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, a group of friends who would like to spend time together at a volunteer activity, or people that don't know each other but would like to meet others through volunteering. 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).
However, the reality is that, for most nonprofits and community programs, group volunteers aren't worth the trouble. Even at Habitat for Humanity, it takes a tremendous amount of resources, time and coordination to create the one-day, one-time group volunteering experiences they are best known for. Most organizations don't have volunteering tasks laying around that could be done by a large group of untrained, one-time volunteers - or even an untrained individual volunteer. It's most efficient, economical and beneficial for most organizations to involve adult volunteers longer than just a day or two; they prefer volunteers who can successfully complete a project, from start to finish, with minimum supervision or volunteers willing to provide time and expertise over weeks, even months, not just a few hours.
In short, most organizations simply do not have the money, staff, time and other resources to create two-hour, half-day or one-day, one-time group volunteering activities, especially for teens and children.
That said, group volunteering can be worthwhile for an organization or program. The key benefits of volunteering for an organization or program are building awareness or interest about whatever cause the organization or program is trying to promote and cultivating new donors or people willing to volunteer again and again. Short-term, one-time group volunteering can, indeed, garner those benefits for an organization or program.
The first step in thinking about creating group volunteering activities is for your organization or program to think carefully about what is in it for you, the organization or program. What benefit are you looking for?:
Indeed, you might be one of those unique organizations that really does have a huge task that would best be done by a large group of volunteers who participate only for a couple of hours, for half-a-day or a full day -- in which case you have no need to brainstorm, create or reserve tasks specficially for such group volunteers. Even so, you should still consider how the short-term group volunteering will also provide those other benefits.
Two-Hour, Half-Day or Full-Day Group Volunteering Activities for Any
Let's start with volunteering by adults over 18 - the easiest kind of group volunteering to create. These activities can include:
All of these activities take many hours of preparation by the organization to prepare the site for the group of volunteers to show up, engage in the activity, and leave after two-to-seven hours - and to leave the site in such a way that the organization or program isn't left with even more work for staff.
In addition, note that there are restrictions on volunteers and paid staff handling or serving food or alcohol, on volunteers handling equipment by union musicians, etc.; if you are thinking of volunteers engaging in these activities, you must first check with your legal council or nonprofit support center for details on these restrictions. Failure to do so could result in lawsuits, fines, or worse.
As well, note that there are restrictions on volunteers interacting with children, unsupervised, and that you need to be aware of volunteer access to confidential information of participants, clients, etc. You may also need to purchase extra insurance to involve these one-time group volunteers.
And, finally, most of these activities require the organization provide all materials needed to undertake the activity.
In communicating with these groups, you must make sure that each volunteer understands:
Group Activities for Particularly-Skilled Volunteers
It's possible to create short-term activities for volunteers that all have a particular skill, and need that skill for the volunteering activity. For instance, CreateAthons are 24-hour volunteering marathons held by local marketing, advertising and public relations groups with the purpose of providing pro bono marketing services for local nonprofits. They are similar to hackathons, which bring together volunteers with particular IT skills to build web pages, mobile apps or other tech tools in a short period, or edit-a-thons, where volunteers with a particular area of expertise edit Wikipedia regarding a particular issue or subject area. For examples of these type of group volunteering activities for particularly-skilled volunteers, see these ideas for One(-ish) Day "Tech" Activities for Volunteers and these ideas for Short-term Assignments for Tech Volunteers.
Many of the aforementioned activities could be done by youth as young as 13, but most organizations and programs prohibit such participation because of safety and liability; their insurance may not cover the involvement of youth under 18, and they may not be able to provide the necessary supervision to ensure the safety of the youth. If you want to involve youth under 18, you have to find out what city, state and federal laws are applicable.
But what about group volunteering activities for children under 13? That gets even trickier, because children under 13 aren't capable of doing the same things teens and adults are capable of. You first need to check into insurance, state and federal laws regarding youth participation, and your own safety procedures. For volunteers under the age of 18, you will probably have to ensure at least a 1:5 adult to youth volunteer ratio. Once you have navigated that legal and procedural minefield, you have to think about what children can do as volunteers, in a group, at your organization. For instance, it's doubtful children could engage in simple landscaping work, but they might be able to do some simple gardening tasks, with a LOT o adult supervision. They are certainly capable of putting together gift baskets or gift bags. They can even glean a field (as a group of Brownies and Junior Girl Scouts did in Oregon in 2010 for their local food bank, resulting in their receiving a governor's volunteering award).
Have all participants sign a waiver regarding use of their photos. You will want to take plenty, and encourage participants to share the photos they take with you as well after the event. Use these photos on your web site, your Flickr account, etc.
You should capture key information of all adult volunteers (and youth volunteers, as appropriate) - full names, phone numbers, email addresses - for further contact. After the event, contact these volunteers about signing up for your email newsletter, friending or liking you on Facebook, sharing photos they may have taken, pointing them to the photos your organization's staff took during the event or viewing your other available volunteering activities. Also thank them and let them know what difference their volunteering made.
Time and Financial Costs and Budgeting
You need to document exactly what the day or event is going to look like from both the supervising staff members' perspective and from the group volunteers perspective. What time does staff need to be there to supervise the volunteers? How will staff know exactly what support and supervision the volunteers need? What time do group volunteers need to show up? Where do they park and how far is the nearest bus or train stop? How do you ensure they check-in before they begin work? How will you communicate information to volunteers? How will volunteers end their tasks? Imagine different problems and how you will handle such.
In addition, identify every financial cost associated with this group volunteering activity, including:
One More Consideration: Making It a Multiple-Day Event
Your organization should not think that the only short-term group volunteering is an activity that takes a day or less. A lot of organizations find that a group volunteering effort that involves volunteers for even just three days, not just one day, is much more beneficial for the organization and the cause it serves, and gives the volunteers a much more satisfying experience.
For instance, the Accessibility Internet Rally (AIR) by Knowbility, a nonprofit organization based in Austin, is billed as a one-day event. It involves as many as 100 volunteers building web sites for area nonprofits, in one day. However, to participate, volunteer groups also attend a half-day training on accessibility, one pre-meeting with the nonprofit they will assist, and a post-AIR event to honor the best web sites and all participants. It's still short-term group volunteering, but it takes three-four days instead of just one.
Girl Scouts of the USA welcomes group volunteers to put on badge workshops for troop members, where Girl Scouts engage in activities in two-three hours in one location and earn at least two badges at the end of the day. A group from a corporation, a club or other organization or association deliver the activities for the girls at the workshop. However, there needs to be at least one meeting of the volunteers before the event, to train them on delivering the activities to the girls. It's still short-term group volunteering, but it takes two-three days instead of just one.
If you represent a group that is looking for group volunteering activities, see Finding Community Service and Volunteering for Groups.
A caution for folks in the United Kingdom: For those of you in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, you are greatly restricted in what you can put into writing regarding a volunteering activity, even for groups. NCVO has a resource page on what can and cannot go into written communications with volunteers regarding commitments and expectations.
Virtual Volunteering Guidebook
available for purchase as a paperback & an ebook from Energize, Inc.
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