Earlier this week, David Burke, Team Rubicon’s vice president of programs and field operations, joined several other leaders from partner organizations for a webinar hosted by Katherine Boatwright at the National VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster). Across the United States, volunteer organizations are shifting their models and operations to best serve those impacted by the coronavirus, often in new or unforeseen ways. A link to the recording is below, but here are some of the key takeaways and insights offered by panel guests from the American Red Cross, Feeding America, Mennonite Disaster Services, Team Rubicon, NVOAD, and Saint Vincent DePaul.
1: What brings us together may require us to stand six feet apart
Regardless of the organization or affiliation, and despite all the challenges imposed by COVID-19, Americans are finding new ways to serve. Whether through physical distancing or a shift in services provided, everyone is finding ways to come together. Mennonite Disaster Services was forced to temporarily close down rebuild operations to keep their volunteers safe during the coronavirus outbreak. But, while their volunteers were forced to hang up their hammers, they instead dusted off their sewing machines and are now producing thousands of cloth masks per day.
2: Volunteers can be there, even if it’s virtually
When most people think about volunteer work, they think about face-to-face interactions and direct service to communities. But when a large portion of the volunteer population is at high-risk for COVID-19 and unable to deploy, it’s critical to find new ways to activate those individuals who still want to help. From staffing 211 call centers to virtually training or mentoring a volunteer on a field role or just sending out an offer to help your neighbors via social media, there are a multitude of ways to plug in and support communities impacted by the pandemic.
3: Take care of your people so they can take care of others
At any volunteer organization, the volunteer experience is always a priority—ensuring there is proper direction, resources, enough work to go around, and making sure the volunteer feels valued for their contribution. In the face of a one-in-a-generation-shifting (or perhaps, species-shifting) event, there is no shortage of work to be done. What becomes paramount is making sure the volunteers who do the work are taken care of. Implementing rest schedules and frequent breaks is critical to making sure volunteers don’t burn out or fall behind on rest.