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How a WomenOnCall Volunteer Helped Me Reach My Goals

By: Katie Sullivan, Program Evaluation & Volunteer Manager, Urban Initiatives

Urban Initiatives has been involved with WomenOnCall since its inception in 2006. Over the last 10 years, a variety of departments have benefited from WomenOnCall's support on high-impact, short-term projects. Our most recent experience was with Janelle, a volunteer I worked with through two, 6-hour projects. Janelle's efforts cut my workload as Volunteer Manager in half, reducing the total amount of time I spent fielding volunteer requests and freeing up more of my time to focus on building lasting relationships with volunteers and developing our program evaluation efforts. The two projects with Janelle served as an implementation guide that split up broad volunteer management goals into concrete, achievable steps. By the end of our second project on strategic volunteer recruitment, Urban Initiatives saw notable gains in volunteer retention.

I was recently hired as the first full-time staff member at Urban Initiatives assigned to Volunteer Management. In an effort to double down on this investment in volunteer management, I was encouraged to start a project with WomenOnCall. Though initially wary of the idea of virtual volunteers, Janelle came very highly recommended by WomenOnCall. My first consultation call with Janelle addressed ways in which volunteers might first hear about Urban Initiatives' volunteer opportunities, strategies for authentic appreciation through thank you notes at the end of the season and everything in between. After careful consideration, Janelle advised we do an “audit" of all processes that go into volunteer management to find areas of growth, set specific goals, and craft a timeline that would best suit my workflow. One immediate output of our first project was to merge the static Word version of our programming schedule into a Google spreadsheet for easy updating and filtering by geographic area and time slot. Janelle's approach is extremely empowering, and her enthusiasm for understanding our work made for an impactful and positive experience.

After my tremendous experience with the first project, I requested Janelle work with Urban Initiatives again to dig deeper into our recruitment needs and, more specifically, review our online volunteer request form—something she and I identified during our first project. We decided to use the spreadsheet from our last project to rework the volunteer request form in such a way that would allow me to spend more time on pre-screening calls as well as to consider the best placement for each volunteer to ensure a longer-lasting match. We have already seen growth in retention as a direct result of this second project: 88% of new volunteers recruited this fall have confirmed for our spring season. Although Janelle never saw our work in person, by the end of our second project, she had a deep understanding of our organization culture, programming needs, and unique opportunities. She used her knowledge to make a lasting impact on our strategic planning.

Sticking to the timeline Janelle and I created, I recently submitted a new project request to review our volunteer orientation handbook so that we can receive feedback on how best to adapt our organizational messaging to be most relevant to program volunteers. Without the initial audit project completed by Janelle, I believe that my process improvements may have remained more tied to Urban Initiatives' program needs, rather than the potential volunteer's perspective. I believe that the real value-add from the first project with Janelle was to develop priorities that reflected our internal needs but also promoted a high-quality experience for volunteers. This will enhance our ability to retain volunteers, provide them with meaningful experiences, and, in the end, best support the high-quality programming we provide for 15,000 kids across Chicago.