If you’ve ever planned an event, you know that the devil is in the details. This guide is designed to help you organize volunteers to help you successfully complete your community project.
In every community there is work to be done...in every heart there is the power to do it. —Marianne Williamson
Before reaching out to people, you should have a fairly firm idea of what you want them to do to help fulfill your community project. Remember: A key element to an effective community project is the planning.
Step 1: Make a plan
Define your project goal and what you hope to achieve. Try to avoid assumptions, like “This is a great idea, so I know people will jump on board!” People usually need convincing before they commit their time and energy to something. You can improve your planning by including ways to overcome people’s skepticism of your project.
Consider these questions:
For tips on implementing your community project, see the Planning Worksheet in the "Supplemental Materials" section below.
Try to recruit at least 10% more people than you think you’ll need to account for no shows and dropouts.
Step 2: Build a Team
Identify the type and the number of volunteers you will need. For example, for a river cleanup, you’ll want people who are passionate about the outdoors. For a public benefits assistance effort, you'll want people who are patient, detail-oriented and work well with others.
Begin your recruiting with friends and family, and ask them for honest feedback on your “sales pitch” so you can sharpen it.
Consider a co-leader for the project. You probably want someone who complements your skills. For example, if your strength is creativity, think about getting a co-leader who is highly organized. Start with your own contacts and networks. Clearly spell out what you expect from team members. Emphasize how much of an impact you can all have working together, and note that your project is intended to improve the community for everyone, not just a select few.
Personally asking people to join your effort can go a long way, so start by contacting people you already know. Then you can expand the recruiting effort to the broader community. Bulletin boards, faith-based newsletters, homeowner’s associations, Neighborhood Watch groups and libraries are great examples of ways to reach numerous people with one message.
Build on informal networks you may already have in place to recruit individuals. You can even partner with a school, faith-based groups, community centers or other networks to spread the word. Always include a brief description of your project and desired outcomes so that potential volunteers are clear on your needs.
You can leverage technology by reaching out through https://createthegood.aarp.org, neighborhood email lists, social media and community blogs. If possible, include a phone number and an email address for people to use to get more information. See Crafting a Successful Recruitment Message and Sample Recruitment Message at the end of this guide.
Step 3: Think Collaboration
Depending on the size, scope and goals of your project, you might want to seek a collaboration or sponsorship — for example, with a corporation, nonprofit organization or local government. You might already be a member of a group that can collaborate with you.
Don’t be shy about asking potential sponsors or collaborators for help.
Before you approach potential sponsors or collaborators, have a very clear idea of precisely how you’d want them to help. For example, you might ask a local company to encourage staff to participate in your project or let you use the company’s building on project day. If you’re organizing a cleanup, you could ask the mayor’s office to provide trucks and manpower to haul the trash away. If you're planting a community garden, a local landscaping company might agree to help design, build and plant.
As a grassroots organizer, you probably won’t have anything of monetary value to offer in exchange, but remember that many organizations and companies want to be associated with local improvement efforts. Simply including their logo on your flyers and letting them mention their involvement in a press release is often sufficient.
Step 4: Connect the Dots
It is crucial to have your entire team on the same page about the purpose, goals and scope of your project. A committed volunteer who is working without clear direction can quickly do more harm than good for you! Meet with your team periodically — and/or use email blasts (if the members of the team have agreed to receive communications via email) — to ensure that the effort is progressing as planned, and make project leaders available to clear up any uncertainty among the team.
Occasional meetings can also help keep your team motivated. Remember, few people besides you will be thinking about your project every day, and some may lose interest if they feel their involvement isn’t appreciated. Sending updates every week — even when you have little news to report — and inviting your team to meetings can help keep people energized.
Step 5: Project Day: Making it Happen
Very few projects go exactly as planned, so be flexible. The best thing you can do is to remain upbeat and calm, regardless of what goes wrong.
Have a solid game plan for your main project day. Here are some items to include in your plan:
Step 6: Celebrate Success
Congratulations! You did it. Take time to celebrate your success and thank your volunteers, partners, vendors and any VIPs who attended. Emphasize to everyone the positive impact they made on the community. Ask them to share any particularly inspiring stories from the day.
In the days immediately after the event, ask your team members for feedback while the experience is still fresh for them. Encourage them to be candid and share their ideas for how the project — from recruitment through completion — could be improved. Hopefully, you will want to lead other community betterment projects in the future and learning from this experience will help greatly in other efforts.
Step 7: Inspire Others on CreateTheGood.org
KEEP UP THE GOOD!
Visit Create the Good for a range of opportunities to use your life experience, skills and passions to benefit your community.
Whether it’s a written message to a local newspaper, a flyer in a library, a personal ask to a friend or a Facebook poast, you need a compelling recruitment message that explains why your community project is worthy of someone’s time. Keep your message simple and short and include the who, what, where and when of the project.
Remember to emphasize the good that people will do in their community by joining your project. If you have high-profile collaborators or sponsors, mention them in your recruitment message. That helps lend credibility to your effort and gives people a sense that they are joining something that already has some momentum.
Your message may also include a statement about being part of a group or a bigger effort, which can be very appealing. In addition to the necessary elements of a good recruitment piece, there are also key words and phrases that can be effective. Here are a few examples:
An Exciting Opportunity for Gemima County Residents
We need your help on Saturday, April 10, for our 2nd Annual Repair Fair to install energy-efficient items, complete prevention checklists and make small repairs in three homes in the Tanner Heights community. We especially need volunteers with repair skills in plumbing or electricity. You can be a part of helping seniors in the Tanner Heights community live in safer, more comfortable homes.
Who: Gemima County residents
What: Second Annual Repair Fair
When: Friday, September 10, 2010, starting at 8:00 a.m.
Where: Gathering at City Park (light breakfast and lunch provided)
For more information, contact Jane Doe at 555-555-5555.
While finding volunteers through referrals and local contacts still works best, the use of an online recruitment database is another option for finding volunteers. Visit Create the Good to post your community project.
Finally, be sure to ask people to volunteer directly with a “personal ask.” Be mindful to provide them with all the necessary information to gain their commitment.
You want your project to have high visibility in your community. How do you do that? Here are some helpful hints.
Publicizing Your Event — Before and After
Reach out to local media with a public service announcement (PSA)
Here are additional resources you can use when planning your community project:
5 Secrets to Effective Volunteer Leadership
Communituy Organizing Guide