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Peterborough

In search of sustainability

River Center develops volunteer leadership plan with help from state HIVE program

The River Center team that worked on the Hive project are, from left, volunteer Jim Orr, Executive Director Margaret Nelson, JJFixler consultant Beth Steinhorn and Employment Specialist Donna Brand.

The River Center team that worked on the Hive project are, from left, volunteer Jim Orr, Executive Director Margaret Nelson, JJFixler consultant Beth Steinhorn and Employment Specialist Donna Brand. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

A hive is not just a swarm of bees, or the nest where those bees live. The third Merriam-Webster’s third definition of the word is “a place swarming with activity.”

And that’s the vision that the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and the N.H. Center for Nonprofits aim to encourage through their new pilot endeavor called the High Impact Volunteer Engagement program. HIVE is their attempt to help nonprofits get more value from the work of their many volunteers.

“New Hampshire has a wealth of highly skilled human capital that can be brought to bear for the critical work of our nonprofit sector,” said Richard Ober, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, in an announcement about the program. “Now more than ever, with fewer available public dollars, nonprofits need to be strategic about how they leverage their volunteers.”

Mary Ellen Jackson, executive director of the N.H. Center for Nonprofits, said, “This program helps us shift our concept of what a volunteer can bring to an organization. It prepares our state’s nonprofit sector for this wave of baby boomers who want to pick a project and engage at a high level. We must put this in our arsenal of capacity-building in New Hampshire.”

One of the organizations participating in the initial HIVE program was the River Center of Peterborough, which focused on developing a succession plan for volunteers — a way to guarantee that vital programs could continue even if the key people running them were to retire.

“We were one of 10 organizations selected about a year ago to work on this,” said River Center Executive Director Margaret Nelson. “We were able to work with a consultant in order to figure out how to use our volunteers better. There was no money involved, but we worked in person, at meetings in Concord and with conference calls throughout the year.”

According to the N.H. Charitable Foundation, donors provided $40,000 to fund the statewide HIVE pilot program. Local organizations chosen didn’t receive money directly, but were able to take advantage of the consulting services as they developed projects.

Nelson said the River Center staff at first had big dreams.

“When we started the process, we wanted to totally revamp our volunteer plan,” she said. “One thing we learned was how to narrow expectations of what we could accomplish. So we soon narrowed it down to a leadership succession plan. That was a project that really needed some attention.”

Working with Beth Steinhorn of JJFixler Group, a Colorado-based consulting firm, Nelson and River Center staff and volunteers looked at programs that had one major volunteer leading them.

“We can’t assume that someone will just be able to continue for years and years,” Nelson said.

So the group’s chief grant writing volunteer, Tina Kriebel, put together a grant-writing workshop, to give other volunteers training in the skills needed to craft a successful proposal. Nelson worked with Jim Orr, who has been single-handedly running the organization’s wood bank program, to put wood bank policies and procedures in writing and to identify individuals who could learn to run the program if Orr were to step down.

Nelson said the HIVE program helped the River Center narrow its focus to identify a problem and come up with a successful plan to address it.

“It’s given us a prototype so we’ll be able to do other things,” she said. “I can see it being very helpful down the road.”

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