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October 9, 2013 / christinazuniga

Decentralize Administration to Improve Volunteer Experience

team-work-day-of-caringUnited Way’s Day of Caring in Santa Barbara is an annual event where Non-Profit organizations can sign up for assistance and they are matched with local volunteers who give half of a day of time. This is especially helpful for routine building or landscaping maintenance that most Non-Profits do not have time or funds to upkeep and introduces potential new volunteers to participate further with these organizations.

In previous years each volunteer group would have a point of contact who would correspond with the United Way liason – informing her of their total number of expected volunteers and preferred type of work. She would take that information and match the group up with a Non-Profit and communicate back to the point of contact. I assume it was a stressful job for the liason to attempt to control the flow of volunteers and ensure that every Non-Profit received an adequate number. This also could lead to a severe bottleneck.

In 2010 my team witnessed firsthand the problems that can arise. Our point of contact had not properly followed up with the liason, so when the team arrived at the event we were unaware of what our assignment would be. We found out within minutes that we were assigned to clear brush out of the back hills. In the heat of September. Also, we were expected to bring our own protective gear – such as gloves. Not a single person had brought gloves. We were allowed to switch to a lighter duty at the last minute, but after that incident I volunteered to be the permanent point of contact for my team.

This year Day of Caring enacted a new system, which I heartily approve of. Rather than strain their limited resources assigning jobs, they set up a system in which the point of contact can see the available range of opportunities and choose which Non-Profit to volunteer with. Each Non-Profit was given a maximum number of volunteer spots and the system was automatically updated with the currently available Non-Profits opportunities.

Since I am an early bird, I made a list of all of the volunteer opportunities including description and location and shared my spreadsheet with my team. I gave everyone three votes and then tallied the winner and easily signed my team up for the most popular location. This change certainly helped us to optimize our time in signing up and allowed United Way to become a facilitator rather than a hands on organizer.

Aside from the optimization of time and resources, this also rewarded the Non-Profits who applied early as well as the volunteers who signed up ahead of time. It reduced the bottleneck and removed any confusion about what the point of contact was agreeing to. I have to extend my sincerest compliments to United Way Santa Barbara for this choice – I hope they do the same thing in 2014!

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