State & Local Programs

Making the Most of Volunteer Recruitment and Retention

Amia Barrows, CASA Training Coordinator, Newport News CASA (VA)
Member, National CASA Curriculum Advisory Committee

Summary: Now more than ever, CASA programs must stay focused on our mission to make the right match between our organization’s priorities and the volunteer’s skills, motivational style and personality. 

In this day and age making the most of our volunteer recruitment and retention efforts is critical to overall program success and vital for survival. We can’t ignore the impact that the current economic challenges have on volunteer recruitment, training, retention, recognition, and—most importantly—permanency for children. 

Current Trends in Volunteerism

From September 2009 to September 2010, approximately 63 million people volunteered. In 2010, people between the age of 35–44 were the most likely to volunteer. Keep in mind that there is always a deeper meaning behind the numbers and reasons for this level of service. The economic downturn is one answer but merely the tip of the iceberg. People are changing career paths, going back to school, leaving their jobs behind and retiring early, all with an idea in mind of changing their lives for the better. Now you might ask, How does that impact our network and why should I be concerned about a person’s desire to change their life? 

It’s all about perspective. People that are making the changes today to get out of their jobs quickly are deciding to go back to school or volunteer for additional work experience. They come knocking at our doors to get the experience they need or to complete a school required course in community service. Back in the day, volunteerism was a movement that inspired many to make a difference and stay actively involved in improving the community. Nowadays, people are more motivated to volunteer due to the high return of investment that will lead them to a better paying job or allow them to attain a college degree. These outcomes  benefit the volunteer but may not benefit the CASA/GAL program. 

This reality causes us to go back to the drawing board and take a closer look at the messages we’re sending to the community.

Communicating and Screening Effectively to Improve Volunteer Retention

Regardless of the economic trends, we must stay focused on our mission to make the right match between our organization’s priorities and the volunteer’s skills, motivational style and personality. No matter what is happening with the economy, unemployment, reduction of child welfare cases, we can still spearhead a recruitment campaign that offers programs the flexibility of being selective and critical of volunteer candidates. 

Focusing on quality vs. quantity is not just an old saying. We must make a serious assessment of every candidate regarding not just if they can do the job, but how they will produce the results necessary to advocate effectively for the needs of children in care.

Now, how do you screen volunteers for success and ensure that you are securing an advocate for a child for the long term? 

  • From the moment you first speak with a potential volunteer, ask questions that will field their motivation for volunteering. You want to know and understand that people desire to come to your program. 
  • Right away, you should determine if their schedule will allow them to fulfill the role and if they have any conflicts that will prevent them from making a long-term commitment. Indications that a candidate should not be selected are things such as a hectic work or school schedule; obligations with church and children’s activities; and commitment outside of work, family and worship. 
  • After assessing their time and availability, start to recognize their competence and expertise level. Many programs do this by asking applicants to complete an essay in the application that asks questions regarding the top skills candidate should have before assuming the duties of a CASA volunteer. 
  • Applicants should at least have a general sense of knowledge regarding the importance of objectivity, cultural competence, impact of separation and loss, etc. 

The bottom line is you must have a standard for accepting volunteers that is not centered on numbers but instead quality for the program and quality for the children you serve.

 

 

 

 

The US Department of Justice has supported CASA advocacy since 1985 through its Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
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