"Grantmakers as volunteer coordinators?" - The Washington AIDS Partnership's AmeriCorps team
The Washington AIDS Partnership (a project of Washington Grantmakers) has been a site of the National AIDS Fund AmeriCorps program for the past twelve years. Each year, the Partnership recruits and trains a group of 12 young people who are assigned to Partnership grantees. They work four days a week at the agency where they are placed. On the fifth day each week, the AmeriCorps members work together on a joint project benefiting the community. The program allows the Partnership to foster youth leadership while fill staffing needs at local organizations. The 2008-09 AmeriCorps team started on August 3.
“FunderView” August 2008
Channing Wickham, executive
director of the Washington AIDS
Partnership, hamming it up for a
good cause at a 2007 AmeriCorps
team fashion show fundraiser.
WG: How many applications did you have this year? CW: We had about 60. It’s a pretty long process, and a pretty exhaustive effort on the part of the applicant. So when I say 60, that’s 60 really qualified people who are really eager to be in this program.
Where are they headed? We’re excited about this year’s opportunities. We’ll have a second member at Whitman-Walker Clinic, which only had one member last year. Our members will be doing street outreach, STD screening, some work out in the mobile van, as well as in-office HIV testing and counseling.
Do the members have any input as to where they’ll go? We spend a lot of time thinking through the matches. I think our process is working pretty well because our retention rate has been 100 percent for quite a few years—both for the program as a whole, but also for each individual placement. We find out their interests, whether they’re comfortable with certain populations— for example, young people, the elderly, people who are dying—and we talk to them about all this in the interview. And then when we’re with them at the annual AmeriCorps training, we’re all climbing walls, up thirty feet on a platform, so we see firsthand how they react to scary situations, to stress; are they introverted, extroverted; and we get a better idea of personality types and how they’ll work with supervisors and clients.
2003-2004 National AIDS Fund/Washington AIDS Partnership AmeriCorps
How do the host agencies respond? What kind of feedback have you gotten? Well, word has spread around the HIV nonprofit community that we have 12 amazing young people available for a year of service at almost no cost to the nonprofit. So, as you can imagine, they really do vie for the opportunity. Many end up hiring the member when the year’s up. And I hear nothing but superlatives. We hear things like: “The enthusiasm of the AmeriCorps member was infectious and really got the whole team excited.” In fact, the hard thing is that we only have 12 members and many more opportunities than we have young people to fill them.
Have you thought about expanding? It seems like the program provides a lot of good for a relatively low investment. The challenge is that this is a federal program and we’re limited by the number of spots that the government provides. At 12 members here in D.C., we’re the largest of the HIV programs in the country. And while it’s a great value for the nonprofits and the HIV field, there are real costs for funding stipends and the staff time associated with operating it. We think it’s a great investment, but it’s still an investment.
Last question. Volunteer training and coordination is not a role that grantmakers usually play. Do you think funders could or should find a way to do more of that? The thing about volunteer coordination and service delivery is that it reminds me why I do this work. I think it certainly makes me a better grantmaker. And our Steering Committee at the AIDS Partnership has been actively involved with our AmeriCorps team as well—hosting them for a meal, coming to the fashion show fundraiser, helping out with projects. One funder actually provided many, many, many hours of physical labor and design services as a landscape architect to last year’s project. It gives funders a first-hand connection to service, to young people, to future leaders in our field.