The rush to create group volunteering opportunities

Group volunteering is high in popularity thanks to both corporate volunteerism, stemming from trends in corporate social responsibility; and the Millennial generation’s propensity for group activities, stemming from their history of group work and cooperation in the K-12 school system.

I remember the volunteer coordinator at the last nonprofit I worked for asking if I had anything I needed doing suitable for a corporate group of professionals. The call would go out to various programs once in a while, and I always found filling this role to be awkward. On one hand, corporate volunteerism might lead to corporate donations, so nonprofits often jump to sort something out for these potential donors. However, precious resources may get used up, taken away from working with clients, running programs, etc., just for a group of corporate volunteers to spend a day doing a ‘meaningful’ task.

Nonprofits may also start jumping to create team opportunities for Millennial volunteers, though this trend might take a bit longer. It may be hard to change the way volunteers are engaged if the current model has been working for so long. However, if your organization is only offering individual opportunities, the current model is not going to work forever. Secondly, nonprofits will soon (and many already have) start to realize that their aging donor base isn’t going to sustain them forever and new donors are going to have to be cultivated from this Millennial generation.

Some of these group volunteer opportunities may last a day. Others a year. Here are some ideas for creating group volunteer opportunities that may be suitable for either corporate or Millennial volunteers.

  1. Stock up. Doesn’t it always seem that when you need people you don’t have them and when you have them you don’t need them? Even though the timing may not be ideal, save your donation sorting, activity room painting, or garden planting for when you get that call. Better yet, initiate contact with prospective group volunteers or donors and offer the opportunity. Ahead of time.
  2. Create a group of mini-skilled positions. Maybe you want your website or brochures translated into other languages. Maybe you need a bunch of documents realigned with your new branding. Corporate and Millennial volunteers can be a skilled bunch, so set aside some small skilled tasks, have a potluck, and get a work-party on!
  3. Re-brand individual activities as group activities. I don’t mean calling a duck a swan–some legitimate changes need to happen. For example, if your organization holds multiple events per year that requires volunteers, create a “Crew” opportunity. Give them chances to meet and greet each other outside of event times, offer some value-added training, and provide them with some unique chances to be engaged in other ways, and be sure to communicate with them as a “Crew” throughout the year. The SFU Student Development department is great at this branding. The orientation volunteers are the “O Crew”. The Week of Welcome volunteers are the “WOW Crew”. The volunteers are a team.
  4. Get Professional Development. Both corporate volunteers and Millennials may have backgrounds that could be beneficial for your staff or clients to learn from. Corporate volunteers from an audit company may be able to deliver a workshop to program managers about demonstrating a program’s return on investment. Millennial volunteers in a university HR program may be interested in leading a workshop for community centre clients on resume building. For example, SFU Career Peer Educators have work as a team before to deliver just such a workshop. It was valuable for the participants, and a highlight of the year for many Peers.
  5. Bring together individuals or small groups of volunteer together for special opportunities. I am currently working with two fantastic segments of student volunteers at SFU Volunteer Services. Two students scout and write stories for our ENGAGE blog; another team of volunteers is helping plan a Volunteer and Civic Engagement Week on campus this fall. Both groups are working in teams already, but bringing them together for special development or social opportunities could a) reinforce how each group contributes to our mission, and b) build social connections and a larger sense of team.

How have you engaged groups of volunteers at your organizations? How have you been engaged as a group volunteer?