Organizing Tip: How to Organize Volunteers

posted in: Organizing 2

Today’s post comes courtesy of a volunteering experience I had over the weekend towards Hurricane Sandy cleanup efforts.

NYC Sanitation workers before a ticker tape parade, photography by R. Isip
Many hands make light work, especially when the work is well-organized…

To make a long story short, the event was poorly organized.

Volunteers were told to complete tasks, only to be told an hour later that what we were doing was incorrect and that we had to undo what we had already done. Sigh…

What better way to help others make the most of volunteering efforts, whether for Hurricane Sandy or any other cause, than to provide a series of tips on how to organize volunteers?

Here’s some tips on how to organize volunteers:

Determine goals.                          

Before you recruit your first volunteer, first figure out your goals. What goal or goals do you need to accomplish? What needs to get done? Write these goals down for future reference as they will directly influence how you instruct your volunteers.

Break goals into small, clearly defined tasks.

Break down goals into small, clearly defined and compact tasks. The more short and sweet you can be, the better response you’ll have—people will be able to get to work right away instead of wasting time trying to learn a complex task. Make a note to assign individuals to work on one specific task only. Double check to make sure that the tasks you come up with can be physically completed in the time allotted for volunteers.

Figure out how many volunteers you’ll need.

There’s nothing worse than having people volunteer for a cause and then realize there’s nothing for them to do. Using your goals and tasks as a reference, figure out just how many volunteers you’ll need for your volunteering project. Recruit volunteers with this target goal in mind and let potential volunteers know just what type of help you need, i.e. “We need 50 people to help unload food from a truck into a food pantry.”

Have resources set up and ready to go before volunteers arrive.

Prepare and make sure you have all of your related resources in place before volunteers arrive (volunteering registration station/area, instructions, tools, supplies, equipment, materials, etc.). You should have everything set up and ready to go before the first volunteers arrive in order to maximize volunteer power.

Start on time.

Start your volunteer project on time. If you have a sparse turnout at first, don’t wait for more people to show up; it’s an insult to those who arrived on time and are ready to volunteer. Everyone’s time is precious, so start on time and work with those who are present.

Give clear and simple instructions.

Assign volunteers the tasks you developed earlier. Make sure that you give clear, simple and specific instructions as to what you need done. The last thing you want is volunteers to be confused and puzzled. Be sure to let volunteers know who is in charge so they know who they can go to for help if they have a question.

Show recognition.

Last but certainly not least, it is a nice gesture to say thank you to your volunteers for their time and effort. Let people know that their work is appreciated. No matter how you say thank you (a handshake, recognition on a website or in a newsletter, throwing a luncheon or awards ceremony, etc.) the most important thing is to thank those who helped you in your time of need.

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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2 Responses

  1. Janet Barclay

    I was the volunteer scheduler for a local job fair for a number of years, and I found it best to put all instructions in writing. That way everyone has the information they need, even if they arrive late, were unable to hear the spoken instructions, or can’t remember what they were told. It took three of us just to get the volunteers signed in and ready to begin working!

    • Rashelle

      Sounds like you had everything down pat for the job fair! Writing things down definitely takes the edge off of problematic communications such as, “But Ms. X told me to do Y.” I wish we were given written instructions for my volunteering session, but alas it was not meant to be.