The response we’ve seen from communities, nonprofits, and the volunteers that support them during this crisis has been truly inspiring. Nonprofits and volunteers nation-wide continue to find creative ways to support their communities amid the challenge of COVID-19. We know how hard you have been working – we wanted to highlight one organization’s successful response to the pandemic and share it with the rest of our network. One of the best ways to get inspired to continue to meet this challenge is to hear about and learn from the actions of others.
We were particularly interested in the response of Willamalane Park and Recreation District, an organization that worked fast to engage their resources and contingent of loyal volunteers to provide essential community services. We interviewed Mavis Sanchez-Scholes, Willamalane’s Volunteer Program Coordinator, to learn how she found creative ways to make a difference at this critical time, all while keeping her community safe.
Meet Willamalane Park and Recreation District
Willamalane Park and Recreation District of Springfield, Oregon oversees nearly 50 parks and recreational areas and serves 1.8 million patrons annually. The organization relies on its volunteer program to fulfill its mission, “Deliver exceptional parks and recreation to enrich the lives of everyone we serve.” The Willamalane Volunteer Program sees more than 500 volunteers each year.
Here’s how Sanchez-Scholes is leveraging her volunteers to serve her community while responding to COVID-19.
In complying with COVID-19 health regulations, Willamalane put in-person volunteer programming on hold. But they found that their loyal supporters still wanted to help the community.
“Volunteers remain essential to our mission, now more than ever. Our traditional in-person volunteer opportunities are all on hold, but we’ve heard from our dedicated volunteers that they would still like to participate and help the community,” said Sanchez-Scholes.
But to keep everyone safe, she had to get creative. To support her community, she quickly created virtual volunteer opportunities, allowing the organization’s new and regular volunteers to participate from home.
Their current virtual opportunities include translation of important organization documents into Spanish, mask sewing for the community’s health care workers, administrative tasks, and creative card making. All opportunities can be performed remotely, offering flexibility for volunteers who want to make a difference safely and in their own time.
Sanchez-Scholes highlighted virtual opportunities using Willamalane’s dedicated volunteer management site, making it easy for remote volunteers to find them and quickly sign up.
Thinking Ahead: Onboarding
Despite limited operations, it was important to Sanchez-Scholes that her program still welcomed new volunteers. She was surprised how many volunteers still wanted to participate during the crisis and wanted to ensure she wasn’t turning them away. So, she invited new volunteers to register with her program and take part in their volunteer onboarding programs, all online. This meant that volunteers who wanted to take part in in-person opportunities later in the year could onboard now and hit the ground running upon re-open.
For organizations wishing to onboard volunteers from home, Sanchez-Scholes recommends creating online materials, like courses and engaging videos that you can upload to your volunteer management software or website. She also makes sure to send an introductory email to newly registered volunteers, welcoming eager volunteers, outlining current operating procedures, and providing training instructions with the appropriate links.
Sanchez-Scholes knew her volunteers were likely to ask a lot of questions during these uncertain times. So she addressed questions and concerns by maintaining regular communication. Here are some ways Sanchez-Scholes is communicating with her community:
- Email Updates: Sanchez-Scholes keeps her community informed regularly via email. Each week, she provides updates about the organization and its volunteer program, like newly implemented safety measures. Email tends to be the easiest and best method of reaching volunteers, especially when circumstances are changing regularly. Sanchez-Scholes’ emails are both informative and uplifting in tone.
- Newsletter: Sanchez-Scholes also engages volunteers by writing her regular volunteer newsletter, with the goal of keeping the Willamalane community informed and safe, while looking forward to the future. Her newsletter content ranges from simply checking on her volunteers to featuring the program’s new virtual volunteer opportunities.
- Surveys: Shortly after implementing virtual volunteering opportunities, Sanchez-Scholes sent her volunteers a volunteer survey. Sanchez-Scholes wanted to collect volunteer feedback to better support her volunteers during such an unusual time. The survey also served to gauge her volunteers’ engagement with the virtual opportunities, which will ultimately guide her program’s response to crises moving forward. What’s more, surveys are a great way to inspire participation, so volunteers feel involved even at home.
- Website Updates: Sanchez-Scholes posts regular updates to the Willamalane volunteer management site and highlights them using a Banner, so the information is easily accessible.
Volunteer Management Software
Sanchez-Scholes was able to implement these strategies seamlessly using her volunteer management software,
“I truly have loved all the updates my volunteer management software has released in order to make our jobs easier and to help our volunteers along the process.”
Thanks to her software, she was able to easily adapt her program and operations. Her dedicated volunteers rely on Willamalane’s volunteer management software to access key program information and register for volunteer opportunities, so it was important that her volunteers felt comfortable with the transition. She also wanted to adapt quickly to the changing circumstances.
Fortunately, despite the program’s cancellation of all in-person volunteering opportunities, Sanchez-Scholes transitioned her entire volunteer site with ease; she was able to promptly deactivate the program’s traditional in-person opportunities, and instead put virtual volunteer opportunities and updates in front of her volunteers within hours. What’s more, even though Sanchez-Scholes was working from home, she was able to welcome onboarding and registration seamlessly, as she could access her web-based platform anywhere.
Most importantly, Sanchez-Scholes kept her volunteers up-to-date throughout the entire process by sending all communication through her software using a built-in email tool. She took advantage of her software’s automated notifications to welcome newly registered volunteers and inform others of cancelled opportunities. And because her volunteer management system is both comprehensive and centralized, Sanchez-Scholes could stay in touch with each volunteer, approve logged virtual hours, register new volunteers, and put forth virtual volunteering opportunities all using a singular platform.
Our communities rely on nonprofits and their volunteers to regularly fill gaps in service. During the current crisis, organizations across the country and around the world have stepped up even more and are continuing to find creative ways to address critical needs. The response of Willamalane Park and Recreation District is just one example of the hard work organizations like yours are putting in.
We wanted to share their strategies to help inspire your own and reassure you that you’re not alone. Whether you’ve had to pause operations entirely, or you continue to work on the front lines, we’re all in this together.