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Gail McGovern: Reflections on United We Serve

The Initiative

First, I personally thank and applaud President and Mrs. Obama for having the courage and foresight to kick off an initiative like this. It was very bold and complex: it required a lot of players to play, it required a great deal of technology, and there were a number of places where there could have been bumps in the road.

With what appeared to be a minimal staff of people, they got hundreds of nonprofits to coalesce and pull together a website in probably record time that would enable people to sign up and serve.

I think it’s going to have a lasting impact because when the President of the United States asks people to serve, there is just something that resonates, almost like JFK saying:

“Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

This is almost a continuation of that sentiment where you need to figure out ways that can benefit others and as we all know when you do sign up to help another life you are enriching your own at the same time.

United We Serve’s Impact on the American Red Cross

For us at the Red Cross, it taught us a lot of things. I think it forced all of us to think about the way we utilize and deploy volunteers in a whole different light. We have a very formalized way of recruiting volunteers, particularly in the disaster area with rigid training, which is essential to something like disaster services.

But what about people who just want to walk in and help out an hour here and there over the summer?

Our chapters did a phenomenal job of populating the web site, coming up with creative things walk-in volunteers can do and generating excitement around what the Red Cross can do in the community.

United We Serve Results

I have not heard a single negative comment and lots of kudos towards the Red Cross because we provided a lot of volunteer opportunities. As the largest humanitarian organization in the United States, if we can play into this it has the added benefit of other institutions in the sector being able to engage volunteers as well; it’s a leadership position for us that we need to take very seriously and feel a lot of responsibility towards.

A few examples of success stories:

  • For the first time ever, the Southern California Blood Region has more blood drive volunteers than available positions.
  • The SAF Station in Iwakuni, Japan added 55 new volunteers this summer, bringing their total volunteers to 86.
  • Volunteer orientation registrations at the Bay Area chapter have increased more than 30 percent.
  • At the Heartland Chapter in Omaha, a group of 12 new youth volunteers made 70 blood donor appointments during three hours of calling.
  • More than a dozen teenagers from military families at Camp Foster, Okinawa, received babysitters’ training.
  • New volunteers answered the television appeal of the Muskingum Valley Chapter executive in Zanesville, Ohio.

I truly wish we could show examples from every single chapter on the blog, because all of our chapters really stepped up.

I have to confess I was a little nervous about the initiative. It was a lot to do in very little time. For every step we take, we have to put it through the lens of out brand reputation, and I was delighted that our volunteers had a good experience as a result. I hope the administration continues to encourage and generate initiatives like this because it’s good for the morale in our country and gives people an opportunity to connect to others.  It’s certainly good for organizations like us because let’s face it: we can always use volunteers – they’re the heart and soul of the American Red Cross.

2 Responses to “Gail McGovern: Reflections on United We Serve”

  1. Gail, nice post. I’ve been doing a lot of research on the Red Cross. I am preparing some blog posts that will make as many people as possible, aware of how great the Red Cross is and how much they do for our communities.

  2. Thanks Brandon! This is Wendy the blog lady. Gail has seen your comment and we all look forward to your posts! Please let me know if I can help at all.

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