One thing that concerns me mightily is the losing battle most human service nonprofits are fighting in the battle between higher demand for services, more mandates from funders and static or even falling funding.
This is not news to anyone in this part of the nonprofit sector, but many agencies are reaching a breaking point, and something has to give. So I had this thought while hiking the other day here in Idaho. Why not rethink our model of service provision and incorporate more highly trained volunteers?
Most human services are primarily trained by paid staff. And, most funders and accrediting bodies mandate certain levels of education, regular training, and experience.
But so what? There are lots of critical services already provided in the U.S. by highly trained and dedicated volunteers. Most firefighters in the US are volunteers--it's just that they live in smaller communities who can't afford full-time paid protection. And they do a great job. Same with EMS services, and search and rescue. Most of these life and death services are provided by a willing network of highly trained unpaid community servants.
So why not in human services? I thought of my sister's group home. Staffing small group homes is always a challenge. So what activities could safely be outsourced to a group of volunteers?
Food comes to mind. It must be planned, someone must shop for it, it must be prepared, served, and cleaned up. 3 times a day, seven days a week. Say two hours of total staff time per meal, that's 42 hours a week--a full FTE. What if the agency that runs the home asked a church group to do these chores say, two days a week, or even 3? If you think of the amount of time that would save the staff, who could focus on actually being with the residents of the home, rather than off shopping and cooking?
Such transitions would not be easy, and as anyone who works with volunteers will tell you, they are not "free", but the model bears examining.