Current nonprofit sector research and recommendations for effective day-to-day practice from ASU faculty, staff, students, and the nonprofit and philanthropic community.
Illustration by Jocelyn Ruiz
According to the Millennial Impact Project, episodic volunteerism is increasing in popularity as our younger generations look for ways to share their wealth across many different causes and passion areas. Businesses and other associations are always looking for team-building activities that give back to their local communities as part of their corporate social responsibility programs. Finding ways to bring short-term volunteers into your nonprofit can be tough, especially if your organization relies heavily on training or extensive screening mechanisms to ensure long-term commitments.
Engaging, worthwhile experiences are not too difficult to develop and you never know who might come through your doors. Some organizations have received legacy donations and major gifts as a result of a well-executed one-time volunteer event. The best part: You don’t need a fully staffed volunteer program to make this work. Start planning now and your organization can begin to tap into the wealth of knowledge and skill available in short-term volunteer opportunities.
Here are six questions to ask your organization before embracing episodic volunteer opportunities.
- What tasks do the existing volunteers complete that require minimal training and are completed in a few hours? These are the PERFECT tasks for episodic volunteers and are even better if you can recruit some of your existing volunteers to become project leads! Get more done with fewer affiliate volunteers and free the others up to help in other ways.
- What’s the organization’s capacity? If you only have one person leading these groups, your organization’s campus is small, or the project only has tools for a few people to participate, then you cannot recruit a large group of volunteers! Also consider the busy times of the organization, plan your episodic volunteer opportunities when they will be least intrusive to the day-to-day operations but still be effective at completing the task. Set specific parameters and stick to them! Many groups are happy to work around your schedule.
- How will the organization manage the influx of new data? Episodic volunteers introduce an entirely new group of data that will need to be tracked and recorded appropriately. Be sure to collect names and email addresses, too. Send these individuals your fundraising campaign emails and other materials to stay involved in the organization. You just may get a lifetime donor or long-time volunteer out of it all!
- How will the organization collect feedback on the events? Feedback from event participants is vital to the continued success of your episodic volunteer programs. Consider a short survey at the end of each event to gather data on items like pre-event communication, clearly set expectations, engagement with the project, and likeliness to return to the organization.
- How will the episodic volunteers be recognized for their contributions? Even episodic volunteers need to be thanked and recognized for their commitment. Simple gestures like posting photos on social media and sending thank you cards after the event can go a long way towards encouraging groups to continue to engage with the nonprofit in the future.
- How much money will it cost the nonprofit to lead this group? Complete a full cost analysis including the expenses of supplies and time preparing for each event. Be sure to also consider the amount of money the organization could save by having an episodic volunteer group complete the task, freeing up affiliate volunteers and paid staff to perform other functions. It’s OK to ask the volunteer group to help cover the cost of supplies. Or if their goals are not a good fit with your organization, just say no!
Episodic volunteer opportunities are a great way to engage with new audiences. By answering these questions while creating your volunteer opportunities, your nonprofit will be well on its way towards embracing episodic volunteers.
Samantha Wessel is a volunteer coordinator for Maricopa County Animal Care and Control. Wessel grew up in Arizona but began her journey as a nonprofit professional in 2014 in Massachusetts. She works hard to improve the quality of life for animals every day at a local shelter in Arizona.