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The Value of Cape Cod Volunteers

SOURCE: The Cape Cod Times, Sean Driscoll

Organizations learn how to manage and invest in their unpaid workforce.

With a staff of four and a volunteer corps of more than 400, effectively managing the freewill workforce at the Falmouth Service Center is a key component of keeping more than 2,000 Falmouth households fed each year and processing the 15 tons of food that comes to the center’s pantry each week.

“We literally could not open our doors without volunteers,” said Sharon Howard, the agency’s volunteer coordinator.

That is why its participation in service enterprise training, which helps nonprofit leaders learn how to increase their ability to provide services to the community by making better use of their volunteer workforce, provided a crucial foundation for the service center’s growth.

“It was perfect timing for the evolution of our organization,” executive director Brenda Swain said.

Cape Cod Volunteers spearheaded bringing the training here, and the Cape and Islands United Way took over after folding the volunteer-matching service into its operations in 2015. Barbara Milligan, president and CEO of the local United Way, said the training helps nonprofits understand the value in volunteerism and the importance of investing in their volunteer corps.

“Sometimes if you want to make an investment in your volunteers, a volunteer recognition or celebration, not everyone sees the value in that,” she said. “But when you look at the value of that volunteer time — $165,000 from us last year, for example, or $1.78 million from the Family Pantry of Cape Cod — you can understand the worth of investing in that huge amount of human resource.”

Through the Cape Cod Volunteers portal, on which nonprofit organizations can post their volunteer needs and would-be volunteers can search for opportunities that match their availability and interests, 69 nonprofits that responded to its 2016 volunteer challenge reported a total value of more than $22 million from volunteers, Milligan said.

In 2015, the Falmouth Service Center was part of the first group on the Cape to receive the training, which is offered nationally by the Points of Light Foundation. At the time, Howard had just joined the center as its first paid staff member dedicated to volunteer management; she was part time then but quickly moved into a full-time roll.

Swain said the timing of joining the service enterprise training was coincidental to Howard’s hiring but proved to be serendipitous.

“It was important to provide the structure that would give the volunteer coordinator the best support necessary to do the best job she could,” said Swain, who went through the nearly yearlong training with Howard and some members of the service center’s board.

Milligan said the service enterprise training also pushes nonprofits to use their volunteer corps for specialized tasks that would otherwise be out of reach. The United Way, for example, is looking for a volunteer to take on a public health role with the organization, a skill set Milligan said was certainly present among the Cape’s population.

“Nonprofits are often challenged to think about themselves and how could we use professional skills if they were available to us,” she said. “This is Cape Cod; we have such a highly skilled volunteer population, so that’s why we’re interested in helping nonprofits understand the kinds of jobs they could be recruiting volunteers for.”

Seven organizations, including the United Way and Falmouth Service Center, have been certified through the service enterprise training, Milligan said; another five are in the process. The yearly training begins in January with a review and assessment of each participating nonprofit to determine the best plan for the required 20 hours of training, which happens in the spring. It then takes most organizations several months to a year to carry out new initiatives.

At the service center, the training sparked Howard to design new systems to more effectively manage the volunteers, including an online system to register volunteers and to let them log their hours and manage their shifts. Howard also started a weekly bulletin with updates on center operations and tips for doing their jobs more effectively, as well as constant thanks to the volunteers for their hard work.

Through the service enterprise training, Howard said, she and Swain calculated that the Falmouth Service Center is the beneficiary of 30,000 service hours a year worth more than a half-million dollars to the organization.

“We had never really thought about it that way, but to be able to share that back with the volunteers in a tangible, concrete way to let them know what their dollar impact was on the organization was very interesting,” she said.

Milligan is recruiting for the next round of the service enterprise training, which begins in 2018 and is offered at no charge because of funding from the Massachusetts Service Alliance. Interested parties can contact her at bmilligan@uwcapecod.org or by calling 508-775-4746.

— Follow Sean F. Driscoll on Twitter: @seanfdriscoll.