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Organizer and Activist Resources: Working with Volunteers

All Earth Day events should be structured as a way for volunteers to participate. On some projects volunteers do everything including planning, logistics, execution and follow-up. The following are guidelines can assist in finding and keeping volunteers.

Finding Volunteers

Seek volunteers from your local Jaycees, scout troops, environmental groups, high schools, colleges and adult development centers. Advertise for volunteer support in club and agency newsletters. Send out public service announcements to local papers, stating your needs and advertising your meetings. Look beyond existing sources for volunteers. Earth Day is an ideal opportunity for interested, committed citizens who have never volunteered before. To aid recruiting and tracking, you may want to design a volunteer information form. The form should have spaces for name, address, day and evening phone numbers and jobs people want to do or special skills they have (see sample that follows). This way, you can develop a working "database" of volunteers and match tasks to people's skills.

Public Volunteer Meetings

Public meetings are an excellent way to recruit volunteers. Frequently, it is possible to obtain meeting spaces free of charge at city or county facilities, private companies, public libraries or private homes.

Start each meeting by welcoming the participants and let them know how the meeting will proceed. Give them some background about your organization and project(s). Remember, some may only have just heard about your group. At small gatherings, you may want to ask the attendees to introduce themselves, say what they do in life, what previous volunteer work they've done, etc. Be sure to find out how people heard about the meeting (e.g., by a show of hands): newspaper announcement, flyer, a friend, radio PSA, etc. This will tell you which method is most effective at reaching volunteers. The next part of the meeting will depend on where you are in the planning stage. If you are just formulating plans, you can invite participants to brainstorm, to encourage visionary thinking and get a flow of ideas going. Look for group consensus on ideas. If you have developed a specific project or plan, present it.

Throughout the meeting, regularly ask if anyone has a question, and then WAIT (5 -10 seconds) to give participants a chance to formulate the question and get their hand up.

Following the presentation (and all questions) have the volunteers fill out an information form (see above) and, whenever possible, sign up for specific tasks. One way to do this: write the name and a brief description of each task on a piece of paper and tape them up around the room. Have everyone sign up for the various things they are willing to do. (There are other ways to do this, of course, but this one does work. With this approach, you can leave the tasks up on the wall so people can see what needs to be done, what hasn't been spoken for, what needs help, what is behind schedule, etc. Letting the lists speak for themselves is very useful.)

Specific Assignments

Be organized as you seek volunteers, and be prepared to give specific assignments. One of the easiest ways to lose volunteers is to get them excited about a project and then not have a specific assignment or task. This doesn't mean that you have to have all the details worked out in advance; helping with the planning can be part of a volunteer's task. However, have enough defined so that each person knows WHAT they have agreed to do and WHEN it is needed by. Make sure every task has a completion date.

Keeping Volunteers

People volunteer because they want to make a difference, to be involved in something bigger than themselves. The most important element to maintaining an energized, active volunteer base is acknowledgment. Acknowledge their contribution, their generosity in giving their time. Be sure to praise good work.

Supply snacks where appropriate. Find ways to recognize your volunteers through dinners or parties, certificates, letters to their employers or school counselors, public recognition and plenty of thank yous - both privately and in public. Having a volunteer coordinator will make this aspect of your work a lot easier.

Share your vision, and let volunteers contribute their own ideas (no one wants to play on a team where they never get to come up to bat.). Try to find ways to incorporate volunteer ideas into the overall vision.

Be sure that volunteers sign up for jobs that are within their capability - no one is served by overcommitment. However, you should encourage volunteers to "step out" and take on significant assignments. Often, they only need "permission" to try something that they've never done before. Don't try and talk a volunteer into doing a job that you sense they really don't want to do; it won't turn out well. In fact, be sure that volunteers have a chance to decline or back out of an agreement. Guilt is a very poor motivator. Letting volunteers work in teams or groups will help the work be more fun and won't wear people out. However, make sure that you have ONE person that is accountable for each task (this doesn't mean they do all the work, only that they are responsible for seeing that the work gets done).

Be accountable, and make your volunteers accountable. (There is a line of thought that says, volunteers can't be held accountable because they're not being paid. This is a recipe for disaster. The volunteers that you really want will respond well to responsibility.) Be sure everyone is clear on their tasks and delivery dates.

Sample task list for volunteers:

  • Press/Media coordination
  • Advance announcements, press releases, etc. Follow-up phone calls to media
  • Create and distribute media kits
  • Day-of-event coverage
  • Fundraising coordination
  • Sponsorship
  • In-kind donations of goods and services
  • Individual cash contributions
  • Merchandise sales
  • Office Coordination
  • Phone calls
  • Typing letters
  • Stuffing envelopes
  • Sorting mailings
  • Routing messages
  • Staffing office or event sites
  • Gathering information for program
  • Producing program
  • Event Coordination
  • Site liaison
  • Identifies and secures any required permits
  • Determine where exhibitors go
  • designs layout of site
  • Arrange Insurance
  • Arrange on-site First Aid & Ambulance
  • Determine where porta-potties go - makes arrangements and is on hand for delivery and set-up
  • Determine where signs and banners go
  • Determine where stage(s) go
  • Determine where recycling and trash goes
  • Liaison with City or County for security, traffic and logistics
  • Event Signs (create, set-up and pick-up)
  • Secure Bike parking
  • Car Parking and Transportation (shuttles etc.) Event set-up
  • Set up exhibits / Hang banners and signs Help exhibitors unload and set up
  • Set up recycling boxes
  • Event monitoring
  • Help exhibitors throughout the day. (If you have enough volunteers, assign two "shepherds" to each exhibitor to be on hand to help set up, break down, and stay with exhibit while exhibitor takes a break.) Event break-down and clean-up (These people should be scheduled to appear late in the day so they have fresh energy to deal with the task. Those who have been around all day will be very tired.)
  • Make Earth Day exhibits and displays
  • Pick-up and delivery (signs, miscellaneous) Design work - program, posters,t-shirts
  • Coordinate entertainment
  • Manage stage(s)
  • Secure sound equipment
  • Coordinate exhibitors and their needs

Identify upcoming projects

  • Daily, weekly and monthly needs
  • Special event needs
  • Develop a Timetable
  • Completion dates
  • Commitments from volunteers one month ahead
  • Allow for emergencies, no-shows and substitutions
  • Know the Tasks & Responsibilities
  • Be specific
  • Look out for overcommitment
  • Break down larger needs into tasks
  • Know how many volunteers are needed for each task
  • Don't hinder your operation by having too few people

Time Commitment

  • Know how much time you need for how long; too few people makes a project go on for too long. Don't wear them out - have them come back.

Keep Track - Be Accountable

  • Assign task captains
  • Create a master volunteer form for each project that lists the tasks and fill in volunteer names and phone numbers next to each
  • Know your Community Service Organizations
  • Girl &Boy Scouts
  • Jaycees
  • Rotary Clubs
  • Retirement groups
  • Jr. League
  • Kiwanis
  • Volunteers of America
  • Schools
  • Environmental Groups
  • Churches
  • Corporations
  • Volunteers (best source for other volunteers)
  • Get the Word Out &Be Accessible
  • Put your phone number and hours of operation out there
  • Public Service Announcements on radio and TV
  • Banners and flyers
  • Newsletters
  • Public Access TV
  • Answer the phone

Keeping Volunteers

  • Acknowledge contribution and participation
  • Assign the right person to the task
  • Praise good work
  • Put up posters and signs that inspire


Back to Earth Day Home | Next File: Working with the Media.

This information was supplied courtesy of the Earth Day Network.




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