Piloting New Volunteer Roles

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


One Response to Piloting New Volunteer Roles

  1. Jay Haapala says:

    Good idea Sandy. It makes me think about our volunteer management jobs and how an understanding of the change process is really important to us. At Minnesota Children’s Museum we’re about to “pilot” new assignments for our youth volunteers, we’re “prototyping” internships that last the entire school year and “testing” a streamlined application process for our adult volunteers.

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