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Finding Community Service and Volunteering for Groups
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Introduction

Many people want to volunteer as a team or group, from five people to 500 - even more. They can be employees from a particular company, members of a club or association, or even just a group of friends who would like to spend time together at a volunteer activity. They may be adults, teens, or pre-teens. A group may also be a family. They want their group volunteering activity to take from two to seven hours. They want to be all together as much as possible, to socialize throughout the experience - they don't want to be isolated from each other individually (though they are usually willing to be broken up into smaller groups). And they usually don't want to have any obligation beyond that one-time volunteering experience; they want the experience to feel like they show up, they volunteer, they have fun, they make a difference, and then they leave and never have to help again (though they often welcome invitations for further involvement, as individuals).

Unfortunately, volunteering opportunities for such groups are very hard to find. The larger the group, the harder it is to find opportunities. The more people under 16 in the group, the harder it is to find group volunteering opportunities. Finding a group volunteering opportunity for six people is much easier than finding a one-day opportunity for 150 people. Finding group volunteering opportunities for a group of people over 18 who all work for the same company is much easier than finding opportunities for a group of students from different high schools who are under 18.

Do not wait until the last minute to try to volunteer in a group! You will probably need to call many, many, many places just to get an appointment for an interview! It may take a few months before you get your group booked for a volunteering activity even if you start calling right away!

What Do Volunteer Groups Do?

Group volunteering activities are hard to find because nonprofit organizations have a hard time developing activities for a group to participate in altogether. It's simple to create volunteering activities for individuals. It's much harder to create activities that an entire group can do together, all at once, that the organization really needs.

Here are ideas for group volunteering activities (note that you should NOT do any of these without coordinating with the target organization several weeks, even months in advance!):

  • Present some kind of entertainment or educational show to children, peers or another audience (singing, dancing, a short sketch addressing some social issue, singing just to be entertaining, etc.)
  • Bring, prepare or serve food at a homeless shelter, clinic for those with addictions, shelter for victims of domestic violence, etc., on one designated day. If your group is huge, could you do this for multiple organizations on one day?
  • Prepare and pass out educational information packets at an event to educate the public or event attendees about a service or issue
  • Clean up a park, trail, camping area, beach or other outdoor site (removing trash, planting trees, building new trails, etc.); this will take coordination with both nonprofits as well as city, county and state governments
  • Simple landscaping/gardening for a community garden (pulling weeds, digging, raking, spreading mulch, hoeing, planting, transporting yard waste into compost piles, stirring compost piles, putting together boards for raised beds, cutting grass, simple pruning, etc.)
  • Glean a field
  • Clean up or decorate a room in a facility serving youth, seniors, patients, etc.
  • Clean up and provide basic landscaping (mowing, weeding, pruning, raking, etc.) for a nonprofit
  • Paint numerous items (furniture) or several walls
  • Staff an event, such as ushering people at a live theater event, staffing activity stations at a special event for children, serving food and drinks, staff a charity run or walk like a local Team in Training or Relay for Life or Special Olympics event, etc.
  • Sort a vast amount of information or items (boxes of photos or boxes of clothes that take up an entire room)
  • Distribute a vast amount of information or items to hundreds of people (shoes, clothes, gift baskets, information folders, etc.)
  • Pick up and sorting items from a food, clothing, book or recycling drive
  • Build something (a house, a school, a water well, a dam, etc.)
  • Sew, crochet, embroider or otherwise create simple handicraft items (small toys, pillow cases, hats) in a group setting, items that can be finished in one day, or the days the group wants to get together, and then donate the items as appropriate (to children at a hospital? to children in a shelter? to seniors in a low-income housing space?)
  • Any activity that can be done by simple, repetitive action, like cutting fabric or paper from a form, putting stickers on something, gluing different pieces together or coloring paper, such as making greeting cards for a particular group (children in a hospital's pediatric unit during the holidays, soldiers, patients at a VA hospital, etc.)
  • Hold a one-day computer tech event, like editing Wikipedia pages, building web pages, scanning and tagging vast amounts of paper or photos, or other hackathon-type activities to benefit a nonprofit, or several nonprofits.
  • Serving food and cleaning up dishes in support of any of the aforementioned activities.
Do NOT show up unannounced to engage in any of these activities. Do NOT call a day or a week or even just one month in advance and ask to volunteer as a group -- you need to call months in advance. And any activity you do, even at someone's home, at school, your own meeting site, etc., should be with permission of the nonprofit, NGO or other institution you are trying to assist, or the local government in charge of the site where you plan on engaging in a group volunteering activity.

Before you begin to search

One person from the group will need to be the primary group contact and deliverer of information. This person will receive all communications on behalf of the group regarding volunteering, and will be responsible for communicating with all group members. This person will also attend any orientations required before volunteering, and communicate information from this orientation to other members.

The group's leadership needs to take an assessment of all group members' availability for, interests in and goals for a group volunteering activity. This will help you in choosing a group assignment, and ensure that everyone has a positive experience and that their expectations will be met. For instance, the group may interested in environmental issues and members may be available to volunteer only on Saturdays after 8 a.m.

Does your group want to be engaged in the same activities during the entire group volunteering endeavor? Or, would your group be willing to separate at the event or location to engage in a variety of tasks; for instance, at a community center, one person reads to an elderly person while others help at an activity for youth and others help re-organize the center's stock room.

What talents and experiences are volunteers interested in sharing in this group effort? For instance, the marketing director may not want to help with marketing efforts as a volunteer but, rather, share her talents at basic home repair.

Do members of your group want to bring family members along to volunteer? The nonprofit you assist will tell you if this is acceptable (it probably will NOT be; you may need volunteers to provide childcare for other volunteers).

Someone in the group needs to have the responsibility to fill out application forms, and ensure all individuals in the group have filled out appropriate forms; often, volunteer hosting organizations require the completion of such forms not only for the group as a whole, but for every individual that will participate. A representative of the group or just one member may be asked to complete a Waiver of Liability form.

If you are participating in an employee-based group volunteering activity on company time, or if you are taking vacation time to volunteer on behalf of the company, make sure you have permission and support from your immediate supervisor.

If you are volunteering on behalf of an organization (such as a school) or company (such as your employer), you must make sure the organization or company supports the group volunteering activity and all the responsibilities such entails. Also, ask the organization or company how it wishes to be represented within the group volunteering activity. Sometimes, schools or companies don't wish to be represented officially, other than by their students or employees engaging in the group volunteering effort; others want their students or employees to wear the same t-shirt with an official logo on it while volunteering, and still others may want to publish a press release highlighting the volunteer activity.

Most people want to volunteer for nonprofit organizations. Registered nonprofits based in the USA have a federal tax i.d. number. If you aren't sure if an organization based in the USA is a registered nonprofit, ask if they have a federal tax id number, or look up the organization on Guidestar.org, a database of all registered nonprofit organizations in the USA.

Your group will be responsible for its own transportation to and from a site. Start thinking about that now: will you take mass transit? Ride a bicycle? Walk? Car pool?

If any members of the group are under 18, each will have to get a parent or guardian to sign a permission slip that affirms he or she is permitted to volunteer. You will get this permission slip from an organization that wants you to volunteer.

Make sure all team members understand that they must be on time for a volunteering event, and that they understand that they must follow the policies of the organization.

Group Volunteering Is Expensive -- But Who Pays Those Costs?

You may be asked to cover some of the costs associated with your group volunteering experience, especially if this group volunteering experience is being created especially for your group. A staff person from a nonprofit, or more than one, may have to spend a lot of time coordinating this group volunteering event for you. Who is going to pay for that person's time to do all of the coordination needed? There may be equipment needs as well: bags, tools, gloves, trucks, gas for those trucks, etc. Who is going to pay for all that equipment and materials? Talk with the organization about how many hours they will spend coordinating this activity for you, and what equipment and materials will be needed, and consider how your group could cover some or all of these costs.

Where to Find Group Volunteering Opportunities

There are many web sites that post volunteering opportunities in the USA, and some of these assignments can be done by groups:

Contact your local volunteer center, if you have such; your local United Way agency will be able to refer you.

Ask group members to contact nonprofit organizations they have a relationship with to ask about potential group volunteering activities as well.

Go to a search engine such as google.com and type in:
how to volunteer in a group
You will generate a long list of group volunteering opportunities all over the USA. If you aren't lucky enough to be in the same city as the ones you generate, have a look at them and consider if local organizations in your area might welcome similar group activities, and call those local organizations and propose your idea.

You can also call organizations directly, based on your group's interests.

Nonprofit theaters and performing arts centers are often in need of ushers in the evenings and on weekends; you not only get volunteer hours, you get into a show for free! Call local nonprofit theaters, including community theaters, to see if they need ushers and when your group could participate. Local, non-professional/amateur theater companies welcome volunteers in a variety of roles, from selling tickets to performing on stage.

Volunteer as a group to support UNICEF. UNICEF's online Volunteer Center provides activity toolkits and speaker resources to help you conduct awareness-building and fundraising activities in your community.

Establish an American Red Cross Club at your high school or association to help specifically with emergency shelters, including emergency warming shelters for the overflow from homeless shelters on days and nights that are at or below freezing (and unlike most homeless shelters, these often allow the homeless to bring their pets). All members would go through the volunteer orientation for your local chapter of the Red Cross and the training to help with emergency shelters. Find your local chapter of the American Red Cross and look at their web site for information about volunteering.

Animals
If your group wants to volunteer with animals, call your local animal shelters, animal/wildlife rescue organizations, and, if you live near such, a nonprofit zoo.

Call your local or state historical society and/or the government department that is in charge of cemeteries and ask if there are rural cemeteries or neglected historical cemeteries your group could help clean up. There are thousands of such cemeteries all over the USA, and it's very likely there is at least one in your country. Do not clean up any cemetery without the express, written permission of the appropriate government office.

Call nearby city, state and national parks and ask if there are volunteering opportunities for groups. Or visit your city or state park and look for something that needs to be done, and then contact the park to propose the idea (never undertake a volunteering activity without the park's permission!). State parks often have one-day volunteering opportunities throughout the year. Call your nearest state park for more information. You can also create your own volunteering activity and propose it at a state park. For instance, you could organize a large group of volunteers to remove invasive plants in a designated area, working with your county extension office or city or state parks officials (always get permission first!). Volunteers should receive a briefing on why invasive plants are bad and what they can do after the event day to help keep invasive plants out of the community. Another example: when I was at the Lewis and Clark Trail State Park in Washington state, I noticed an information panel behind the park's camping facilities, and on closer inspection, it turned out to be information for the start of a small hike to show the edible plants in the park. But the information was quite faded, and the information needed an update. What a great opportunity for a group of volunteers! And what about creating such a trail and display in a state park near YOU? Call or stop by your local state park and propose the idea.

Contact the Girl Scouts of the USA council office that serves your area and see if there is a Girl Scout day camp or single event in your area that your group could help with as volunteers. Each group member would need to register as a volunteer on the web site for your local council, and then you need to look for day camps or single events where you could volunteer. You need to sign up to volunteer at least two months in advance for many events -- sometimes more. Day camps need people to lead hikes, lead or help with craft-making (the crafts are usually already defined, but your recommendations would also be welcomed), lead singing, cook, make posters for the event (with song lyrics, directing girls to craft tables, telling them how to clean up after the event, etc.) and staff the registration table at the start of the event, among many other activities.

Your group could put together a "badge day" event so that Girl Scouts in your city could earn a badge in one day, in just a couple of hours. You would need to

  • read one of the Girl Scout badge books (for Junior Girl Scouts, for instance) and pick one of the badges to focus on
  • design activities that could be done in one site, within two - three hours, in shifts by the girls, each lead by a volunteer, that would fulfill at least the minimum of the activities necessary for that particular badge (minimum is six of the 10 activities)
  • contact the Girl Scout council office that serves your area to tell them your idea, to set up a meeting with them to propose the idea and to show you are capable of pulling it off
  • have all of the volunteers that will be involved in the event in any way go through the Girl Scouts criminal background check and any other screening and training that may be required
  • secure an appropriate place to hold the event (you will have to pay any rent required, or get the site donated, and the Girl Scouts would need to visit the site and approve it; schools, library meeting rooms and church fellowship halls are good places to look)
  • decide who will be in charge of each activity station; it's best if there can be two volunteers leading each activity
  • gather all materials for the event (buy them or get them donated or work with troops in your area to see what they may have available already; do not ask Girl Scouts to pay the costs)
  • schedule volunteers for the event
  • put together some healthy snacks for the girls
  • meet with at least one local Girl Scout troop that might be interested in the event and help you put it together,
  • follow all policies of the Girl Scouts, including those regarding taking and posting photos of girls
  • keep track of all your hours (including all meetings and training), so you know how much time you actually volunteered
  • Organize a food, clothing or book drive in your group, our office, your class, your community of faith, your association, etc. The items should be donated appropriately (to Goodwill, to the library, to a food pantry, etc. -- contact the organization for guidelines and permission BEFORE the drive).

  • Call your local hospital and ask to speak with the volunteering coordinator. Ask her if it would be okay for your group to make get well cards for all the children in the pediatric unit or cancer unit, how many they should make, and how you would deliver those to the hospital so that they get to the kids.

  • Make a list of all of the various senior homes in your immediate area. Call each and find out how many people are living in each, and if it would be okay for your children to make and drop off "Have a nice day" cards they have made. Then spend a day, afternoon or morning making cards for one of these facilities.

  • Practice singing 5 - 10 short songs as a group, and when you feel you are ready to perform, then call your local hospital or senior home and see if you could perform there during lunch or supper for patients or residents. Don't only do songs related to a religion, as not everyone adheres to that religion; have a few secular songs that anyone would enjoy, including people who are not religious.

  • Start a school-based, office-based or neighborhood-wide recycling and reuse program. It could be regarding electronics. It could be regarding plastic bags. You could organize the group to use plastic bags to make things: one very strong bag that lasts for many years, rugs, place mats, mug rests, ponchos, toys, laptop case, etc. -- anything that can be knitted or sewn, and sell them, with the money raised going to an environmental program. There are a number of web sites that have free patterns for these crafts and many others.

  • Look into Adopt a Soldier programs that allow you and your kids to send letters and items to soldiers. Plenty of info on the Internet. An example: Adopt a Soldier, where volunteers send letters and items to soldiers.

  • If your group sews, you can work together to create items for these charities
    • Afghans for Afghans
    • Mother Bear Project, provides crocheted and knit bears to children with HIV/AIDS
    • Binky Patrol is an all volunteer, national, non-profit organization making and distributing homemade blankets to children born HIV+, drug-addicted, infected with AIDS or other chronic & terminal illnesses, those who are abused, in foster care or experiencing trauma of any kind. A binky is a homemade blanket that can be sewn, knitted, crocheted or quilted. the blankets range in size from three feet square up to twin bed size.
    • Project Linus, making blankets and crafts for sick children.
    • Quilts of Valor (QOVs), making quilts for soldiers.
    • Shawl Ministry (Christian volunteering)

  • Call your local humane societies, ASPCA chapters and animal shelters, and ask if your group could:

    • Make appropriate food treats for dogs and cats and drop them off at the shelter. You can find a variety of recipes to make treats for dogs and cats online. You might be able to rent a church kitchen and fellowship hall to prepare the treats as a group.

    • Make appropriate bedding for dogs and cats and drop them off at the shelter. You could use scrap materials gathered from your own home and that of neighbors. There are lots of suggestions for making your own dog and cat beds online. You will need a large room for everyone to gather to make these beds.

    • Organize a dog and cat food and supply drive for the shelter. If there is a pet food pantry for low-income people, gather food for the pantry (note that this cannot be leftover, opened-bags of food; these have to be unopened packages of pet food).
    You can also contact nonprofits and community programs in your area to see what opportunities they might have. Call early - don't wait the week before or even the month before an event:
    • Does your neighborhood or city have a community garden? They may need help in early Spring to prepare the garden for growing season, or in the late fall to clean up after growing season.

    Give yourself at least two months to find such opportunities (six months is best!). For instance, Habitat for Humanity allows group volunteering, but their slots fill up quickly -- they may be booked weeks, even months, in advance. City, state and national parks are good places to look for group volunteering activities, but you need to reserve your places very early. You may be able to book your group to provide all of the ushering services for one evening at a nonprofit theater in your area but, again, you need to book your places far in advance.

    You can explore these volunteer "vacations" and see if you could book an entire group, but note that some require you to pay your own transportation, accommodation and food costs, plus a service fee:

    • The American Hiking Society sponsors several excellent volunteer vacations every year, constructing or rebuilding footpaths, cabins and shelters in some of the USA's most beautiful parks and historic sites.

    • Sierra Club volunteer vacations help to state and federal land agencies. Service trips range from helping with research projects at whale calving grounds in Maui to assisting with archaeological site restoration in New Mexico.

    • Student Conservation Association provides college and high school-aged members with hands-on conservation service opportunities, "from tracking grizzlies through the Tetons to restoring desert ecosystems and teaching environmental education at Washington, D.C.’s Urban Tree House."

    • Break Away is a nonprofit that promotes alternative Spring break and Summer break trips. Unfortunately, its database can be accessed only by university chapter members.

    If your group includes children under 16, review these ideas for family volunteering, which includes suggestions for activities that allow for the participation of people under 16.

    For the Group Volunteering Experience

    • Meet once before the day of the event, to review the policies and rules of the day, to clarify the events, to answer questions (may people bring their children? what will people need to bring? what should they wear? what time do they need to be there? if someone can't come that day, who should they call?). If you are volunteering to earn a particular amount of hours, pre-event meetings count as part of your volunteering hours.
    • Be on time. In fact, every person should be onsite, ready to get to work, 15 minutes early!
    • Follow the rules and policies as defined by the organization exactly, and if you see a group member not following policies, call them out on it.
    • Make sure everyone is committed to doing the work properly.
    • If it's permitted, take pictures during your activities and post them after the event on a photo-sharing site like Flickr. Encourage members to send you photos they may have taken so you can share them as well. It will give group members a great boost regarding the activity long after the work is finished.

    After the Experience

    A few days after completion of the group volunteering endeavor, ask all group members about their experience. Bring them together for lunch for an informal discussion, or have all group members complete a survey on SurveyMonkey or Zoomerang. What did they like? What did they learn? What do they wish they could have done that they didn't get to do? What do they wish had been different? What do they hope for the next time? Share these results with the organization that hosted you, as well as the organization or company that sponsored you. Again, if you are volunteering to earn a particular amount of hours, post-event meetings and activities such as this count as part of your volunteering hours.

    If you are an organization or program looking to create group volunteering activities, see this detailed resource on Creating Group Volunteering Activities (it's also worth reading if you are wondering why group volunteering is so hard to find).

    If you found this page helpful, let others know:

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    2010-17 by Jayne Cravens, all rights reserved. No part of this material can be reproduced in print or in electronic form without express written permission by Jayne Cravens.

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