Archive for July, 2010

Featured Corporate Volunteer Program: Costco

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

volunteerscreeningblogCostco is known to provide good values to its members and as a good place to work for its employees. Costco has also pledged to give back to the communities it serves—and not to build market share, but because it’s the right thing to do.

The entire corporation got behind the fund drive for the Children’s Miracle Network (CMN). Employees encouraged members to buy paper balloons and print their names on them—with all proceeds going to CMN. To promote more balloon purchases, a Seattle employee even wore them while working! And he alone was responsible for $10,000 in donations. Altogether, more than $11.5 million was raised this year through Costco’s employees and members.

Costco launched a company-wide Volunteer Reading Program in 1998. Interested staff are trained to tutor children who need extra help developing better reading skills. They meet weekly with their students, who range from grade school to high school age.

At Costco headquarters outside Seattle, WA, the employee-run Volunteer Center acts as a clearinghouse for identifying local needs, then promoting and tracking volunteer opportunities. The center has registered about 300 Costco employees. Each month, local charities can present their programs to the group, which finds ways to help. From soup kitchens to Toys for Tots; Outdoors for All to Gilda’s Club, volunteers from Costco are giving back in big ways.

The Costco Backpack Program is a nationwide program, started in 1993. Each warehouse identifies a local school to “adopt.” Employees then distribute new backpacks filled with supplies to each student in a chosen grade. Since 2005, more than 225,000 backpacks have been given away each year by Costco in the U.S.

Individual Costco employees also find their own ways to give back, from taking bakery items to the homeless to holding disc golf tournaments to raise money for Big Brothers Big Sisters. In Alaska, the Anchorage Costco warehouse manager helped the Alaska Air National Guard as they delivered Christmas gifts to needy families in remote villages. And in Maryland a Costco employee helps knit items for infants, soldiers and nursing home residents.

These are just a few of they way Costco and its employees volunteer in their communities, making them better for everyone!

The Importance of a Volunteer Strategy

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

volunteerscreeningblog.comEvery non profit organization (NPO) needs a volunteer strategy. Whether it’s for recruiting board members or office helpers, a plan is essential to finding, retaining, and training volunteers. And, it can make the volunteer manager or executive director’s job much easier!

Why should NPOs have a volunteer strategy?

Volunteer strategies allow volunteer programs to run more smoothly. Planning is the first step to any successful endeavor. If your NPO is embarking on a volunteer program without a plan, it could fail, putting the entire organization further behind on its goals.

  • They make recruiting volunteers much easier. A volunteer strategy should identify the best-fit volunteers for the organization, including demographic information (age, gender, occupation, residence, etc.), level of involvement and needed skills. Once the various groups of potential volunteers are identified, it is much easier to find them, reach them, and recruit them.
  • To help focus orientation and training efforts: A well-trained volunteer is a better volunteer. Defining roles, supplying job descriptions, and identifying staff or volunteer trainers is essential to properly orienting and training volunteers. How can training be accomplished correctly—and replicated—without planning?
  • To keep volunteers engaged and help avoid burnout. Another important aspect to volunteer strategy is retention. It’s usually not a good idea to recruit volunteers and then ignore them. Keeping them interested in the mission of the NPO, demonstrating appreciation, and soliciting their feedback are all vital pieces to the retention puzzle. And there are many more—which should be explored when creating a volunteer strategy.
  • To enable NPOs to develop leaders out of volunteers. If an NPO’s executive or volunteer director is not focused on the volunteer strategy, there is a huge potential for loss, both in the simple numbers of volunteers (who are not being successfully retained) and in the loss of potential leadership. When a strategy has been established, everyone is more focused. Seeing the leadership qualities in volunteers becomes an everyday thing. And those who could help take the NPO closer to its goals will not fall by the wayside, unnoticed and underappreciated.

Every businessperson knows the importance of planning for the future and strategizing on how to get there. The non profit sector can take this page out of the business playbook and use it to successfully run volunteer programs!

Spotlight on Fresh Air Fund: Host Families Needed Now

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Since 1877, The Fresh Air Fund has been providing a respite in the country and suburbs to inner-city children from New York City. At no cost to their families, boys and girls from six to 18 get to experience green trees, rambling rivers, bar-b-ques by the lake, and of course—the fresh air they don’t get much of in the big city.

In 2009, close to 5,000 kids were hosted for up to two weeks by volunteer host families in 13 northeastern states and Canada. The generous hosts often form bonds with their guests, and more than 65% of Fresh Air children are invited to stay with their host families year after year. Fresh Air Fund is all about building relationships.

Host families can be of any size, ethnicity or background. There are no financial requirements, and hosts can request a specific age group and gender for their Fresh Air child guest.

Fresh Air children are six to 12 years old their first year; children can stay in the program through age 18 when re-invited by the same family. Most visits are one or two weeks, but repeat guests can stay for longer visits. Most Fresh Air children are from low-income communities, and families who lack the ability to send them to camp or go on summer vacations together. They often grow up without access to parks or open play areas.

Riding bikes, feeling the grass beneath bare feet or running through the woods are experiences that remain with Fresh Air children for their lifetimes. Host children and Fresh Air children often form friendships that last long beyond childhood.

The Fresh Air Fund also provides summer camp for 3,000 New York City children at five upstate New York camps, other educational opportunities, and a Career Awareness Program for New York City adolescents.

Since 1877, more than 1.7 million inner-city kids have enjoyed summer vacations with host families—all funded through the generosity of thousands of contributors. It’s not too late to sign up to be a host family for 2010. By offering some fresh air and simple fun to an inner-city child, your family could have a life-changing experience, too.