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“Clarity is kindness”: How the Service Enterprise Initiative changed ICS Tucson's approach to volunteer communications

May 23, 2023 — For more than 30 years, the nonprofit Interfaith Community Services has been serving the Tucson community. Through a combination of emergency assistance, self-sufficiency programs, senior services, and community health outreach, ICS Tucson faithfully pursues its mission: “to help people in need achieve stable, healthy, and independent lives.”

Over its several decades of work, ICS Tucson’s volunteer workforce has increased steadily. With volunteers numbering approximately 1,300, the organization provides its essential services to over 52,000 people each year.

To better manage this massive volunteer workforce, ICS Tucson turned to the ASU Lodestar Center’s Service Enterprise Initiative (SEI).

The SEI program, offered in partnership with AL!VE and Points of Light, introduces nonprofits to a more effective model of volunteer management. The research-based program has a track record of proven benefits including an average annual increase in the yearly number of volunteers that equates to $63,000 worth of valued labor. TCC Group research found that Service Enterprise certified organizations are “equally as effective as their peers without volunteers, at half the median budget.”

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ICS Tucson witnessed these benefits first-hand, according to Volunteer Engagement Manager Tori Carlson.

“We have our policies and procedures in place and a really well-ordered program,” Carlson says, “but there’s always areas for improvement and Service Enterprise showed us that.”

One change that ICS Tucson implemented from SEI was small but significant. It included changing the job descriptions of open volunteer positions to more accurately reflect the role.

“We needed to verify with all of the program managers — ‘Is this really what your volunteers do?’ Let’s update the information and fill in any gaps,” says Carlson.

The end result was a more standardized process of volunteer recruitment with all job descriptions updated to an online format. The end result has bolstered time efficiency for both volunteers and volunteer managers.

“I think it has definitely helped alleviate the burden of getting tons and tons of phone calls [asking] ‘What is this like? How do you do this?’ Things that normally I would get… we would get together by referring people to the website and saying, ‘Here's a way that you can look, and evaluate yourself and make a decision.’ We've streamlined our processes, so that it empowers people with clear information,” Carlson said. 

Another added benefit was an increased understanding of volunteer management within the ICS Tucson organization.

“I told my CEO… There's volunteer management, which I do over the whole program, but there are individual program managers and they do a lot of volunteer management,” Carlson said. As volunteer engagement manager, Carlson is responsible for recruiting and assigning tasks, while program managers are also conducting day-to-day volunteer management tasks. 

“I think it surprised our CEO that our program managers do volunteer management. So now, in the job descriptions, that is part of their job. So volunteer management is written into their job performance [and] into the job descriptions, so that it's really clear that, with this expectation, clarity is kindness.”

As a result, ICS Tucson saw an increased clarity in the volunteer management arena both inside and outside of the organization. The palpable benefits of the Service Enterprise Initiative are ones that Carlson suggests to any nonprofit — as long as it is ready to commit.

“One thing is you have to be ready to embark on the journey,” she says. “But I definitely advocate for it. It's a deep dive into looking at how you can do what you do better, and getting more voices at the table to communicate. There's nothing like good communication, that we all need in best practices in our programs. We're serving the community, we want to do our mission better, [and] we want to be able to help more people. And, not only are we helping the people, we're helping the people that want to help people.”

Story by Lillian Finley, ASU Lodestar Center.

Photo: ICS volunteers sort through donated items.

Learn more about the Service Enterprise Initiative

The Service Enterprise Initiative is a national program offered by the ASU Lodestar Center that provides training and certification to nonprofits that are committed to implementing exemplary volunteer management practices to achieve operational efficiency and greater social impact. Participating organizations receive a Service Enterprise diagnostic, team training and one-on-one coaching. Certified Service Enterprises are among the top 11% of nonprofits in the nation, reporting some of the highest volunteer numbers and labor hours in the country.