We were lucky to catch up with Joni Reed recently and have shared our conversation below.
Hi Joni, thanks for joining us today. To kick things off, we’d love to hear about things you or your brand do that diverge from the industry standard
My entire book and business is built upon volunteer management and why it has seemingly stayed stagnant in a rapidly changing world. As a volunteer manager in a hospital, I had over 300 volunteers that were senior citizens. Their daily volunteer positions consisted of delivering flowers, answering phones and assisting visitors find their way around our facility. Don’t get me wrong, those are VERY important tasks, but when I started digging into my team of volunteers, I realized they were capable of so much more. Take Doris for example. She was in her late 70’s and a retired engineer at Texas Instruments. As her manager, I assigned her to flower delivery. When I finally took the time to ask her about her past career, she lit up and told me that she was happiest when she was using her hands and brain. She also informed me that she had kept all of her certifications up to date which made me realize she was capable of so much more than I was asking of her. I decided to assign her to our facilities department where she assisted our team with repairing equipment. This sounds like a really cute story right? There is so much more to it! With Doris volunteering in facilities, our downtime for equipment drastically decreased which made our doctors and nurses very happy. Also, as a volunteer, Doris was not a paid staff member so all of her assistance equated to dollars. Over the course of one year, Doris’ help added up to over $300,000 in savings. Less equipment downtime, less shipping returns, decreased labor costs, and fewer equipment replacements. Doris was honored by our Chief Operating Officer for her incredible talent and it was then that I realized I was on to something. I started looking at ALL of my volunteer’s backgrounds and I created programs where they would be best utilized. All of the sudden, volunteers were in placements where they were not only happier, they were using their expertise and knowledge to save my hospital millions of dollars per year. As their volunteer manager, I realized quickly that I had not been doing a good job at telling their stories. I relied on the cute, fluffy, sweet details instead of showing the true fruits of their labor. From that point forward, I decided to create new, innovative volunteer programs that benefited patients, employees, volunteers and ultimately, the hospital’s bottom line.
As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your back background and context?
My name is Joni Reed and I am a wife, mother and author. I began my career in volunteer management at a non profit called The Children’s Advocacy Center of Collin County. It was there that I learned how valuable community volunteers were. I had a wonderful mentor at that job, Mr. George Farr who was the former CEO of Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. He encouraged me to pursue volunteer management in a healthcare setting because he knew firsthand how valuable volunteers are to a hospital’s success. I then transitioned to HCA Medical City Plano where I became volunteer manager and assisted with guest services. I learned so much about the patient experience from that job, and decided it was time to move on in a role where I could utilize my customer service skills. I then went to Methodist Richardson Medical Center where my creativity was rewarded instead of stifled. I was promoted over the years and ultimately ended up as the Director of Service Excellence which is basically a fancy title for customer service. My goals were to improve patient satisfaction scores, employee satisfaction scores and manage a team of 300+ volunteers. I found myself in a world of clinical employees and learning from some of the best. It was also at that point that I realized our clinical personnel were under immense stress. They were being asked to take care of patients, comfort family members, improve scores, and save money. I vividly remember my “lightbulb moment.” In a meeting, hearing about the everyday stresses that our nurses endure, I blurted out, “Can volunteers help with that?” I got a few blank stares, but asked them to at least give it a shot. I then piloted a program on one unit and slowly received the buy-in from the rest of the staff. My volunteer programs are unique and innovative while also being practical and profitable. I decided to write my book after giving a presentation and receiving positive feedback from the audience. My entire book is based upon the massive changes in healthcare, yet volunteer programs haven’t changed in 50 plus years. I asked myself why that was…why we were still asking volunteers to do mediocre tasks when they were capable of so much more. I created volunteer programs within my hospital that not only increased patient and employee satisfaction scores, it saved my facility over 1.7 million dollars a year. Volunteers are seen as little old ladies who answer phones and deliver flowers. Just because someone is a senior citizen, retired and volunteering doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of giving their time in a more meaningful way. My volunteers were retired engineers, attorneys, teachers and nurses. Why would I ask them to deliver flowers? They should be upstairs, visiting patients, helping our staff and be assigned somewhere that not only gives them a sense of purpose, but allows our hospital to thrive. I also asked the question: Why aren’t hospitals utilizing college students for volunteer programs? They need the service hours, they are smart, driven and interested in a career in healthcare. Why do we ignore the younger generation, label them as “entitled” and then complain that we need more help? My college program revolutionized the way hospitals in my area recruited and utilized 18-25 year olds as volunteers and allowed and entirely new generation to give back to their community in ways they never thought possible. My book outlines each program and teaches volunteer managers how to implement each one. My consulting business allows me to travel to hospitals all over the country to assess their volunteer program, suggest ways to improve and help them implement whatever program(s) make the most sense. When I first wrote my book, I got a lot of crap for calling volunteers “free labor.” People were upset by this assessment and I couldn’t imagine why. Volunteers work for free. There’s no way around that. I think it makes companies uncomfortable to refer to them as “free labor” because it means they have to take a look at EXACTLY what they are asking them to do. I don’t apologize for sharing volunteer stories and giving them the ABSOLUTE credit they deserve. My passion is volunteer management and sharing the stories of volunteers who make our world a better place.
We’d love to hear a story of resilience from your journey.
One word: Pandemic. I was traveling, consulting, speaking and engaging an entire world of volunteer managers before Covid hit. Then, within what felt like minutes, my world was flipped upside down. Conferences that I was slated to speak were cancelled. Travel stopped. Quarantine began. Volunteer programs came to a standstill, especially in healthcare facilities. I even heard of a major hospital system laying off all of their volunteer managers at once. I remember sitting in my living room thinking, is this the end of volunteering as we know it? Will volunteers ever be allowed back in hospitals? I had to take a step back from my business and realize that the world just wasn’t spinning in a way that allowed me to do what I do best. I didn’t give up. I started to reach out to volunteer managers that I had met during my speaking engagements and asking them how they were doing. I began to offer my services free of charge to those managers that found themselves terrified for their future. Was it how I wanted it to go? Absolutely not. But I also realized that the pandemic wasn’t a two week hiatus either. We were in it for the long haul and if I wanted to succeed, I had to keep offering my advice. I didn’t want to fade off into the abyss but I also needed to pivot and be realistic. Now, over two years later, life is returning to normal. People are reaching out and asking for books, consulting packets and speaking gigs. It would have been easy to give up, but I truly think that the world of volunteering, no matter what happens, will always exist in one way or another. It is my job as an expert in my field, to stay ahead of the curve and anticipate where we go next.
What’s a lesson you had to unlearn and what’s the backstory?
In volunteer management, you are constantly told “this is how we’ve always done it.” Or, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” Those are now two of my least favorite sayings and my BIGGEST pet peeves. Just because something has been done the same way for years, doesn’t mean it can’t be improved upon. When I first started my career, I was too scared to change things. I lived by the saying “well, it’s been working for this long! Better not touch it!” It wasn’t until my move to Methodist Richardson that I realized I had to “unlearn” that behavior. I had to learn that it was okay to question things. It was okay to ask why and expect a realistic and detailed answer. Change is scary, but once you realize that change is necessary, I think ideas thrive. By un-learning that change is scary, I opened my mind to an amazing amount of possibilities. I remember creating one program and being laughed at in a meeting. In few words or less, I was told it would never work but go ahead and try. So I did. Not only did the program work, it thrived. It ended up saving over $800,000 a year and increasing patient satisfaction scores by 18% over the course of a year. That’s a huge jump. When my team saw those numbers, it took everything in me to not say “Who’s laughing now?”
- Website: www.jonireed.com
- Instagram: author_joni_reed
- Facebook: Joni Reed’s Volunteer Evolution
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/joni-reed-a19b90115/
Author Photo: Marcus Kaiser Book Cover Design: Miroslav Jolic “Mr. Wolf”