AIKEN - Volunteers aren't necessarily free, as Marge Glauser has learned over the years.
After decades of leading nonprofit organizations in Ohio and South Carolina, the current executive director of ACTS - a 74-church social services charity in Aiken - is well aware that volunteers need their rewards.
"People think that because you are a volunteer organization, that's free help," said Ms. Glauser, ACTS' only paid staff member. "Yes, it is. But volunteers have a right and a need for supervision, training and orientation, for direction on how to do their jobs, for credit and recognition."
It is her ability to organize the "time, talents and treasures" of more than 250 volunteers that has made Ms. Glauser so valuable to ACTS, short for Area Churches Together Serving. The nonprofit's mission is to provide local people with temporary and emergency aid, such as financial assistance for utility bills and prescription drugs.
ACTS began in August 1986 with 16 participating churches and has more than quadrupled in size. Valentine's Day marked a year since Ms. Glauser was hired full time to take ACTS to the next phase, and she is right on track to accomplishing that goal, according to the Rev. Howard Hess with St. Thaddeus Episcopal Church.
"Vision is required to keep the good of the organization intact, to keep that volunteer enthusiasm going at the same time that you bring in the professional resources that you need to work with the volunteers to facilitate them," the Rev. Hess said. "It requires tremendous judgment and wisdom and skill, and that is what Marge has brought. She has kept what's good here going."
From the beginning of ACTS, communication among volunteers was a problem that resulted in frustrated, overworked and burned-out people, Ms. Glauser said.
In August 1990, through an arrangement with the Sisters of Charity, ACTS was able to obtain the services of a sister who had a degree in social work, and she managed the daily activities.
Today, Ms. Glauser continues that responsibility, making ACTS a well-organized agency that operates in a sound business manner, the Rev. Hess said.
A visitor who steps inside the organization's headquarters at 340 Park Ave. sees a mix between a social services office, a factory and a Salvation Army-type clothing operation.
In the front, a volunteer greets visitors, finds out their emergency and takes them to an interview room. Volunteers in other areas stay busy sorting donated clothes, collecting groceries for delivery, organizing items for the monthly garage sale and helping clients try on clothes.
Ms. Glauser developed her ability for leading volunteers while working for several United Way agencies in Ohio. At an agency in Toledo, she managed volunteer services and organized a database of volunteers based on skill, interests and times available.
"Because we were an advocate for volunteers, we strongly believed that you don't send a volunteer to an agency that is not going to treat them right," she said.
How does Ms. Glauser reward ACTS volunteers? First, she took away titles such as "helpers" and "floaters" and replaced them with "daily assistants."
"I can't give them any pay, but I gave them the respect of a new title. I also tried to give them authority along with their responsibilities. Even though they are volunteers, they are next in command to me on a daily basis," Ms. Glauser said. "I firmly believe you can't give responsibility to someone without giving them the authority that goes with that responsibility. So they have been empowered to make decisions in my absence."
Volunteers also are recognized in a regular newsletter that is distributed to the member churches. The March edition features a "spotlight on volunteers" with pictures of grinning adult and children volunteers as they sort clothes.
Ms. Glauser's most recent project has been rewriting the bylaws and organizing the new board of directors, which will meet for the first time today for training and orientation. She restructured the board and agency bylaws to utilize the talents of the volunteers.
Ms. Glauser decided last fall that she needed help.
"I mean, I can't be the secretary, the director, the volunteer coordinator, the janitor," she said. "And that's what is neat about the new board. The new board has committees."
Take the maintenance committee, for example. If the ACTS building has a leaky toilet, Ms. Glauser has someone to call for help.
"It's getting more people directly involved is what it boils down to," she said. "And it also pulls in resources from the community because all these different people on these committees bring with them not only talents but skills and treasurers. That's what you are looking for in a volunteer - time, talent, treasure.
"It's a big job when you've got 250 volunteers to schmooze with them, to give them the warm fuzzies that they need, the accolades for doing a good job. I think that's what drew me to the organization is they do recognize the value of volunteers."
Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (803) 648-1395.
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