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10 tips for groups who want to volunteer

If your work colleagues, sports team, school class, church group or service club have been performing volunteer tasks as a group for a long time then consider yourself a “trendsetter”! Group volunteering has been growing in popularity for a while now and really seems to be catching on! It seems like a great idea – and often it is – but there can be some challenges when looking for places and projects in which to volunteer! Here are some things to consider in order to make your experience a positive one:


1. Plan early

When should you start planning? As soon as possible! There are more groups looking to volunteer than there are (currently) opportunities out there! The earlier you start to plan your group’s project, the better the chance of success. Certainly there are some non-profit organizations that have volunteer opportunities available for all sizes of groups – but most do not. Giving them ample time to schedule you and prepare for your group and finding the best way to utilize your group can take some time.  Imagine if you got a call at work one day and were told that there were say, 10 people offering to help you and your company – at first, you’d think that sounds great! After you think about it, though, you’d realize it takes planning to figure out where to put all of those people, how to train them, and decide what they’ll do that is helpful to you and meaningful for them. 


2. Christmas time is great, but also be flexible

The most popular time of year for groups to seek volunteer opportunities is during the Christmas season. Many companies are foregoing a staff gathering for an afternoon of volunteering. Teams and other groups that would normally get together over the holiday season to socialize are looking for something besides the usual consumption of Christmas treats, and instead would rather “give back” and socialize at the same time. Other typical holidays are popular times as well, including Easter and Thanksgiving. Keep in mind that holiday-specific charities such as Santa’s Anonymous, the Christmas Bureau or other organizations that offer holiday meals may have their volunteer roster filled well in advance – sometimes as early as November! There are some drop-in opportunities, such as delivering gifts or meals – but for anything that is registered – those volunteer opportunities fill up early – especially for groups.


3. Think about who is in your group

It’s important to give some thought to who will be volunteering in your group and any special needs or considerations they may have. Will you have minors?  Perhaps your group is a soccer team or grade 10 leadership class where everyone is under 18. Keep in mind that some non-profit organizations have policies or insurance limitations that prohibit minors, or they may have strict rules about the ratio of adults to youth. Perhaps you are with a group of elderly seniors – what kind of provision should be considered in regards to mobility or accessibility? If your group includes people of all abilities you should think about whether or not supervision and/or extra support is needed. Try to come up with solutions to any challenges your group may face before contacting the organization in which you’d like to volunteer.


4. Be clear about the amount of time you can give

Is your group willing to help for an entire season? Or are you looking for a one-time opportunity? Are you looking for a set amount of time or are you able to see a project or event through to the end? Knowing what you are able to give in terms of time is helpful to the organization when trying to offer you a placement.

5. Be flexible about when your group is available

When will you be volunteering? Do you have any flexibility or are you hoping to simply replace work hours on a specific date? The more specific your request, the more time it may take to accommodate your group. 


6.  Choose the right non-profit organization

It’s always a good idea to choose something that most people are genuinely interested in. Perhaps you can align your group’s values, mission or purpose with that of the non-profit organization. Consider this volunteer venture to be a partnership with the possibility of future interactions and the opportunity for a more established relationship down the road.


7. Consider what your group wants to do

What kinds of tasks are you hoping to complete when you volunteer? Are you looking for something that is rather “easy” to do, but allows your group to talk and interact together? Perhaps you don’t want to do the menial labour, but are hoping for something very “meaningful” – keep in mind, this may or may not be able to happen “in one 4-hour shift that must take place on a specific Tuesday afternoon”. Is your group prepared to get dirty and able to do physically challenging tasks? Perhaps you want something that allows you to interact with the people or animals that the organization serves. Take some time to discuss this with your group.


8.  Designate a group leader

It’s important to have a designated group leader when you are volunteering. This person will be the liaison between the group and the non-profit organization. There should be a supervisor from the organization, but there should also be a leader from your group that is able to clearly communicate important information between the organization and the volunteers that make up your team.


9. Be sure that leader is a problem solver

Your group leader should be a good problem solver. If you are the leader, be prepared for members of the group to cancel, cancel last minute or perhaps even not show up at all. This happens. How will you deal with the situation if 10 volunteers have been promised and only 6 show up? What if the non-profit organization is not at all prepared for the group or does not have enough resources for your group to complete its tasks? These are things that could happen. What kind of support do you have from the boss, clergy, parents, etc., associated with your group that can help you in these situations?


10. Manage expectations 

This is a really important thing to think about. Sometimes what we envision is simply not what transpires. You picture all of your your group showing up on time and happy to get to work. They all feel they are doing a good thing for their community by helping out this charity. The non-profit organization (and all of its staff, other volunteers and clients) is so happy to have you there. Everyone feels satisfied and fulfilled. Ideally this is exactly what happens. However, sometimes a worst-case scenario could be that: the people in your group may or may not want to be there at all, they could feel resentful of being “forced” to volunteer and could really dislike the tasks they are given to complete. The non-profit organization might not have thought through your involvement and could be a disorganized mess. It is even possible that the people who the agency serves may not be particularly grateful that you are helping them.


Group volunteering can be a fun, rewarding opportunity to give back, team build and provide a meaningful experience for all involved, and the more you plan and are proactive, the better the chance of that happening.


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