Communication with Teen Volunteers

October 26, 2011

Communication can be a major challenge for Volunteer Administrators. In my role, I coordinate the Junior Volunteer program for students age 14-18. I have found that communicating information to these volunteers in a timely manner can be difficult. While bulletin boards are great and newsletters are invaluable, I often need to send notice of last minute issues and updates to this group of volunteers.

Traditionally, I’ve relied on phone calls and emails to reach our Junior Volunteers. However, it’s tough to catch them on their cell phones during the school day, and according to ComScore’s 2010 Digital Year in Review, email use among 12-17 year olds dropped 59% in 2010 (  So, I set out to figure out a way to text the JVs.

Prior to starting my research, I knew that I didn’t want to use my own cell phone. I also knew that I wanted the students to “opt in” to receive texts. I searched online and found a few suggestions on how to send text messages to large groups of people. Each method had positive and negative features. The most popular suggestion I found, was to set up a Google Voice number and text from that number. The downside to this option is that you must constantly update an excel spreadsheet with volunteer phone numbers and cell carriers. Also, through Google Voice, you can only send a text to 5 recipients at a time and there is a limit to the total number of texts you can send out. This could prove to be an issue if I were trying to reach the large group of JVs we have in the summer months.

The simplest suggestion, and the one I went with in the end, was to set up a Twitter account and text through Twitter. Twitter accounts are free, and the tweets that I send out appear in the JV’s text in-box as regular text messages. Once my Twitter account was set up, I advertised to the Junior Volunteers that they could sign up to receive text messages. To receive text messages, they simply text the words “follow USERNAME” to 40404. The downside to this method is that I have no way of knowing who has decided to receive texts and who has declined. However, I know that it is working because just last weekend I sent out a text saying, “we need subs for Saturday morning,” and two JVs picked up shifts!


For more information see the twitter blog at


Amy Lobitz

Volunteer Coordinator

Fairview Southdale Hospital


Changing Of The Guard: A “Top Ten” List Of What New Volunteer Coordinators Should Know

October 18, 2011

Here at Children’s Hospitals & Clinics of Minnesota, our department has been in transition.  My co-worker Molly Lamon has reduced her hours to casual status, and my Minneapolis “partner-in-crime,” Ben Reed, recently departed to take a managerial position at Abbott Northwestern.  It’s been awesome to welcome my new co-workers, Kristi Kehrwald and Ingrid Schmeling, onboard:  their enthusiasm, creativity, and fresh ideas have added a lot to our department already!  Their presence has really made me think about the many things involved in our work as volunteer coordinators, and how difficult it can sometimes be to sum up the “heart” of what we do.


In preparing for new co-workers, it’s easy to get lost in the details of parking contracts, photo ID badges, or personnel forms.  As I’ve been thinking more and more, though, here is my personal “top ten” list of the thoughts that I want to impart to my new co-workers!


10.  With any spare time that you may have at home, work on your lunges & knee bends: you’ll be jumping out of your chair multiple times a day to answer questions, assist with lockers, provide directions, etc.!


9.   Volunteer Services offices are great storage places for extra food.  This being said, encourage volunteers to help with the actual food consumption;  it’s easier than you might think to polish off five cookies a day!  (Oops…did I just incriminate myself?)


8.  Never underestimate the power of a sincere and heartfelt “THANK YOU.”


7.  Working in Volunteer Services gives us the unique opportunity to connect with a wide variety of individuals and departments across our organizations.  So, on those days when the phone won’t stop ringing, take a moment to be grateful for special requests and projects (no matter how tedious they seem at the time!).  These opportunities allow us to meet so many different people, and assist so many different departments.


6.   At the same time, it’s okay to say “no” to projects or requests that aren’t in your volunteers’ best interests.  Sure, it might be nice to have someone hold a broken door open for three hours, but would you want to be that person?  Odds are that your volunteers won’t, either.  Keep tasks and projects as rewarding and meaningful as possible, or break them down into manageable pieces so that one person isn’t stuck filing and collating for hours (unless, of course, that’s what they really want to be doing)!


5.   Distractions are not necessarily bad.  If you’re in a middle of writing an important e-mail and a volunteer walks in, it’s equally important to take a break from what you’re doing to say “hi.”  People are more important than paperwork.


4.  Along with #5:  building relationships is key to success in volunteer management.  Take the time to ask volunteers about themselves:  their interests, hobbies, families, and future ambitions.  It’s fun to have things to check back on with people from week to week, whether it’s their latest test or their most recent “grandkid pictures!”


3.  Technology can be incredibly helpful in making our jobs easier.   There’s no substitute for face-to-face communication, but be creative in thinking what “tech tools” you might be able to use to connect with your volunteers:  Facebook, YouTube, blogging, etc.!


2.    Everyone has been the “new kid” at least once in their lives.  Remember what that feels like when you bring new volunteers onboard:  presenting a patient, encouraging, and welcoming demeanor does a lot to put people at ease.


And finally, the number-one tip for new volunteer coordinators, in the words of my former co-worker, Ben:


  1. 1.      Smiling + being yourself + listening to others + being human = SUCCESS.


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

High Skilled Volunteers: Transition into Retirement

October 14, 2011

Many individuals who have been with a company for a long time are being encouraged to find volunteer work as part of a transition between their paid work with the company and retirement. Some companies are able to pay their employee while they are in transition. Many of these individuals are looking for high-skilled volunteer positions, where they can put their knowledge and skills to work. If your organization is ready to work with individuals with a high degree of skills, and you are lucky enough to have one of these knowledgeable individuals to work at your organization, it becomes a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Michael Shay was one of these individuals. Michael was employed with General Mills for 18 year as a Senior Research Chemist and was responsible for the information systems. He interfaced with the IT staff to develop solutions that analyzed data. In January 2008, Michael was looking for an organization that he could put his skills to use.  Michael found Hammer, an organization that supports adults and children with developmental disabilities.  Why Hammer? Michael replied, “Everyone was so friendly and full of passion. It wasn’t just a job; it was about people’s lives.” Michael started working with Hammer’s IT department and developed training manuals, started building some applications for Hammer’s intranet, and start learning more about database management and virtualization. During that time, Michael also assisted MAVA’s Marketing & Technology Committee with their move to a new website and database management system. Michael volunteered with Hammer for 5 months and in June 2008, he was hired as a full-time staff in the IT dept. While hiring Michael was not anticipated when he started working with Hammer, hiring him was a natural choice when an opening became available.  Michael has since taken over the database management and also troubleshoots. He enjoys working at Hammer and states, “I have learned so much. There is a lot of looking towards the future, which is impressive in a non-profit organization.”

Many volunteers are looking for high-skilled positions. Some are no longer interested in the office work and want to offer more to organizations that are willing to put their skills to good use. Organizations can look at what is needed in their organization but more importantly, can look to the volunteer and find out about their passions, skills, and interests – and see how you can make it work within your organizations.  Non-profits organizations that put high-skilled volunteers to work doing what they are passionate about can make it a win-win situation for both parties.


Katie Bottiger

Director of Volunteer Resources


Piloting New Volunteer Roles

October 4, 2011

In this time of organization needs and various departments reaching out with new and untried ideas for volunteer roles, those of us in volunteer management need to be seen as partners not naysayers. Yet we also need to uphold the high standards necessary to ensure that each role we present to volunteers offers quality, mutually beneficial relationships and a meaningful job that values their time.

One approach that seems to work is labeling these trials as pilots. (Click here to see the Program Exploration Process).  This enables volunteers to agree to trying a new position, knowing they can give us honest feedback to either make the role better, cease the role or increase the volunteer participation if it is a success.

We have experienced all of these outcomes in our many trials these past few months.  As times get and stay tough, more and more creative ways to partner with volunteers are sought as solutions from staff who feel overwhelmed.  We have found that offering trials meets the needs of the department to try the role as a volunteer.  It is also a way for us to educate people about what having a volunteer means and what it takes to make it a positive experience.

We meet with the person who requested and ask them if this has been discussed by the entire department.  A short list of our requests is attached.  If they feel that they have the support, have enlisted a go-to person, have communicated with staff, have a place for the volunteer and a specific outlined, identified job that will use their time completely, we agree to the trial.

The next step is asking a veteran volunteer who is comfortable with providing honest feedback. We ask if they might be interested in a new role and would be willing to try the position for several shifts.  When we have identified the volunteer, the go-to staff person and the first shift, we then ask the staff supervisor to again communicate with staff and welcome that volunteer or their first shift with a pre-established orientation check list.

Here are some of our outcomes:

  • A successful role that we are expanding, incorporating modifications, with nurses in the emergency department
  • A disappointing role in a clinic where the time was not well spent, staff were unaware of the volunteer role and the time spent for the volunteer was not of value
  • A successful role in a surgery department escorting parents between areas
  • A volunteer role in a department that seemed to be promising volunteers paid employment and eventually was seen as a union issue and discontinued
  • An evolving role of dogs in service with a new role in the surgery department

Using the pilot concept, people are more willing to see us as collaborators and problem solvers.  Seeking a veteran volunteer to trial the new idea offers a leadership role to someone who is comfortable to offer feedback and who will stay with us if the role is not successful.  Being able to request feedback and transform the position without labeling anything a failure is less personally insulting to the department or members of the concept team.  Piloting these ideas puts us in the limelight if they succeed.    We can then offer more opportunities to volunteers that will truly have impact and sustainable outcomes.

Sometimes failures can give us as much insight as successes, so I say trial, pilot or whatever you want to call it, but give it a go if the idea has the foundations laid to move forward.

Then, come back to the MAVA blog and share it with others!

Sandy Bergeron
Director of Volunteer Services
Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota

Facebook: Children’s of Minnesota Volunteer Services