Posted by Christine Schaefer
No matter where I’ve worked for pay since college, I’ve always enjoyed spending some of my off-duty time working for free. Whether that service involved long-term commitments such as mentoring children in challenging situations or simple gigs such as greeting student families at the doors to a school event, I’ve always felt rewarded for volunteering with a sense of satisfaction in helping others and fulfilling a civic duty. So I think I understand what motivates the many volunteers who individually contribute 100-200 hours each summer to help the Baldrige Program meet its mission to improve the competitiveness and performance of U.S. organizations.
Consider the roles of two groups of volunteers who are key to accomplishing the work of the Baldrige Program. First, now that the 2011 Baldrige Award Process has kicked into high gear, hundreds of highly engaged volunteers known as examiners are using their expertise in every sector of the economy to evaluate the performance of organizations around the country. These examiners have received award applications and read about organizations’ processes and results in relation to the Criteria for Performance Excellence. Working on teams that provide feedback to each award applicant, the examiners have been analyzing data and sharing observations with each other via online scorebooks that eventually will become confidential reports for each organization on its strengths and opportunities for improvement.
Second, last month another group of hard-working volunteer examiners put its finishing touches on a key training tool for the Baldrige Program. Members of the 2012 case study writing team created a model award application that depicts a fictitious but credible organization. Each volunteer writer spent countless hours researching relevant industry performance data; envisioning how the invented organization might respond to a particular set of challenges and advantages, among other key factors; and translating the team’s creative vision into narrative and results sections that look like an actual Baldrige Award application. These volunteers also each spent at least 15 hours on conference calls with team mates to share ideas and information and ensure that details were aligned in their final document. The case study they created will serve as an invaluable learning resource for future examiners (since actual applications are confidential and can’t be used in training) and as a sample for future award applicants.
So why do Baldrige examiners lend so much of their talent and time–usually evenings and weekends–to these highly demanding tasks? Examiners have provided a variety of reasons. They have cited, for example, the opportunities to learn and network with their peers on the Board of Examiners. They have pointed to the professional development they receive in preparation for their service to the Baldrige Program. Perhaps most important, many Baldrige volunteers prize the sense of patriotic duty they experience in helping U.S. organizations improve through the Presidential award program.
Those drivers make perfect sense to me. But I would never take volunteers for granted. I know the Baldrige Program is very fortunate to be able to count on more than 500 highly skilled professionals who volunteer each year to support our mission. If you’re an examiner, here’s to you–cheers to you! If you’re with an organization considering how a large group of volunteers might help you meet your mission, may the service of the Baldrige Program’s Board of Examiners inspire you. If you’re with an organization that similarly benefits from volunteers’ work, please share your thoughts, your best practices, and your kudos for your volunteers!