Designing and Implementing a NORC Program

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Guiding Principle # 2

Effective NORC programs have in place adequate people resources—staff and volunteers with the right skill mix—and other resources, including space, equipment, supplies, and a budget, before the programs are launched.

Actions and Considerations

Identify the skill sets you need to run your basic program. Think through the tasks necessary to develop your planned services and activities, and the roles that staff and volunteers will need to play.

Recommended minimum start-up skills

Emphasize strong leadership and effective management. Leaders inspire with a broad vision, while managers allow an organization to work well on a day-to-day basis. Both leaders and managers can be agents of change in a community of older adults. (For more on leadership and management, see Sustaining a NORC Program, Guiding Principle #3.)

Develop job descriptions for key positions. Job descriptions define the responsibilities of each position and the qualifications required to fill it. Distinguish between paid staff, volunteers, and in-kind contributions in order to plan your budget.

Create a structure to guide volunteer efforts. Volunteers contribute most effectively both when their roles and responsibilities are clearly defined and when program staff is available to guide and support them.

Assess available staffing resources. Who is currently involved in the NORC program with the skills to meet your needs? Where are the gaps? Can your partners provide some of the necessary staffing? Senior residents may be able to offer administrative and fundraising support.

Example: In the early years of the Deepdale Cares NORC program, in Queens (New York), its health care partner, North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, , provided nursing services two days a week without charge.

“This is our community,” said North Shore-LIJ’s Lynda Cooper, administrative director for the division of geriatric and palliative medicine. “We want to be seen as the institution that is there for all of its health care needs.” An added incentive was that its contribution counted towards the level of non-reimbursable services, known as “community benefits,” required of hospitals to maintain their tax-exempt status.

Cultivate resident participation. Seniors possess a lifetime of skills and experience that can enrich and extend a NORC program’s capacity. They can teach classes, provide services, organize social events, offer peer support, help raise funds, identify new resources, participate on advisory boards, and much more. The greater their participation, the greater their sense of ownership in the NORC program.

Example: At the Crestmoor Downs NORC Program, in Denver, resident participation is so essential that a volunteer coordinator is one of only two paid positions. When someone expresses interest in an activity, they are quickly told, “You need to be the captain. We will announce the activity in the newsletter, but you need to field the phone calls and set up the time to meet.”

The result is a culture of involvement, and with it, an empowering sense of ownership. “It makes people buy into the program and feel invested,” says the program coordinator.

Roles for seniors in a NORC program

Create an organizational chart. A visual depiction—with lines for staff, volunteers, advisory and executive boards, and other partners—helps you see who will do what, and who will report to whom.

Identify the non-personnel resources needed for your operations. The basics include space, office equipment and supplies, and amenities related to the activities you offer, such as recreational equipment and home maintenance tools.

Approach core partners and stakeholders in the larger community for non-personnel resources. In a housing-based NORC, most housing partners provide furnished office space. (In a neighborhood-based NORC, where there is often no housing partner, finding this kind of support is a bit more challenging.) Core partners also typically furnish supplies, resources for activities, and publicity.

Within the broader community, local businesses, religious institutions, police and fire departments, schools, and community centers may also have resources to donate.

Example: In the East Point NORC program, located just outside Atlanta:

The local library, traditionally focused on youth, began to offer a book club for older adults.

A local health provider expanded to offer a vision clinic, with free eye exams and discounted eyeglasses.

A local recreation center began to offer new exercise classes targeted specifically at older adults.

Keep in Mind

Most communities are rich in a variety of resources that can be critical to a NORC program’s success. Look for ways to build a reservoir of support from your core partners and other community stakeholders.

Don’t be too hasty to launch your NORC program. While you can grow the program over time, you need a minimum level of staffing and financial resources in place to get started. There are no second chances to create a first impression. Continue to Guiding Principle #3

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