outreach Coordinator, Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration