Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Volunteers can help fill gaps in government, but need support

The Star Tribune has noted a recent trend of volunteers taking over roles that previously were occupied by paid employees ("Volunteers help fill holes that budget cuts left in cities' staffs," Feb. 28).While this trend is in some ways laudable, it may not always be manageable.

One of the biggest mistakes people often make in working with volunteers is assuming that they're free and easy to add to an organization. If they are in vital roles, as is often the case, it is essential that they be properly trained, supported and held accountable. This generally requires a paid professional volunteer manager. Without such infrastructure it is likely going to be a frustrating experience for all involved.

We are blessed with a great resource to support organizations interested in engaging and supporting volunteers. Hands On Twin Cities offers training, resources and networking opportunities that equip agencies to engage volunteers in meaningful service. It is also the go-to place to find volunteer opportunities.

I'm heading out to volunteer this morning as a math tutor for third grader's at Noble Elementary in Golden Valley.  I've been screened, trained and supported throughout the process by Volunteers in Partnership, which is a program supported by Robbinsdale Area School District's Community Education.  I've also been wonderfully welcomed by the classroom teacher and students at Noble!

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