case study 3

Respond to questions based on the case study.

CASE STUDY 3: The Case of the Vanishing Volunteers by Hal G. Rainey

In a suburban county outside a large city, the Parks and Recreation Department has been run for decades by a friendly, popular director who has run the volunteer program for the department by himself. He had a network of friends throughout the county that served as volunteer coaches, as teachers in recreational programs (art, music, dance, exercise), and in other roles. In turn, these volunteers drew in other volunteers to serve as timers, scorers, and assistants, and in the other necessary roles. The director loved working with this network of friends that he had developed over the years, and the volunteer program virtually ran itself, with the directors administrative assistant simply filling a roster with the names of people who called in, chatted with the director, and then chose a role.

The director has now retired, after a large banquet with numerous warm testimonials and expressions of appreciation. The new director is younger and new to the county. The county commissioners and county administrator hired her in part out of respect for her administrative training (a masters degree and various training programs) and administrative skills that she displayed in her previous position as assistant director in the Parks and Recreation department of a medium-sized city. They have asked her to work on shaping up the departments budgeting and financial procedures, its communications and accountability to the commission and the county administrators office, and its internal organization. Several of them have quietly mentioned to her that as much as they loved the former director, Old Ed was wonderful but wanted to do things his way, and it was hard to know what was going on over there sometimes. The county was under increasing financial pressure, and it would be harder and harder to grant the budget increases that Old Ed asked for, especially without the popular support he could always bring to help the commissioners justify the increase. In addition, auditors were becoming increasingly critical of the budgets and accounts of the department. No one suspected any wrongdoing, but organization and management clearly needed improvement.

The new director feels concerned about the loose organization of the volunteer program. Drawing on some of the policies at her previous organization, she initiates the requirement that volunteers will need to sign a waiver of liability, and to sign statements that they will follow a drug-free policy and avoid sexual harassment. She also begins considering setting up a training program for volunteers, through the National Youth Sports Coaches Association, and may ask the coaches to pay for their training. The word of these changes and possible changes spreads rapidly among the volunteers.

In getting to work on her various priorities, the new director finds the constant phone calls from volunteers to be too disruptive to her other work. Knowing that it is not a satisfactory long-term solution, she asks her administrative assistant to handle the conversations and assignments of the volunteers himself, as best he can. Within two weeks, problems arise. Soccer season is starting, and there is a shortage of coaches for the first time ever. The new director asks the administrative assistant to find more volunteers to serve as coaches. The assistant finds a few. He also reports back that some former coaches are refusing, saying they get the sense that their contributions are not really valued, and without Old Ed as center of the activity, it is just not the same any more. Some comment that the new requirements imply distrust and are demeaning, and involve too much red tape. The new director has to stop all other activity, get on the phone, and talk some of these reluctant volunteers into continuing. She shores up the soccer program for the time being. Some of these old-timers tell her that the problem will get worse when t-ball and baseball season starts. She also hears that the exercise and dance instructors have told the administrative assistant that they may not continue.

The new director has called in your group to assist her in improving the volunteer program. She asks that you advise her on what to do about the volunteers. She can only offer you a small consulting fee and lunch, but you have agreed to try to help because you are so good-hearted and professional.

Source: This case was written by Hal G. Rainey, Alumni Foundation Distinguished Professor, Department of Public Administration and Policy, University of Georgia

Discussion Questions

1.        Where does the new director stand now? What are the first questions you would ask about her current situation, or the first key observations, that are pertinent to assessing her volunteer program and what should be done with it? Please list at least five key points or questions. Be able to discuss how these points relate to concepts and frameworks covered in the course.

2.        What should the new director do? What are key points and priorities for a well-managed volunteer program? What conditions, arrangements, policies, and procedures should she definitely try to establish? Please list at least five key points or priorities. Discuss how these relate to concepts and frameworks covered in the course.

3.        How does the case reflect the challenges of managing in a public sector context?

4.        What should other authorities do to help her? What could other levels of administration and government do to support her volunteer efforts?