ShareNet relies on a very small part-time staff and about 40 active volunteers to keep things running. This hybrid model of small staff/many volunteers works for a lot of nonprofits that otherwise could not afford the amount of people needed to operate. The hybrid model puts ultimate responsibility with the small core staff so that volunteers can have the freedom to drop in for a few hours a week (or more if they choose), but not have the burden of responsibility beyond their immediate shift or tasks.
On the Food Bank side, we have volunteers processing deliveries and donations, stocking, packing, and driving, and a few who assist with administrative tasks. On the Thrift Store side, we also have volunteers processing and stocking, with the addition of pricers and cashiers.
Sometimes it’s a tricky balance, but together we make it work.
We are fortunate to live in a generous community stocked with lots of retired folks who have time to give. Even so, we often struggle with having enough volunteers to fill all tasks. It helps when volunteers feel a natural affiliation with our mission to assist those struggling with hunger and poverty.
Even without a natural affinity, someone volunteering will understand that those we serve are why we’re here and deserve our respect and focus. Many volunteers who don’t start with a natural affiliation with the work develop one once they have the opportunity to interact with our clients and hear their stories. It’s eye-opening to see those struggles up close; it challenges your assumptions and changes you.
Most of our staff and volunteers have been with us so long that we’ve gone through many lifecycles together: births, deaths, illness and renewal. We’ve said many goodbyes through the years, whether through death, relocation or their retirement from volunteering, just as maybe 10 or 15 years prior they retired from their paid career. As in other areas of life, it’s hard to face such losses, but it’s good when their internal clock lets them know it’s time.
As our staff get older, too, sometimes it seems like the losses and goodbyes are piling up, but the good news is we’re always welcoming new volunteers. Not only lifecycles, but we’ve also weathered cultural shifts together, such as the ubiquity of smartphones and their impact on work or the gnarly negotiation of COVID.
What makes a great volunteer? A positive, affirmative, problem-solving communication style for one. To some extent, what makes a great volunteer is what would make a great employee because ShareNet is a workplace with most of those same expectations, but at the same time it’s more elusive to define, because of course volunteers aren’t motivated by compensation. I almost said by pay or benefits, but of course there are lots of benefits.
How many lives have been helped here through volunteer efforts? How many friendships and vital connections have been formed at ShareNet through the years? Too many to count, and at least one marriage! The volunteer position most challenging to fill is drivers, who don’t just drive but are loading and unloading. More than any other here, the position is physical work.
As our Mobile Food Pantry series continues we need motivated self-starters for that project as well. Volunteers and donors keep ShareNet going. You can pick up an application onsite or at www.sharenetfoodbank.org
Mark Ince is the executive director of ShareNet and can be reached at 360-297-2266 x 3 or email@example.com.