Thursday, July 30, 2015

Does your Tutor/Mentor Program Have a Written Plan?

School starts in a few weeks and every volunteer-based tutor/mentor program in Chicago and the country is beginning to send out appeals for volunteers. I've created this list of Chicago program links and this list of Facebook pages for Chicago area programs so that prospective volunteers, students, and even donors, can shop and choose programs to support.

I created this image many years ago to illustrate that we all have a common goal, but that there are few building libraries like I do, with a goal of leading marketing and public education programs that draw more volunteers and donors to all of the different programs in Chicago and help each use these resources to constantly improve.

Today I don't want to write about volunteer recruitment. I want to ask if each program has a written plan, or calendar of weekly activities, showing what the volunteer will do from September through next June and how they will support students and volunteers so more stay connected throughout this year and into next year.

I started writing an annual plan in 1977 and updated it every year from then till 2011 when I stopped leading a single program. With a written plan you don't start from scratch each year, you just repeat activities that worked in the past, with little improvements that you hope make them work better. You add new ideas that make sense (when you have the funding and talent to add them). You delete things that don't seem to work.

Here's the 1989-90 written plan for the program I had led from 1975-1992. This program had a nearly 175 active volunteers by 1980 and 300 by 1989 so there were many veteran volunteers who could be recruited to take leadership roles. This program had only 3 part time college students as paid staff. All leaders were volunteers with full time jobs at Montgomery Ward and in other businesses in the Chicago region.

Here's the calendar of activities from a program I led from 1993-2011. This program started with 7 volunteers and grew to have 80-100 active volunteers each year from 1998 to 2011. While a few became long term, this was too small a base for many to take on the type of committee roles in the earlier program, thus, a small paid staff took on more of the organizational roles.

Planning should be a year-round process. By August, most 2015-16 plans should be in place and the work is now focused on recruiting students and volunteers and doing the screening, training, matching and orientations that enable students and volunteers to be meeting weekly by late September. However, if you think of year-to-year growth, the planning calendar shown below may be useful to you.

Planning Calendar for Volunteer-Based Tutor/Mentor Programs by Daniel F. Bassill

This calendar is one that could be adopted by any tutor/mentor program in the country. I hope many do and that they create written plans and share them on their own web sites so that others can learn from them and so that volunteers, parents and donors can have a deeper understanding of the work you do to help their kids.

This is long-term work. The program at Montgomery Ward started in 1965 with just a few volunteers. It took 15 years to reach a point where an extensive volunteer-based committee structure could be put in place. It took another 10 years for that to mature. The second program I led started with 7 volunteers in 1993 and grew to average 80-100 a year. Since we were a non-profit we were able to raise money and pay a small staff to take on roles our volunteers did in the earlier program. Due to space limits it was never able to grow beyond 80-100 volunteers thus did not reach the size which enabled the first program to build such an extensive volunteer involvement structure.

However, both of these programs have been working for decades. The graphic showing Thomas Edison illustrates that it's really hard to build and sustain an well-organized tutor/mentor program and keep it going for 20 to 50 years. However, it's even more difficult for a city to build and sustain such programs in all high poverty neighborhoods.

This is the challenge I and the Tutor/Mentor Connection began focusing on in 1993 and that I now continue to focus on via the Tutor/Mentor Institute,LLC. Browse other articles on this blog, the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC web site and other blogs, to see ideas for helping well-organized, volunteer based tutor/mentor programs grow in all high poverty neighborhoods of urban areas like the Chicago region.

I think every major city in the world has areas of high poverty, just like Chicago. Thus a T/MC strategy would work in these cities, too. That means the people who help build and sustain the ideas I share could be located in different parts of the country or the world and the work done in each city from year to year could be inspiration motivating what happens in every other city.

Let's connect if you agree with this.

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