Not every American Red Cross volunteer has the opportunity to be recognized on a national level, but this became a reality for one Iowa Region volunteer.
Dennis Kellar of Norwalk, has served within the Iowa Region for three years. He was invited to travel to the Red Cross headquarters in Washington D.C. and attend the annual National Awards Dinner and Recognition Ceremony on March 28, 2017.
Kellar represented all of the volunteers who worked on the Volunteer Intake Processing (VIP) Center Design and Implementation Team, and accepted the Red Cross Presidential Award of Excellence alongside Joe Harris, Senior Director of Workplace Planning in the Office of the Chief Financial Officer (CFO.)
The annual National Awards Dinner and Recognition Ceremony is an opportunity for the Red Cross to formally acknowledge employees and volunteers who have gone above and beyond to support the mission throughout the past year.
The VIP Center team received the Red Cross Presidential Award of Excellence for their efforts developing the Volunteer Intake Processing Center database, which has revolutionized the Red Cross volunteer intake process.
“The VIP Center is a new approach to onboarding new volunteers,” said Kellar.
The VIP Center frees Red Cross employees from being stuck at their desk processing applications and allows them to focus on other volunteer engagement projects. It also creates a flexible opportunity for volunteers to get involved and work from home.
VIP Center volunteers expedite the application process by reaching out through a phone call or email. Once the application is complete, it is passed on to regional staff for screening and placement resulting in volunteers getting involved sooner.
In 2016, the VIP Center allowed 5,000 event-based volunteers to join the mission quickly and provide disaster relief during the Louisiana floods following Hurricane Matthew.
This new system requires only nine virtual employees and utilizes 1,400 volunteers across the country, allowing the organization to redistribute millions of dollars in funding to other areas of volunteer engagement.
The VIP Center is a piece of the broader volunteer growth strategy with the goal of finding purposeful ways volunteers can be integrated into the workforce.
“In late 2015, headquarters was looking for a fresh look at the volunteer intake process, a way to make the growth strategy attainable and create a standardized process,” says Harris, who led the VIP Center project from beginning to end.
Harris has been with the Red Cross for over 26 years and began his journey as a volunteer, so he understands the importance of the intake process.
“Volunteer engagement begins right at their interest in working with the organization,” said Harris. “The VIP Center makes the first interaction with the Red Cross a great experience and makes volunteers excited to get involved.”
Work on the VIP Center began in January 2016, and by April 2016 the pilot was tested in the North Central Division. After some trial and error, the pilot was successful and a vote for national implementation was made. On Oct. 31, 2016, the rest of the Red Cross community got to experience the VIP Center.
According to Harris, the Iowa Region had a vacancy in the Regional Volunteer Services Officer role as of January 2016 when the initiative began. Kellar, who has a background in computers and analytic tools, stepped up to get involved.
Kellar plays a crucial role in the development of the VIP Center by maintaining the database, making sure potential volunteers are getting through the process and volunteer hours are being captured.
When Jamie Giusti joined the Iowa Region as the Regional Volunteer Services Officer, Keller helped her understand and get on board with the VIP Center.
“It was a no brainer to pick Dennis (to represent the volunteers) because he’s awesome,” says Giusti. “He always has questions. He’s patient, kind and understanding.”
Harris is proud of everyone who made this project successful, but said Kellar demonstrated exemplary confidence and enthusiasm about the project. Keller had a strong spirit of teamwork, willingness to try and gave incredible feedback.
“Dennis was invited to the award ceremony for his visible, reliable leadership since day one and his contribution to the final product,” said Harris.
Kellar enjoyed his time in Washington D.C. and the opportunity to meet people he has only spoken to over the phone.
“It was a great experience to meet people from all across the country,” says Kellar.