How Commonwealth Corps can become unique

I’d been hoping that MA Governor Devel Patrick’s early goal of creating a Commonwealth Corps would not come to fruition because, in my opinion, so far it seems redundant and misses the opportunity to distinguish itself from Americorps and charities’ existing volunteer programs.

Unfortunately, it appears that the administration is launching Commonwealth Corps. While I am excited that resources will be dedicated to promote volunteering, I am concerned that like many existing charities that seek to engage older/experienced people in volunteerism (like our local Generations Inc.), the governor is focusing resources into small stipends instead of critical charity infrastructure that would better recruit and retain volunteers.

For example, rather than providing a very modest stipend per volunteer, the Commonwealth Corps should invest in building faster and more efficient models that will use professional marketing and recruitment plans to generate applicants and then respond to and screen them rapidly, so people don’t lose patience and interest (and come to feel unneeded) while over-burdened staff struggle to respond, which we saw after crises like the hurricanes, but occurs regularly. The Commonwealth Corps should also incorporate metrics for analyzing effectiveness and retention, and perhaps conduct marketing research that they can share with all nonprofits to engage more volunteers overall, for which there is a distinct need.

And before marketing the need for volunteers, considerable effort should be made to help charities prepare unique and high-impact volunteer titles with responsibilities clearly defined, much like for-profit companies develop job descriptions.

Furthermore, as I’ve found as both a volunteer and a manager of volunteers, investing in training for supervisors of volunteers and supporting these supervisors, will go a long way toward retaining the new Commonwealth Corps volunteers. In order to keep at it, volunteers need to feel needed, understand how they are making a difference, be adequately prepared to be useful, and not that their time is being wasted. Volunteers also need to have a host of other, personal needs met. Most of the time, efforts made by their direct supervisors, not just stipends for parking or lunch, are responsible for these key determinants for success and retention.

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