Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Engaging Volunteers

At the SC Free Clinic Association conference last month, I gave a presentation on Volunteer Engagement. Within that talk, we discussed some key factors in a successful volunteer recruitment and engagement program:

•Simplify the Experience - It needs to be an easy process to volunteer at the clinic. This does not mean that you bypass key steps like credentialing, etc., but it does mean that you streamline the process as much as you can. Review the 'flow' of the clinic process - is it simple and easy for a new volunteer to pick up? How much paperwork is there? What barriers are thrown up in the process that discourage a volunteer? Look for ways to make the volunteer experience simple, painful and enjoyable.

•Emphasize the Focus - What seasoned health care professionals want to do in volunteering is see patients. Period. That is their focus - to go back to the practice of medicine the way they thought it would be when they started. That's the beauty of the free clinic experience - that's exactly what it is, free of insurance forms and practice management/business concerns (for the doctor, at least). So, be sure to emphasize the focus on patient care in your recruiting, and in the clinic process.

•Stress the Flexibility - Retired health care professionals want some flexibility in their volunteer experience - some may want an evening clinic, maybe weekly, maybe monthly, maybe randomly. Others may want daytime hours. While you do need some standardization and consistency in you clinic, be willing to be flexible. I'd rather have a doctor that will volunteer one night clinic every 6 weeks than turn her away because 'we only do monthly rotations.' Be willing to change and adapt.

•Demonstrate Respect - Volunteer physicians and other health care providers in many ways want to be treated like staff, in terms of knowing what's going on. So, be sure to include them in notices or key information. You may even want to invite them from time to time to a staff meeting, or hold an 'staff' meeting for volunteers. Keep them in the loop.

•Express Appreciation - Look for ways to thank them. My favorite is when a patient writes a thank you note - give the volunteer a copy of it, with an additional 'thanks to you...' note from you. A personal touch is best - you dont have to spend money on gifts.

•Follow Through, Follow up - One a volunteer is active with you, don't forget about them. Check in with them periodically to see how they are doing, to solicit advice and to encourage. Also, remember that your best source of future volunteers are your current volunteers...they are also typically a group that become or are donors as well.

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