The work of volunteers during the 2007 wildfires throughout San Diego County has been credited for bringing a major change to the state capitol.
On Feb. 26, 2008, California became the first state to establish a cabinet position focusing on volunteerism. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an executive order creating a secretary of service and volunteering in an effort to â€œimprove coordination of volunteer efforts between the stateâ€™s departments and agencies.â€
Local volunteers and nonprofit leaders got the chance to meet the new secretary of service and volunteering, Karen Baker, last week at the University of San Diego (USD). Baker, who has led CaliforniaVolunteers since 2005, was in town as part of a month-long schedule of meetings with various agencies throughout the state.
She said the governor noticed the impact of volunteers during the wildfires in San Diego County and the San Francisco Bay oil spill and wanted to do more.Thatâ€™s when Baker was called into the governorâ€™s office.
â€œWhat this (order) says is that he really recognizes what volunteers do,â€ Baker said. â€œHe gets why all of us have been working so hard for so many years; itâ€™s to care about our communities.â€
The goal of the executive order, according to the governorâ€™s office, is to â€œraise the profile of service in the Golden State to a national level; improve coordination of vital volunteer activities statewide and support local service efforts; encourage more Californians to become involved with service and volunteerism; help California respond to natural disasters and emergencies; and give Californiaâ€™s volunteers a voice at the highest levels of state government.â€
The new position and plan is not expected to add any new net costs to the state budget. Baker said a large part of her job is to raise funds through private investment and resources.
Pat Libby, director of the Nonprofit Leadership and Management program and co-director of the Caster Family Center for Nonprofit Research at the School of Leadership and Education Sciences, said the initiative should provide valuable resources for nonprofits for working with and managing volunteers.
â€œFor instance, there need to be models for volunteer manuals that include, for example,Â job descriptions for volunteers who have varying levels of education andÂ available time for volunteering, confidentiality forms, release forms, etc. Each of these manuals needs to be tailored to the specific type of nonprofit organizations,â€ Libby said.
Libby added that the initiative should be seen as a compliment to nonprofit efforts, not a substitute.
â€œThe one concern I have is that as valuable as volunteers are, they aren’t always aÂ substitute for paid staff,â€ she said. â€œThis initiative on the part of the state, while wonderful, is coming atÂ a time when theÂ governor has proposed a 10 percent cut in human service programs. The nonprofit sector can’t be expected to take up the slack from state government because it needs funding to do its work and to do it well.Â Given the fact that we are in a recession, the sector is likely to experience a reduction in private donations as well.â€
For information on the USD Institute for Nonprofit Education and Research, go to http://www.sandiego.edu/academics/soles/acadprog/nonprofit/Â
For information on the CaliforniaÂ Secretary of Service and Volunteerism, go to http://gov.ca.gov/issue/volunteerism.