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