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Volunteerpower News February 2003


Volunteer Power News - February 2003

Author: Thomas W. McKee

"Volunteer Power News" Monthly Newsletter

©2003 Advantage Point Systems, Inc. Publishing

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This month I want to share with you an exciting interview I had from . . .

Someone Who Is Doing it Right!

An Interview with Shriners Hospital

Volunteer Services Manager, Mary Lynn Perry

Last November Mary Lynn Perry, Volunteer Services Manager, gave me an hour of her time to interview her about one of the most successful volunteer programs in the country-Shriners Hospitals for Children, Northern California. She had an open door policy and all during the interview volunteers kept popping into her office and telling her how much they were going to miss her. She had just submitted her resignation and was going to take a new position as the Volunteer Manager of the City of Sacramento.

What follows is the key information from the interview that I thought you would find most helpful. Mary Lynn has developed a very successful program and although many of our volunteer efforts are very different, she shared some great ideas and some significant trends that we all can benefit from.

Tom: Let's cut to the chase. How many volunteers do you have?

Mary: We have about 600 volunteers a year who put in about 50,000-55,000 hours a year of volunteer service. We have figured that in the 5 years that Shriners has been in Sacramento, they have saved us over $3 million dollars labor hours. This includes our Shriners volunteer, student volunteers, community volunteers and patient volunteers.

Basically, I have more volunteers than I need. If fact, one of the most difficult parts of this job is finding enough jobs for our volunteers.

Tom: That's a switch. I am sure many volunteer coordinators would love to have that problem. What kinds of jobs are hard to find for volunteers?

Mary: Recently we have had a lot of families request volunteer jobs that they can do together. The most effective one I have found is bringing in families to wrap presents. This is a great job that needs to be done and a family can do it together. Within one day, we filled up three sessions of families wrapping presents just from an e-mail I sent out. This is a trend that we are seeing more and more of. Moms and Dads and their children volunteering together. If you can offer something that everyone in the family can participate in, then you can get lots of volunteers.

Tom: Great idea. Now how do you find volunteers?

Mary: They find us. We are on the Internet. We have ads on TV and in the newspaper. Every time there is an article in the newspaper or TV we get calls from prospective volunteers. We also are on a lot of lists-especially schools. High schools and colleges have us on their lists of places to volunteer. If someone is looking for a place to volunteer in a hospital, they can find us on the web and our application is actually on our website. It takes at least a month from the time a volunteer applies before they get appointed to a position.

Tom: Okay- let's back up a second. How did you get started in volunteer work?

Mary: I have been a volunteer over the years in so many organizations. It kind of evolved. My first volunteer coordinating position was with what is now the African Museum of African Art of the Smithsonian Institute. I was administrative assistant to the director.

The person who was directing the volunteer program went back to school and the director asked me to take over. I had always enjoyed talking with the volunteers and hearing stories about what they were doing. And I really like doing that. Over the years different positions opened up and I ended up coordinating the internship program for another office of the Smithsonian, and I was executive director of business volunteers for the arts locally. It was very different than working with Shriners because our volunteers were mostly business people. The museum volunteers seemed to be a lot more academic and there were also a lot of students. But I have found that the skills that I used in my 20's back in the Smithsonian are similar to the skills I use here. I'll be using those same skills when I make the transition to my new position as a volunteer manager with the City of Sacramento. It really doesn't make a lot of difference as to what the overall mission of the organization is, the job of working with volunteers is pretty much the same.

Tom: What is that job? What do you get paid to do for Shriners?

Mary: Basically it is reviewing all of the applications, screening, interviewing, placing them into different departments, monitoring how that is going, getting feedback from the departments, and evaluations that need to be done. The screening process, because it is health care and working with children, is very elaborate. We do background checks. We have a company that does the background check and looks for felonies, misdemeanors, and all of that kind of stuff. They go through court records. We don't do finger printing-some states do-it is an option. We do the background check and we actually come out with the same kind of results. And then we do health screening such as TB.

And the job also includes terminating. If people are not doing well in fulfilling the job or they are stepping outside the roles in some way, we have to tell them that they have to follow the rules and that is the way it is.

Tom: Do you do performance evaluations like you would with paid-staff?

Mary: Yes. We look at the volunteer department as more of an HR function and we see it as basically providing service to the hospital as opposed to looking at it as more an esoteric point of view. We are basically the HR department for the non-paid staff. Our procedures follow HR guidelines. In fact, any hospital that is in compliance with federal guidelines follows these procedures. We are reviewed every three years by federal and state regulators and volunteers are included in that.

The performance evaluation is not as detailed as a paid staff evaluation would be. It tends to be less focused on the actual job and more on their dependability. Are they reliable? Are they courteous? Those types of questions. The staff person who does the direct evaluation is not directly connected to us. For example, the person who directs the transportation department does the evaluation for drivers. Now he might write on the evaluation that he recommends that this person take the "55+ driving class." The evaluator or the volunteer may request more training. And we get feedback.

We also do recognition. You see the fellows walking around with these pins with the hours on them. Earl, who you met when you came in, showed you his pin with the number 5,800 hours. He is really proud of that pin. We did that in lieu of certificates. We find the pin more significant. After 100 hours you get a pin that says "Shriners Hospital Volunteer" and then it has the number of hours. At the end of each year the volunteer gets a bar with the total number of hours. And at the end of five years they get a pin that is a gold numeral 5 that they can wear. They put it right on their uniform and when they walk around wearing their gold pin they are showing that they are part of the group that has actually contributed a lot of hours. For the students we give out certificates and a letter of recommendation. We have lots of college students who each contribute 100 hours during the semester or for the summer and they respond to the letter and certificate rather than the pins. In the letter we state how many hours they have volunteered.

Tom: What is one of the volunteer programs that you are most excited about?

Mary: One of the most successful volunteer programs was met with resistance when I first suggested it; however, since it wasn't going to cost anything, I was given approval to try it. It is a patient volunteer program where we find volunteer jobs for many of our patients who are transitioning back into society. The wonderful thing about this program is that many of our kids are well, but are permanently disabled with severe burns. They can't move their hands, or are disfigured and the idea of going out and working is very, very hard. They are thinking, "What am I going to do when I am no longer a kid and I have to take care of myself?" One of the ways of transitioning them is by actually having them volunteer. And we have volunteers who work with them and monitor them and it's not a scary proposition. If it is not going well, we can move them to somewhere else. We can get them a different supervisor. We can talk to them about what it is that they needed to help them do this better. These are young people who are sixteen and older who are working with their vocational counselor and looking at their career options. Some are in wheelchairs but at least have some movement in their shoulders and can navigate their wheelchairs. Many of them have had very physical jobs, working with their dads, and now they are in a wheelchair. Now they are going to have to rethink their vocational future. It is a difficult transition and through this program we are able to help them in this transitioning process.

Tom: What kind of jobs do they do?

Mary: Computer training is very popular. We have volunteers who train these young people in computer skills. There is a drag and dictate "voice recognition" program that many of our young volunteers have become very proficient at. Others are learning the basics like word processing, e-mail and Internet skills while others are learning graphic design. The core of this program is to transfer them to adult medical care because when they are 21 we can no longer treat them and many are not prepared for this transition. Our goal is to get them transitioned by 18.

Tom: What are the trends you are seeing in volunteering?

Mary: One trend is that there are very few stay-at-home moms, and the ones who do stay at home are the presidents of the PTA, members of booster clubs, chairing fundraisers and they are very active at the school level. That pool of volunteers is out there, but I'd have to say that they are tougher to get to volunteer for us. This group that used to be so helpful for us is much fewer. So this group that would be so used to volunteering for us can only devote one evening a week, or one weekend.

Another trend is that people have so many choices. We have to be offering something special to get some of these people. I look at some of the applications and say, "This is a serial volunteer" because they have worked at 20 organizations in the last ten years. I don't know why other than this is a trend. People don't stay in jobs that long anymore. I have heard that people stay in a job for only three years, and I think that people tend to change volunteer organizations also. I really don't think it is a retention issue; I just think it is that they have a choice.

Tom: If you see a person who has jumped from volunteer organization to organization a lot, do you put them at the bottom of the pile and go for those who will stay with you?

Mary: No, not necessarily. It depends on what they are going to do. If we need someone to file and someone wants to do that, we'll take him/her. If we are looking for someone to fill a position that needs to keep a regular schedule, then we are very careful.

Tom: I have noticed today walking around the hospital that most of the Shriners' volunteers I have seen are older, perhaps retired people. You have mentioned using families and the problem with the stay at home mom. What about the younger generation? People are always asking me, "How do you get Gen X to volunteer?"

Mary: These are very busy people with lots of choices. Many are still in school, they are developing relationships, they have small children and are starting a career. They really just don't have a lot of time. And also they recreate a lot. In our area they are out skiing at Lake Tahoe. They are very physically active. And they just don't have the time to commit to volunteering. Therefore, we have to have very short-term projects for this age group.

Tom: Do you ever go after people like this?

Mary: Usually not; however, we do recruit students who are doing their volunteering for credit. Local high school and community colleges have programs such as internships, volunteer training programs and workability study programs in which students are getting either credit or vocational exposure to the medical field so that when they apply to medical school they have this experience.

Tom: I want to close with one last question. You are taking a new position next week as Volunteer Coordinator for Sacramento City. I would imagine that this is going to be a very different position. Shriners has such a social mission. What are you going to do to motivate people to volunteer for the city?

Mary: I really don't think it is going to be that much different. I will probably go after retired city employees. I am going to challenge them by saying, "After you have traveled and are tired of that and you have always wanted to work in the Zoo, come back to the city as a volunteer."

Tom: Thanks for your time- this has been extremely beneficial for us- I know the Shriners are going to miss you.

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