Case Study: Boston Area Rape Crisis Center

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1 Case Study: Boston Area Rape Crisis Center While many organizations today incorporate the work of volunteers into their operations, far fewer have intentionally fostered the systems and philosophies that allow volunteerism to thrive as a core strategic component of their work. Since 1973, the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC) has pursued an organizational mission focused on ending sexual violence through healing and social change. Today, the BARCC is at the forefront of both the movement against sexual violence and the concept of volunteer engagement as a service enterprise.* Throughout its 40-year history, the BARCC s ability to successfully deliver on its mission has emanated from a core foundation and history of volunteerism. Thus in the BARCC s story of volunteer engagement, there is both history in the organization itself and in the movement around sexual violence. The BARCC was founded by a group of volunteers as a hotline for rape survivors and remained volunteer-only for its first five plus years. Particularly in its early years, the organization and its volunteer practices developed hand-in-hand with the movement around sexual violence. In the 1970s, with just a phone and a mattress and a volunteer, the BARCC was quintessentially grassroots, a political movement fueled by volunteers engaging in the call for national attention around sexual violence. By the 1990s, the BARCC observed a national shift to professionalize rape crisis work in nursing, psychology, and medicine, and saw the need to increase credibility among those other fields. Still, the BARCC remained volunteer-driven, with just four full-time staff members in the mid-1990s. By the late 1990s, the organization had grown to include a total of 11 full or part-time staff members, yet volunteers continued to drive *A service enterprise is an organization that fundamentally leverages volunteers and their skills to successfully deliver on the social mission of the organization. For more information, visit ReimaginingService.org Reimagining Service Case Study: Boston Area Rape Crisis Center 1

2 a significant portion of the BARCC s impact. Records indicate 134 volunteers provided over 41,000 hours of service in the 1998 fiscal year. Today, volunteers and interns continue to make up the backbone of everything we do. Major growth in staff occurred over the last 10 to 15 years, yet volunteers double the BARCC volunteers attending a rally to support surviviors capacity of today s full-time staff. The BARCC estimates another 22+ full time staff would be required to achieve the impact that volunteers currently deliver, through the investment of $600,000 a year. In terms of both organizational impact and financial cost, such numbers suggest substantial returns to volunteer engagement. With a dual focus on services and advocacy, the BARCC now serves thousands of survivors and their families each year, providing comprehensive and free medical accompaniment, psychological support, and legal services to victims of sexual violence. VOLUNTEER ENGAGEMENT ROLES AND PRACTICES Today, BARCC s volunteer strategy centers around consistency and commitment. The BARCC asks that volunteers make a one-year commitment to the organization, yet many volunteers stay on for much longer. The volunteer experience begins with an intensive 40 hour training, following which volunteers move into further training specific to the BARCC s three volunteer programs: Medical Advocacy, Hotline, and Community Awareness and Prevention. Today, 112 volunteers are active in these three direct service programs, with 45 serving in Medical Advocacy, 40 in Hotline, and 27 in the Community Awareness and Prevention group. Once active in their program, volunteers commit to at least one shift every week, which can range from a few hours of time, to an overnight shift, to 12 hours or more if called out to the hospital to meet with a survivor. Following initial training, volunteers are required to come in twice a month for training and ongoing education. While the core of the BARCC s volunteer strategy leverages volunteers in programmatic roles to deliver its crisis response ReimaginingService.org Reimagining Service Case Study: Boston Area Rape Crisis Center 2

3 services, BARCC strategically engages volunteers with professional skills to advance the organization s broader mission around sexual violence as well. Recently, the BARCC has engaged volunteers in efforts to analyze the prevalence of sexual violence in the Greater Boston Area, in order to establish strategic goals for the agency. Additionally, BARCC engaged with professionals in Health Communications to provide BARCC with marketing and communications support and assist the organization in improving messaging to survivors and community members. Thus BARCC engages volunteers strategically in all facets of its mission, goals, and operations. The volunteer program is part of the Human Resources Department. The BARCC s organizational structure particularly reflects the level to which volunteer engagement is a core part of operations. Within the Human Resources (HR) Department, the Director of HR oversees both full-time staff and volunteers and is responsible for making sure individuals are coming to volunteer information sessions, getting connected, hearing back from the BARCC, and receiving organizational support throughout their time as volunteers. Two years ago, the BARCC s HR department was developed to support the provision of excellent customer service and administrative support to clients, staff, volunteers, interns and others, in alignment with the BARCC s mission and philosophy. To the BARCC, the inclusion of volunteer engagement within the scope of a newly formed HR department made sense as a strategic organizational decision; volunteers are, and always have been, a core component of the organization s human capital. TODAY, VOLUNTEERS AND INTERNS CONTINUE TO MAKE UP THE BACKBONE OF EVERYTHING WE DO. Under Carolyn Foster as the director of human resources, a program assistant is responsible for recruiting and organizing the volunteer training, and one staff member serves as volunteer program coordinator for each of the three volunteer programs and is responsible for managing ongoing relationships with volunteers. Program coordinators meet with Carolyn frequently to discuss challenges, how to appreciate and support volunteers, and how to ensure the BARCC is meeting all of the needs of its volunteers. Prior to the development of the HR Department, volunteer program coordinators received monthly supervision from the BARCC s Managing Director. Thus while the BARCC s organizational ReimaginingService.org Reimagining Service Case Study: Boston Area Rape Crisis Center 3

4 structure has always prioritized volunteer programs, Carolyn s position facilitates a more coordinated and strategic approach to managing volunteer engagement, as a critical asset for both Human Resources and the organization itself. For example, under Carolyn s leadership the need to encourage volunteer engagement and broad understanding about the BARCC, not just the program they volunteer for, was identified and cross-program volunteer activities were initiated. We tell our volunteers that what they are doing is important and we follow it up by being there for them and making sure they have what they need. That is huge it s a huge resource for us to invest in but it s incredibly important that we can provide that. WE STRIVE FOR DIVERSITY AND WE WANT TO HAVE OUR POOL OF VOLUNTEERS LOOK AS DIVERSE AS OUR COMMUNITY. Reflected as well in its organizational structure and operations, the BARCC demonstrates a fundamental commitment to supporting its volunteers emotionally and logistically with a range of resources. Volunteers engaging in direct service with survivors always have backup and know that they are not alone. A second layer of volunteers, called peer supervisors, serve as a second line of defense and support, available if, for example, a volunteer needs to debrief after a difficult case. Peer supervisors receive a small stipend from the BARCC, reiterating the organization s commitment to investing in volunteer support and engagement. As an additional layer, the BARCC provides a staff line of support, ensuring that a full-time staff member is accessible to volunteers 24 hours a day, year-round. We strive for diversity and we want to have our pool of volunteers look as diverse as our community. The profile of a volunteer at the BARCC has evolved as dramatically as the organization itself and broader movement behind it. A female-only organization for the majority of its history, men and transgendered individuals now serve as staff members, board members, and volunteers in most roles, with exceptions only in the medical advocacy program where the logistics of having multiple genders available has not been worked out satisfactorily to date. Today, over 10% of direct service volunteers identify as male and approximately 4% as genderqueer. The structure of the BARCC volunteer program appeals primarily to students, ReimaginingService.org Reimagining Service Case Study: Boston Area Rape Crisis Center 4

5 VOLUNTEERS AND STAFF AT BOSTON PRIDE particularly at the graduate level; however, the BARCC volunteer pool includes adults and professionals across a range of fields as well. Similarly, Executive Director Gina Scaramella observed a shift in volunteer culture that mirrors the broadening and destigmatizing of the movement around sexual violence. In the 1990s, serving as a volunteer at the BARCC involved significant secrecy and privacy, particularly given that almost all volunteers at the time were, in fact, survivors. This culture has changed dramatically over the last 5-10 years, as Gina notes; the whole issue has changed so much in terms of how people are able to engage with it people are very proud about it (the volunteer program) they can be ambassadors for us now in ways that we never used to ask them to be, in ways that they never could before. With ReimaginingService.org clear hope and actual proof that prevention of sexual violence is possible, the BARCC and the whole movement have rejiggered, directing volunteers and resources into prevention rather than solely one-on-one individual services. To the BARCC, it seems that the shift in volunteer culture goes handin-hand with the feelings around prevention, demonstrating how volunteer engagement at the BARCC evolved simultaneously with the organization and movement supported by it. RETURN ON INVESTMENT The BARCC s investment in volunteer engagement and support is substantial and an inherent priority for the organization. Yet, perhaps in a testament to the success of the strategy, the BARCC does not engage in recruiting or advertising targeted towards volunteers, and volunteer supply currently exceeds demand for the organization. The BARCC accepts 25 new volunteers per training and holds trainings three times a year; the organization turns away volunteers at every training session due to excess supply. It s huge what volunteers do. At present, approximately 150 volunteers give over 44,000 hours a year, providing about 3,000 hotline calls a year, 400 medical advocacy accompaniments, and 300 Reimagining Service Case Study: Boston Area Rape Crisis Center 5

6 community engagements. Volunteers going to the hospital and meeting survivors complete nearly all medical accompaniments. In its sexual violence hotline program alone, the BARCC would need 5-6 full-time staff members to provide the coverage currently provided by volunteers. HAVING A VOLUNTEER PROGRAM THAT PEOPLE CAN PARTICIPATE IN CAN BE A REALLY IMPORTANT PART OF SOMEBODY S HEALING PROCESS. Beyond the impact driven by investment in volunteer engagement, the BARCC has sourced several full-time staff members from its volunteer program as well. Volunteers turned full-time staff are people that come to us as staff members fully trained and ready to hit the ground running, which is an amazing opportunity for us. The BARCC s current Executive Director, Gina Scaramella, is one such staff member; she started as a volunteer in 1990 serving on the hotline and providing counseling services for two years, then returned as a full-time staff member following a graduate degree in social work to serve as coordinator of medical and legal advocacy services starting in After filling several more roles at the BARCC, Scaramella has now served as Executive Director since 2003, embodying the returns to the BARCC s consistent investment in strategically engaging and supporting its volunteer force. LESSONS LEARNED AND CHALLENGES MOVING FORWARD Under a strong umbrella of volunteer support, the BARCC has implemented the technical systems needed to facilitate volunteer engagement and leverage volunteer data as well. Pursuing a goal of making volunteerism as easy as possible, the BARCC utilizes online timesheets for volunteers, leveraging the internet to allow volunteers to provide valuable data and feedback to the BARCC about who they serve and the services they provide. In turn, such systems allow the BARCC to provide volunteers with a quantified understanding of their impact. Technology-based platforms serve as just one example of many structures in place to support the volunteer program, all of which the BARCC view critical to ensuring people have a good volunteer experience. Having a volunteer program that people can participate in can be a really important part of somebody s healing process. ReimaginingService.org Reimagining Service Case Study: Boston Area Rape Crisis Center 6

7 COMMUNITY AW ARENESS AND PREVENTION VOLUNTEERS AT ANNUAL W ALK The BARCC never fails to lose sight of the larger picture around its volunteer program. Acknowledging that there will always be only so many staff spaces, yet there are many more survivors of sexual violence, the BARCC has come to recognize that volunteering can serve as an important part of somebody s healing process, for those at a point at which they are able to give back and take care of someone else. The volunteer program allows survivors to engage with a community around the issue of sexual violence in a positive way. Such a critical interconnectedness between a volunteer program and the broader issue it serves is certainly not unique to the issue of sexual violence; rather, it is something many service enterprises can strive towards. Investing in volunteer support has resulted in not only ReimaginingService.org significant volunteer impact for the BARCC, but a strong volunteer community as well. The program focuses on the volunteer community as its own network to strengthen commitment and engagement with the BARCC s work. As an outgrowth and perhaps as a result of the level of commitment the program requires, the BARCC finds it really amazing how many people stay connected throughout their lives, and how far that network reaches. While the intensity of volunteer engagement, training, and commitment is a strong factor in the BARCC s 40 years of success, it is also the volunteer program s greatest challenge going forward. Foster and Scaramella describe the level of training and commitment the BARCC demands as a blessing and a curse. Such a high level of commitment to a welldeveloped volunteer program means that as a volunteer, you are providing something that takes your brain, your passion and your heart, being part of a community, and following an organization s systems It s very engaging and really makes an enormous difference in those folks lives. However, such a high level of ongoing training and commitment is also limiting, making the core volunteer program at the BARCC inaccessible to a large pool of potential volunteers. Outside of the BARCC s core direct service Reimagining Service Case Study: Boston Area Rape Crisis Center 7

8 program, approximately 20 volunteers participate in the BARCC s Survivors Speakers Bureau, which trains and supports survivors to share their experiences as a component of community engagement and prevention work. Additionally, over the last two years, about a dozen volunteers have provided short-term specialized technical services such as copy editing, translation, research, and program evaluation. Finally, the BARCC engages larger numbers of volunteers for annual events such as its Walk for Change and Champions for Change Gala. In FY 2013, BARCC received inquiries from 355 community members about volunteering but the current volunteer program design was only able to engage 80 of these people. The biggest question for the BARCC going forward is how to harness that energy and determine what new opportunities to provide for those 255 other community members. One idea that BARCC is exploring is the use of Community Ambassadors. Ambassadors would attend a condensed eight hours of training and learn how to talk about sexual violence, support survivors, and promote communication and prevention within their own communities in a safe and effective manner. This expansion of volunteer engagement could dramatically impact the experience of survivors and the public discourse in hundreds of families and communities. That s exactly where we are right now is trying to figure out what those other opportunities could be. Determining the answers to these challenging questions will serve as the next step in the BARCC s journey as a service enterprise. CONCLUSION At the BARCC, impact and volunteer engagement grew together. Where the BARCC demands consistent, high levels of commitment from volunteers, they simultaneously provide consistent, high levels of support for their volunteers. As a volunteer-founded organization, the BARCC s story is one of true integration between volunteer engagement and organizational mission, an integration that maintained its integrity even as the organization grew and developed. As a result, leveraging volunteers not only delivers tremendous impact in terms of organizational capacity, but further means that the BARCC volunteer program makes inroads against sexual violence in and of itself. The BARCC recognizes that its volunteer program serves as a mechanism for healing for survivors, and an ReimaginingService.org Reimagining Service Case Study: Boston Area Rape Crisis Center 8

9 opportunity to seed the world with knowledgeable ambassadors who, in their lives and their fields, will help ensure that the issue of ending sexual violence remains top of mind for community leaders and members alike. For more information, visit This case study was developed by Bank of America Service Leadership Fellow Abigail Andrews. ReimaginingService.org Reimagining Service Case Study: Boston Area Rape Crisis Center 9

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