Monday, November 26, 2007

Customer Service - Key to Volunteer Retention

One of the themes of every Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference is volunteer recruitment and retention and one workshop was a panel discussion hosted by leaders of three different Chicago programs. Nicole White wrote about this and included a few photos at this blog.

For programs to provide a high level of customer service, they need to find ways to recruit and retain key leaders who understand the goals and strategies of their program, can build relationships with youth and volunteers, and are able to support the individual needs of each youth and volunteer as the tutoring year moves from September through June.

I feel one of the challenges of going to scale, or of having hundreds of high quality volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs is the difficulty of finding experienced leaders for many different tutor/mentor programs, and to keep these leaders in place for 5-10 years.

One obstacle is lack of consistent, or adequate funding. Many tutor/mentor programs, including Cabrini Connections, work shoestring budgets, thus staff wear many hats, work many hours, and often work with hand-me-down equipment that is not always in good working condition. It's hard to keep good people in these jobs when their skills are so highly valued in the for-profit world.

You can help change that with year end donations, and charitable bequests, to support tutor/mentor programs in Chicago, or in other communities.

However, a second major challenge is that I don't know of any university that is preparing graduates for careers specifically in volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs. If young people apprenticed in tutor/mentor programs as they moved through high school and college, and they took courses in communications, marketing, leadership, as well as education, youth development, psychology, etc., they would leave college ready to take mid level and leadership roles in tutor/mentor programs. Or they might leave college and go into industry, more aware of their pro-active role as a leader and donor in support of individual programs.

If you're thinking of a place to leave a fortune, why not consider a bequest to a university to set up such a training program? It could have an impact all over the country.


scott said...

I was lucky enough to be able to volunteer my time at a summer sports camp for 4 years straight.

I think the problem is that many people need to earn money and are not in a position to volunteer their time.

A good mentor should focus on recruiting volunteers even if it's for 1 or 2 hours per week. Then, he or she must make sure they are enjoying their experience and that they see they make a difference.

Then, even those who still need to make money will create time to volunteer because they enjoy it.

Scott Palat

Tutor Mentor Connections said...

Thanks Scott, I agree with you. For 15 years I was a volunteer, and leader, of a tutor/mentor program with more than 200 pairs of youth and adults meeting three times weekly. I was able to do this because I already had a full time job, and the tutor/mentor program was hosted by the company where I worked. It was also located at the building where I worked, which was the national corporate headquarters of Montgomery Ward. Thus, I could do some of my volunteer work in the morning, during lunch, after work, and on weekends.

What motivated me to give extra time was the satisfaction I received from contributing to something that I felt was important, as well as the relationships I was forging with fellow volunteers and leaders of other programs in Chicago.

I feel that a tutor/mentor program must run like a business, focusing always on customer needs and customer service. Our customers are our kids and our volunteers. If they are satisfied they keep coming back. If they are given ownership, some become leaders.

scott said...

While on the subject, I mine as well tell you my #1 goal in life.

Because I have a Health and Physical Education Degree and love teaching gym, I would like to open a sports/tutoring camp for kids.

It would be set up primarily for after school activities and summer time.

The students would be divided by age groups and the sports we would teach, would all revolve around having fun and learning how to work with others.

I will also offer online tutoring through my company. Online tutoring gets students excited about learning unlike anything I've ever seen.

All I need is a big indoor gym, with a computer room and an outdoor baseball field. I am working towards this goal every day and I hope to be able to open 1 up within the next 5 years. Then, who knows, maybe I'll end up expanding them to other cities beside Denver to start.

This is the type of service that both students and parents would really be appreciative of.

Scott Palat

Tutor Mentor Connections said...

I wish you good luck. I visited your blog and you offer some valuable tips for paid, and volunteer, tutors.

char said...

we are starting a youth mentoring program in cairns, australia. currently i tutor students for study skills and essay/these writing etc.

you will be at the top of our blog roll when the program is running in 2008 :-)

meanwhile i'll direct other psych students your way.

Tutor Mentor Connections said...

I've been networking with mentoring and tutoring and distance education leaders from Australia for more than 10 years. As you start your program you might use Mentoring Australia as a resource. The web site is

I look forward to engaging with your students in a process that leads to better understanding of habits and actions that would enable programs all over the world to be more effective in transforming the lives of youth and our adult volunteers.