Fortifying & Sustaining AFC’s Volunteer Model

Volunteer Model_500

Volunteer-driven from the start, Arlington Free Clinic was founded almost 25 years ago by local physicians committed to serving low-income, uninsured patients out of the nurse’s office at Thomas Jefferson Middle School one night a week.

We’ve preserved – and grown – our volunteer model because the local community continues to value giving back through AFC, and because using physician volunteers allows us to give our patients access to the same talented providers who care for Arlingtonians in private offices all across the region.

We’ve increased our volunteer-power from 50 in 1994 to over 500 today. As we grew, so did the complexity of our patients’ medical problems.  In response, we widened our service scope and boosted our medical and non-medical volunteer numbers to support the complex organization that we’d become.

We employ only one part-time nurse practitioner – all of our other medical care is provided by volunteers. This works because we have an enormous “workforce” of volunteers who aren’t simply supporting our mission, they’re the ones carrying it out. During any given clinic session, around 25 volunteers are fulfilling 15 distinct jobs that require specialized licensing, skills, or training. When everyone shows up for their shift we function with the busy and efficient cadence of a bee hive, but when life gets in the way and a volunteer isn’t able to work at the last minute, there may not be anyone available to fill in and a clinic session can go awry.

Bridgespan Group, a firm that helps nonprofits pursue strategic opportunities and build capacity, through a generous partnership with Meyer Foundation, is working with the Clinic’s senior leadership team to look at what it takes to fortify and sustain a volunteer model like AFC’s for the future – something that our staff, Board, patients, and volunteers all agree is special and important to protect.