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News and Information from the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association

Program Spotlight

CASA Programs Reflect Volunteer Trends Across US

This issue’s Program Spotlight features five local CASA programs throughout the United States. Their leaders describe how they’re approaching some of the key trends in volunteerism identified in our cover story.


Treasure in the Backyard: Investing in Current Volunteers for the Long Term

Greg Guthrie, Director
Chris Ramsey, Program Coordinator
CASA of Northeast Louisiana
Monroe, LA

Fatigued by the nonstop cycle of recruiting, training, assigning and losing community volunteers, CASA of Northeast Louisiana set out to discover a better way.

We found that we could better retain our current advocates by analyzing individual volunteers’ levels of satisfaction. By routinely diagnosing satisfaction, our program was better able to make adjustments and customize the volunteer experience favorably. Community members who have high levels of satisfaction are more likely to commit to another case and to tell others about the program.

Another important measure is the level of perceived contribution. This is the degree to which volunteers feel that they are making a worthwhile contribution (to the child, the family, the program and so on). We found that a high level of perceived contribution led to a higher level of satisfaction.

The two key steps to investing in current volunteers for long-term return are:

  1. Tune In!—Develop your skills at listening to and connecting with individuals. Increase your ability to read between the lines and determine the emotion underlying a volunteer’s behavior and communication. Be willing to ask the hard questions.
  2. Check In!—Once you’ve established a positive relationship, build on that foundation by monitoring each volunteer’s level of satisfaction and perceived contribution. Create questions that tell you how a volunteer is doing. Set up routine times to ask these questions. Adapt the method (e.g., face-to-face visits, written communications and online surveys) to fit your unique style.

Since this is a relatively new process, we do not have long-term statistics to support our theory. What we do have are enough advocates to work all of the cases in our area. Also, our volunteers are doing better work than ever. This anecdotal evidence comes from our staff, volunteers, community partners and judges.



Chris Ramsey (left) and Greg Guthrie

Non-Advocate Volunteers Boost Capacity of Program

Kim Deer
Director, CASA Program
Interim Director,
Okmulgee County Family Resource Center
Okmulgee, OK

To address retention rates in the Okmulgee County Family Resource Center (OCFRC) CASA program, we looked at closed volunteer files from 1987 to 2009. It was clear that although volunteers exited the program for various reasons, many of them were probably better suited to a non-advocate volunteer role. We decided that our CASA program should offer opportunities to engage volunteers who are not necessarily interested in advocating for children in court. The rationale for starting the non-advocate volunteer program was to free up staff time required for fundraising, outreach, recruitment and retention to allow us to address other unmet needs.

The first step in designing the program was to formulate a plan. We took advantage of the October 2008 National CASA Technical Assistance Bulletin, “Ideas for Using Non-Advocate Volunteers to Build Capacity in CASA/GAL Programs.” The first tactic was to identify the demographics of those most likely to donate their time. Then we created a non-advocate volunteer manual that familiarized each potential volunteer with non-advocate roles and responsibilities, the history and mission of the CASA program, policies and procedures and confidentiality. We require that non-advocate volunteers complete a one-hour orientation and a background check.

The results of the non-advocate program are very promising. To date, OCFRC has 43 non-advocate volunteers. The overall volunteer retention rate in the Okmulgee County program increased from 65% to 90% in 2010. Our fundraising events were a great success this year, and non-advocate volunteers played a large role. Little staff time is needed to manage the program, and we are seeing a broader demographic getting involved. Rather than close the doors to CASA volunteers for whom court advocacy isn’t a good fit, we open the doors to other volunteer opportunities within the agency.

CASA of Lane County’s Social Media Efforts

Sarah-Kate Sharkey, Associate Director
CASA of Lane County
Springfield, OR

Last spring, several child abuse tragedies happened in our community within a short period. The tragedies were covered in depth in our local newspapers, and many people were left feeling upset, angry, frustrated and helpless. We knew this was an important time to reach out and let people know how they could take action to help the children in our community. I asked several marketing professionals to be part of a task force to advise us on the most effective outreach strategies. They all agreed on one key strategy: increasing our social media presence. With so many people regularly using social media, it is an easy and cost-effective way to communicate and build relationships.

Among the most popular postings on our Facebook page was a series of short profiles of new CASA volunteers. People love to read about other people, especially when they have inspiring stories to share about why they choose to make a difference for children. The profiles are excerpted from interviews conducted with volunteers and include their background, along with a photo. The profiles always receive several “likes” as well as comments of appreciation and encouragement.

Because Facebook is only one part of our overall outreach strategy, it is difficult to quantify its impact on support for our program. I can say that our friend base has nearly doubled over the past seven months from 500 to more than 900. Just about every time I post—typically about three times a week—our Facebook friends respond. While Facebook interaction alone is unlikely to convert someone into a CASA volunteer or donor, it is one more way to connect with people and contribute to their decision to get involved. Our overall outreach efforts, including social media, are indeed leading to greater success. Just this month, 52 prospective CASA volunteers attended our Informational Night—more than twice as many as ever before—and we increased net income from our main fundraising event by nearly 60% over last year.

Using the Personal Touch to Recruit in a Difficult Economy

Kristin Kunz, Arapahoe County Program Manager
Advocates for Children
Aurora, CO

Advocates for Children serves Colorado’s 18th Judicial District, encompassing 6,142 square miles—the largest district in the state. While we serve between 650 and 800 children a year, these numbers constitute only 25–40% of children in need over the past five years. Recruitment and retention are the essentials of what we do. How will we attack the ever-growing problem of too many kids, too few volunteers and an economy that is volatile and changing? In our agency, we believe the answer lies in the personal touch.

At a time when human contact is dwindling, our board and staff believe that talking to a real person who is knowledgeable, warm and encouraging is critical. In April 2009, we recognized that responding to a prospective volunteer’s inquiry by making a quick phone call and sending an informational packet in the mail was not enough. We decided that fewer potential advocates would fall through the cracks if we invested the time to give them a complete understanding of the CASA volunteer role from day one. Within 24 hours of receiving that first inquiry, our office manager calls to give potential recruits a comprehensive picture of who we are and what we do—and to answer all of their questions. These phone calls average 30–40 minutes.

Since around the time we implemented these follow-up calls, our volunteer training classes have more than doubled in average size. We are confident that the calls have played a significant role in that growth.

Nonprofit Auxiliary Allows Florida Program to Grow

Gina Rossi-Scheiman, Board Member
Guardians for New Futures, Inc.
Port Saint Lucie, FL

Inside the 19th Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Program’s Saint Lucie West Office, there are truly no frills. Staff and volunteers operate on a bare-bones budget. However, staff members here are not feeling the effects of a shrinking economy. They are reaping the benefits of a growing volunteer base and more program recognition than they are used to.

This is possible because of the organization’s nonprofit arm, Guardians for New Futures, founded in 1981. This auxiliary has helped the 19th Circuit GAL Program’s volunteer force expand by more than 123% since 2007; currently, it is the fastest growing program in the state. Due to this expansion, the number of children served has grown by more than 67% since 2008.

While state funding covers staff salaries for GAL programs in Florida, the counties in each judicial district pay for the programs’ room and board. Additionally, each district in the state has a nonprofit arm that works in tandem with the program to make up for budget shortfalls through fundraising, recruitment and awareness initiatives.

Examples of Guardians for New Futures’ success include the 2010 Holiday Gift Drive, which provided presents for 900 children, and the yearly Back-to-School Initiative that makes school supplies available to about 600 disadvantaged children. Additionally, through grassroots media efforts, the program has gone from no media mentions in 2007 to 342 in 2010.

The very active board of Guardians for New Futures makes all of this possible, as do other volunteers who assist the organization with grant writing, fundraising and web development. The increasing awareness and growing volunteer base energize the program and volunteers to reach their ultimate goal—100% representation for all children in need.

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