Often companies, families, and community groups are looking for places where their constituents can volunteer as a team. We all know the power of many people doing the same thing at the same time! This sense of collective impact, of doing good and working together is a great opportunity for groups, but is it right for your organization? With a little time and preparation, it can be!
Hosting groups of volunteers is a great way to introduce individuals to your organization, your mission, and opportunities for them to contribute in other ways down the road (read: potential donors!). The more volunteers can learn about and connect with an issue, the more inspired they are apt to be. Furthermore, if volunteers feel as if their time was well used and they were able to make a difference at your organization, they are apt to want to come back. As a side note, don’t forget to ask for everyone’s contact information so that you can follow up with them after the project!
The trick to ensuring that volunteers have a good experience with your organization is to not bite off more than you can chew. It takes a little time and planning, but even teams of 2 to 4 people can give your organization a boost with cleaner filing systems, a fresh coat of paint, personalized training for your staff, even newly curated client stories that are ready to go!
First off, look around and ask your colleagues – what could your organization benefit from? What will staff be motivated to prioritize in the days leading up to and immediately following the project? Well managed projects take planning and preparation. Make sure that the project itself will be of value to your organization.
Secondly, do you have the resources necessary to ensure success?
- Do you have all the supplies needed for the project? If not, would the group be able to bring anything? Or can your organization afford a small budget? Maybe there’s a donor that would be interested in supporting this particular initiative!
- Does staff have the time needed to set the project up, supervise, and help clean up after the fact? Or a lead volunteer or two that could help? Maybe a board member would welcome a more hands-on role?
- Will the project be ready to go when the volunteers are? Are the computers set up, are the painting supplies laid out, has all the prep work been done? There’s nothing worse than having volunteers show up to help, only to have them stand around waiting for things to start. You might want to consider having a small volunteer work part to help prep for a larger event!
- Do you have enough staffing for the day of the event to provide adequate directions and support to the number of volunteers that are coming?
- What about refreshments? It is certainly not necessary for organizations to provide food or drinks during projects, but it can be helpful, especially for longer events. Just make sure you communicate expectations before the volunteers arrive!
The key to successful volunteer engagement at any project is to have a plan. And then have a backup plan. You will be surprised at how quickly a team of volunteers can accomplish everything you have laid out for them. It is o.k. to end a little bit early, but be sure to have a few additional projects on hand to help keep stragglers engaged so that everyone ends their activities at once.
For additional resources:
- Jayne Cravens, with Coyote Communications, offers a bit more fodder in her overview on Creating One-Time, Short-Term Group Volunteering Activities
- United Way of King County has some good out of the box ideas for group projects
- You can get ahead of the curve by taking a look at Energize, Inc.'s curated list of all the Special Days/Week Related to Volunteerism in North America
- This easy checklist for developing and managing group projects will help you pull it all together
Day of Event
You have done all the planning, you have done all the prep, now is the time to engage! You want to create a welcoming environment for your volunteers so that they feel comfortable and have the opportunity to connect with your organization and mission! Be sure to give them a good orientation that talks about why your organization is needed, what you uniquely do to fulfill gaps in our society, and how the volunteers are making a difference. Don’t forget to have volunteers sign liability waivers and photo release forms as appropriate. Most importantly, solicit participants’ individual contact information and ask if you can add them to your mailing list!
Finally, celebrate success. Give yourself a pat on the back for a project gone well and recognize the difference the team has made. Take a moment at the end of the project to call out everything that was accomplished throughout the day so the team can feel good about their individual contributions and collective impact. The team's work, and your leadership, might just have inspired future advocates, donors, volunteers, or board members.
When possible, follow up with a note of thanks, a group picture or story of success. Better yet, include the team on your mailing list and let them know of future opportunities to engage with your organization! Folks won't contribute if you don't ask!
United Way developed this communication guide for site visits that may help you further flesh out your plan!