Tag Archives: oregon

Trusting teen volunteers with leadership – would you?

WA Co Oregon sheriff logoI love it when an organization’s representative says that the reason they involve volunteers for particular tasks is “because volunteers are the best people for those tasks.” Not because of the myth that volunteers are “free” and “save money.”

But it’s so rare that I hear anyone say that.

I had one of these rare moments recently at the Washington County, Oregon Sheriff’s citizens academy, when the topic of the Sheriff’s Office search and rescue team was discussed in detail. The positions on the sheriff’s primary search and rescue team are reserved for teen volunteers. You read that right: THESE POSITIONS ARE RESERVED FOR TEEN VOLUNTEERS. Not paid adults, not reserve deputies – TEEN VOLUNTEERS. This team is the PRIMARY search and rescue team for this area – not an auxiliary. The search and rescue team looks for (and finds!) lost people, downed aircraft, evidence in major crimes, and more. The members are highly trained and particularly-trained. They must be 14 to 19 years old, meet all of the minimum requirements, complete the intensive training academy, and make a minimum 2-year commitment.hey “age out” of the program in December following their 21st birthday.

So why is such an important, essential, life-saving, high-responsibility investigative program reserved for teen volunteers? I asked the organizer during the presentation. His reply, according to my notes, “Because they will do absolutely anything. They will get down on their hands and knees, side by side, and slowly crawl across a football field in cold weather, literally with their noses to the ground, looking for a bullet casing linked to a crime. They will thoroughly search an area with young, sharp eyes. They will come when called, even when it’s 3 a.m., and get right to work, and they will follow directions exactly – and in this work, they MUST follow their directions and training exactly. Because we can absolutely rely on them.”

Yes, of course there are older people that could be just as committed… I hear those “we shouldn’t make sweeping generalizations about different age groups!” thoughts out there, I do. And I’m sure there are other reasons that these teens make such great volunteers – because they don’t have family commitments, they don’t have job commitments, they have the flexibility and support to do these intensive activities, they aren’t plagued by the physical constraints that many of us older folks are (I can’t barely get up off the ground anymore, let alone crawl across such), and on and on.

But consider how refreshing it is to hear someone talk this way about teenagers. In all of my time working in volunteer management research and consulting – two decades – I have never heard anyone say that teenagers were the best people for a particular volunteering role. I’ve just heard over and over why teens cannot do this or that, or shouldn’t do this or that, why older volunteers don’t want to work with them, how they don’t take their commitment seriously, and on and on and on.

If the Washington County Sheriff’s Department thinks so highly of teen volunteers, and you don’t… if they are having such great success with teen volunteers in such high responsibility roles and you aren’t… what is it that they might be doing that you aren’t?

Citizens academy – intensive community engagement

WA Co Oregon sheriff logoLast year, I wrote a blog in defense of police departments involving volunteers while also affirming that many police departments need drastic overhauls to be more transparent, better serve their communities and to cultivate trust with the communities they serve.

Since moving back to the USA in 2009, I’ve seen several notices from various police agencies offering a citizens academy. These aren’t mere open houses, where members of the public come in to meet a few officers, take a tour of a station, have some snacks and take a selfie with a uniformed officer. These academies take place over several weeks, with citizens receiving detailed presentations about individual programs within the department – tactical teams, narcotics investigation teams, crisis response teams, patrol, robotics, incarceration, arrests processing, etc. – and these presentations aren’t by interns or admin assistants but the officers running those programs and working on the front lines. Attendees ask questions, sometimes contentious questions (yeah, me, as usual), and officers are on-the-spot to respond.

I signed up for such a citizen’s academy by the Washington County, Oregon sheriff’s department. It’s 14 sessions, over more than two months – every Tuesday night, and also all day on three Saturdays. There are almost 30 people in the academy; by my estimation, about a third in my academy are young people wanting to be police officers, more than half are retired people interested in how the police work and who have lots of time on their hands, and the rest of us, probably just six or so people, are what I would characterize as people who want to learn more because of both or professional work and our personal politics: a mental health professional, an advocate for the mentally ill, an employee at a school, a counselor in training and… me! We’re more than halfway through the academy.

I’m taking the academy for two specific reasons: first, as a consultant and researcher regarding volunteer engagement and communications, I’m talking to organizations about community engagement. While these academies are not volunteer engagement, they are most certainly community engagement, and I wanted to see such a model up close, first hand, to see how it works and to think about ways the idea might be exported to other, non-law enforcement agencies and even overseas. I think this model of community engagement forces a level of transparency across an agency, something in which many programs are great need. It’s not something that could be instituted overnight – it would require a cultural change at most agencies to institute something like this. I also would like to see police departments in transitional countries in particular, with reputations for police corruption and abuses, instituting their own citizen academies, jail tours, job shadows and ridealongs, but I can’t advocate for that in my work overseas if I haven’t experienced it myself.

Secondly, I’m a human rights advocate, and when I look at what happened in Ferguson, Missouri in particular, I am outraged. And I think about, and sometimes see, police abuses worldwide – corruption in police departments, under the guise of fees, fines, and law enforcement (like forfeiture), happens in many places globally. Reflecting a theme I said in a blog earlier, I would love to see Black Lives Matter advocates and police reform advocates signing up for these citizen academies at police and sheriff’s departments across the USA, as well signing up for jail tours and job shadows and ride alongs with patrol officers – I think it could create more understanding and change for both the police and the community.

I am really enjoying this academy, but there are two things missing: first, there should have been a survey of participants at the very first session about their perceptions of both the sheriff’s department and police and jails in general. Then, at our last class, they should give us that survey again. It would be fascinating to see if perceptions are changed. Secondly, the problems with the sheriff’s department regarding its own officers and other staff, such as this, or this, or this, or this, or this, or this or this, or this – all happening in the last three years – have not been mentioned – just a comment about “We’ve taken a beating in the media.” We really should have heard from someone in charge of internal investigations and about efforts to create a culture of respect within the department for women, teens, immigrants, etc.

Presenters should also keep in mind that they are talking to a diverse group in terms of feelings about the police and government. For instance, a few people in the class have had incarcerated family members and others on the other side of the criminal justice system; jokes about people in the throes of a drug aren’t always appreciated by such. Presenters are certainly entitled to share their opinions – I really like knowing where they stand – but they might not want to assume the silence of some people in the room means agreement.

I’d also like to see a similar academy for officers and jail staff themselves, done by various nonprofit and government agencies that serve crime victims (and those frequently targeted by criminals), such as domestic violence shelters, mental health providers, rape counseling centers, nonprofits working with immigrants, etc., that serve those that have been arrested and incarcerated, such as nonprofits working with gang members, programs serving people with alcohol and drug abuse problems, etc., and those that are engaged in local human rights and racial justice issues  That would force a level of face-to-face detail and discussion and even debate that’s very much needed in many communities.

All that said – HUGE kudos to the Washington County, Oregon’s Sheriff’s Department for doing this academy. It’s very well done, it’s a model for other police departments looking to do something like this, I’ve really enjoyed it so far, I’m really looking forward to the rest of the presentations and experiences, and I highly recommend it.

In case you are wondering, yes, I did a ride along with a deputy. I went on a shift from 6 p.m. to 4 a.m. It was fascinating. I hope I wasn’t too annoying with my many, many questions.

Update April 10, 2016: The Oregonian today published a profile of the death in 2014 of an inmate in the Washington County jail.

Update August 10, 2016: The first known citizen’s police academy held in the USA was established in Orlando in 1985, according to a report from the Criminal Justice Institute. Last year, the International Association for Chiefs of Police listed such academies as an integral way to improve community relations. Establishing these courses was also named as an action item in the final report from the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The National Citizens Police Academy Association explains the importance of the courses on its website.

Also see this info and resources regarding police corruption in other countries:

Handbook on police accountability, oversight and integrity from United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Policy Briefing Paper: Gender Sensitive Police Reform in Post Conflict Societies from United Nations Women.

Ukraine replaces entire police force to beat corruption

Corrupt Mexico Police Concentrated in 10 States

Bulgaria Launches Ambitious Plan to Curb Police Corruption

Nigeria Police Extortion: Buhari Warns Against Corruption In National Force

OPB & Congress Think Volunteers are Free

It’s bad enough that more than 30 miles of dirt trails and primitive roads in Deschutes National Forest in Oregon were deliberately wrecked in 2014 by unsupervised volunteers who were supposed to be doing necessary, environmentally-appropriate trail maintenance, causing more than $200,000 in damage and who, according to this story on OPB News, are still being allowed to do trail maintenance.

But the comments in the OPB story by politicians and others about the role of volunteers has my blood boiling, not to mention that OPB did not call any volunteer management experts, such as those that are a part of the Northwest Oregon Volunteer Administrators Association , to find an Oregon-based professional manager of volunteers to talk to, to find out about the vast amount of volunteer management resources and expertise that could help make things better and about the very high standards of various volunteer engagement programs. Or call Susan Ellis, the world’s foremost trainer and publisher regarding the management and support of volunteers. Or ME, right here in Oregon and registered on the OPB Public Insight Network to offer commentary regarding volunteer engagement!

The National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act, sponsored by Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyoming, has been proposed recently in the USA Congress. It would strongly encourage government agencies to increase volunteer involvement in trail maintenance, but it doesn’t include funding for agency oversight of volunteers – it doesn’t include any money for volunteer management, for recruiting volunteers, screening them, supervising them, etc. Why does it lack such funding? Well, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Oregon, a co-sponsor of the act, in his comment to OPB, shows exactly why:

“We don’t have the resources at the federal level to maintain these trails. And yet there’s a group of volunteers out there willing to do the work.”

Could you hear the unspoken “for free” at the end of Walden’s sentence? I could! In short: We have all this work to do. Let’s get some people to work for free to do it. That is a great summation of the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act. And as any seasoned manager of volunteers or trainer knows, that’s a JOKE we frequently tell at conferences and workshops when trying to show what bad volunteer management looks like. Because NO ONE volunteers for that reason, and because of the implication that volunteers are free – and we know volunteers are NEVER free. Someone has to pay for the volunteers to be appropriately recruited, screened, trained, supervised and supported – otherwise, you end up with tragic consequences similar to what happened in Deschutes National Forest- or worse.

That’s the crux of all these stories from OPB about what happened in Oregon and about this pending bill: volunteers save money! That’s why they are involved!

Here’s a proposal for those managing public lands, and something OPB should consider in future stories about any volunteer engagement, good or bad, at any agency: maybe volunteers are actually the best people to undertake certain activities, like running campgrounds, teaching about Leave No Trace principles and staffing the front desks of ranger stations, not because they are unpaid, but because such involvement allows members of the public to experience first-hand how public lands are administered and how to support the public in experiencing them. Or because of the particular passion or approach volunteers bring to the task that paid employees might not. Or because members of the public might like interacting with a volunteer, rather than someone paid to be there. Or because volunteer involvement is per an organization’s commitment to create opportunities for the community to participate in the org’s work and offer feedback that isn’t financially-based (they aren’t being paid) and endorse the importance of public lands through their investment of time. Say volunteer involvement is part of an organization’s commitment to both transparency and in creating opportunities for community investment in its work. Involve volunteers because it allows people to be involved in the administration and enjoyment of public lands without having to give up whatever they do professionally. Those are reasons that INSPIRE people to volunteer – not, “we have all this work to do, please come do it.”

Emphasizing the money saved in involving unpaid staff also tends to create hostilities with paid staff, who are often angry at the idea of volunteers being involved in order to eliminate paid positions (and they SHOULD be angry at such comments!). The links at the end of this blog explore this and other dangers in emphasizing that the primary reason to involve volunteers is because they aren’t paid.

Instead, organizations that administer public lands should create a mission statement for your volunteer engagement that has NOTHING to do with saving money. And learn to talk about the value of volunteer engagement. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t involve dollar figures.

Oh, but wait, there’s more…. there’s the comments in the story from Andy Stahl, executive director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, a national watchdog organization. First up from him:

“Relying on volunteers, as well-intentioned as they are, doesn’t always yield good results.”

The implication, of course, is that volunteers are unreliable, can’t be trusted, are incompetent, etc., and that paychecks are magical and make people better workers – thus, only paid employees can do such work properly! Here’s what the quote SHOULD say, to be accurate:

Relying on untrained, unsupervised volunteers, as well-intentioned as they are, doesn’t always yield good results.

And we could substitute the phrase “paid employees” for “volunteers,” and the new sentence would be accurate as well.

Mr. Stahl also made my head explode with his outrageous statement:

“it would be nice if we could hold volunteers to high standards, for even acceptable ones, but you get what you pay for.”

What an insult to every volunteer firefighter, every volunteer emergency rescue person, every Peace Corps member, and every other volunteer out there that goes through hours and hours and hours of training, over many weeks, even months, often right alongside professionals, to master the skills necessary to do their very serious, even dangerous work. These volunteers are held to high standards – and volunteers who can’t meet those standards are FIRED. They are removed from service, just like a paid employee. That loud “bam” you heard if you were listening to the OPB story in Oregon? It was me, hitting the table in front of me out of outrage over this shameful, insulting statement. My dog is still terrified of me over that.

Kevin Larkin, district ranger for the Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District in the Deschutes National Forest, had to learn of the vital importance of the basics of volunteer management the hard way. He says now, “It’s not as simple as welcoming a volunteer through the door, handing that person a shovel and saying, ‘Go do good work. There’s direction, guidance and attention that’s needed.”

Oh, Mr. Larkin, there are vasts amounts of resources that could have helped you manage and support these volunteers right from the get go. Some resources are free. Many aren’t, but they cost much, much less than $200,000. I wish you had known about them, and I wish you had the funding to tap into them – the books, the workshops, the conferences… even university-level certificate programs on managing volunteers.

Congress must realize volunteers aren’t free, and that there will be financial costs in involving volunteers in trail maintenance on US public lands – and that they are going to have to fund those costs. Otherwise, we’re going to have much bigger bills in terms of trail damage – and worse. I’ve created this petition at Change.org, calling on the bill’s co-sponsors to amend the act so that it provides the resources necessary for this increased volunteer engagement on public lands to be successful. If you are in the USA, or you are a USA citizen abroad, please read over the petition, consider signing it, and share it with your network!

And OPB: next time you are doing a story about volunteers, please call me, or the Northwest Oregon Volunteer Administrators Association, to find a volunteerism expert to comment on your story, give you guidance, etc.

Also see Volunteers trying to help on their own, a blog about how DIY “trail improvements” by unsanctioned, unsupervised volunteers are causing serious damage to a nature preserve, and what to do if you discover that an official volunteer of your organization is doing activities in the name of your organization but outside of the approval of your program.

For more on the subject of the value of volunteer or community engagement:

Using volunteerism to build clients’ skills

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersPerhaps your organization has volunteers that help your employees or that help clients at your organization. But have you thought about volunteerism as a central part of your initiative’s program delivery, by facilitating your clients in volunteering activities?

Here’s an example: Adelante Mujeres is a nonprofit in Western Washington County, Oregon, about 30 minutes west of Portland. It provides education and empowerment opportunities to low-income Latina women and their families, in order to ensure their full participation and active leadership in the community. Its Chicas Youth Development works with more than 400 Latina students, grades three through 12, with the goal of instilling the importance of community leadership and civic engagement, and cultivating their skills for school, for future studies, for careers, and for life. The students, as volunteers, provide tech help at public libraries, pick up trash, plant trees and engage in other activities around the area. The participants in this program are role models for younger girls in the community, encouraging those younger girls to become volunteers, and leaders, themselves. The Chicas program has been selected as a 2015 Oregon Governor’s Volunteer Award Winner.

A nonprofit serving people who are homeless could invite those clients to volunteer with the organization, or could work to help them volunteer at other organizations, so that they can build their skills, accomplish things that can be put on a résumé, and meet people that could be potential references for jobs. A nonprofit that helps combat veterans re-integrate into society could help organize group volunteering activities so these clients can engage in a social activity together and have a positive result at the end of the day.

Too often, volunteerism is talked about only as something to supplement the work of paid staff, or as outsiders helping clients. By contrast, this other type of volunteering is integrated into a nonprofit’s program, into its mission-based activities. Volunteering is offered as an activity for clients to undertake themselves, as a part of accomplishing whatever it is a nonprofit wants to accomplish.

Congrats to Adelante Mujeres for this recognition of its outstanding program. And if you have other examples, please share them in the comments!

Nov. 11, 2015 update: Team Rubicon “seeks to provide our veterans with three things they lose after leaving the military: a purpose, gained through disaster relief; community, built by serving with others; and self-worth, from recognizing the impact one individual can make.” It does this through volunteering, uniting the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams.

Yes, I love court-ordered community service folks

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersThe Oregon Volunteers Commission for Voluntary Action and Service recently hosted meetings all over the state of Oregon with representatives from nonprofits, religious organizations and government agencies that involve volunteers, and volunteers themselves, to gather information to use in the 2016-18 Oregon State Service Plan and prepare a report for the Oregon Legislature on how to strengthen volunteerism and engagement.

I attended the Washington County meeting. Not many people attended, unfortunately, but the attendees that were there were enthusiastic and ready to work. The second best part of the meeting, for me, was watching one of the commission board members begin to realize just what a pain in the neck requests to nonprofits from corporations for group volunteering activities can be.

The best part of the meeting, for me, was when Sarah Delphine of Hillsboro Parks & Recreation said she loved working with court-ordered community service folks, and I immediately demanded a high-five. Because, for the most part, I love them too. I’ve had good experiences with them as online volunteers.

Oh how that point of view puts me on the outs with so many managers of volunteers! There are regularly rants on various online groups from people that hate working with court-ordered community service folks – or anyone being required to provide community service, including students volunteering as part of a class assignment. “They aren’t really volunteers! I shouldn’t have to work with them!” Gnashing of teeth, pulling of hair…

I approach management of volunteers as community engagement. I’m not just trying to get work done; I’m trying to build relationships and engage with the community, however I might define the community. Organizations I work for often want to engage a diversity of community members – and if they don’t, it’s something I push very hard for. And that includes engaging with community members who are far from perfect.

Let me be clear: I’m not going to involve anyone as a volunteer, online or onsite, that I don’t think is appropriate for the organization, court-ordered or not. I’m not going to create a volunteering assignment just to involve a particular kind of person or a particular group if I don’t think that assignment has real value to the organization where I’m working. I will tell a volunteer – or a group of volunteers, even from a very well-known Fortune 500 corporation – “No, I don’t think we can accommodate you as a volunteer. You might try looking on VolunteerMatch for something else.” My goal is to serve the mission of the organization, and that often means saying no to someone who wants to volunteer. I won’t lower the standards of the organization for anyone.

That said, I’ve worked with about half a dozen online volunteers that were ordered to perform community service by the court, and all have been terrific. And all were VOLUNTEERS, and I treated them as such.

Not everyone who has contacted me to volunteer online to fulfill a court order has ended up volunteering with me. Most disappear after I write them back – just as most people that inquire about volunteering in general disappear. Why do most folks disappear? Because it’s so easy to say “I want to volunteer with you!” So easy to send that email, send that text, make that call. But it’s much harder to actually do it, court-ordered or not – it dawns on folks that, oh, volunteering, online or onsite, really does take time and effort, and they fade away, off to look at some other shiny something they read about online.

My first communication with every person that wants to volunteer notes, among other things, that they have to get permission from the court or their probation officer BEFORE they start volunteering with me if they are wanting to volunteer to fulfill such an obligation. Many times, they don’t get the permission – the court or probation officer says no. So that’s another factor that’s kept the numbers of court-ordered folks I’ve worked with quite low. But for the half a dozen folks who did get permission to volunteer online with me: they were terrific volunteers. They got the assignment done, they did the assignment correctly, they did it on time, they stayed in touch – and, in addition, they volunteered more hours than they had to by the court. One guy stuck around for a few months doing small online assignments for me, going far beyond anything the court had asked for. And I thanked them, just like I did with any volunteer: they got listed on a web page that named them and what they did, along with all other volunteers, they got an email thank you from me, they got invited to focus groups, and on and on.

I really want to help people doing court-ordered service to volunteer. That’s why I created a web page specifically to help guide them. And that’s why I created a web page of where to find virtual volunteering & home-based volunteering with established nonprofits – because there are so many companies out there claiming to give court-ordered community service folks the hours they need for a small fee (please do NOT pay a company for online community service!).

You can involve court-ordered community service volunteers without lowering your standards for volunteers. But don’t say no to someone who needs volunteering time for a court or probation just because its mandatory service, because it’s not pure volunteering – whatever that is. Put the person through all the same screening and orienting you do for any volunteer candidate. If they make the cut, bring them on board. If you see volunteer management as community engagement, as something so much more than just getting work done, there’s no reason not to.

vvbooklittleWant to know more about the realities of engaging volunteers online? Hey, there’s a book for that! The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook is available for purchase, as a hardback book or an e-book. You will not find a more detailed guide for using the Internet to support and involve volunteers! It includes extensive information on safety and confidentiality, for those wanting to use such as an excuse for not involving online volunteers, court-ordered or not – and has specific advice regarding working with court-ordered volunteers.

why you can’t find/keep volunteer firefighters

I’m one of the few – and maybe the only – consultants regarding volunteer engagement that regularly delves into the subject of volunteer firefighters. I’m not sure why most DOVIAs and other associations of managers of volunteers avoid the subject. Surely the fundamentals we volunteer management experts believe are essential to success in involving volunteers also apply to involving volunteer firefighters? Yet, go to a conference on volunteer engagement and you will find few, if any, workshops related to engaging and supporting volunteer firefighters. Go to a web site with resources about volunteer engagement, and you may not find any information about the particular environment of volunteer firefighting. Likewise, walk into a fire station which is staffed fully or partly by volunteer firefighters, and you probably won’t see any books related to volunteer management, in general, and few managers of volunteer firefighters attend DOVIA-related meetings or conferences.

This gap really bothers me.

I’ve been interested in the reasons fire stations involve volunteer firefighters, and the challenges faced in recruiting and retaining such volunteers, since 2001, when I started dating a volunteer firefighter in Germany. He’s now my husband (and now a volunteer firefighter in the USA). It’s been fascinating to compare Germany – with the highest number of volunteer firefighters, per capita, in the world – with the USA. Both are facing similar challenges regarding volunteer firefighters – and both have far more people complaining about “the way things used to be,” rather than addressing the realities of the day and leveraging our times many strengths to recruit, involve and support volunteer firefighters. Earlier this year, I compiled research and case studies regarding recruitment and retainment of volunteer firefighters & justifications for involving volunteer firefighters that do NOT relate to “money saved”. It was my tiny effort to get stations that are staffed wholly or partly by volunteers to quit complaining and start changing so they can flourish in the world we live in now.

I also try to track issues related specifically to volunteer firefighters that are talked about in the news. Recently, a colleague passed on two articles to me:

Without volunteers, rural fire districts wouldn’t exist, laments the lack of volunteers in several rural areas of Oregon, and blames the problem on the attitude of young people, with comments like:

  • Young people don’t believe in an expectation that they will volunteer for their community
  • “Most of the younger folks say, ‘We don’t have time,” or ‘We’re too busy with class,'”
  • “It’s hard to get the volunteers to show up (to calls)…It seems like on training night they have something else better to do. If it’s in the middle of the night, the younger guys would rather sleep, so it’s just two or three of us that show up on a regular basis.”
  • “They want to be firemen and (then) they see something they don’t like. Like a wreck.”

The article never interviews any current or former volunteers, to find out why they have volunteered, challenges to their volunteering, why they left, etc. It never interviews young people to find out their attitudes about volunteerism and community service – it just takes the word of a couple of guys that do not represent that demographic. And those comments wouldn’t make me want to volunteer there if I were in my 20s or 30s, as they obviously don’t like people from that generation – they say so! 

And in the same publication is this: Coos Bay trying to buck trend of declining volunteer firefighters. It attributes lack of volunteers to:

  • the community’s aging population
  • economic problems
  • stricter standards for volunteers regarding their training
  • lack of monetary compensation
  • busier lives
  • lack of social interactions – it’s just work to do, no fun aspects, like there used to be when you could drink alcohol in the stations

Again, no current or former volunteers are interviewed.

These articles also leave out some other factors that are, no doubt, affecting the numbers of volunteer firefighters:

  • Firefighters don’t fight fires all that much. They don’t even do rescues all that much. The vast majority of their calls are medical calls. They do far more ambulatory/paramedic work than they do true firefighting work. Ask your volunteer firefighters, current and former, which calls they find most appealing – most will tell you fire fighting. Perhaps it’s time for the USA to look into the German model, where a separate, dedicated agency handles emergency medical calls? That greatly reduces training costs for firefighters – as well as equipment costs – and means firefighters get to be, mostly, firefighters.
  • The national union for career firefighters has stated it is against volunteer firefighters and would like to see all volunteers eliminated and replaced with paid people. A career firefighter in a big city is not allowed to be a volunteer firefighter in the small rural area where he or she lives, because of union rules as well. Volunteers feel this animosity from some career firefighters, and it creates a very unwelcoming environment in many stations. Unless this animosity is addressed, and statements about volunteers being valued because they save money stop, the number of volunteer firefighters is going to continue to drop.
  • Firefighters haven’t changed how they recruit. AT ALL. A sign out in front of a station that says “Volunteers needed” just isn’t going to cut it anymore. If there are young people in your community, there are potential volunteer firefighters, and you have to go where THEY are. You also have to have an ONLINE volunteering application. You have to be posting videos on Facebook and YouTube and Twitter of your firefighters in action, and reminding people via social media what volunteers do, how to do be one, and WHY to be one. And you have to reach out to people that speak languages in addition to English to make sure they know about volunteering opportunities and how to qualify.
  • Many stations do a substandard job of responding to inquiries aboutvolunteering, and applications from potential volunteers. Are you sure that EVERY person that calls or emails the city, the county, or your station about volunteering as a firefighter is getting a prompt, courteous, encouraging response? And are you sure every application is being responded to rapidly? Read Volunteers needed, but are they wanted? and Fire station turns away volunteers – & how it could be different for more on this subject.

As for the lack of a social aspect among firefighters today, that is HUGELY important for volunteer firefighters, particularly those that are not volunteering as a part of career exploration/advancement. Those volunteers hear all about all the work that needs to be done – but without some kind of social aspect, they aren’t going to last long. Also, social gatherings help to build cohesion among firefighters that can have benefits later during crisis situations. Could your station have a regular, unofficial meetup at a favorite pub once a month for all off-duty firefighters to play some darts, shoot some pool and just hang out socially? Would leaders at your station organize firefighter-only gatherings in their homes, such as potlucks or lawn games, even just twice a year? Would someone organize a rafting trip or a day trip to do bungee jumping for any firefighters interested in such? Creating a social aspect for your firefighters is tricky: activities have to be entirely unofficial, entirely voluntary, and regularly done in order to cultivate the kind of brother and sisterhood you want among all of your firefighters, volunteer and career. But without making a consistent effort, your volunteers will most certainly drift away, tired of being asked only to provide labor, and receiving no real value in return.

There ARE potential volunteer firefighters out there, even in your small town. You might be hearing a lot about how people are preferring microvolunteering, where they volunteer for only a few minutes or hours once, and have no requirement to ever volunteer again, but the reality is that there are also a LOT of people who are hungry to connect, hungry for a deeper, more substantial activity that connects them with the community and causes they believe in. Volunteer firefighting can have a great deal of appeal to today’s young people. But if you don’t have a welcoming environment, if you aren’t trying to reach them where they are, if you aren’t using social media, and if you are just talking about all the work that has to be done and the obligations to be fulfilled, those young people are going to go elsewhere. And that’s a shame, because they have a lot of energy, talent, ideas and strengths from which your fire station could benefit. Are you ready to evolve to involve them?

Of course, the only way to know for sure about the challenges for volunteers in any one fire department or association is to survey both current and departed volunteer firefighters – and perhaps those that applied to volunteer but never completed the process. And this kind of survey should be done at least every other year. Make a list of questions you want to ask these current and former volunteers, and then have journalism students from the local high school or management students from the local college or university ask the questions of the current and former volunteers – volunteers are much more likely to speak freely if it isn’t to the fire chief. Have the students compile all of the answers, and share it freely, openly, and welcome comments from everyone on what is offered. That’s your starting point.

Also see:

My dream to create &/or teach an entire university course

Me at Discover e-volunteering even in Warsaw, Poland 2014This year, or next year, I would love to create or co-create, and/or to deliver, an entire, semester-long course as a part-time or full-time instructor at a university or college, within any program that trains current or aspiring nonprofit managers, social workers, public sector workers, aid and humanitarian workers, etc. I would most like to do this onsite here in the greater Portland, Oregon metropolitan area, but I would welcome the opportunity to create and/or deliver an online course as well.

I have guest lectured many times at the university level, you can see my academic / research work at my profile on academia.edu, most of the academic articles that have cited my work regarding virtual volunteering are listed at my Google Scholar account., and I have done intensive trainings for thousands of people over the years. I think all of that qualifies me to create and/or deliver an intensive, practical, semester-long course at a university.

The courses I dream of creating and teaching:

  • communications for mission-based initiatives (nonprofit organizations, public sector initiatives, etc.): basic public relations functions, press relations, outreach to particular audiences, strategic communications (systematic planning and utilization of a variety of information flows, internal and external to an organization or program, to deliver a message and build credibility or a brand), using traditional print, synchronous and asynchronous online / digital communications and emerging digital technologies effectively, integrating the use of all information flows, addressing socially or religiously-conservative audiences, crisis communications, how to address misinformation / misunderstandings, how to deal with public criticism, measuring success in communications, etc.
  • community engagement / volunteer management for mission-based initiatives (nonprofit organizations, public sector initiatives, etc.): involving people from various local demographics as volunteers, from program supporters to advisers, and creating ways for the community to see the work of an organization firsthand. This would be beyond just a basic volunteer management 101 course that covers recruitment, data management, risk management, and other aspects of operational management.; it would also explore ethics, emerging innovations in volunteer engagement, building the capacity of the entire organization to involve volunteers, internal advocacy for volunteer engagement, volunteer engagement to directly support the organization’s mission, creating non-traditional opportunities for volunteers, etc.

How much do I want to do this? I’ve already written early drafts of those courses, with lesson plans and required reading outlined. Yes, that’s what I do in my spare time.

I enjoy teaching, and my goal in any training is to give participants tools that they can use immediately in their work, and to give students a base on which to further build and improve long after the class is over. Capacity-building is always central to any training or consulting work I do. Capacity-building means giving people the skills, information and other resources to most effectively and efficiently address an organization’s mission, and to help the organization be attractive to new and continuing support from donors, volunteers, community leaders and the general public.

I enjoy teaching, and I try to give my classes, online or onsite, a lively, participatory feel.

I have a profile at LinkedIn, as well as details on my own web site about my professional activities. I’m also happy to share my CV with you; email me with your request. If you have any specific questions about my profile, feel free to contact me as well. References available upon request as well.

And, of course, I’m still open to consulting. My consulting services are detailed here. I can deliver both onsite and online services. Also, I love to travel (especially internationally!).

Looking forward to hearing from any universities who might be interested! Questions welcomed!

A PDX group’s volunteers ROCK MY WORLD! (that’s good)

As a researcher regarding effective volunteer engagement and a trainer of managers of volunteers, I have high expectations when I engage with volunteers or the managers of such as a customer, client or volunteer. I’m a tough audience. I know that successful volunteer training and support, and appropriate customer service, come not from large budgets but, rather, from the organization making such a priority. I’ve encountered so many well-trained, conscientious volunteers from small nonprofits with tiny budgets, and so many ill-trained, distracted, unmotivated, uncaring volunteers from large, well-known nonprofits with large budgets.

I live near a group home for adults with mental disabilities, and I’ve grown quite fond of the residents – one in particular, who loves animals. He used to help his neighbor with her many pets, but she died last year, and all of pets had to be rehomed – taking away not only his beloved friends, but also activities that he absolutely lived for. About the same time, a stray cat living under a foreclosed house across the street had two kittens, and my friend started feeding them. We’ve cobbled together shelter for the cats on the front porch of his group home, and neighbors give him bottles to return to the grocery to get money for cat food. He has a renewed lease on life, and the cats are well-cared for. My friend loves his new role as cat caretaker – but I’m dreading new kittens in the spring. So I decided to see what our options were for getting the cats spayed and neutered. How could I catch these cats?  And if I caught the cats, was there a place that would fix them for a low cost? And how would we provide after-surgery care, when he couldn’t have them in his house, and me, with a dog, a cat, and a cat-hating husband, couldn’t have them in mine?

My vet gave me a flyer for the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon, based in Portland. I called the number, left a message, and within two hours, a volunteer called me back. She patiently answered all of my MANY questions, said that FCCO does a special surgery that allows cats to be released the next day after surgery, and said that my friend’s cats qualified as feral cats. She put me in touch with a volunteer a bit closer than Portland, who lent me humane traps for the cats, and she explained the week-long process to go through in order to catch the cats. Unfortunately, I was able to capture only one, but I drove him to Portland (45 minutes away), dropped him off at the FCCO offices just before 8 a.m., spent the day with various friends in PDX, then went back just before 4. A volunteer provided an orientation to everyone like me, new to FCCO, about how to release the cat and look for post-surgical issues, and then I came back with the cat to where I live outside of PDX.

Every FCCO volunteer and employee I encountered was wonderful. They had complete information, they all knew the process inside and out, and they answered my questions before I could ask them. They were always ready and willing to help me. I never felt like I was a burden, that I was bothering anyone, as I’ve felt SO many times at other organizations. FCCO made me feel so supported and valued. They didn’t focus on what they couldn’t do – they focused on all that they CAN do for people that care about stray cats. If they couldn’t provide something I asked for, they always gave me an alternative – not just a “No, we don’t do that.” I didn’t have to pay anything, but was happy to make the recommended tiny donation for the cat’s surgery, rabies shot and ear-mite treatment.

BRAVO, FCCO! You are doing a LOT of things right when it comes to recruiting, training and supporting your volunteers. And, based on my experience, I think animal welfare groups are some of the most challenging when it comes to effective volunteer management: the people you attract as volunteers are oh-so-passionate about animals, and that kind of passion and mission ownership be both a wonderful blessing and a horrific curse. Your volunteer management is obviously outstanding, as is your focus on customer/client services. WELL DONE!

As soon as I catch that other cat (the mom has disappeared, I’m sorry to say), I’ll be back!

And if you want to see what it’s like when I am NOT happy with customer service from an animal welfare organization, you will have to go over to my personal blog.

I also have often blogged here on my official, professional blog site about unsatisfactory volunteering experiences, on my part and on the part of others, but I don’t name names. I provide these as cautionary tales – what NOT to do in engaging volunteers:

Oregon global initiatives

When you think of USA-based initiatives focused on development and humanitarian work in other countries, you think of New York or Washington, D.C. You will find a fair number in San Francisco and Los Angeles as well.

But there are organizations and initiatives all over the USA, in every state, with a primary mission of undertaking development and humanitarian work in at least one country overseas. Even in Oregon.

I come from a state – Kentucky – that most people I mean outside the USA could not locate on a map, and many have no idea its a real place. And I now live in a state that, likewise, most people I meet outside the USA could not locate on a map – in fact, many have never heard of Oregon. Yet, in both states, there are for-profit, nonprofit and university-based initiatives that are focused on other countries.

I decided to make a list of nonprofit and university-based organizations and initiatives in Oregon that were undertaking aid, humanitarian and/or development work overseas. I also added organizations focused on educating people regarding other countries/global affairs. The first draft was 10 organizations. It’s now a list of 21 organizations.

I started this page because, as a consultant myself for organizations working in development and humanitarian activities overseas, I would like to know who my colleagues in my own “neighborhood” are, and because I would like for people in the USA to be much better educated about other countries – so I’d like to know who is doing that. Also, Washington State has a formal umbrella organization, Global Washington, for groups in that state that work overseas, though it’s not focused only on humanitarian issues. Oregon doesn’t have such, that I can find.

If you would like to add an organization to my last, please contact me. But note: your initiative has to be officially registered in some way, or already part of an officially-registered organization, and there needs to be names of real people on your web site (one web site I found for a 501 (c)(3) organization claiming to work overseas had NO names of people on it – no names of staff, no names of board members – so they aren’t on my list).

 

Jayne Works an Election in the USA

Can you find me in this video at the Washington County elections office of people yesterday checking ballots to ensure they are ready for the counting machines? If you know me, you can. If you don’t know me: I’m in the front, wearing flannel. I got along beautifully with my Republican and Independent table mates – the Republican kept giggling at my jokes, especially as the night wore on. Can’t we all get along?

Here’s a video about how the whole process of ballot counting works in Washington County, Oregon (start about 1:15 for the specific details). Pretty much all of the same people in this video were there working this year’s election – the same people come back year after year. The people at the tables are not volunteers – we ARE paid for our work. In Oregon, registered voters receive their ballots by mail, and they can return them by mail so long as they will be received at a county elections office by election day, or, until 8 a.m. election night, voters can put ballots in an official ballot drop box (if they are in line to drop their ballot at 8, they are allowed to drop the ballot in the box later). If someone loses their ballot before filling it out, or never receives it, they can vote at the county elections office on election day before 8 p.m. People vote right up to the deadline – the rush at the deadline is frightening! 

I have been trying to work an Oregon election since moving back to the USA in 2009. My wish finally came true this year: I got the call while I was working for the United Nations in Ukraine, actually, and I had to stay up late one night in Kyiv to call the office back and say, yes, I was ready! I wanted to work the election both because I wanted to see how the experience compared to doing the same in Austin, Texas back in 1996, and because I need the experience in order to eventually work overseas as an OSCE election observer.

And here is the machine that sorted the ballots after their signature check, so that we could review them and prepare them for counting. I saw this video being taken, actually – in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Nov. 5. We were always happy when we heard this machine – it meant we would have ballots to count. It’s really boring when there are no ballots to count.

But by 6 a.m., when most everyone had been up for 24 hours, and working for 17 hours, all of the processes were stopped, and we were told we could go home and come back at 2 p.m. Wednesday to finish – we had more than three hours of work still to do, and the quality of our work was suffering. Unfortunately, after working Thursday, Friday, Monday, and then 17 hours straight Tuesday and Wednesday, I had to end my work when I left this morning – I’ll be going to Poland soon, and have MUCH to do to prepare.

Yes, I did tweet a few times during breaks, sometimes from my personal account, sometimes from my professional account. Never anything in appropriate. Kudos to Washington County for sometimes responding to those tweets!