Let Go and Let the Volunteers!

July 5, 2012

It’s July and I find myself between two annual events – a plant sale and a garden tour.  Two annual events that didn’t exist when I started working here. Two annual events that have raised more money for our program than any other fund-raising activities prior.  Two annual events started by volunteers!

I’ll be honest, I don’t like special events – as they say, “been there, done that!”  However, special events are usually key activities in the volunteer program leader’s job description.  When I started with our program in 2005, our only fund-raising was through calendar and book sales (mostly to our members,) and honorariums requested for master gardener volunteers to be present at local garden centers or for teaching community education classes.   Funds are raised to support our activities in the community (computers, LCD projectors, tools, seeds, etc.) and volunteer recognition.  When a huge garden center chain went out of business, and as some of the smaller centers disappeared, we suddenly found ourselves with a cash flow problem.

About this time, a group of volunteers attended a Master Gardener conference in Milwaukee.  This group came back to report that Milwaukee was raising funds through a plant sale.  Not only were they bringing in $50,000 annually, but Milwaukee was willing to share their model with us!  “Oh, great!” was my response, while actually thinking “oh-oh, here we go.”  Then, another group thought it would be wonderful to expand our “volunteer only” tour of master gardener gardens, and start to charge the public to join us – they also thought it would be great if we held demonstrations in the garden, so it would be a “learning garden tour!”  “Super.” I said, all the while wondering “will I ever get to spend time with my family again?”  As with many volunteer programs, I’m a single program coordinator working with a large group.  Frankly, I just didn’t see how I could manage two special events in addition to everything else going on with our program.  But, I did sense that there was a lot of energy around these two events.  Also, that if these events were to be successful, it would need volunteer support and not mine.  So, I let go and let the volunteers! And because of that, our bank account has slowly increased over the past 5 years.

What’s at work here was not rocket science, but basic project management principles:

Define the outcome:  Pretty simple – we were going to hold two special events to raise funds for our community programs.

Set timelines and deadlines:  This was also pretty simple, especially with an event.  It was easy set dates, and then work back from the event date to establish timelines and deadlines.

Work on the terms of the volunteer’s, not your own:  As mentioned earlier, there was only so much I could do to support this effort.  I let volunteers know I was available, but they determined what needed to be done, when it needed to be done, who was going to do it, etc.  I was only included when necessary – like getting contracts signed and covering expenses.

Budget:  Let folks know how much you’re willing to invest, and what will make the project.  Volunteers determined that $4,000 would be a good amount for them to work with.  That became the budget.  I did share with folks that all I wanted to do was to break even.  They were sure we’d bring in $50,000.  We actually netted $8,000 that first year, so truly a good investment.  I did share with our volunteers that if we just broke even, or lost money, we would really need to evaluate whether we’d continue with the events.

Delegate as much as possible; be flexible:  Both projects were under total volunteer control.  All I was asked to do was to purchase cash boxes and show up with cash the day of the event (which I conveniently forgot for our first plant sale!)

Celebrate the successes, and share with others!  We celebrate each committee at our annual recognition banquet, but the real celebration occurs after each event when volunteers hold their own recaps and celebrations.

Our finances would be much leaner had I said “no” when asked about these events.  I also think that the events wouldn’t be as successful if I was the one who said “hey, let’s have a plant sale!”  So, great things can be accomplished by just letting go!  Today’s volunteers seek higher-level roles and want to use their skills – this can be accomplished by just letting go.  Everyone can win when you let go and let the volunteers!

 

Terry Straub, Program Coordinator

University of Minnesota Extension
Master Gardener Program — Hennepin County

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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


What Is Service Learning and How Does Century College Utilize This Learning Tool?

April 11, 2012

Service learning is a type of experiential learning that engages students in service within the community as an integrated aspect of a course.  Service learning is designed to get students into the community for active learning related to what they are studying in the classroom.  Effective service learning courses involve students in course-relevant activities in partnership with a community organization, and structure opportunities for students to reflect on their service experience to gain a better understanding of course content and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility.

Century College biology project

There are three main elements of every service learning experience.  Service learning:

  • is reciprocal, meaning the student and the community organization both benefit from the assignment.
  • provides real-life application of materials so that students retain more course curriculum and come away with an appreciation for the role we all play in civic engagement.
  • always involves opportunities for reflection.  Reflection assignments are important, allowing students to think critically about the experience both during and after their service.

At Century College, if an instructor chooses to utilize service learning in a course, it is a required assignment of the course, often replacing a textbook with real-life experience.  Students who complete a service learning assignment should engage in meaningful, hands-on, real-world activities.

Century College elementary partnership

As just one example, the service learning assignment for an Introduction to Human Services course provides an opportunity for students to serve local nonprofits.  Students are learning about the history of human service; education and training; worker roles; agencies, programs and community resources; career and job opportunities; skills, knowledge and values of the human service worker.  Through the service learning assignment, they have a minimum of 25 hours of individual hands-on experience assisting agencies with projects such as tutoring youth, completing relevant administrative office work, helping with programming at transitional housing organizations, or leading recreational activities for seniors.  Students reflect in class discussion groups and through a final writing assignment.

The following are excerpts taken from hundreds of positive Century College student reflections about the service learning experience:

  • “We learn these theories in school but until we really apply them or see them in action, they’re not real.”
  • “I think it was a great experience and service learning makes me feel like I made the right choice to go to school to become a teacher.”
  • “I wish more of my classes had service learning in them.”
  • “Because of my service learning assignment, I am more open and appreciative of volunteer work. I’ve found that it’s a lot more enjoyable to give something than to receive something.”
  • “I spoke to one of the nurses about applying to work there. She said since I have some experience with this location, my chances are high for possibly getting a job there. It was a wonderful feeling to know that I may already have some connections.”

The Service Learning Department at Century College closely collaborates with faculty members, community partners, and students by researching appropriate service learning sites, placing service learning students, and providing a clearinghouse for strong support, information, and problem solving.

Century College communication group

Each instructor and course at Century College has a designated service learning coordinator.  A presentation to the class is made early in the semester, information is distributed, and questions are answered.  Each semester, “Strategies for a Successful Service Learning Experience” materials are made available on Century’s Student Success Day.

At the same time that students are gaining academic, professional, and personal skills, local community partners receive valuable service and assistance.  We are encouraged by the frequent positive comments from our community partners.  The following are three great examples of how agencies and the overall community benefits from service learning:

Staff at one of the local nature centers has commented, “Over 100 hours were contributed by students over two seasons in planting and maintaining woodland wildflowers, ferns and grasses for a Federal Sustainable Trails Grant.  At the rate of $16 per hour as specified in the grant, the value of the student labor for just this project was $2,336.  However its long-term value is much greater in terms of re-establishing native vegetation along new trail corridors to restore habitat, stem erosion and protect water quality.”   

 

As one of our closest school partners has commented, “Elementary primary age students have shown incredible growth in the areas of reading and math given the extra one-to-one and small group help. In some classrooms, almost 100 percent of the students met their [Measures of Academic Progress] targets! That is simply amazing, and was not the case prior to the volunteer program consisting of the service learning students.  Attendance for some of the at-risk students went up as we provided these extra mentors.”

One social service nonprofit wrote, “As a result, [our] limited staff was able to raise more funds to be given to area health and human service agencies. These agencies have been dealing with major cuts in funding. Having more student volunteers was especially helpful last year, enabling us to raise over $4,000 in one evening to fight local hunger.”

Below are some statistics about Service Learning at Century College:

  • Approximately 2,000 Century students participate in service learning each year.
  • Over 15,000 Century students have participated in service learning since it began at Century College in 2000.
  • Century College students have contributed over 200,000 hours of service to the community in the last decade.
  • About 40 percent of the programs at Century require a service learning assignment.  Some Century programs require service learning to graduate.
  • Service learning hours are recorded on the students’ official transcript if they satisfy the service learning requirement and complete at least one reflection assignment for the course.
  • Students completing more than 40 hours of service learning while attending Century are recognized on the commencement program.

Considering the current economic and employment situation, service learning involvement is as important as ever in terms of contributing to our communities, as well as promoting student growth and increasing a student’s professional skills.

To learn more about how service learning can be incorporated into your work, please contact the Service Learning Department at Century College.

Kara Nakagaki, Service Learning Coordinator

Judy Lykins, Director of Service Learning

Email address – ServiceLearning@Century.edu


The Well-Educated Volunteer

April 4, 2012

It’s April and the volunteer program leader’s mind turns to volunteer recognition.  “How can WE give back to THEM?” some of us sob, ringing our hands with tear-stained cheeks and flipping through the latest catalogue of tchotchkes.  My answer – “educate them!”  Instead of relying on the old standby of a trinket or bauble, provide volunteers with something that lasts – and that’s education.

We conduct a survey of volunteers who attended our annual recognition luncheon (I know luncheons are no longer in vogue, but there’s been a 35-year tradition here, attendance continues to be fab, so we still do this.)  I’ll never forget one survey comment – “You can skip the leaf of lettuce and rubber chicken.  Just give me an hour of education and a cup of coffee and I’m happy!”  While this surprised me on many levels (our volunteers have to get 12 hours of education annually to remain certified) it totally made sense –older adults, including those pesky “Boomers,” indicate life long learning as a priority.  A 2000 AARP study of over 1000 older adults (that’s 50+) showed that 9 of 10 recipients said “they want to learn.”  http://assets.aarp.org/rgcenter/general/lifelong.pdf.  So why not educate them?

I admit I have it easy.  There are so many aspects of horticulture that the educational topics seem limitless and we struggle to just limit ourselves to 10 sessions annually.  However, I doubt we’re alone in this.  Most non-profits, congregations and other entities that utilize volunteers have a story, as do their clients, so why not educate others about those stories?  Food shelves can educate about the issues that lead their clientele to use their services; health care organizations can educate about the latest health trends or even diseases affecting their area; schools can educate about the latest trends affecting their students, or the latest trends in education.  If you stop to think about it, you could have endless ideas too.  And then take it a step further – why not offer a certificate?  Attend 5 sessions and get a certificate stating you’ve received so many hours of education and now have a “specialty.”  And then just think what those specialty volunteers could do!

Education can also be a motivator.  Tom McKee of Volunteer Power suggests sending volunteers to conferences as a way to motivate (http://www.volunteerpower.com/articles/motivate.asp.)  He even suggests that organizations budget to send their volunteers to over-night conferences.  I’d be motivated too for a paid over-night trip out of town, even if it was just toSt. Cloud. Kidding aside, I think Tom’s message is clear — invest in your volunteers and they’ll invest in you.  Studies also tell us that sharing how a volunteer’s work impacts your organization or organization’s clients, not only can motivate people to do more, but sharing a volunteer’s impact can also lead to longer retention.

So now’s your time to be creative!  What can you educate your volunteers about?  Here are some suggestions to help you get started:

  • Make it meaningful:  people give to your organization for a reason – and hopefully that’s because they’re engaged in your mission.  How can you educate your volunteers more about your mission and the people you serve?
  • Make it timely:  what’s new and different in your organization’s world?  The world is in a constant state of change – what’s new and different that you could share with your volunteers?
  • Make it easy:  we all have lots of interesting things to share, but no one is going to come and listen, not matter how interesting, if we offer education at times that aren’t’ convenient to our volunteers.  Provide sessions in the evening or on the weekend.  Also – remember that “less is more.”  More people will come to a shorter session than a half or full-day session.
  • Make it fun:  while talking heads can be fact-filled with interesting data and concepts, adult learner’s attention spans change about every 11 minutes or so.  Thus, things need to be lively.  Engage people in games, quizzes or conversation.  Make the room come alive!
  • Make it delicious:  finally, if you’re going to educate people near an hour normally reserved for a meal, be sure to have something for folks to nibble on.  It doesn’t have to be much – but at the least offer water and coffee.  Even popcorn is cheap, delicious and a little can feed a lot of folks!

So put away that catalogue of tchotchkes and put on your thinking cap.  Recognize your volunteers with an educational forum to show your appreciation for their hard work.

Terry Straub, Program Coordinator; University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener Program in Hennepin County


The Millennials

January 10, 2012

Generation Y. Millennials. Echo Boomers.  The Boomerang Generation.

These names are used to describe the generation of young adults born between 1982 to the mid-1990s. They range in ages from about 18-29. They face high unemployment rates (37 percent are unemployed or out of the workforce) and because many graduated college during a recession, they will face the poor economic consequences of this on their salaries and careers for up to 15 years. Yet Millennials are extremely optimistic and are volunteering in record numbers.

As a millennial myself, I was curious to take a more in-depth look at this generation and how it impacts the field of volunteerism.

A Few Fun ( Possibly Superfluous) Facts

  • 2010 Pew Research describes millennials as “confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat, and open to change.”
  • 3/4 of millennials have profiles on a social network, while 1/5 have uploaded a video of themselves to the internet
  • Almost 4/10 have a tattoo and 1/4 have something other than their ears pierced
  • 37% of 18-29 year olds are unemployed or out of the workforce (This takes into account those going to school who are not employed; the December unemployment rate for 20-24 year olds was 14.4%, compared to the national average of 8.5%)
  • 2/3 claim that “you can’t be too careful” when dealing with people, but are less skeptical of government than previous generations
  • 6/10 millennials were raised by both parents, the lowest rate of any generation so far
  • 1/5 are married (Boomers’ marriage rates were twice that)
  • 1/3 are parents
  • Millennials are gearing up to be the most educated generation; 39.6% of those 18-24 were enrolled in college
  • 1/8 of those over 22 are living with their parents again (hence the term “boomerang generation”)
  • Only 2% are military veterans
  • They are the most likely generation to identify as liberal, are not as supportive of a strong national security policy, and back more progressive social policies
  • As a generation truly defined by their use of technology, 83% sleep with their cellphones

Delaying Adulthood

Sociologically speaking, millennials are delaying the traditional markers of adulthood, like completing school (more return to graduate studies), leaving home (we are the ‘boomerang generation’), becoming financially independent (more are taking national service positions), marrying (the average age for marriage is 26 for women and 28 for men, five years later than the Boomers), or having children. The name “Failure to Launch” generation came from this postponement of adulthood. If you somehow missed the intriguing article, “What is it about 20-somethings” written by Robin Marantz Henig in the New York Times in August of 2010, I would suggest a read. It debates the merits of putting off adulthood and whether this prolonged adolescence should be categorized as a new life state, “emerging adulthood.” But the reality is, that many 20-somethings are prolonging the journey to adulthood (by traditional markers).  And it has real consequences for their participation in volunteerism.

Volunteerism

Millennials are volunteering in record-breaking numbers. According to the National Conference on Citizenship, “Millennials are showing strong interest in civic participation and reversing some of the declines observed among youth since the 1970s.” We are more civically engaged than both Gen X and the Boomers were at our age, at least when it comes to volunteering. Millennials are less likely to vote and participate in groups, church, or meetings.

Millennials may be more involved in service because of the proliferation of opportunities available to them. Many high schools and colleges require service hours and offer many opportunities to get involved. This is one of the reasons 18-23 year olds are more involved than the older half of their generation: they have access to more civic engagement opportunities.

There has been an increase in recruitment numbers for the PeaceCorps, AmeriCorps, and, recently, military service (though overall numbers for military service are down from previous generations). In fact, AmeriCorps applicants have tripled in the past two years, according to Gayle Baker of ourvalues.org. Due to financial times, and a desire to prolong adulthood, many choose national or international service as a way to purposefully spend a year or two while waiting for more job opportunities to become available.

Millennials volunteering numbers have been rising steadily, according to volunteeringinamerica.gov. The majority of Millennials gave their time to educational and youth service institutions in 2010.

Optimism

Millennials are characterized by their optimism, or as others may call it naivete. Millennials are optimistic about their economic futures, despite the fact that most of them are unhappy with our current salaries. 90% believe that they will eventually live a good (financially secure) life.

Millennials are continuing to follow their parents’ upbeat advice, “Follow your dreams.” Right now, that just means volunteering to find a job and remaining obstinately optimistic that our economic prospects will change.

Are you a millennial? Why do you volunteer? 

How do you engage millennial volunteers in your organization? What are the unique challenges or benefits that you see when trying to engage this generation? How can you capitalize on their optimism?

All facts, data, and information used in the article came from:

Pew Research Center (http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2010/02/24/millennials-confident-connected-open-to-change/)

National Conference on Citizenship

(http://ncoc.net/226)

Generation Y or Millenials” by Gayle Baker, Marketing Director at ourvalues.org

volunteeringinamerica.org

Kat Southard (ksouthard@mavanetwork.org; 651.255.00556)

Member Outreach Coordinator

AmeriCorps*VISTA (trying to put off adulthood!)

Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration


Adventures in (Almost) Volunteering

December 19, 2011

It has been about a month and a half since my last post, and I am very nearly volunteering somewhere!  Sort of.

Following the near success that turned into an unreturned email, I again spent a fair amount of time on a volunteer application for a nature center near my home.  The application called for three references, something I had not expected but something we do at my organization, and made sense for volunteers interacting with the public and specifically with children.  It also indicated a potentially well-organized system, which was sort of refreshing.  However, after seeing the number of references needed, I felt momentary panic – what was I getting myself into?!  Something that required THREE references and SEVERAL short answers to even apply must be a HUGE commitment!  But I forged ahead, determined this time to actually communicate with someone at the very least.

I filled out the application, stating that I’d be interested in agricultural opportunities and potentially acting as a naturalist, and submitted it.  I received a response the very next day!  The response email asked to clarify some of my experience and informed me of possible special events volunteer opportunities.  If you recall, I did not apply for special events opportunities.  And while I realize of course that it was practically winter, I thought there may be greenhouse or winter naturalist positions available for the season, and was hoping to at least hear about some opportunities.  I responded to the email restating my interests and giving more detail on my experiences, hoping that more information and a clear interest on my end would be to my benefit.  After sending this email, I received no response!

For five days that is, until I emailed again to check in about possible opportunities.  After sending my check-in email I received a response just a few hours later asking if I would be able to come in to have an informal interview, talk about my interests and experiences, and learn about the opportunities available.  After this meeting my information would be distributed to the appropriate staff members and I would hopefully have some sort of position.

The meeting went quite well – I felt as though the woman I met with was interested in using my skills and experiences as well as finding a place the organization could use me effectively.  She even confessed her not-always-prompt email correspondence!  It was very refreshing to speak with an actual human instead of a listserv, and I forgave the few miscommunications we had previously.

During the meeting we discussed how opportunities would pick up after the first of the year, which was fine with me given how busy I was feeling at the time.  I was anticipating checking in early January and was pleasantly surprised to receive an email update at the beginning of this month detailing how my information had been passed along and staff from two departments would be contacting me.  Then later that day one of them actually did!  I was quite pleased with how things were going, and wasn’t even phased when I sent off a quick reminder email to the other staff member to check in (which I got a response to within hours).

All things considered, this attempt was a success, and my more forgiving attitude towards communication definitely helped.  However, when it came to naturalist training, all of the opportunities were during the work week.  As someone who works on the weekend to be available to volunteers, I was a little disappointed that training wasn’t on a Saturday morning, for example.  Different from my program however, there were individual trainings for each naturalist class, which were scheduled before or after actual classes so new naturalists could observe the classes.  After explaining that I couldn’t attend any of the trainings save for one in late winter, the lead educator offered to look at the schedule with me to see which classes I could observe on days I was available so I would be able to begin teaching as early as possible.

My experience with this non-profit has been infinitely better than those I’ve had with the others I’ve mentioned, and that seems to be due to several factors.  I was definitely more persistent about my skills and experiences and how I’d like to use them, which proved successful, and had a more personal interest in the organization.  After making a strong connection, the individuals at the organization were really what drove the rest of the process.  Their genuine interest and continued contact made me feel as though they actually wanted me to volunteer, something I certainly didn’t feel from the other organizations.  The previous organizations had information for potential volunteers, but didn’t seem to actively court them.  I’d like to believe they were interested in cultivating volunteers, but the manner in which our interactions were handled made it seem as though they felt they didn’t need to put forth effort to garner new volunteers, but that volunteers would naturally be drawn to them and would be happy with wherever they were placed.

The more personal approach of this most recent organization seems to be less prevalent in the broader world of volunteer management.  Even large organizations can cultivate this kind of relationship if they focus their energy on utilizing the skills and interests of their volunteers.  Of course, this is only possible if those skills and interests can be used at the organization.  The balance of organization need and volunteer interest is essential – I would not have been completely happy had I accepted the offer of special events volunteer, and so I continued to investigate the opportunities.  It’s logical for organizations to offer what they have available, but consideration of the volunteers abilities should obviously be taken into account.  Having skilled AND satisfied volunteers will result in a more productive, successful organization.

Kelsea Dombrovski

Neighborhood Resource Coordinator

Minnesota Children’s Museum


Adventures in (Not) Volunteering

November 2, 2011

As an AmeriCorps VISTA service member, my next year of employment is one extended volunteer experience.  Despite the fact that 40 hours of my week is spent serving, I went looking for an opportunity to use my undergraduate degree, Environmental Studies, to flex my green(ish) muscles.  Little did I know, finding a volunteer opportunity would be more difficult than I had imagined!

The first organization with which I made contact worked with youth and environmental issues, and mentioned a possible “virtual mentorship” that involved online, environmental advising of youth.  While in-person contact with youth was more what I was searching for, I thought I’d contact the organization anyway to try to learn more about their opportunities.  There was no contact information for a volunteer manager, so I completed the online contact form with my information and explained my interest in the program.  Because I didn’t want to overwhelm myself with commitments, I contacted only this organization.  Days and then a week and a half passed, and I had heard nothing.  Because I wasn’t overly excited about the actual position, I wasn’t persistent about making contact with someone from the organization, but was still surprised I was (seemingly) ignored.

Annoyed but not undeterred, I made another attempt, hoping this time for success!  Referred by a friend to an organization that works with youth, food, and agriculture, I was optimistic that this time things would work out.  My focus within my major was food and agriculture, so that plus the hands-on aspect of this possible position was much more attractive to me than any sort of virtual service, anyway.  I downloaded the volunteer application and spent a fair amount of time working on it and describing my previous experience and interests.  After it was completed I was a bit guiltily proud of myself; working in volunteer management has really made me appreciate complete, thorough applications!  I emailed the form to the designated party and waited for a response.  Miraculously, I had a response within 24 hours!  I was told I would be added to a list of volunteers and would soon receive an email listing all of the fall volunteer opportunities.  I was unsure what “soon” meant, so after four days I sent an email thanking them for getting back to me and reiterating my interest.  Then, when everything seemed to be aligning – I had found an opportunity that fit perfectly with my interests, a human was responding to me – the contact stopped!  I received neither a list of the fall volunteer opportunities nor a follow-up email.  As I was writing this I was struck with anxiety that the email had ended up in my spam folder and I had completely missed it.  But, unfortunately, nothing.  It’s been a month since I sent my check-in email, and in the interim I was too frustrated to contact them again, although I probably should have.

Or maybe I shouldn’t have contacted them?  It’s unclear how much responsibility prospective volunteers and host organizations each have when developing a service relationship, and this has proven to be quite an issue for me.  After taking the time to complete an application, much more time than many volunteers take when filling out applications for the organization I work with, I felt quite slighted when I didn’t receive any contact.  And while my interests aligned almost exactly with the programming, the thought of applying again makes me feel silly and almost ashamed despite my passion for the topic.  I understand that many organizations have limited capacity to manage volunteers, but if volunteers are needed and valued, and interested, dedicated volunteers are available, the organization should create structural support for recruitment and management.

My successive blog posts will chronicle my attempts to volunteer, successful or not, and will reflect my experiences along the way.  I will also act as an (undercover!) potential volunteer at organizations to test the management at a range of organizations and report back.  It should be an espionage- and service-filledVISTAyear!

Kelsea Dombrovski

Neighborhood Resource Coordinator

Minnesota Children’s Museum