Yes, It’s September and I’m blogging about the holiday season. But since you are a nonprofit that thinks in the long term, I’m sure you’ve already started thinking about that time of the year again too. The upcoming holiday season (Both Thanksgiving and Christmas) is going to be bursting with people who want to do good. So how are you going to connect with them?
Every year my entire family (and many close friends) take an afternoon off from eating, drinking, and being merry to volunteer at the Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto, where we sort food. We love it. We still all get to hang out and be social, and we get to do something physical to burn off all the Christmas cookies we’ve eaten! Sorting food together bonds us in a way that even too many glasses of egg nog can’t. The icing on the fruit cake is that those 4 hours actually contribute something positive to society.
Surprisingly, year after year our “Friends and Family Volunteer Day" continues to grow. More and more friends have heard about it and want to join in. But why?
I think it’s because it was easy and organized for them and all they had to do is show up.
Studies show that most non-volunteers don't volunteer because they don't have the time (67%) and aren't able to make a long-term commitment (62%). But this doesn't mean that people who don't volunteer don't value the work done by nonprofit and charitable organizations. Interestingly, 45% of non-volunteers had not become involved just because no one had asked them to get involved. This suggests they might sign up to volunteer if they were approached the right way
Overcoming the “I have no time” barrier.
So time is a problem. But during the holiday season, many people take vacation time and offices start feeling open to letting employees get away for a day, so it's the perfect time for you to build some group volunteering opportunities. Hopefully your prospective volunteers will have some more time in their day so they can spend a few hours with you. But the time spent actually volunteering is in many cases only the tip of the iceberg. The most time-consuming part of a group volunteer project is actually finding the organization you want to volunteer for, figuring out what you can do with them, and then organizing your crew to get there. The more of these things that you can do for them, the more likely it is that you'll have volunteers flooding through your doors.
But what about my time? Managing volunteers can take a lot of my limited resources!
I hear ya. But putting together pre-defined group volunteer projects actually saves you time in the long run. Instead of having to deal with a flood of individuals calling you, requesting different jobs, needing separate training etc., you can start your planning now and pre-determine the exact projects that you need help with. Building group volunteer opportunities to fill the projects you have created is a very effective way to get things done.
How do we build a memorable group experience (that's also beneficial to us)?
These are the main things that you will need to create a group volunteer opportunity that’s both easy for groups to join and for you to manage:
1. Defined period of time
People want to know what they're getting into when it comes to time commitments. Be specific about start and end times and pick a reasonable length of time for them to be there. I would suggest that it should be a minimum of 2hrs and a maximum of 4hrs when it comes to a group. You want to make it worthwhile for them to come out, but you also want to be able to keep their attention. Them leaving the opportunity bored or tired won’t help them develop a positive perception of your nonprofit.
2. Involves the group interacting with each other
The reason they're volunteering as a group is that they want to be together! So don’t create something that has them all in separate rooms working on individual projects. One of the most fun parts of my family volunteering at the food bank is that we build assembly lines of people doing things and see how fast we can accomplish the task.
3. Create opportunities that match a wide variety of ages and skills
When you're dealing with a group, your volunteers will often come with a wide variety of ages, skill sets, and abilities. Make sure you plan your group activities accordingly! If you're working with certain companies, you might also find a group that has very similar skill sets (Eg. My marketing team at a company once volunteered to design all the branding and copy for a fundraising event) so in that case you could make the project more specific. But in most cases something general and easy for everyone is best.
4. Communicate the “why”
You don’t necessarily need to have the project be tons of fun, but the group should definitely understand how they're affecting the bigger picture. One year my team at work had planned to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. We were all excited to use power tools and build a house, but when we got there the job they had for us was to move construction garbage off the plot for the next house that was being built. There was nothing fun or exciting about this task, but we knew that we were clearing the area that would be the foundation for someone’s new home and the job still had meaning.
5. Engage them before and after
You can spend a ton of money buying social media ads and doing Google AdWords to get more contacts, but you’ve got people right here who are about to have a direct, great experience with your nonprofit! Take the opportunity to communicate with them before the event to get them excited. Include information about the details of the volunteer opportunity such as time and place. Just as important? You should also include information about what you do and what a difference they are making. Once the volunteer opportunity is over, why not send them a group photo and a thank you. You could even see if they’d be interested in volunteering again or making a donation. Communication before and after a volunteer experience is key in creating lifelong ambassadors for your nonprofit.
Look at how fun moving garbage can be!
(Not pictured here is us using power tools, because we didn't get to use any. However, we still wore tool belts for style purposes only)
How do we get groups to volunteer?
Build a landing page on your website that lists all the Holiday Group Volunteer Opportunities that your organization has available. That way you have 1 spot where you can send groups who are interested in volunteering with you. Then try to make it as automated and self-serve as possible. The groups will love being able to easily sign up online and have all their details emailed them, and you’ll love being able to focus on other things.
Here’s an example of one of the projects my group did and how it could be listed:
Here’s some tips to make it smooth on your end:
Create an online form that people can fill in to request an opportunity
Make the group pick a “group leader” who is accountable for getting the required number of people to join in the project
Ask the group leader to input many of their group members and their email addresses into the form. Contacts are GOLD, and you’ll want to communicate with them in the future.
Create a quick email that gets sent back to the group leader with all the details of their opportunity--they should also be able to easily forward it to people in their group
Have a deadline at least 3 weeks prior to an opportunity and make people have to sign up by that point - that way you don’t have to deal with any last minute coordination
Put as many details as you can about the project on your website so that there are no surprises
Send out reminders to the group leader and any members whose email addresses you have at 2 day mark before the event - and on the day of the event.
Use your system to keep track of who is the group leader and who the members of the group are. You may want to communicate with them differently going forward.
How do we find organizations or companies that may want to volunteer with us?
Many companies offer a day off for volunteering, and they would love for that day off to be something that teams did together. That way it also becomes a great team-building experience! Look to companies that are located in your area, or go online and look for companies on lists like Forbes Best Places to Work, Great Place to Work and B Corporations. These comapnies tend to have well-defined volunteering programs.
Churches, Associations & Clubs
Always start by looking for some in your area, but don't stop there. You can also look for associations that may have the specific skills you are looking for. E.g. If you're planning a big fundraising event, you might want to check out Professional Event Planner associations.
Many highschool kids have a minimum number of volunteer hours they need to complete before graduation, and you can bet they rather do those hours with some friends. Younger students just love to learn new things, so something hands-on and interactive is best for them. For example, helping to maintain a community garden. (Yes, they love getting messy too)
I’m not sure that I want that many volunteers…
When managed correctly, volunteers can be a valuable asset to your nonprofit. By having clearly defined opportunities for them, an automatic system that can track and communicate with them. and the right attitude, y'll find it takes very little organization to reap tons of rewards. The benefits of group volunteer projects extend far beyond the day they come to help.
After all, all those people are now engaged with your organization. You have the opportunity to continue communicating with them in the future. One day, they might want to increase their level of volunteering, become a donor, or even become a board member. People who volunteer as groups tend to enjoy the experience more, and therefore feel more connected to your organization. They key to group volunteering is making sure you're collecting everyone’s contact information. Reach out to them before the activity and remember to thank them via email after. Creating a memorable group volunteer experience can radically change the public support of your organization.
Also, remember to keep track of what group they were in. Highschool kids should be communicated to differently going forward than a corporate group. Tailoring your communication to the type of person will only get you better results.
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