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This page is devoted to the management of volunteer programs in health care settings.


~March 2012~

School’s Out


Spring is just around the corner and it is now time to think about the youth volunteers that will come knocking for summer volunteer opportunities.  Today’s students are well aware of the importance of volunteer experience, both as an avenue of career exploration but also as a resume builder for college and scholarship applications.  But there is a new wrinkle this year.  Schools in this area are beginning to adopt a modified year-round school schedule giving students eight weeks off in the summer instead of the 10-11 weeks that students have historically had for their summer.  The schedule goes further with two other blocks of time off that are between two and three weeks in length.  That does not sound too radical really.  But where’s the break-even or payback for bringing youth into the volunteer program?

We have all heard the phrase – there is no such thing as free labor.  We know that all too well.  It is especially true when you consider the costs involved for the health screening, limited criminal history checks, mandatory education materials, identification badge, uniform and other on-boarding costs that we have in our health care organizations.  It has been generally accepted in this area that volunteers must be willing to give a minimum of 30 to 40 hours in order for the picture of teenscost investment to reach a break-even and move into a return on the investment.  But with students volunteering once a week for a four-hour stint of time available for six to seven weeks (you have to allow time off for vacation), the numbers do not even come close to that break even threshold of 30-40 hours.

Add to the situation the fact that our current youth generation more closely mimics the Veteran era generation (and some of the most committed volunteers our country has seen), so why would we consider turning them away.  The challenge is being creative in how we package their experiences so that you are not throwing resources away.  It is causing volunteer program managers to re-think processes.  Just because that’s the way it is always been done does not mean that it cannot be changed.  So how can this resource be maximized for both the volunteer and the organization?  Here are a few options but I welcome additional thoughts as I come to grips with the realities for this area.

Historically, students were only allowed to volunteer one shift per week in an effort to accommodate more students; this could be the point where student numbers are limited to allow students the opportunity to volunteer more than once a week to achieve that 30-40 hour threshold.

Have students commit to returning during their other school breaks rather than just the summer.  This can be risky because you cannot make them return and challenges volunteer program managers to ensure that students have good experiences so they want to return.
While there are year-round youth volunteers in our organization, consider creating additional opportunities to allow for placement of more students.

These are but a few options.  As someone who has been a huge advocate for youth volunteering, I, for one, am still sorting out how the program will transition this summer.  If you have any creative ideas, do not hesitate to share them. 


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The author of the Heath Care Volunteer Programs column is Mary Kay Hood MS, Hendricks Regional Health, Danville, IN (317) 745-3556. With a BS degree in biology from Marian College and a Master of Science in Management from Indiana Wesleyan University, Mary Kay has been involved in volunteer management over twenty years with a zoo and in the health care field. During that time, she completed the Management of Volunteer Programs course offered at University of Indianapolis, several supervisory training programs as well as the Indiana Hospital and Health Association’s Management Institute offered by the Executive Education Program, School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. Mary Kay served on the Nonprofit Training Center of United Way from 1993 to 2006. During that time, she taught many workshops also facilitating speaker arrangements for the Basic Volunteer Management series. Additionally, she has presented at various national and international conferences. Mary Kay served as president of the Central Indiana Association for Volunteer Administration (CIAVA) from 1993-1997 and the Indiana Society of Directors of Volunteer Services (ISDVS) from 2006-2008. She was also the recipient of the 1995 Outstanding Director of Volunteer Services Award and the 2002 United Way of Central Indiana Volunteer of the Year Award. Most recently she served on the Steering Committee for COVAA resulting in the formation of a new national membership organization for those in volunteer management, the Association of Leaders in Volunteer Engagement (AL!VE). With several published articles, she is also author to two books: The One Minute Answer to Volunteer Management Questions and The Volunteer Leader as Change Agent.

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