Walking into the offices of Volunteer Services at Washoe County School District (WCSD), the first thing you will notice among the close desks and cubicles are the smiles of the staff and the volunteers that work with them. It hasn’t always been this way though. There was a time when the offices of the people in the department were in multiple buildings, some blocks away from one another, and the grinning faces weren’t so apparent.
A couple things have changed that brought these positive vibes to the office place. Volunteer Services moved to a new office building in March of 2015; now all the staff are located in one place. They also started the process to become a certified Service Enterprise. A Service Enterprise is an organization that leverages volunteers across all of levels of the organization through a facilitated change process that creates positive changes for the staff and the culture of an organization. This change process is about more than volunteer engagement, it builds capacity by incorporating volunteers into every area of the organization.
Volunteer Services at WCSD was a part of the spring 2015 cadre, the first group of organizations in Nevada to go through the Service Enterprise training offered by Nevada Volunteers. They completed the training on April 30, 2015 and started implementing the strategies. The staff was surprised to see changes so quickly. Volunteers commented on how the department seemed like a happier place to be, a place they wanted to be involved in more. Not only were they hearing the positive feedback, they were seeing it as well.
Volunteers that only wanted to commit a few hours a week started coming in for more hours. People that wanted to volunteer for a short time kept coming back after the original agreed upon time. What did Volunteers Services at WCSD do to make their volunteers so happy? They implemented strategies from their action plan created during the Service Enterprise process.
One of their action plan items was to create an onboarding packet for each of the specific roles a volunteer could be placed in. The onboarding packet includes a summary of what Volunteer Services does, an application, a placement survey, training and confidentiality agreement, maps to the schools and a contact list for Volunteer Services’ department. This onboarding packet has made the matching process much easier for the whole team, but especially Dex Thomas, the Program Services Technician. Now when he interviews potential volunteers he can ask more detailed questions about how the volunteers envision their experience with WCSD instead of background information, which is now in the onboarding packet. Each onboarding packet also includes information on how to take classes with the school district, how to apply for jobs in the school district, and how to become a substitute teacher. It has enhanced the process and made the volunteers placed well informed and much happier.
Another change that has resulted from the Service Enterprise model is the quarterly volunteer recognition potluck. Volunteer Services hosts a potluck for volunteers and invites them from every area of the district. It gives the volunteers a chance to meet one another and interact with staff. There has been nothing but positive feedback from these potlucks, and the only complaint is people want them more frequently. Volunteer Services has also found other ways to recognize volunteers. They have sent out cards and awards to celebrate the efforts of all their amazing volunteers and have even started to highlight individual volunteers on their blog and in social media. This has really helped volunteers become more comfortable and happier.
The journey to becoming a Service Enterprise isn’t always easy and comes with some hardships. It takes a lot of time and effort to make this process work. The staff meets once a week to go over processes and implementations. Each staff member has items of the action plan assigned to them they must complete and implement. This has been a large lesson in trust as well. The department has had to trust in each other and support each other to implement these changes. Change can be frightening and having the support of people around you, people that are all striving for the same goal, has been not only beneficial to achieving the goal but also to the culture of the organization. The Volunteer Services team has really bonded over this experience.
Since Volunteer Services is a department within the school district it has served as a Service Enterprise model for the rest of the district. There are some strategies they have tried to pass onto other departments causing the other departments to adopt some aspects of Service Enterprise. For example they have an orientation and tour for volunteers who are assigned to their department when they start. They have urged other departments and programs to do the same. The Service Enterprise Initiative is meant for all organizations that engage volunteers, but it is geared towards nonprofits or stand-alone organizations so as a department within a larger organization, they have had to adapt some aspects of the training to fit their organizational needs. They have also had to get some changes approved by the board before being able to implement them.
On December 8, 2015 Lisa-Marie Lightfoot, Volunteer Services’ Administrator presented the progress the department has made to the Board of Trustees. She spoke about all the positive feedback from volunteers and the changes they have made. The onboarding process was mentioned and how it has improved placements. Job descriptions were also created for volunteer positions. Lightfoot mentioned volunteers are now offered classes and training that used to be exclusive to employees. She spoke about more changes and listed the positive outcomes; the board was extremely impressed and pleased about the department’s progress. They understood the importance of the change and received the changes well. The board members applauded Lightfoot and the Volunteer Services team. Everyone, the Board of Trustees, the volunteers, and the staff are happy with the changes Service Enterprise has brought.
Volunteer Services at WCSD is going to try for certification in the spring, about a year after they started the process. There have been changes, stressful moments, and many moments of gratification when they were able to see all of their hard work pay off. Laurie Bennet, the secretary for the department offered this advice for anyone wanting to become a Service Enterprise, “Be committed to the process making it a priority or standard to work by. Be patient and open minded to try new things.” The entire process generally takes about 9-12 months and sometimes longer to see the full effects. Volunteer Services at WCSD is proof that the Service Enterprise process improves not only the efficiency of the organization but also the culture and happiness of the whole organization.