Placing Highly Skilled Volunteers in Highly Rewarding and Beneficial Roles

August 4, 2011

‘Betty’ indicated her interest in volunteering at the Science Museum just like everyone else, through an online application. But with Betty’s, in the notes section there was a cover letter and a day after we received her application we received her resume by email. No, she had not mistaken us for the HR department but was one of those young, highly skilled volunteer prospects we had heard about. She has an undergrad degree, a masters degree, years of experience in a science field, communication skills and a desire to stay busy and serve her community as she transitioned from raising kids back into the workforce. What on earth were we to do? Placing her as we usually do would not satisfy her but we have not had much experience with placing individuals who have such high expectations and abilities to give (not to mention, big repercussions if they don’t work out) before. We have many highly skilled volunteers with PHDs even, but many of them are from an older generation where interacting with the public, the social part that includes teaching, is why they like their role here. This new breed of volunteer seems to want to make an impact on the big picture, make a difference in our content, and interact with the movers and shakers, not just in our visitors’ experiences.

Our museum has a pretty innovative take on volunteer management but we have focused our time on many other projects and had not officially tackled the question of what to do with the skilled volunteer sector yet. We even have a grant volunteers are able to apply for that helps them influence our programming but, it happens on an annual schedule and is limited to working with one staff person and a budget of $1,000. Here was our chance to figure out how to integrate this type of volunteer into a project in progress instead of adding it outside of pre-planned programming.

Over the course of the last 6 months, from the day the volunteer started in one of our regular roles with the promise of more, two things had to be figured out: is this person reliable and everything her resume says she is and where can we put her where she will be well supported and satisfied? Luckily this particular volunteer was patient and we had a project in the works that was her specialty – a lead! A couple emails and phone calls later, I found a person who was on the project and wanted to support a volunteer who had this person’s background, what luck! A meeting was set to discuss support, project details and logistics that I sat in on to make sure the match was solidified. What luck, it went well!

This match, having given us insight into this very fruitful match has promoted us to act even more proactively to be able to implement more highly skilled matches but in as an efficient way as possible. How you ask? This month we will be hosting an hour-long workshop with staff to talk to them about how they can utilize volunteers behind the scenes and how we can support those efforts. This is our first step in figuring out who our internal partners will be so we can start to look for volunteers with specific skill and knowledge sets. Then it is a matter of promoting volunteers internally who match the requirements who have proven their reliability or recruiting externally using a HR/Volunteer Department hybrid interview and intake process. Sounds like a lot of work, but man am I excited!

Molly Kennedy Lageson

Volunteer Resources Specialist

Science Museum of Minnesota


Helping Volunteers in Job Search

March 17, 2011

According to MAVA’s 2010 report on The Status of Minnesota ’s Volunteer Programs In a Shifting Environment, 66% of organizations experiencing increased inquires about volunteering indicated the increase was primarily driven by unemployed people.

Depending on the geographic location of your volunteer program and the type of organization it serves, your percentage of unemployed volunteers seeking job-related benefits from their service might be relatively high or low.  However, it is certain that they are in your program and there are more of them today than there were 2 years ago.

We say that volunteering is a great way to gain new skills, fill-in resume gaps and “get your foot in the door”.  It’s a solid recruitment message, but is your volunteer program delivering on its promise to help volunteers in their job search?  Have your recognition and retention practices evolved to meet the needs of your job-seeking volunteers?

Aleisha’s blog, originally published by Young Nonprofit Professionals Network – Twin Cities, on her person’s experience as a job-seeking volunteer written to an audience of fellow job-seekers. The author, Aleisha Lee, specifically cites the type of benefits she has found meaningful.  If the Aleisha was a volunteer in your program, how could you best recognize her for her service and retain her as a volunteer over time?

Jay Haapala

Volunteer Services Manager, Minnesota Children’s Museum

President, Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration