Is Your Organization Ready To Make An Impact this Summer?
Most of the volunteers coming through our doors at Nazareth Farm are only with us for a week, but we want their service retreat experience to stay with them a lifetime. I’m sure many of you also want your philosophy of community building, service, understanding, and compassion to deeply impact your volunteers. So, how do home repair nonprofits create the most far-reaching impact with immersion trip programs and short-term volunteer opportunities?
To understand how to change volunteers’ lives, we first must know how we want to change their lives. At Nazareth Farm, we model our entire service immersion retreat around four cornerstones: service, prayer, community, and simplicity. Over the years, these four cornerstones have remained constant, and they synthesize our volunteers’ experience, providing them with words and actions to take back with them. For your organization, goals may be increasing their knowledge of poverty in the area, improving their self-confidence, making meaningful connections, etc. Ideally, your mission or vision statement provides you some direction in labeling your desired outcome for volunteers.
Once your program can articulate the impact it wants to have on volunteers, implementation is key. Your organizational culture, staff mindset, and home repair program should all enforce the impact on your volunteers. Let’s take a look at these three areas.
Creating a vibrant and positive organizational culture should be at the top of any executive director’s or supervisor’s list. We want our policies, strategic plan, staff, board members, etc. to emulate our values throughout all we do. This includes using language that reflects acceptance and compassion towards clients, allowing for staff professional development, and creating goals that move the organization forward.
While a strong organizational culture should set the groundwork, your staff are the ones working directly with volunteers. Their actions, responses to questions, and interactions with homeowners are what volunteers remember. Therefore, it is imperative that staff are provided ample training, that they can shadow more seasoned staff, and that they really buy-in to your organization’s mission. I’m sure we’ve all seen people who really like doing home repair, but who may not see the human dignity in each homeowner or aren’t able to interact with respect in situations of poverty. However, we have a responsibility to hire people who provide compassion to our clients and can lead volunteers with integrity. As supervisors, we have the responsibility to also recognize burnout and compassion fatigue in staff. We can assist with creating a positive staff mindset by providing space for personal retreats, necessary time off, and professional evaluations.
Home Repair Program
Our time with volunteers is often centered around the physical service of home repair. By providing an exemplary home repair service to clients, we are demonstrating the dignity and value of each client to our volunteers. We don’t just give our clients half-baked projects with lackluster quality; we must strive to respect each home and client with the best work possible. This is where volunteers make connections with one another, see the value of service in action, and are challenged to step beyond their comfort zone. Our programs’ ability to demonstrate service and invite volunteers into that service is what stays with them for years to come. Nazareth Farm teaches each volunteer how to be an active participant in the work. At the beginning of the day, a timid high school student may not see how they are valuable to the project. However, by the end of the day, our staff have encouraged and shown them how they are an integral part of the work. Sometimes it’s more important to take time to teach than it is to get an extra few pieces of siding on the house. Or sometimes that long lunch with a lonely homeowner gives more to them and the volunteers than getting an hour ahead on the project.
As we each gear up for a long summer of home repair volunteers and projects, take a little time to evaluate your organizational culture, staff mindset, and home repair program. Is it making the impact you want? Once you have that answer, it’s time to maintain or reframe our program. I look forward to hearing about how your programs impacted your communities and volunteers!
Allyson is the executive director of Nazareth Farm, a small, intentional Catholic community living and working in rural West Virginia. When not behind a desk, she enjoys joining her staff on home repair projects and visiting neighbors. She has a Master of Social Work from West Virginia University with a focus on nonprofit management and community organization.