The Volunteer Impact Program (VIP): A Review of Results after Seven Years

The Volunteer Impact Program (VIP) was developed in 2009 by the United Way of King County and 501 Commons, in part with the support of a Volunteer Generation Fund (VGF) grant. The program was a response to a surge in public and private sector campaigns for volunteers. These campaigns emphasized the mobilization of volunteers to address community needs, but paid little attention to the challenges of involving volunteers and optimizing their impact.

Volunteer management training series had been offered in King County for 15 years.  Though well attended, the training series had not resulted in the kind of organizational change necessary to effectively involve volunteers.  To accomplish that, there was a need to engage the whole organization in evaluating their volunteer efforts. The Volunteer Impact Program was developed to address that shortcoming.

The intent of VIP was to provide a rigorous program that would:
  1. Assess the effectiveness of organizations’ volunteer involvement efforts
  2. Identify challenges they need to address with their volunteer involvement efforts
  3. Develop a volunteer impact plan to better prepare volunteer manager to involve volunteers with their organization.
In order to increase success, VIP encouraged involvement at all levels within the organization. The program included these elements:
  • Volunteer-staffed consulting teams to support participating nonprofits’ assessment of volunteer involvement efforts, creation of action plans for improving volunteer management, and development of new opportunities for engaging skills-based volunteers.
  • Cohort training and peer learning for executive leadership, volunteer program managers and the volunteer consulting teams.
  • Small grants to VIP organizations to help implement key elements of their action plans.

A Team of Volunteer Consultants

501 Commons provides the key administrative and logistical support to VIP.  In addition to recruiting and screening the VIP volunteers and matching the volunteer consultants with VIP organizations, they facilitate the working relationship between the volunteers and their assigned organization. They also provide the overall project management and host the online communication and collaboration tools.

A critical component of VIP is the engagement of skilled volunteers to work with VIP organizations to ensure the successful completion of the program. 501Commons, a Seattle-based nonprofit, uses VGF funds to help recruit, train and match these skilled professionals in teams of two with each VIP organization. The volunteer consulting teams work with the VIP organization to review volunteer management assessment results, discuss organizational needs and capacity, agree on assets, issues and priorities, and develop volunteer involvement action plans with specific goals and timelines for implementation.

VIP volunteers bring a broad range of skills and experience to the program. Many are seasoned human resource professionals, others have significant training and development expertise and still others come from executive positions. The volunteers work as consultants in the nonprofit, technology, financial, manufacturing and human services sectors.

>All VIP volunteers receive orientation and training in program expectations, the basics of volunteer management, the culture of nonprofits and the use of the volunteer management assessment tool. To support the volunteers throughout VIP, VIP staff convene volunteer consultant ‘roundtables’ where volunteers meet with their consultant peers to share challenges, progress and opportunities for collaboration,

At the heart of the VIP model – and its starting point – is conducting a volunteer management assessment.  Based on the Volunteer Management Audit by Susan J. Ellis (Energize, 2003), each organization conducts an intensive assessment of their volunteer management practices to identify key issues or challenges. This assessment provides a benchmark for current volunteer management practice and a road map for the 12-18 month volunteer impact plan to address those issues.

To prepare VIP for the assessment phase, VIP organization staff receive training on volunteer program management and standard practice and identify two or three staff or volunteers to comprise a Volunteer Leadership Team (VLT).  Over a three-week period, this team conducts a comprehensive assessment of the agency’s volunteer management practices. Based on the assessment results, and assisted by the volunteer teams, each VLT identifies three key issues that need attention to strengthen their volunteer engagement efforts.

Volunteer Impact Action Plans

The key issues identified in the Assessment phase become the basis of that organization’s volunteer impact action plan. With the support of the VIP volunteer consultants, the VLT drafts goals for each key issue, identifies objectives and actions steps to meet those goals. The teams then develop at least three outcome measures and targets so the organization can assess if they achieve their goals.

During the assessment and planning process, staff in participating organizations gather with their peers to learn from each other’s experience in moving through the program and to receive guidance on planning questions. The volunteer consultants also meet twice for peer sharing and learning.

Evaluating Impact

image002-1Periodic evaluations have assessed the key elements and impact of VIP. One is conducted at the end of the ten months, and assessed the immediate impact/change resulting from participation in VIP. Nine months following completion of the program, follow-up evaluation discovers longer-term impact on volunteer numbers, types of volunteers, and mission impact, as well as progress on their action plans.  Recently, all past participants were interviewed again, to discover the longer term impact.

One of the organizations recently interviewed was the Rainier Valley Food Bank. The Rainier Valley Food Bank (RVFB) provides food assistance to close to 10,000 low-income residents in southeast Seattle each month.

RVFB focuses on seniors, families, individuals with disabilities and the homeless, and is dedicated to serving all who meet the food bank’s broad criteria for assistance. RVFB distributes an average of over 14,000 pounds of food per day.  Their small staff depends on volunteers to get the food out the door. RVFB saw an immediate benefit from their participation in VIP: a 100% increase in the number of volunteer hours per month (from 900 to 1800 hours per month).

When RVFB enrolled in VIP, their volunteer program consisted of a telephone, some scraps of paper, several disparate spreadsheets stored on different off-site computers, a draft volunteer handbook, a sign-in sheet and a whiteboard calendar. Volunteer recruitment consisted of one recruitment event each year, which they struggled to staff.  They also struggled to manage the volume of calls and e-mails from prospective volunteers. When they received offers of help they would take down names, but were not able to return many of these calls.  They simply did not have a system in place to respond. Recognition for RVFB volunteers was non-existent.

2010 was also a year of transition and growth for RVFB. They had experienced higher client numbers than ever before and were planning a move to a new, larger facility over the summer. They needed to leverage volunteer support in new ways to meet these challenges.  At the time they applied for VIP participation, they were in the process of finalizing a job description for a new paid administrative position that included volunteer management.

image004The VIP volunteer program assessment process helped RVFB to identify key issues impacting their volunteer engagement efforts:
  • The lack of data management and record keeping systems to track volunteers.
  • Haphazard or “on the fly” management and supervision of volunteers.
  • The need for improved recruitment efforts that that would match the skills of their volunteers with the needs of the food bank.

Assisted by their VIP volunteer consulting team, RVFB developed a volunteer impact action plan that focused on addressing these issues.  They also submitted a grant request for an implementation consultant to help them improve existing job descriptions and develop an online application form.

As a result of participation in VIP, the number of volunteer hours at the Rainier Valley Food Bank had increased from 900 to 1800 hours each month. By the end of 2010, the total contribution of volunteer time was the equivalent of eight full-time employees, a dramatic increase from 2009.  In 2016, they reported that they have quadrupled the number of clients served, and cut their wait time 70%, from their pre-VIP results.

The RVFB staff was pleasantly surprised to find that this increase in hours did not require twice the work; they achieved this increase by managing their volunteers more efficiently. RVFB attributes this directly to VIP and the training and support their staff received. RVFB now has an official volunteer recognition program, they track their volunteers and they have a new online form for applications.

image005

Volunteer-Generation-Fund-logo-2The 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 www.statecommissions.org.

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