Success story: Highly effective nonprofits value and engage their VolunTEAM

Chicago youth at Lawrence Hall Youth Services paint a mural

Youth paint during an activity with Lawrence Hall Youth Services.

by Jo Posselt, VP, Marketing & Development, Executive Service Corps

Lawrence Hall Youth Services is one of Illinois’ oldest child welfare agencies, established in 1865 to assist at-risk youth and their families with services that develop the self-worth, knowledge, and skills they need to lead independent and productive lives.  One Good Deed Chicago connected Lawrence Hall with the Executive Service Corps (ESC) of Chicago in September 2011 as part of the One Good Deed VolunTEAM project. Their objective: By the end of May 2012, to evaluate and structure the organization’s volunteer management to meet diverse needs while ensuring a positive and fulfilling experience for more than 200 volunteers.

The ESC consultant assigned to the project, Thomas White, has more than 20 years of corporate leadership and project management experience.  He works closely with Nathan Rosato, Lawrence Hall’s Director of Community Relations. Together, they began with a systematic study of current volunteer utilization patterns and needs assessment from a cross-section of program areas to identify required functions, estimated volunteer hours, responsibilities and needed skills. 

Armed with this data, White and Rosato began building a matrixed volunteer management program that that views volunteers through multiple lenses, all interconnected and each with different benefits.  To ensure the most capable and committed volunteers and balance the needs and objectives of both the volunteers and Lawrence Hall, the team is reviewing volunteer position descriptions and considering a more comprehensive use of existing volunteer management software to ensure the best match between talent and function and accurate tracking of hours for improved planning. They are updating a handbook that will help to standardize volunteer management policies and procedures throughout the organization and establish a targeted recruitment plan to ensure an ongoing source of the varied skills and talents needed throughout the year.

“We are taking a tactical program and giving it the depth and integration that will optimize the organization’s investment in its volunteers and their investment in the organization,” says White, “challenging, but not impossible, with the type of buy-in that we are receiving from all program areas and from Lawrence Hall leadership.”

Volunteer Wesley Tibbs describes his role as a member of Lawrence Hall’s Junior Board.

“I volunteer because I want to give back and Lawrence Hall gives me that opportunity,” he says. “An orientation prepares us and training helps us determine situations where we can be helpful.  There is opportunity for fundraising and developing leadership skills for future service.”

“”We want our volunteers to know they are valued and give them opportunities to be truly connected to our programs and invested in the work we do together, beyond a one-day volunteer experience,” notes Rosato.  “By the end of this project, we will be better equipped to help our volunteers with training and program-matching, build our volunteer program with an efficient recruitment effort and establish lasting relationship with our volunteers for the benefit of the people served by Lawrence Hall for years to come.”

Kim Luckey, Lawrence Hall’s Director of External Affairs, calls the project with ESC and One Good Deed Chicago an opportunity to re-evaluate their needs and review what’s working well and where extra help is needed.

 “Our volunteers are important to us; we not only benefit from their contributions of time and talent, they are our strong connection to the community,” she says.

As nonprofits struggle in an environment of unusually deep and lingering economic stress, facing diminished resources even as the demand for service increases, the need for a an effective volunteer program, streamlined, efficient operation, strong leadership teams and diverse sources of revenue become mission-critical. As a nonprofit with a proud reputation for service and results, ESC is the premiere consulting resource for nonprofits in these areas, ready to help with practical and affordable solutions for lasting impact.

To learn more about Lawrence Hall Youth services and its positive impact on youth and families, please visit www.lawrencehall.org.  To learn more about the Executive Service Corps of Chicago and its services in leadership development and coaching, strategic planning, fund development, urgent action, executive transition and interim executive director placement, visit www.esc-chicago.org or email Jo.Posselt[at]esc-chicago.org.

Changing Worlds: A Success Story

A student works with a volunteer at Changing Worlds. Changing Worlds is one of One Good Deed Chicago's VolunTEAM partners.

by Jo Posselt, VP, Marketing & Development, Executive Service Corps

Changing Worlds is an educational art nonprofit whose mission is “to foster inclusive communities through oral history, writing and art programs that improve student learning, affirm identity and enhance cross-cultural understanding.”

One Good Deed Chicago connected Changing Worlds with the Executive Service Corps (ESC) of Chicago in September 2011 as part of the VolunTEAM program. ESC is a volunteer corps of nearly 300 men and women who use their skills and knowledge from long and successful careers to help other non-profits thrive.

The project is scheduled for completion in May, but the results to date are already a noticeable and satisfying success story on many levels for everyone involved, including the volunteers, the program staff and of course the children who benefit from these programs. 

Identifying needs

Changing Worlds Executive Director Mark Rodriguez points out that it was critical to the project’s success to create a clear direction at the beginning.

“We needed to be able to create an infrastructure for our volunteer program as well as a system and a process that would be sustainable when the project is over,” he said.

Patti Pangborn, Changing Worlds manager of office operations, finance and program support, said “we had a database we weren’t using, a wonderful core group of volunteers and no system or anyone on staff who could coordinate the volunteer experience or make it truly satisfying for the volunteer.  We weren’t fully utilizing our volunteer strength”

The ESC project management team, David Marienthal and Estelle Holzer, worked with Patti and Mark to evaluate specific needs. They then began identifying lasting solutions and immediate changes that could be readily implemented without additional workload burden or cost.  Both David and Estelle brought more than 20 years of experience in project and program management to the assignment and were able to make recommendations that produced immediate results.

Marienthal describes the process.

“We met every three weeks or so and tracked our progress together to ensure we had the solutions we needed,” he said. “First, we recommended the addition of a volunteer ‘volunteer coordinator’ position!  This focused more dedicated attention to an area of need and removed the additional workload burden from staff while we set up a process and procedures to get a structured volunteer management program set up.”

Seeing results

“Claire Gilbertsen is our new volunteer coordinator, a volunteer herself with lots of experience, who comes in two days a week to concentrate on this program,” Pangborn said. “We added a volunteer management module to our database to better track volunteer experiences, and we have begun putting together a handbook of policies and procedures and an orientation and recognition program for our volunteers.”

Rodriguez says “we value our volunteers and hope, through this project with ESC and One Good Deed, to advance our three primary goals toward 1) greater public awareness of our programs, 2) recruitment and retention of volunteers and, 3) fundraising to support our programs.”

As the economy struggles, as money from state and local governments dries up, and as donations and foundation monies shrink, non-profits are facing the perfect storm. Demand for their services is increasing dramatically, just as revenue sources are dwindling. The need for non-profits to improve their organizational performance is as important as it ever was. It’s ESC’s mission to help them.

To learn more about the Executive Service Corps of Chicago or apply to be an consultant, visit the ESC Website at www.esc-chicago.org.  For a list of all 19 nonprofits currently in the One Good Deed Chicago’s VolunTEAM program, go to www.onegooddeedchicago.org/priorities.