Volunteerism Soars to New Heights at Mississippi State University


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Volunteerism Soars to New Heights at Mississippi State University

Mississippi State University’s Maroon Volunteer Center was expanding exponentially, and administrator Meggan Franks couldn’t keep up with the paper processes. Adopting OrgSync has helped them offer more volunteer opportunities, track data seamlessly, and automatically give students verified credit for earned service hours.

As a result of their efforts, MSU was named a Presidential Award Finalist for the 2013 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll program—one of only 14 schools recognized nationally.

Create a Culture of Community Involvement

MSU adopted OrgSync in August 2012, and made it public to students and community partners in January. In just over two months’ time, 630 students have joined to sign up for volunteer activities. Franks did not import any users. Rather, students opted in because they wanted to be informed of the most recent updates on volunteer opportunities, as well as to track their service hours.



“We like numbers, so last year we had 10,700 hours of service logged. Now we’re getting closer to 15,000,” Franks said. “It would be wonderful if we got 20,000 next year.”

Franks has worked closely with community partners to bring them into OrgSync. She pairs organizations with graduate assistants, so they can easily create their projects on OrgSync and get attention for their event. Community partners have three ways to post an event: directly on OrgSync; by calling and speaking to one of the Maroon Volunteer Center graduate students; or by filling out a form posted on the school’s public website.

She now has more than 100 community partners on OrgSync, with plans to continue to reach out to more organizations.

Generate Accurate Data and Reports

Data is important to community partners: knowing how many volunteers to expect, and when, can be the difference between a successful event and a poorly planned debacle. Using OrgSync, Franks was able to track volunteer data in real-time and alert event planners ahead of time.

“The Service Management tool gives you a really accurate look at student involvement through community engagement,” Franks said.

PLANTING TREES WITH THE DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY

The Mississippi Department of Forestry needed to plant 7,000 trees across 15 shifts in 3 weeks. Franks tracked student sign-ups in real-time, and notified the Department of Forestry to expect 240 students. Franks modified the required volunteer waiver form in OrgSync to include a question about shift preference. “When a student would register, they signed the waiver and had the opportunity to sign up for multiple shifts,” Franks said.

“When I went to view the students signing up, I just viewed results and made a bar graph totaling all the students in each shift. Because number of volunteers is everything.”

Event organizers were able to calculate that each student would plant 30 trees, and had the trees already grouped and ready to be planted when students arrived. The event went seamlessly, and the Department of Forestry was thrilled to see so many students.

Make Volunteering Easy for Everyone

STUDENTS

Students like OrgSync because, Franks said, “It looks fun. I’ve seen other programs that when you log in, it’s not fun. It’s boring. Students want to go in and feel like there’s some energy. It looks a lot like something they’re already using. There are big buttons for them to click; it’s not hard for them to get in there and figure it out themselves.”

OrgSync also makes tracking service hours dramatically easier. Rather than keeping paper records for four years, students can log their service hours in OrgSync and maintain a running tally. When applying for jobs or scholarships, students can easily print or email their volunteer record to demonstrate their involvement and their leadership.

Franks said, “Now they can log in and submit their record all the way back to when they were a freshmen and they can create a record of all their service. They love it.”

Student organizations can also create and advertise events and have their members fill out their earned hours using OrgSync’s timesheet function. “They can have their members submit hours online. That’s way better than getting an Excel sheet and taking their word for it,” Franks said.

COMMUNITY PARTNERS

Getting community partners to adapt to a new system can be a challenge, but OrgSync made it easy. Franks partnered the “slow adopters”—community partners who were too busy to learn a new program—with graduate students in administrator roles in OrgSync. Those students can now create the events and update information for community partners after getting a call or email from the partner.

For those that are comfortable with technology, they are given administrator access to create their own events. “They quickly learn how OrgSync works. It’s not difficult to work with,” Franks said. “They’ve learned easily a few of the steps to help manage their volunteers.”

As a result, more of their events are posted, and more volunteers can attend.

ADMINISTRATORS

The biggest benefits are to the administrators. Franks is the only full-time staff member at the Maroon Volunteer Center, and she used to be consumed by paperwork.

For example, in 2011-12 the Maroon Volunteer Center gave out 94 awards, which meant going through the 300 paper records one by one. The process took weeks. By switching to OrgSync, all those records moved online. It took Franks only 30 minutes to send reminders to all the appropriate students.

“It was just so easy. What are we going to do with all this spare time?” Franks said. “Now I can focus more of my time creating new initiatives that bring greater value to Mississippi State University and the community partners that we serve.”

It’s also simplified advertising for volunteer opportunities. Before, Franks had to contact the IT department every time she wanted to add a new event to the university website. Now it automatically updates in real-time, and students can always check on the opportunities they find most interesting. “I get either a form or a phone call, and then I just go into OrgSync, find that portal, click the green button, and it’s live. Then students can sign up,” Franks said.

“It was just so easy. What are we going to do with all this spare time? Now I can focus more of my time creating new initiatives that bring greater value to Mississippi State University and the community partners that we serve.”

Meggan Franks
Program Coordinator, Office of Student Leadership & Community Engagement
Project Supervisor, Maroon Volunteer Center & AmeriCorps VISTA Project