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Engaging Volunteers During COVID-19: 5 New Virtual Roles

November 3, 2020, The Association

COVID-19 has impacted all aspects of the animal welfare industry, including how you engage and train your volunteers. Like many agencies, Humane Society of Charlotte has come up with a variety of new virtual volunteer roles. 

“Virtual volunteering became a definite idea when we realized how much some of our volunteers wanted to keep helping, but were concerned about coming onsite,” says HSC’s Volunteer Programs Manager, Zinnia Borland. Here she passes along deets of their successful Voicemail Transcribers pilot program, and shares some ideas for additional virtual volunteer roles.

The Association: How did you come up with the new volunteer role of Voicemail Transcriber?
Zinnia Borland: 
Our Community Cat Manager, Leah Massey, is a department of one. She handles all 311 help calls to the county regarding community cats. She needed help transcribing voicemails, and we thought this could be something people can do from home. We had an idea of how the role would work, as our Clinic Services staff has done something similar for the past 8 years. With this in mind, we knew the role would be helpful, and easy to implement. 

The Association: What does the role of Voicemail Transcriber entail?
After going through training, our volunteers sign up on Volgistics to log in to the Community Cat voicemail, and then transcribe the messages. They type up all available information – date, name, contact information and the message itself – into an Excel document, and email it to Leah so she can then return the calls. 

The Association: How did you handle training for this role? 
ZB: We used Zoom for the first round of training. It took 30 minutes, and we went through how to use Google Drive and accessing all the information necessary, and the types of calls volunteers might receive. 

At the time it sounded very simple, but we quickly realized Google was not the most efficient way to go. We kept running into issues of approving first-time logins; as the role has flexible hours, that meant Leah needed to be available for any first-time volunteers 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, to approve their access! So, we simplified everything into a 15-minute recorded Zoom video, and volunteers simply email their Excel templates to Leah. We also set it up so that only volunteers who have undergone training can sign up for the role in Volgistics. 

The Association: How many Voicemail Transcribers do you currently have, and what is their typical weekly time commitment?
 Since launching this role, we have 15 volunteers trained and able to help. The role is very flexible, and we ask that they sign up for one hour a day, although the time varies depending on how many messages come in. We trained this number of volunteers to make sure we will always have some coverage. 

The Association: Who would have done this pre-pandemic?
:  Leah would have done this with no assistance pre-pandemic. Our plan is to keep this and any other roles in place permanently.

The Association: What advice do you have for agencies who would like to give this a try?
ZB: Don’t be afraid to offer something virtual and be upfront with your volunteers that it’s a trial. Honesty is very important, so if you need to change things that aren’t working, your volunteers don’t get frustrated at all the changes. 

The Association: What other virtual volunteer roles do you offer?
The Voicemail Transcriber role has been the tester that’s allowed us to launch and plan several other virtual roles:

  • Transcriber for the Clinic Services team, which runs very similarly to the Voicemail Transcriber
  • Customer Service volunteer, who will confirm all the next day’s appointments
  • Administrative volunteer who will call and email our Pet Food Bank clients
  • Administrative volunteer who calls fosters, and takes and collates notes on the animals in foster care; we will then share these notes with potential adopters

All of these roles are new and exciting! The time saved for our staff and the information they will provide are invaluable. I am also so happy to be able to offer volunteers a method of volunteering and helping away from the shelter.  

Have you created new virtual roles for volunteers at your agency? Leave a comment and let us know!

Learn More

Blog: Metro Nashville AC&C Uses Technology to Rock Their RTO
Blog: 4 Ways to Engage Volunteers During COVID-19

About The Association
The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement is a cohort of leaders on a mission to champion, advance, and unify the animal welfare profession.

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