This post was written by Breezie O'Neill, the Volunteer and Internship Coordinator at Kokua. You can learn more about Kokua by clicking here.
Volunteer Coordinators are always on the lookout for long-term volunteers. You want someone who truly understands your mission, will advocate for your cause and become life-long friends with your staff. Is that too much to ask? Well… okay, maybe. But call me a dreamer, because that is the potential I see within everybody I meet.
For the past two years I have organized ‘Day of Caring’ projects at Kokua, the nonprofit I work for. ‘Day of Caring’ is a one-day event where hundreds of volunteers are scattered throughout our community to work on projects with various organizations. The Lions Club, Saint Martin’s University, and River Ridge Covenant Church have all come out to help us at Kokua paint and landscape the homes of people with developmental disabilities.
For us, one-day service events may take more than a week’s worth of planning and preparation. It almost doesn’t seem logical to do all that work for a group of people to only serve for one day. That is why here at Kokua we don’t see ‘Day of Caring’ or any other service day as a one-time encounter with those volunteers. From the very beginning I take great care to approach the project leader as a potential long-term volunteer, resource, and advocate.
It is important to keep in mind that these volunteers chose your project over others for a reason. They most likely have a personal attachment to your cause. However, to discover their motivation to serve, you must ask them! By getting to know the project leader and volunteers you are likely to find out many interesting things, including their reason to serve, their network within the community, and any additional resources they might be able to share with your organization.
You may be thinking, “Sure, these volunteers are great, but how could they possibly make a significant impact in one day?!” Here are some tips and tricks for turning a one-time encounter into a long-term relationship.
First, be prepared, welcoming, and available to your service day volunteers from the very beginning. You might be their first contact with your cause and it is important to make a good first impression! By showing enthusiasm for the project you are communicating your passion for your cause. Your service volunteers will only care about it as much as you do!
Next, be sure to provide the project leader with plenty of materials and information about your organization. They WANT to know who you are and what you are up to. By providing them with that information right away, you help establish the connection between the project and your mission.
The day of the service project is also incredibly important. Of course, the most obvious objective is to complete the project. However, a good volunteer manager understands the ripe opportunity available here. You might be spending several hours with the team of volunteers. Use this time wisely to get to know them. Throughout the day ask them about their reasons for volunteering, any connection they have to your mission, and learn about their network. Also, make sure to talk about your organization, your mission, and vision for the future. Let them know about all the exciting things you are doing and that you hope to do in the future. This will help them feel a part of the larger picture, and hopefully that connection will keep them coming back for many years to come!
Finally, make sure to follow-up with the team. Mail them thank you notes and pictures from the project. Also make sure to let them know about other service opportunities available at your organization. If, during the project, someone volunteered to serve in the future, take them up on it!
Each of these steps are simple, but put together they send a powerful message to incoming volunteers. Your enthusiasm, preparedness, and genuine interest in them as individuals communicate your organization’s readiness to accept them.