Summertime Blues?: Process Improvements for Summer Volunteer Programs

July 21, 2011

Like many other volunteer organizations, we have the “wonderful dilemma” of receiving a slew of applications during the summer months.  During the four years that I have worked in Volunteer Services at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, I feel that our summer applicant numbers have only increased.  With this reality in mind, my co-workers and I wanted to brainstorm new ways to improve and streamline our summer onboarding process.  Below is a small sampling of changes that we made to our summer program for summer 2011:

1.  Reduced Our Summer Application Period

In past summers, we have accepted applications between March 1 & May 1.  This year, we reduced this application period to six weeks (March 1-April 15).  We hoped that doing this would decrease our applicant pool and encourage students to apply early.  This worked well, but as we still received several hundred applications, we will be reducing our timeline next year to four weeks (March 1-April 1).

2.  Conducted Interviews In “Waves,” Based On Application Date

As many of us know, sifting through a pile of summer applications can be overwhelming.  We decided to combat this by interviewing applicants in “waves,” based on their date of application.  Once the summer application period closed, we e-mailed all applicants to communicate the fact that we would be doing several waves of interviews, and expected the entire process to take several weeks.  Under this system, volunteers who applied earlier (i.e., closer to March 1) were notified of their summer status before those who applied later (i.e., closer to April 15).  We felt that this system would encourage interested students to apply early, since our program typically fills up quickly.

3.  Implemented A Summer “Attendance Contract”

Due to the short nature of the summer program (typically 10 weeks), we wanted to set a higher precedent for attendance than we have in the past. The following text is the agreement that all new volunteers were required to review and sign before coming onboard with us:


Please read and carefully consider the commitment required of Children’s volunteers. By checking, you are agreeing to each statement.

_____ I agree to make a minimum commitment of at least 40 hours of service (or no more than 2 absences) this summer.

_____ I understand that if I do not meet this minimum requirement, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota is not obligated to report anything except the dates and hours of my service. No evaluation forms or letters of recommendation will be completed.

_____ I understand that volunteers who are repeatedly absent will be asked to discontinue volunteering.

_____ If I cannot attend a scheduled shift, I will notify Volunteer Services.

_____ I will learn and follow the expectations for Children’s standards of behavior, and will conduct myself in accordance with established professional guidelines.

_____ To the best of my knowledge, my academic, personal and/or professional responsibilities will not conflict with my scheduled volunteer shifts.  I understand that when a volunteer misses a shift, it may cause planned activities and services for patients and families to be delayed or canceled.

Volunteers were asked to sign off on this before submitting an online application, and were presented with this again at their volunteer interview.

In summary:  summer volunteer programs can be hectic, but please don’t feel afraid to implement new changes and look at improvements to your own processes.  Here at Children’s, we feel that making these changes has heightened the status of our program and encouraged students to truly take their duties seriously.

Our fall application opened yesterday…can you believe it?  Wishing you and your organization the very best for the remainder of July & August!

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