How to Organize Volunteers

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How to Organize VolunteersDo you need to organize volunteers for an upcoming event?

Are you interested in having a smooth and seamless experience for both yourself and your helpers?

Taking the time to properly organize volunteers is a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Not only does your group get the assistance they need, but your volunteers have a rewarding volunteer session, and the people, cause, or area you are serving receives sufficient help and attention.   

That’s not bad for a little bit of planning, now is it?

In this post, I offer a few helpful tips to make organizing volunteers a piece of cake.

Make sure you have these tips on hand the next time you plan an event with volunteers!

Determine your goals.

Before you recruit your very first volunteer, it’s important to determine the goals of your event or function.

What specific goals do you need to reach?

Do you need to raise money for a family in need? Paint a graffiti-plagued building in your neighborhood? Clear out an abandoned lot?

Take a moment to write your goals down for future reference, as these will directly influence how you instruct your volunteers.

Break your goals into smaller tasks.

Like any large project, it’s easier to reach a goal by breaking it down into smaller steps. Review your goals for your volunteers and break them down into clearly defined and compact tasks.

The more precise you can be, the better. You want people to easily understand what they need to do.

For example, in the case of painting a building with graffiti, you might have the following tasks:

  • Pick up trash in front of building
  • Sweep sidewalk building
  • Set out tarp, primer, paint, and rollers
  • Prime building
  • Paint building
  • Clean up tarp, primer, paint, and rollers

Make a point to assign individuals to work on one specific task at a time. This reduces the amount of confusion when it comes to getting things done. When they have finished working on that task, they can proceed to work on another.

You should also make sure the tasks you come up with can be physically completed in the time allotted for your volunteers, be it thirty minutes, or three hours.

Determine how many volunteers you’ll need.

Using your goals and tasks as a guide, calculate how many volunteers you’ll need for your project. You may need to take some time to fiddle with numbers of volunteers, given the amount and type of tasks on your list. Another way of going about this, is to review past volunteer events to get a sense of how many people you will need.

Once you’ve finished calculating how many volunteers you need, you can then start the recruitment process. You can also let potential volunteers know exactly what type of help you will need, as in, “We need 10 people to help us paint a building on Saturday.”

Have resources ready before volunteers arrive.

Make sure you have all of your volunteer related resources in place before your volunteers arrive. You want to make sure you don’t waste a moment of their time! This might mean arriving an hour or more in advance of your volunteers, but it will be worth it. Everything will be in place and your volunteers can get to work right away.

So, what items should you set up or have in place? You could arrange a volunteering registration station or area, and make sure you have detailed instructions or pamphlets, as well as tools, supplies, equipment, and materials at the ready.

Start on time.

It’s extremely important you start your volunteer project on time. Even if you have a sparse turnout at first (which may be the case) don’t wait for more people to show up before beginning your volunteer project.

Why? Well, this is a direct insult to those who arrived on time and are ready to volunteer. Remember, everyone’s time is precious. Why should these people be punished for arriving on time?

The best thing you can do is honor your volunteer’s time, by starting on time.

Give clear and simple instructions.

Assign volunteers the tasks you developed earlier. Make sure you give clear, simple and specific instructions. The last thing you want to do is confuse your volunteers!

If you need to take a few moments to provide step-by-step instructions, so be it. It’s far better to have well-informed volunteers, than not. You should also let volunteers know who is in charge of the project, so they can ask questions, or seek assistance, if they need it.

Show recognition.

Lastly, it’s important to thank your volunteers for their time and effort. They gave up time in their busy schedules to help you out. It’s only fitting that you let people know their work is appreciated.

It doesn’t matter how you thank people, but it’s important you do so. You could give your thanks along with a hearty handshake, write thank you notes or cards, list people’s names on a monthly newsletter, or throw a special thank you luncheon.

How about you? Where do you volunteer in your community? Do you have any tips or suggestions you’d like to share when it comes to organizing volunteers? Join the conversation and leave a comment below!

A version of this post appeared on the blog in 2012.

Follow Rashelle:
Rashelle Isip is a New York City-based professional organizer and productivity consultant who helps people get organized so they can stress less, have more fun, and be happier at home. Her work has been featured in Good Housekeeping, Fast Company, Cosmopolitan, The Washington Post, Business Insider, and The Atlantic. Get access to her free guide, 10 Simple Ways to Make Your To-Do Lists More Effective, by clicking here.
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