When I started my first full-time job after college, I managed a neighborhood based volunteer program for a local government entity. The purpose of the program was to help neighbors organize in groups to offer assistance to elderly neighbors. Early on, this program required an ongoing time commitment by neighborhood volunteers.
Although I had experience recruiting and coordinating volunteers on political campaigns, the nature of the service was short-term. Not to mention, I was not an ongoing volunteer, because my sister and I enjoyed volunteering in a variety of one-time volunteer projects for multiple organizations. In spite of this, I did not understand the needs, interests, and time commitments of my potential volunteers. I was asking others to do what I was not committed to do myself. As a result, I probably lost the opportunity for several months to utilize available human capital in making a difference in our community.
When a colleague and I decided to launch a joint project between our programs, this changed everything. We launched the “Adopt-A-Senior” program in 2002, featuring one-time projects for at-risk teens to serve seniors. For the first project, we painted the home of a grandmother who was raising three young grandchildren alone. This was the first of many to follow.
As soon as my newsletter featuring the project was distributed, I received an influx of phone calls and emails from individuals and service groups interested in getting involved. So, I offered two types of volunteer opportunities, the ongoing effort and the one-time projects. By far, the one-time project was the most popular and successful. Thousands of volunteers each year participated in these events, and many returned for our seasonal projects or for events designed for a specific volunteer group. I lead one of the most successful, awarded, reported, and popular programs in the entire organization.
This one-time project idea was not welcome by all. I had one hell of a time trying to convince my supervisor of its merits. Although it was clear, by volunteer participation numbers, that the one-time project was in demand, I was criticized for the exposure of the one-time project and not the ongoing effort. This is a classic case in the industry to consider what you THINK is best rather than what IS best. People are extremely busy with work, family, and other commitments, so rewarding their desire to volunteer is important. Making it fun and rewarding is even better, it is a win-win.
Listening and responding to the needs and interests of volunteers and how THEIR time and skills fits into the need of your organization will maximize the use of human capital for your organization. Doing so will increase volunteer retention and recruitment. Your volunteer pool will expand and diversify. Service hours will increase. Even if your program DEPENDS on ongoing volunteers, find needs that can be fulfilled on a one-time basis. If you are a nonprofit, I guarantee you will find a need.
If you are seeking volunteer opportunities, join those organizations who are interested in YOUR volunteer objectives. There are many opportunities available with great organizations that will value your service and maximize your objectives.
What one-time projects are you participating in? Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!