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Three Keys to a Successful Day of Service

We heard from a number of you in the iO Newsletter survey about how you’d like to see more articles about recruiting, planning for, and managing volunteers. The following article is the first of a few pieces we have planned to respond to that interest and support your work. Enjoy!

Upcoming holidays like Thanksgiving and MLK Jr. Day can peak volunteer participation in day of service events. Additionally, a growing number of companies organize days of service as team building activities and offer incentives to their employees for participation. The uptick in interest can be exciting but putting together a day of service at your organization can be quite an undertaking. When well executed, though, a day of service can be a great way to mobilize a large group to work on a project that requires more help than you might have on staff. It’s also an excellent opportunity to engage folks in the work of your organization and inspire them to return as volunteers. With all that in mind, we explore three important components for planning a successful day of service:

1. Set goals and have a clear plan for the day

One day isn’t a ton of time to pull off a large scale project, which is why it’s important to set clear, attainable, and meaningful goals for your time with volunteers. We recommend reviewing these goals as a part of a brief orientation before getting underway. This helps to build investment in the work as well as a shared understanding of the tasks to do.

Setting goals also help your plans for the day stay grounded in the larger vision for what you’d like to accomplish. Some volunteer managers put together a full detailed agenda for the day which can be a helpful tool to estimate the time needed for specific tasks and make sure your volunteers are put to work as efficiently and effectively as possible.

2. Create teams and provide choice

Depending on the size of your volunteer group, you may find it useful to break into smaller teams to tackle individual tasks. For example, if you’re putting together a day of service to beautify a school library, you might break out into one team to clear out old books and furniture, one team to organize and hand out supplies, one team to paint, and another to create new posters for the walls. By offering different ways to contribute you can provide your volunteers with some choice and ability to select what they feel they can do best. It also makes space for different abilities to participate and contribute if volunteers may not be physically able to carry heavy objects, for example, or need other accommodations. Providing choice can further build investment and a greater sense of ownership from volunteers.

3. Show appreciation and share results

After a day of service, follow up with an email sharing results. For example: “last week your team helped us put together 450 meals”, or “together we read more than 200 books to students,” or “here are some photos from the neighborhood block party celebrating the new community garden you helped build.” Sharing these takeaways helps volunteers understand the lasting impacts of their work and can bolster an interest in doing more. Be as specific as you can when expressing this gratitude. For example, “The second graders appreciated the fresh blue coat of paint in the library. Thanks again to the work of Juan, Sierra, and Natalie for the last minute run to the hardware store!”

Pro Tip: make sure to make name tags for your volunteers when you get started. Not only does this allow you to call out these contributions individually later on but it also helps your volunteers feel valued during the day and a part of the team.

We hope these suggestions help inform your next day of service or inspire you to put one together for the first time. Keep in mind, as a nonprofit you’re able to post volunteer opportunities on Idealist for free. This includes opportunities like the days of service we mentioned as well as longer-term individual volunteer positions. Log on now to get started with your volunteer recruitment.


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