Recently, a nonprofit leader born and raised in the Portsmouth area has received one of the American Red Cross’ highest honors, the Presidential Award of Excellence. Joe Harris, former Ohio River Valley Chapter Executive Director, led the design and implementation of the new Red Cross Volunteer Intake Processing (VIP) Center, a virtual work team of volunteers who lead new volunteers through their early days in the Red Cross. The VIP Center will simplify the volunteer intake process and save the Red Cross millions of dollars annually, which can be put back into the mission of helping people.
The annual National Awards Dinner and Recognition Ceremony is an opportunity for the Red Cross to formally acknowledge employees and volunteers who have gone above and beyond to support the mission throughout the past year.
The VIP Center team received the Red Cross Presidential Award of Excellence for their efforts developing the Volunteer Intake Processing Center database, which has revolutionized the Red Cross volunteer intake process.
“The VIP Center is a new approach to onboarding new volunteers,” said Harris.
The VIP Center frees Red Cross employees from being stuck at their desk processing applications and allows them to focus on other volunteer engagement projects. It also creates a flexible opportunity for volunteers to get involved and work from home.
VIP Center volunteers expedite the application process by reaching out through a phone call or email. Once the application is complete, it is passed on to regional staff for screening and placement resulting in volunteers getting involved sooner.
During the test phase in late 2016, the VIP Center allowed 5,000 event-based volunteers to join the mission quickly and provide disaster relief during the Louisiana floods following Hurricane Matthew.
The VIP Center enables approximately $4.8 million in existing compensation costs to be redeployed to other strategic areas of the volunteer engagement strategy. Additionally, utilizing around 1,400 volunteers and a tiered-management structure of volunteer leaders, this new system requires only nine virtual employees and utilizes 1,400 volunteers across the country, allowing the organization to redistribute millions of dollars in funding to other area of volunteer engagement.
“Not only does the VIP Center afford the Red Cross the opportunity to spend donated dollars elsewhere, it significantly rushes the help of new volunteer to our front lines of service,” Harris said.
The VIP Center is a piece of the broader volunteer growth strategy with the goal of finding purposeful ways volunteers can be integrated into the workforce.
“In late 2015, headquarters was looking for a fresh look at the volunteer intake process, a way to make the growth strategy attainable and create a standardized process,” says
Harris, whose regular duties are serving in the national organization’s Office of the Chief Financial Officer as the workforce planning strategy senior director, led the VIP Center project while working in his regular role. Has was approached by executive management to lead the creation and implementation of the VIP Center thanks to his ability to lead change at many levels of the organization, most recently leading the Disaster Services Finance team who responded to Superstorm Sandy and the Red Cross’ average 66,000 disasters responses.
Harris has been with the Red Cross for over 26 years and began his journey as a volunteer, so he understands the importance of the intake process.
“Volunteer engagement begins right at their interest in working with the organization,” said Harris. “The VIP Center makes the first interaction with the Red Cross a great experience and makes volunteers excited to get involved.”
After serving as blood volunteer for seven years, Harris served from 1998 until 2004 as Executive Director of the Ohio River Valley Chapter in Portsmouth, he was very involved in the community and always finding ways to recognize the chapter’s volunteers and supporters. He was highly respected in the community as well as by the Chapter which expressed their appreciation by being only the second chapter in Ohio to have 100% of the board giving a financial gift.
“It is very fitting for Joe to develop a program not only benefitting the American Red Cross but also its many volunteers,” said Vicky Hatcher, a longtime volunteer for the ORV American Red Cross. “It is an honor to extend congratulations, from the Ohio River Valley American Red Cross as well as the Portsmouth community, to Joe Harris who is a very deserving recipient of the Red Cross Presidential Award of Excellence,” Hatcher stated.
Harris and the chapter secured their first national award, respectively, in 2000, when the Best Holiday Music Spectacular Local Event was awarded to support the national program underwritten by State Farm Insurance. Jeff Smith, a local State Farm agent, joined the Red Cross Board of Directors when Harris served as Executive Director. Smith remains a local Board of Directors member today.
“I am very pleased to learn of this recognition of Joe’s work. Joe used his organizational and people skills to take a dysfunctional chapter and bring it back to life at that time. When he left to assume a new multi-state role in 2004 with the Red Cross the foundation had been built for a vibrant, purposeful organization. Many of our local citizens have benefitted from Joe’s work.”
Work on the VIP Center began in January 2016, and by April 2016 the pilot was tested in the North Central Division, the states between Illinois and Idaho and central Midwest. After some trial and error, the pilot was successful and a vote for national implementation was made. On Oct. 31, 2016, the rest of the Red Cross community got to experience the VIP Center.
“It’s an honor to support the women and men who deliver our mission in their communities,” Harris said. “I am humbled to receive this award on behalf of a team that did an extraordinary job on behalf of those neighbors who would like to become an American Red Cross volunteer.”
The National Awards and Recognition Dinner at the Board of Governors Hall, American Red Cross National Headquarters.
The VIP Center Design and Implementation Team receives the Presidential Award for Excellence, Corporate Services Award.
Photo by Dennis Drenner/American Red Cross