Wednesday, November 21, 2007

November Tutor/Mentor Conference Part 1 - Volunteer Recruitment Workshop

Last Thursday and Friday, we had our November Tutor/Mentor Conference at Olympia Fields Country Club in the south suburbs of Chicago. It was a great success and I really appreciate everyone who showed up and participated in our conference.

On Thursday morning, I had the privilege of leading a panel discussion on volunteer recruitment (and along with that volunteer retention and strategies for collaboration between programs). Along with me, Erin McPartlin from Cabrini Green Tutoring and Alex Cornwell from Chicago Lights at Fourth Presbyterian Church led the panel. I cannot say enough how appreciate their wisdom and experience in helping out with this discussion. Without them, I wouldn't have had such success with the panel.

Our panel touched on several important points - the first being where to find volunteers. A lot of people were unaware of the plethora of websites including our own Tutor/Mentor Connection website where volunteers can find out about programs, as well as websites such as Volunteer Match where organizations can find out about people wanting to volunteer. Also, I think people forget the good old method of word-of-mouth and in our panel discussion we emphasized the power of encouraging current volunteers to recruit their friends, co-workers and loved ones to volunteer along with them.

In volunteer recruitment, we also forget that retaining volunteers is an issue. Many programs that start in September are lucky to have 60% of their volunteers by the end of the year. A lot of this is due to outside circumstances (notably being transferred for a job) but a lot of people lose volunteers due to dissatisfaction on the volunteer's part. What Erin, Alex, and I emphasized is that our programs are really businesses that are selling a product - which is the product of helping a child out. Our volunteers are really our customers and if they're not happy with our product, then something needs to be changed. Something that might seem obvious, but that seems to work well with our programs is encouraging the volunteers not only to interact socially with our students, but also with each other. A lot of the volunteers in our program are young, 20 or 30-something professionals who are either single, or married but don't have kids yet. A great way for them to socialize is by going out after tutoring and having fun with each other.

Finally, the point that we wanted to drive home, and that I also tried to promote in my volunteer recruitment campaign is the importance of collaboration. Difference programs are NOT competing for volunteers, but rather working towards the same goal and have a lot to learn from each other. I certainly learned a lot from Erin and Alex and their programs and I think everyone who attended the panel did too.

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