The rise of popularity in civic engagement in recent years has seen a variety of theories and projections attached to it. That is precisely what I DON’T want to do today. Today’s post is not about volunteer program management nor is it about effectively using volunteers to build capacity for your nonprofit.
What today’s post WILL discuss is the unique opportunity presented to volunteer managers working within communities that might not be operating on one accord. It’s perfectly normal to have neighborly disputes over pesky dogs and the enormous maple that keeps dropping leaves in everyone else’s yard. However, many neighborhoods experience divisions that go much deeper than the occasional annoyance of little Fluffy from three doors down using your stoop as a toilet. In these communities, volunteer managers occupy a unique role in their capacity to recruit, organize, and manage individuals interested in working towards a particular task or goal.
While serving in my role as a Regional Coordinator with Volunteer Maryland several Volunteer Maryland Coordinators (VMCs) with whom I’ve spoken have articulated the challenges posed by serving with organizations that serve specific communities. Common issues include entering into an organization as an outsider and attempting to become familiar with topics that cause tension, ulterior motives of community members, as well as the unspoken cultural norms of the neighborhood or community itself.
Recruiting volunteers from within a specific community has many benefits. First, community volunteers are familiar with the immediate needs being served by the organization and can act as authentic representatives of the organization as they meet the needs of the community. Second, community members can give insight to the immediate needs of the community because they themselves are members and can articulate needs firsthand. Third, community volunteers have an invested stake in the organization’s success because they are a part of the community and therefore are more likely to become long-term volunteers.
Recruiting volunteers from within a specific community can also serve a purpose. In communities with reputations for being divided, having the capacity to mobilize community volunteers to pull together to support a cause is pretty impressive. As a volunteer manager, it is important to respect all community groups (it can be a tedious process) by putting out an invitation to all parties represented within a neighborhood. After this is done, pick a neutral event during which community members can come together to support a subject or cause that is not inflammatory.
One VMC, Sarah Sullivan serving at the St. Francis Neighborhood Center in the neighborhood of Reservoir Hill in Baltimore City, is engaging community members and hopefully securing corps of long-term, dedicated volunteers in the process. Sarah’s recent endeavors have been to start hosting weekly, community yoga classes for free and hosting monthly movie screenings with discussions held afterwards. These events are open to the community and are an attempt to bring residents together. Being able to unite community members is an important part of building relationships that, in turn help with volunteer recruitment when trying to create a meaningful volunteer experience and maximize the benefit to the organization as well as the community the organization is serving.
Tell me about your experience recruiting community volunteers! What were some challenges? What were some successes?