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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Were We Crazy to Pursue Service Enterprise Certification? Our Rewarding Journey with SEI

What comes to mind when you hear Diagnostic Survey?  How about Certification Rubric? It’s possible you may have already stopped reading this blog because they sound like WAY too much to do and you do not really understand the benefits.

Well, let me assure you that it is a lot of work, but when preparing these components for certification with the Service Enterprise Initiative (SEI), the benefits your organization will reap far outweigh the time spent. SEI is a national program, offered in Phoenix by the ASU Lodestar Center, that provides training and certification to selected nonprofits that are committed to implementing exemplary volunteer management practices to achieve their missions. 

Our organization, the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education/Arizona Bar Foundation, is 40 years old, and we have always believed in volunteers and how much we need them in order to fulfill our mission.  We have trainings, we have orientations, we have recognition… We thought we would just sail through the process. NOT!

What we came to realize more deeply is that it’s not all about me as the Director of Volunteers. We had to take off our rose-colored glasses and see that it’s all about each and every one of our staff, how they work with and value the volunteers, and how we document our effort and the volunteer’s value. It is all about how our volunteers value other volunteers. It’s all about inviting all staff, including our Executive Director, to the trainings so we had buy-in across the Foundation. It’s all about sharing our mission with our board members and demonstrating how they are in step with the certification rubric and action plan  It’s all about flipping our organization chart with the Board at the base as a foundation and our volunteer positions spread across each department and tied to each staff member. It is all about putting our mission, “promoting access to justice for all Arizonans,” front and center in all our work each day. This cannot be done without our volunteers.

My favorite moments so far (we have only been certified since September) are things I never imagined. The first was when one of the IT department employees came to me and presented me with a Powtoon video to be used for volunteer orientation. That took off and I have since involved an intern in creating Powtoons for specific program volunteers. Before SEI, I do not believe I would have been able to talk “volunteer” with someone in a technology position.  However, since she had attended several of the trainings, she was passionate about helping and understood her role in working with volunteers.  

The other moment was when our program coordinator came to me and explained how she had read up on in-kind reporting because she knew how important the Return on Volunteer Investment was for the Foundation. She showed me her spreadsheet and asked me to confirm her data. Her excitement was so exhilarating!  

Words of advice? Make sure you understand the commitment for being certified. Make sure you do not rush the process. We had many of the procedures in place and it was still a six-month process. Make sure you get everyone involved, as buy-in is so very important! Make sure you keep open lines of communication with your mentor and plan on meeting on a regular basis so you are provided valuable input along the way.

If you need further prompting to take the plunge, please reach out to the ASU Lodestar Center, as they are a Hub for Service Enterprise training and certification. Good luck and remember, “It’s all about our volunteers.”

Susan is the Director of Volunteers for the Foundation and manages the volunteer base for the legal services and Law-Related Education programs administered by the Foundation. Her credentials include Certified Volunteer Administrator and Nonprofit Administration. Her background covers over 25 years of working with nonprofit organizations, including volunteer administration, training, victim assistance, and serving on various Board of Directors, including MADD, Sojourner Center, and is currently the Past President of the Association of Volunteer Administration of Central Arizona. She has been with the Foundation since 1996 and is dedicated to expanding the programs to impact every Arizona youth and providing the legal services necessary to meet the needs of those seeking equal justice


ASU Lodestar Center Blog