Volunteer Advisory Panel Provides Perspective, Builds Engagement
"The panel expands the relationship with our volunteers and allows us to benefit from their wisdom."
Contributed by Gloria Bunce, Executive Director, CASA Kane County
CASA Kane County is nearing its 25th year of advocacy for our youth. We are the second oldest program in the State of Illinois, next to Chicago and serve consistently 100% of all abuse/neglect and probate court cases for more than 500 children each year.
While we are proud of our strength and service to children, we know that we can always do more. In 2010, as part of a strategic planning process[i],we developed an advocate advisory panel to expand the relationship with our volunteers and benefit from their wisdom.
Creating a panel made great sense: Who better to share information about what was really working and what was clearly not than the advocates themselves? Our CASA volunteers are in the trenches, working with the agencies, Department of Child and Family Services and our children to ensure permanency is attained. They are a natural partner and a wealth of information. We wanted to tap their ability to strengthen key working relationships and communicate with all our constituencies.
The first step to creating the advisory panel was determining who to ask to join. We quickly developed a job description (126 KB PDF) and worked with the advocate supervisors on who should be approached based on experience and years in the program. We were very mindful not to add more work to the advocate’s role. (Download the panel member recruitment letter (95 KB PDF).)
The advisory panel is overseen by the executive director and director of advocate supervision. A member from the board of directors executive team is always at the meetings, and ideally, so is the chairman of the organization, in order to foster full disclosure and open dialogue. Our goal is to make sure the advocates feel comfortable in expressing their views and can be brutally honest about their cases and what we can be doing better to help them succeed in their roles.
So far, the advisory panel members have given us feedback on their current cases and how we can improve communication. They have reviewed and critiqued the website and newsletter; presented “mission moments” at board meetings; and participated in awareness and outreach events such as “Hands around the Courthouse.” Recently, when we hosted our first Super Heroes Breakfast advisory panel members participated at a table with new guests of the organization to share their story and the impact that they’re having in the lives of our children.
[i] Our strategic planning team consisted of our board of directors, staff and chairman’s advisory panel, and there was a three year plan implemented that also included a newly formed emeritus council group of retired board members.