Hosting volunteer groups for a few hours can mean a lot of coordination for volunteer managers: finding suitable projects, communicating with leaders, providing supervision during the volunteer time, etc. And having a few bad experiences with group volunteers can sometimes make us wonder why we work with groups at all. I would argue, however, that hosting group volunteers is worth the time and energy it takes. Here’s why:
New faces-Hosting a group of volunteers most likely brings in volunteers previously unfamiliar with the mission and programs of your organization. A group means an opportunity to share the value and stories of your organization, and you never know what results this may yield-donors, board members, advocates, etc. At one recent event Community Thread hosted, we sent volunteers to work at a nonprofit community farm. One of the volunteers we sent owns a well-known restaurant in the area, and through learning about the farm, he decided to start purchasing the produce for the restaurant directly from the farm. What a great connection!
Recruitment-Even if the group is planning to volunteer only once, you have the opportunity to recruit individual volunteers. Volunteers who enjoy their experience may decide to sign up for an ongoing position at your organization. And youth should not be written off! Youth may talk to parents, friends, and relatives about their experiences, or decide to plan a supply drive for your organization.
Community Building-Volunteers who work alongside each other can make great connections, thereby creating a stronger community, which benefits us all! We’ve seen volunteers make friends, find jobs, discover new skills and interests, and make business connections. Volunteering in any capacity, whether just once, or weekly, has the power to inspire, and inspired people can do wonders! By offering the opportunity to volunteer, we are contributing to instilling the value of service in the general population.
Work gets done!-Group volunteers can accomplish a LOT in a short amount of time, and group volunteers are often willing to do some of the more tedious tasks, such as weeding garden beds or stuffing envelopes. Working with others can make any task fun!
A few tips for working with volunteer groups.
- Organize projects that meet real needs. Don’t just brainstorm projects to keep a group busy—make sure it is work integral to the needs of your organization. Even if you have volunteers pulling weeds, help them to see how that contributes to your organization’s mission (and allows staff to accomplish more!)
- Consider speed volunteering projects-Do you have a mailing project? Could volunteers make greeting cards, tie fleece blankets, assemble toiletry kits, bake cookies, make dog toys, or complete another task off site? Speed volunteering projects are a great way to involve group volunteers without the need for you to be present to supervise. Also, groups participating in speed volunteering projects are often willing to purchase the materials on their own.
- Double and triple check group size. A group that arrives with significantly more or less volunteers than their initial number can cause stress for you, whether you’re wondering how to get the rest of the work done, or trying to find more projects to keep the extra volunteers busy. Check in with the group organizer a few days before the event for an updated number.
- Plan for quick workers. Many groups have a specific time slot to fill and do not want to finish early. Have several additional projects on standby in case your volunteers accomplish the work more quickly than you anticipated.
- Plan for different learning styles. Provide instructions verbally and, if possible, in written form. For those volunteers who tend to “space out” during your intro speech, it’s helpful to have notes on hand. Handouts or a whiteboard task list can work great!
- Recruit, recruit, recruit! Take the opportunity you have in front of an audience to sell your current volunteer needs. You might be surprised how effective this strategy can be.
- Take advantage of your local volunteer center. Find yours here: http://mavanetwork.org/volunteercenters Most volunteer centers coordinate large, community-wide service days that member organizations can take part in. For example, Community Thread’s Spring Into Service event on May 5th sent 300 total community volunteers to 17 different nonprofits. We recruited the volunteers, trained the volunteer leaders to provide supervision on site, and communicated with the group leaders regarding project details. Volunteer centers can also help your organization recruit individual and group volunteers throughout the year as well.
Volunteer Center Program Manager