Hunger is a major problem in my community, and many organizations work to alleviate the problem every day. Recently, a major organization planned a big event to gather and sort food to be distributed to local distribution centers. Great idea, great purpose, great location and the weather cooperated beautifully.
The problem was that the organization didn’t anticipate such a positive response from volunteers, and the primary tasks of the day were completed in less than two hours. Hundreds of volunteers continued to arrive throughout the day—only to be turned away.
You’re probably thinking, “That would never happen at our church!” but, don’t be so sure of that. People today are responding to major community issues at historic rates, and organizations—particularly churches—need to be prepared for the tsunami of willing workers who are waiting in the wings.
When planning a community service event…
Anticipate success. Plan and organize your event with minimum and maximum numbers in your thinking. Work through “what if?” scenarios with your team, and don’t be surprised when willing, caring people show up ready to work.
Plan for impacting people’s lives and hearts in addition to the tasks. What conversations will take place? Who will listen to those being served or offer prayer when requested. Help your workers know they’ll have opportunities to make connections with people in addition to doing tasks.
Provide volunteer training and orientation. Not everyone will arrive on time, and not everyone will easily adapt to your processes. Training and orientation is not a “one shot” deal, but an ongoing process. Consider providing short training and orientation videos, webinars which can be used and reused before and during the event.
Have fast, easy, systems in place to capture vital information about each person who comes to serve. Online sign-ins can be fast and effective or consider comment cards during and after the event. Request only information that you will need and use and offer assurances that you will use their information wisely.
Plan projects with necessary work. Folks know when they’ve been assigned busy work. If a person has donated their valuable time to you or your organization, treat it as a gift and be a good steward of their time.
Provide onsite information for the participants to reflect on their service experience. Provide volunteers with blog sites, phone numbers to record their impressions, Facebook page addresses or other tools for them to reflect on their service. Posts of volunteer service on social media also helps promote your cause or organization.