VIP 360 helps FareStart add much needed spice to their volunteer program

Volunteer-Generation-Fund-logo-2The non-profit, 501 Commons in Washington State, receives a Volunteer Generation Fund (VGF) grant from Serve Washington to support a program run by the United Way of King County, called VIP 360.  501 Commons has been checking-in with past participants from the VIP 360 program. The following write up is a result of that long-term follow up. 

For FareStart, having too many cooks in the kitchen isn’t just an old saying; it’s their business model.

FareStart is a nonprofit organization that helps Seattle-area homeless and low-income individuals find employment in the food industry by providing training and experience working in the culinary arts. Their mission is to prepare individuals for the realities of working in the food service and restaurant industry and that  cannot happen without the guidance and support offered by their volunteers.

But with the organization experiencing rapid growth,–FareStart realized they needed to think differently about how they managed their volunteers

“Growth and change is a constant at FareStart,” says Erika Van Merr, a Major Gifts Officer at FareStart. “Anytime there’s remarkable growth, some parts of the organization will grow faster than others.”

Through word-of-mouth, in 2012 they learned about United Way’s Volunteer Impact Partnership (VIP) 360, a program delivered in partnership with 501 Commons. 

After going through VIP 360 and working closely with their planning consultants, FareStart started to change the way they managed their cohort of 1,300 volunteers. The most significant change they experienced was improving the way staff and volunteers communicated with each other.

“VIP 360 helped us rethink how we work and interact with volunteers,” Erika says. “It helped us go through an entire cultural change around volunteer management. Our consultants drafted a volunteer philosophy statement and helped us think through our technology to streamline scheduling and communication to our volunteers.”

It is estimated that FareStart’s volunteers save the organization $500,000 in operating expenses per year. The services they offer range from serving on the board to providing direct services to students such as conducting mock job interviews and teaching employment skills, assisting at events, delivering meals to homeless shelters around the city, and other vital tasks.

Other benefits FareStart saw as a result of going through the VIP program include cultivating better conversations about volunteer management, filming  a volunteer orientation video, creating a volunteer handbook, launching a volunteer program committee, and elevating the culture of volunteerism within the organization. Erika says the lasting impact of the program is allowing an avenue for conversations to occur internally about how best to engage volunteers in the delivery of their mission.

The Volunteer Generation Fund (VGF) is a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service. There are 17 state service commissions administering VGF grants to expand volunteer infrastructure by supporting volunteer management practices that increase volunteer recruitment and retention. Learn more at


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