Organizing a volunteer event can seem confusing or unmanageable, but the payoff can be fantastic. After putting together a variety of volunteer events, here are a few things I’ve learned for how to make sure they succeed.
- Brainstorm ideas. Think about what your community needs are and how you can fulfill them. Are there local organizations you can work with that have similar goals? How much can you commit in terms of time, financial and personnel resources? Remember, volunteer events aren’t limited to providing basic needs. Improving the quality of life of those in need is also important. Raising awareness and increasing support is the ultimate goal.
- Get organized. This is where things get serious. Obtain permission from faculty, administration and other coordinators. Make lists for materials you have and need. There may be lots of paperwork, so be sure to stay organized. You can use a binder to keep track of everything. Better yet, I like to use a cloud like Google Drive to save forms, create Excel sheets and maintain and share documents. Tip: Check dates. Many organizations such as schools need events planned months in advance. Plus, if your event is during finals week, it will be hard to get people to sign up.
- Reach Out. Once you’ve received the green light for your event and have the details set, it’s time to gather volunteers. Send out emails, speak with professors in person and contact predental societies. A great way to increase interest is to offer incentives. Start by asking companies what they are able to donate. Volunteers want to give back to the community, but getting freebies and discounts always helps. If you can’t or don’t want to provide freebies for everyone, raffling off prizes can be a good option. In some cases an event can turn into a contest. For example, our school recently had a barbecue and blood drive. The dean of the school incentivized the blood drive by offering to host a lunch for the class that donated the most blood. Donating was not required, so the event was also a fun way to socialize with friends, professors and staff.
- Divide and conquer. Divide volunteers into teams and set clear tasks and deadlines. This is where small details can have big effects, so plan ahead. Make sure to communicate clearly and often with the team to see how things are going.
- Spread the word. Social media apps like Facebook and Instagram are a huge help when it comes to marketing. If you are working with a local organization, don’t forget to ask them to post to their social media as well. You can market the event at the same time you reach out for volunteers. If you have a target demographic (for example a children’s dental clinic), put out flyers where they’ll be seen. Leaving flyers with schools, grocery stores or community centers is an easy way to reach a lot of people.
- Thank the volunteers and get feedback. Volunteers are the driving force of the event. A volunteer’s experience with your event determines if they will be a part of the next event. They give their time and effort. We need to show we not only respect them, we are grateful for them! Take the time to thank them and let them know how appreciated they are. Small gestures such as following up with photos or updates on the impact the event made can go a long way in building a sense of community pride. Communicating with volunteers is also an opportunity to ask for feedback on the event. Ask about what parts they enjoyed and what parts were stressful. Getting an idea of how things went will ensure the next event will run more smoothly.
Even if you follow these to a T, not every event is perfect. So, my biggest word of advice is to remain flexible! Not everything goes as planned on the day of an event. Most attendees won’t even notice issues if you can be adaptable. As the event coordinator, your positivity (or negativity) is contagious. Remember that volunteers are relying on you to be a leader in times of stress. Volunteering is something I have made an integral part of both my personal and professional life. I have seen firsthand the positive influence even small efforts can make on a community. A great way to give back is by organizing events that will make an impact. I hope these steps help make your event a success!
~ Katherine Sonoda-Casper, Las Vegas ’19