Celebrating Volunteers!

May 1, 2012

The question of the month, what are you doing, or what did you do, for National Volunteer Appreciation Week?  Large events, small events, many words of appreciation or few words of appreciation, it’s hard to know, in my opinion, what is the “correct” thing to do.  How do we ensure that every volunteer knows how much we appreciate them?

A few years ago my boss had our volunteer services team read a book called “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman.   At first I was a little confused about why in the world she would ask us to read this book for work.  BUT it didn’t take me very long to figure out the benefit of this book in my work, and also in my home.

I didn’t realize that every person feels loved/appreciated in a different way.  Much to my surprise, not everyone is a quality time person.  Some people have the love language of affirmation or receiving gifts, huh, seems strange to me!  There are more love languages, five to be exact, that are identified by Chapman in his book.

As a volunteer coordinator I think that it is important to know a few things; first, not all people are like me, second all people are different from each other and third, it sometimes takes a long time and a lot of discussion to really know what the love language of a person is.

What, you may ask, is the point of talking about love languages and Volunteer Appreciation Week all in the same blog?  Well, I think that they go hand in hand, and teach us a very important lesson.  While Volunteer Appreciation week is one week out of our very busy volunteer year, it is just one week.  How are we to make every volunteer know how much they are appreciated in one week?  Is it possible?

Knowing about the five love languages and what makes people feel loved/appreciated helps me to know that no, as a volunteer coordinator I am not going to be able to make each volunteer know how much we appreciate them during Volunteer Appreciation week.  I will still plan events and work to let as many people know how much we appreciate the work that they do at Lyngblomsten, but the work of appreciating volunteers is something that needs to happen every month, each week and even every day.

Because I know that there is a large population of people that feel loved/appreciated through words of affirmation and through acts of service, this year for volunteer appreciation we had “thank you” cards printed with our theme (Celebrating the Magic) and an open space for each supervisor to write a personal thank you.  With the help of a great intern and Volgistics, we identified each volunteer and their supervisor(s).  I hosted two “card writing” sessions, furnishing bagels and coffee, for the supervisors and had them come and write on their volunteers cards.  The benefits of getting the supervisors together in this way were somewhat of a surprise to me.  They shared stories about volunteers with each other, they asked me questions about how to “deal” with different volunteer situations and they were able to get tips about how to show appreciation to their volunteers.

Shelli Beck, Lead Volunteer Coordinator, Lyngblomsten


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