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Red Cross fueled by volunteers


Whether they are serving Iowans or people throughout the world, American Red Cross volunteers are able to offer their time and talent to provide a variety of services ranging from disaster relief to CPR. Margie Conrad, director of volunteer services and program development for the Central Iowa chapter of the Red Cross, spoke to the Des Moines Business Record about the important role volunteers play in maintaining the functionality and integrity of the non-profit group. It’s a role she is familiar with. Before joining the local chapter of the Red Cross 18 years ago as an employee, she spent a number of years as a volunteer.

Q: How many volunteers staff the Central Iowa chapter of the American Red Cross?

A: About 600 people.

Q: How many people do you serve?

A: We serve about 489,000 in five counties: Polk, Warren, Marion, Madison and Dallas. We also help out with 16 other counties with service delivery.

Q: How important are volunteers to the Red Cross?

A: They’re the backbone of our organization. We’re led by volunteers. Our board of governors and board of directors are volunteers, so they’re extremely important. They include people from all walks of life, such as lawyers, CPAs, mental health professionals, nurses and computer experts.

Q: Can anyone become a volunteer?

A: We select our volunteers. We don’t take just anybody. We interview them and check their background because often they work with people who are vulnerable, like children. So we look at quality, not quantity.

Q: How do you select a volunteer?

A: We look at our needs at the time and determine who can help us. So if we turn someone down, it’s not the person; it’s the situation. We don’t want to have a lot of volunteers who aren’t able to help us. We want our volunteers to feel useful.

Q: Is it difficult to find good volunteers?

A: We’ve got some awesome people, but it’s getting harder to find more of them.

Q: What makes a good volunteer?

A: They need to be someone who wants to help make a difference and has the skills to do so. They need to be someone who is open-minded about training and diversity. They need to be willing to work and to work under our guidelines. They need to respect themselves as well as others. They also need to be caring and have a sense of humor. Volunteering for us is a combination of having fun and getting down to work.

Q: Are Iowans good volunteers?

A: We’re very much the good neighbors in the sense that we help people but we’re also independent. Whether it’s a flood or other natural disasters or terrorist attacks, we’ve had a number of people help us no matter where disaster strikes because they know it affects us here, too.

Q: What challenges lie ahead for your organization regarding volunteers?

A: We need donations to continue to provide services volunteers provide. The Red Cross is not a government agency. Generally, our resources come from Americans.   

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