American Red Cross Stems Volunteer Turnover with 15Five
Executives listen to employee feedback to stay informed, make organizational changes, and keep volunteers engaged
The American Red Cross is a non-profit humanitarian organization that prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors. The organization’s workforce includes over 30,000 employees and more than 500,000 volunteers.
American Red Cross employees and volunteers are driven to give back to their communities, and their commitment to serve is the core of the organization. Red Cross managers and executives know fostering open communication with staff and volunteers is critical to keep such a large non-profit running smoothly.
However, with so many workers, managers sometimes struggled to keep a grasp on what was happening on the front lines. Managers didn’t always know about the challenges their employees faced, nor about their successes and achievements. Nor were they able to easily collect feedback from front-line volunteers. With volunteer attrition rates running at 30% a year in non-profit’s, Red Cross is continually looking for ways to keep volunteers engaged.
Jono Anzalone, a Division Disaster Executive for the American Red Cross, is one of the executives who needed a better way to communicate with his teams. Overseeing disaster relief and preparedness for 10 regional chapters in 11 Midwestern states, which together have over 116 full-time staff and 5,700 volunteers, Anzalone needed a simple, systemized way to collect staff feedback.
“We were wasting hours a month doing check-in conference calls, and when you’re responding to disasters, you don’t have time to waste,” said Anzalone. “I needed a way to connect the dots between disparate teams that would take less time, not more.”
As a non-profit organization, Red Cross has a limited budget for new technology tools, so any solution would have to also be cost effective. Anzalone chose to deploy 15Five to “keep a pulse on how things are going at all the state agencies,” he said.
Anzalone rolled out 15Five to his immediate team, simply inviting (but not requiring) his employees to answer a few questions about their jobs and share ideas each week. Employees loved being “given a voice” and organically adopted the platform. Soon, other managers began asking to implement 15Five, too. Two years after Anzalone’s experimental rollout, dozens of Red Cross managers now use the tool to communicate with over 380 employees throughout the country.
Some of the questions managers have asked team members include:
- What is preventing you from being successful in your job this week?
- What can we do this week to help volunteers make a difference?
- If you were in charge of the American Red Cross, what changes would you make?
- What moments were you proud of this week and why?
Managers review 15Fives from their employees each week, flagging any issues to senior leadership for prompt review. About 10 such reports get passed up each week to Anzalone, who also reviews 15Fives from his own direct reports.
“I use the dashboard to drill down into 15Fives at the director, manager, and employee levels,” said Anzalone. “15Five serves as a reality check on the entire organization, because, for the first time, I can see all sides of an issue from everyone’s point of view.”
Whereas before directors and managers were “far removed from volunteers on the front line”, said Anzalone, now feedback gathered in 15Fives shows what “volunteers are seeing and feeling in the community.” Though volunteers don’t fill out 15Fives themselves, they share feedback with Red Cross staff who include it in their weekly 15Fives.
15Five has helped Red Cross with the ever-crucial challenge of volunteer retention.
“If our volunteers get frustrated, they can lose their sense of service and purpose,” said Anzalone. “With 15Five, we’re able to identify where our volunteers don’t feel supported in their jobs, and then finds ways to fix those problems.”
For example, some volunteers told staff coordinators they were frustrated accessing multiple sites to sign up for shifts, so Red Cross gave all volunteers a single sign-on to use at one central portal. Other volunteers complained being on call 24×7 several days in a row was too exhausting, and managers then assigned more manageable shifts.
When it comes to internal teams, 15Five has helped managers “solve issues before they become problems”, said Anzalone.
For example, Anzalone discovered two of his employees couldn’t share calendars in Outlook because one was a on a Mac and the other a PC. This small snafu caused big problems with meeting project deadlines and overall coordination amongst the team. Once Anzalone found out about the issue through 15Five, an IT employee fixed it in minutes.
“With 15Five, employees aren’t afraid to share ideas they never would in face-to-face meetings or on conference calls,” said Anzalone. “The fact that people are asked to answer questions in writing makes them bolder and more thoughtful.”
Perhaps most importantly, 15Five has also directly led to high-level organizational changes. For example, employees who directly interact with volunteers and clients often come up with ideas of how to administer programs and allocate funds to clients more effectively.
“15Five has unleashed the democratic voice of our staff, directly impacting how we serve clients,” said Anzalone. “For example, because of suggestions we received in 15Five, we now get money into the hands of clients faster in fire disasters, and we respond to 70,000 fires a year, so this is a big change.”
“Quite simply, 15Five gives employees a tool to share what matters to them, and that helps managers keep on top of everything,” said Anzalone. “With 15Five, I find out what I didn’t know I didn’t know.”
At a Glance
Company: American Red Cross
Workforce: 30,000 employees, 500,000 volunteers
With volunteer attrition rates running at 30% each year, Red Cross uses 15Five to collect feedback from front-line volunteers and staff and keep them engaged
“15Five serves as a reality check on the entire organization, because, for the first time, I can see all sides of an issue from everyone’s point of view.”