Volunteer ProgramChallenge: Not Enough Time to Serve the Number of People in Need

A Medicare counseling program was struggling to reach consumers in all corners of their state. Despite the hard work and dedication of their staff, they simply did not have enough hours in the day to serve a sufficient number of clients. When compared to their peers throughout the country, their productivity was far below average.

Their client base has been growing exponentially. The number of Medicare beneficiaries will explode in the next two decades, from 46 million in 2010 to 76 million in 2030. Given this surge in the aging population, and the increased pressure to expand and diversify the range of services provided by consumer health benefits counseling programs, it was imperative that the agency amplify its ability to serve the public in all corners of the state.

Volunteer ProgramObjective: Design a New Volunteer Program Strategy

To address these challenges, they decided to add a volunteer program component. Similar programs had successfully used volunteers in their direct service delivery, and they believed volunteer involvement was a strategic solution that might make sense.

They hired Tobi Johnson & Associates to help build the volunteer program strategy from the ground up. At TJA, we were thrilled with the opportunity to demonstrate that volunteers were a viable solution to their resourcing challenges and offered an opportunity to expand their reach into new communities.

Our project objective was to build a volunteer program framework that would increase the capacity of the program to deliver health benefits counseling services to all parts of the state, and meet their funder’s performance outcome goals, through effective recruitment, management, and deployment of community volunteers.

Volunteer ProgramSolution: Implement a Risk Management Plan and Human Resources Standard Processes

Over the next 12 months, we worked with their core leadership team to design and develop a comprehensive volunteer program infrastructure to attract, train, and retain highly skilled volunteers to deliver high-quality Medicare counseling services.

In order to realize the full return on investment that volunteer programs offer, we developed a standard volunteer onboarding and management protocol that provided a consistent, organized system for volunteer human resources management.

To guide the development of this system, we guided their team through a Risk Assessment and Management Planning Process. Our goal was to engage key staff in identifying areas of high probability and high potential impact risk and develop specific steps to mitigate these risks. This plan served as the foundation of the program’s policies and procedures. It would also inform many of the program’s processes and documents including the volunteer induction process and handbook.

After the preliminary planning process was complete, we set to work to develop the program tools and templates necessary to launch the program. These included:

  • Volunteer Onboarding Process, Toolbox, and Templates
  • Volunteer Orientation Training Materials
  • Volunteer Satisfaction Survey Toolkit
  • Volunteer Program Outcome Metrics
  • Volunteer Recognition and Retention Strategy
  • Partnership Development Packet and Agreement Template
  • Volunteer Awareness Training Slides and Presentation for Agency Staff
  • Final Report and Recommendations

4: VolunteerResults: New Volunteers!

At the close of the project, the agency had recruited over 60 community volunteers statewide who had either finished, or had been scheduled to attend, their training and certification program.

Advice: 4: Volunteer Program Strategy

  • What steps should someone take to implement this solution?
    • We highly recommend starting any new volunteer program design process, or any renovation for that matter, with a volunteer program risk assessment. It helps you prioritize what needs to be addresses first and what you can out on the back burner for later.
  • What should someone know before starting this process?
    • It is critical to get buy-in from the executive level of the organization before you start – they must believe that volunteerism is a viable strategy and are committed to supporting it through to implementation.
  • What top five things should someone consider before purchasing a similar solution?

1)   Assigning at least one staff person with primary responsibility for the project will be critical to its success, both during the project and going forward after the program is built.

2)   Also, include other staff early in the process, and keep them updated regularly, so that the new program is not a complete surprise.

3)   Be prepared for other staff roles to change as volunteers are integrated into the mix.

4)   For such a large project, budget is a consideration, and there are options. Organizations can hire a consulting firm to do most of the heavy lifting, they can divide the tasks with their consulting partner, or they can do the work entirely in house.

5)   Be sure you hire a firm that uses evidence-based strategies. There are plenty of commonly held volunteer program traditions that aren’t necessarily backed up by research. You want to be as efficient and as effective as possible right from the start.

  • What can someone learn from this process? 
    • Unanticipated benefits can result from projects like these, if the right people are invited to the table to learn and provide input. In this case, executive leadership at the agency participated in planning meetings. They emerged with a deeper appreciation for the needs of a volunteer-driven program and were dedicated to finding additional resources.