Case Story: El Centro de la Raza

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1 Case Story: El Centro de la Raza Volunteer engagement takes on new meaning when your organization s roots are in social justice. Volunteers are at the forefront of meeting the mission, and they serve as a key link into the community. These organizations have a powerful motivation to sustain service enterprise practices.* It is not just how they get the work done; in some cases, it is the work itself. El Centro de la Raza is located in Seattle, Washington, and describes itself as a voice and hub for the Latino community that advocates and works to achieve social justice. It offers comprehensive services that empower people as fully participating members of society. The range of services is diverse: emergency services, financial literacy classes, senior programs, child development, advocacy, and more. A team of 80 staff and 1,200 volunteers carry out the mission with a $4.4 million budget. More than 28,000 annual volunteer hours contribute significantly to the impact that the organization makes. The greatest thing you can give beyond love is labor. El Centro de la Raza began in 1972 with the peaceful occupation of an unused elementary school building. For the first seven years, volunteers exclusively ran El Centro de la Raza, making a stand and living out their principles on behalf of a struggling community. Their social justice work required a collective approach practiced throughout the organization at every level of its services and operations. THE GREATEST THING YOU CAN GIVE BEYOND LOVE IS LABOR. The organization grew and added professional staff over the decades. As the *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 Story: El Centro de la Raza 1

2 organization expanded its services, volunteer engagement became fragmented. The team benefited from the ongoing service of AmeriCorps or Lutheran Corps members, but they needed to centralize the volunteer functions and work with staff to place and engage volunteers well. COMCAST CARES DAY 2012 El Centro de la Raza applied and was selected to participate in a grant and capacitybuilding program offered through United Way King County. The program offered an assessment of volunteer engagement including funding and customized consulting to improve volunteer strategies and overall organizational capacity. Through the program, El Centro de la Raza set about taking the organization to the next level. VOLUNTEER ENGAGEMENT ROLES AND PRACTICES Volunteers are engaged in every aspect of El Centro de la Raza. Direct service volunteers support the food bank, enter data and staff the reception desk, teach and practice English, and run cultural and neighborhood events. Group volunteers help with painting, landscape, and maintenance projects. Skilled information technology volunteers provide graphic design and search engine optimization. Community volunteers run off-site food drives. Taproot Foundation volunteers built a new website and designed an organizational brochure. Every operation and program is fodder for including volunteers. The lead staff provides job-specific orientation because volunteers are considered part of the staff. El Centro de la Raza offers two general volunteer orientations each month. A morning orientation is led by a board member and the Executive Director and includes a tour. The Volunteer Coordinator runs an evening session. From there, volunteers complete an application and attend a meeting with the Volunteer Coordinator as a small group or on a one-to-one basis. If a match is made, the ReimaginingService.org Reimagining Service Case Story: El Centro de la Raza 2

3 brought great passion, but tend to be shorter-term volunteers. We want to engage more skillbased, long-term and community-based volunteers. CITY YEAR MEMBERS volunteer is introduced to the lead staff who will supervise them. Each meeting gives an opportunity to outline expectations and assess for fit. One of the findings of the organization volunteer assessment was that the organization and its team could benefit from the creation of a volunteer policy and philosophy. The development of these documents was a team effort. The new materials offer guidance for staff and volunteers all in one place. Volunteers sign the new policy stating that they have read and understand it. It serves as a useful reference if issues arise later on. El Centro de la Raza fields so much interest in its volunteer opportunities that it maintains a waiting list. Group requests far outnumber available projects. Over the years, many students have been involved. They have Through the volunteer assessment process, the organization identified skillbased volunteers with professional office skills as an area of need and opportunity. The staff team is working to identify additional meaningful skilled opportunities, which can be a challenge. Once those positions are created, they have found that finding volunteers who are the right fit for the positions is tough too. THE LEAD STAFF PROVIDES JOB-SPECIFIC ORIENTATION BECAUSE VOLUNTEERS ARE CONSIDERED PART OF STAFF. The number of volunteers and volunteer hours increased when we better defined all the forms of volunteering going on at El Centro de la Raza. Volunteer tracking is an area where the organization significantly improved its practices. The staff implemented a new system built on a Salesforce platform and had it customized to meet their needs by a local technology nonprofit. All staff uses the new system to track volunteer ReimaginingService.org Reimagining Service Case Story: El Centro de la Raza 3

4 information such as hours, demographics, background checks, and skill sets. They have started tracking AmeriCorps and Lutheran Corps efforts by program, department and project so they can more clearly report on volunteer impact. They enter time invested by board members. The act of tracking volunteers more closely has helped staff better identify all the ways that the community engages with the organization on a volunteer basis. RETURN ON INVESTMENT El Centro de la Raza invests in its volunteers with a full-time paid staff Volunteer Coordinator and 7-8 part-time corps positions (such as AmeriCorps, Lutheran Corps, work-study students, or AARP volunteers). The budget includes funds for volunteer awards and supplies and providing food to event volunteers. The organization pays for these positions and its volunteer engagement strategies through grants and operating funds. The initial work with the United Way grant program demonstrated so much success that it has helped the organization garner additional grants to continue the work, including a $40,000 foundation grant. PART OF OUR WORK IS TO ENGAGE VOLUNTEERS. Additionally, the organization works with skilled volunteers to complete projects that it would not be able to pursue out its operating budget. For example, it partnered with Architects Without Borders and Engineers Without Borders to install a $180,000 stair project. A construction VOLUNTEERS AT DAY OF CARING company remodeled 2009 meeting rooms that increased the rental revenue and frequency. Part of our work is to engage volunteers. Organizational leadership shares volunteer information with a variety of stakeholders. Board members receive a one-page snapshot in the monthly board report that includes volunteer numbers and groups and breakdowns of involvement. The staff ReimaginingService.org Reimagining Service Case Story: El Centro de la Raza 4

5 combination has been a key ingredient in moving the organization forward on its goals to better engage volunteers as part of its broader community engagement strategies. Organization history is very powerful. VOLUNTEERS MARCH FOR LATINO ISSUES receives an annual overview of volunteer engagement, and the Independent Sector value of volunteer time is used in the annual report that goes to organization stakeholders. Volunteering offers an opportunity to give back for participants. Volunteer time, skill and impact are what keep the organization running. These volunteers are ambassadors for El Centro de la Raza and they enable the organization to serve more clients. Along the way, volunteers learn about community development and social justice. LESSONS LEARNED AND RECOMMENDATIONS El Centro de la Raza considered its own reflections on success with help from outside volunteer experts and consultants. The El Centro de la Raza s roots have a powerful impact on the work they do 40 years later. Sharing and re-telling the history create a shared pride and commitment to the organization. The leadership team shares that with all volunteers who are involved with the organization. In doing so, volunteers join and contribute to the organization s continuing legacy. Our core principles guide the organization s work in every area. In 1976, organization leaders developed 12 core principles, which are shared with everyone affiliated with the organization. They are included in the volunteer orientation binder and employee manual. It gives the organization s team members a common starting place for thinking about and doing its community work. This strategy also creates a living coalition of organization values. Participate in external opportunities to develop your organization s volunteer strategies. El Centro de la Raza s work with ReimaginingService.org Reimagining Service Case Story: El Centro de la Raza 5

6 consultants helped staff and volunteers take a more critical look at the organization s practices. Having an outside opinion was helpful for reinforcing what was working and connecting to resources in areas that they wanted to improve. Staff could review options and ask questions about how to make new strategies work for them. PARTICIPATE IN EXTERNAL OPPORTUNITIES TO DEVELOP YOUR ORGANIZATION S VOLUNTEER STRATEGIES. El Centro de la Raza knows firsthand how history and story can inspire and focus a community to make meaningful change. By developing new infrastructure and articulating the ways they would engage volunteers, the organization was able to expand its work and impact even farther. The Volunteer Coordinator notes that volunteers provide much-needed services for the community while also building powerful relationships, community coalitions, and funding sources just what a service enterprise hopes to accomplish. For more information, visit ReimaginingService.org Reimagining Service Case Story: El Centro de la Raza 6

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