Ohio State’s new Office of Volunteer Relations makes service to the university a simple affair
By Adam King
You see them at the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute. They can be found supporting youth 4-H programs throughout the state. They carve out time to read to those with intellectual disabilities. They mentor, network with and host students both here and abroad.
They are all volunteers who put their time, energy and gusto into supporting Ohio State endeavors. Every day via a college, school, department or alumni group, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the university lend their skills to improving lives and communities.
And now those folks will have an even easier time giving back with the July 1 launch of Ohio State’s new Office of Volunteer Relations (OVR).
The office, located in the Longaberger Alumni House and on the Web at volunteer.osu.edu, is a clearinghouse for non-student Ohio State volunteer opportunities and a central hub for people who volunteer for or in the name of the university. Students have their own service portal through the Keith B. Key Center For Student Leadership and Service at the Ohio Union.
“We wanted to broaden and deepen the engagement of our constituents, and what better way than through service,” said Office of Volunteer Relations director Michell Domke. “This office opens up opportunities to ‘pay it forward’ in different ways than just via one’s finances, and it really allows people to feel an ownership of the university.”
The website does not try to manage all the volunteer resources available; rather, it is an entry point and allows volunteers to customize their experience. They can conduct a search for service opportunities based on their skills and interests as well as create future alerts to let them know when new opportunities that meet their desired criteria become available.
After benchmarking other notable institutions and nonprofit organizations, it is believed Ohio State is the first major university in the country to develop a volunteer-centric office with such scale and detail with the resources to support it.
Archie Griffin, CEO of the Ohio State Alumni Association and Ohio State’s senior vice president for alumni relations, said the new office will help grow volunteerism through the university.
“We are thrilled to be among the first alumni associations in the country to offer this service to our alumni,” he said. “We are certain this program will enable more Buckeyes to contribute meaningful volunteer work to their communities.”
The volunteer opportunities won’t merely be relegated to Columbus, Ohio. If the university, an alumni club or society hosts a service event anywhere in the country or abroad, volunteers can find it on the site using geographical searches. Events also can be searched by keyword or cause and by department, college or unit.
Chris Ito, chair of the Alumni Association board of directors, said the Office of Volunteer Relations answers the question he hears most often from alumni who want to give back to the university: Where do I get started?
“I think that parts of the university do pretty well at offering opportunities through our alumni clubs and societies, like volunteering to serve at college fairs in a local area,” he said. “But there are a lot of people who just don’t know where to go right now. I hope that the office will encourage more volunteer service, simply by making it easier. I know that alumni are eager to get involved.
“As time goes on, I hope that we can begin to use social media to call for volunteers in order to more proactively seek people. Our alums are certainly willing. Sometimes, it is just about asking. And I meet alumni all the time who have great ideas for creating volunteer opportunities, and the Office of Volunteer Relations could be the interface for bringing those ideas to life.”
Kimberly Gray, the Alumni Association’s senior director of special projects, and a task force of volunteer professionals from across the university laid the groundwork for the new office. And it will do more than just connect volunteer to project. The OVR also will act as a central repository for volunteer resource management best practices and provide the bird’s-eye view of volunteerism at Ohio State.
“We want to know who our volunteers are, how they want to be used and how they currently find out about the opportunities available,” Gray said. “As we launch this office, we’re building a foundation.”
Gray met with everyone she could to create awareness for the new office, though she said there are many more still to reach. The website’s service offerings, while far from complete, are comprehensive because of those efforts. And as more volunteer managers learn about and utilize the office, Gray said those opportunities will expand. She encourages managers to contact the office at email@example.com to list their service activities.
The Office of Volunteer Relations also intends to market directly to potential volunteers. The office will be part of the Alumni Association’s Gradfest, a pre-graduation event aimed at introducing the association’s resources to new alumni. And the OSU Retirees Association, with former faculty and staff as its membership, has strong interest in connecting its constituents to the volunteer portal.
Jane Federer, a volunteer manager at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and a task force member, said establishing the office means Ohio State recognizes how vital volunteers are to the educational mission.
“I know as a volunteer manager that we shouldn’t see volunteers as, ‘Oh it’s nice to have volunteers,’ she said. “Volunteers help a unit or nonprofit organization get work done. They really are an essential part of the team. If we can collectively harness that, it will change the culture and will change what we’re able to do with the university.”