Volunteer Manager's Corner: SAGE
“When it comes to our volunteers,” says Bertis Shankle-Reyes, Manager of Volunteers and Outreach at SAGE, “impact is broader than hours. How do you catch a rainbow and put it in your pocket?”
Why are volunteers crucial to your organization? How do they help to meet your mission?
Like most non-profits, SAGE was founded by volunteers who saw where a void existed, and then acted to fill that need. 38 years ago, one of those first volunteers wrote a grant to the city of New York and we were able to hire our first employee. In the early days, volunteer hours outnumbered the employee hours put it. Now, though we’ve grown substantially, the hours that volunteers donate still add up to a healthy chunk of the work being done here. But that is just math, volunteers add so much more to the atmosphere at SAGE. When employees see people giving their time and talent as volunteers, it makes their job more meaningful and way more fun. Volunteers remind us that there is purpose to our efforts. Volunteers are the heart of SAGE.
What would you not be able to accomplish without volunteer support?
Well, nothing would be accomplished or little. But to illustrate, when I heard that we were starting food service four and a half years ago and we were going to serve on real plates, I asked, “Who is going to wash the dishes?” And I was told, “Volunteers.” I never thought I’d be able to find people to wash dishes for us. Yet, we did. Now granted, I love the dishwashing machine. It’s magically simple, but still, volunteers didn’t skip a beat. They jumped in (not literally, but I bet they would if I asked).
In what ways do you recognize your volunteers?
We have volunteer appreciation parties and say thank you. But I think it’s more about the gratitude they get from the participants they are serving. Our participants seem to know that our volunteers could be doing something else, but they’re here serving meals, visiting, staffing the cyber center, sharing their talents.
What advice would you give to anyone starting a volunteer program at their organization?
Rule #1: if a volunteer is not happy, they will be no good to anyone. I’ve had volunteers who said their jobs weren’t fun anymore. And that means it’s time for them to either take a break, find them a new volunteer role, or solve a problem, because something isn’t working if your volunteers are not having fun. So when you start a volunteer program, fill the positions with the brightest stars you can find. Their enthusiasm will be contagious. I have a volunteer leader at a satellite office named Michael. He’s magnetic. I’m getting goosebumps thinking about him. What a delight. It’s not always going to work like that. People and situations change, so volunteers move on. That’s life. But start off well and it makes everything easier. If you’re building a road, you have to start with a level, solid subsurface. If you’re building a house, you have to start with a stable foundation. If you’re starting a volunteer program, you want a core that is strong. And that can be just one or two people to start with. Then go from there. You can’t fail if you find great volunteers. (I should have changed Michael’s name so you won’t steal him from us!)
Don’t worry – we won’t steal Michael.