The following article is part of the March/April edition of the Nonprofit Hub Magazine, which focuses on Cause Camp and volunteers in conjunction with National Volunteer Month. To receive our next edition, sign up here.

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Figuring out what’s for dinner can be challenging, especially when you have to plan for four locations and wrangle dozens of servers every day.

For Tara Alder, the Volunteer Manager of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Kansas City, this challenge is her everyday existence. Alder manages the volunteers for the four Ronald McDonald Houses in Kansas City, and all of the organization’s volunteers.

Volunteers are essential to achieving the mission of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Kansas City. More than 10,000 people annually help serve the nightly meals, while another 200 people volunteer regularly working in the houses.

Managing all of those volunteers is just as essential as finding people to volunteer. Alder said she uses several programs to ensure their volunteers’ needs are being met and to make sure that volunteers are remaining engaged.

“(Volunteer engagement) means that volunteers are part of the mission and they have an impact,” Adler said. “They are appreciated, understood and comfortable in the role they serve. We don’t want them to feel like they are a seat-warmer and they are helping the families in the houses.”

Andrew Stanley, founder of VolunteerMark, said nonprofits need to have some sort of electronic system to manage volunteers. He admits, however, that his is biased toward the one he created.

“You have to have a system because there is no way to keep it all in your head,” Stanley said. “It should be a well thought out process and one that you can keep track of your volunteers on an individual basis.”

To make matters more complicated, the Ronald McDonald House works with two types of volunteers. Most are one-time volunteers who serve meals, often volunteering as part of a group and do not receive any training.

In addition to their daily meal servers, Adler said they have upwards of 300 volunteers each year to help with Red Day, when they canvass all 130-plus McDonald’s locations around the Kansas City metro area to solicit donations. Adler said they use VolunteerMark to manage the servers for their group volunteers, which they used to do by hand.

“They would contact me to set that up, but now they go online easily to see what dates are open,” Alder said. “It is much more useful now.”

On the other end, regular volunteers go through a more involved training process. It starts by advertising the opportunities available, including descriptions on their website, and the volunteers complete an application online. After an informational orientation, they meet with human resources to figure out where their interests are and make sure they are a match for the organization. From there they try to set up a regular schedule so they know what to expect from their time volunteering, whether it is once a week or once a month. Adler said they use Raiser’s Edge from Blackbaud to manage their donors as well as their volunteers.

While the groups of volunteers that help serve meals are vital for the execution, the frequent, recurring volunteers are the lifeblood of the organization. They often help with reception at the houses, administrative work and the educational programs offered.

Alder said they try to recognize the volunteers as much as possible. After one year with Ronald McDonald House, they get a permanent name tag and more honors every ensuing anniversary. They’ve had people help for more than 30 years, but no matter how long the volunteers stick around.

“We want to make sure that they are getting as much out of it as we do,” she said. “We really are thankful for all they do.”

 

(photo courtesy Ronald McDonald House Charities of Kansas City)