So you’re looking for a fun, fulfilling volunteer project for your group? Great!
Want to know what makes a good group volunteer opportunity? Your group does!
The truth is that creating great group volunteer experiences is a lot of work for a nonprofit, but your group can make it easier on them — and make it a better experience for everyone — by just understanding a few simple rules. (After the rules, see a list of nonprofits your group can serve below.)
First, understand why it’s so hard for nonprofits to create these experiences for you. Groups have special needs that most single volunteers don’t have.
- Groups want to be able to work together closely so that can socialize and “bond” during the experience.
- They want a short, one-time experience but they also want to see the impact of their work.
- They want the activity to be simple enough that anyone in their group can do it, but it also has to be meaningful enough so that everyone feels good about it.
In short, groups can be pretty demanding. But your group can make it easier on the nonprofits.
So, second…. Take some hints from a local expert, Courtney Clark. Clark created Austin Involved, a volunteering group made up of members who not only contributed their time but also their money to a different charity each month. In creating these volunteer projects, Clark came to understand a few things about how to make it great.
1. Plan as far in advance as possible.
Remember that Austin is catching on to what makes a great group volunteer experience, and the best volunteer experiences go fast. For opportunities like Feast of Sharing, Operation Turkey, Coats for Kids, It’s My Park Day and others, plan to reach out to those nonprofits two to three months in advance.
Giving the nonprofit a phone call or email outlining why you want to volunteer for them, what your group might do and how the nonprofit would benefit would put your group near the top of the list of people to call back.
2. Be realistic about your expectations.
You’re not going to call the nonprofit and have them be ever-so-grateful for your request. Remember, they have to create, plan, execute, manage and report on the work your group does. They want you to have a great experience, but that takes real work. Most nonprofits don’t have a full-time volunteer coordinator, so try to be as helpful as possible. Groups that do have a full-time volunteer coordinator or at least staff devoted to managing volunteers are more likely to have a few opportunities lined up.
3. Donate the supplies needed to complete the project.
One of the biggest obstacles to a nonprofit accommodating your group is money. Many nonprofits have a wish list of activities only a group of volunteers can do, but they don’t have the money for the supplies. Clark recommends that your group offer to purchase and bring the supplies needed to complete the project. In fact, when you call to arrange the project, offer to purchase the necessary materials. That will definitely put you closer to the top of the list. (See this story about how EZCorps not only sent a group of employees to remake a family room at Salvation Army, it also donated furniture and supplies.)
4. Ask the group what causes they’re interested in and if any of them are engaged in volunteering as an individual. You might find that one person from your group is connected to a smaller nonprofit that could actually use the help of a large group. You’ll see that the large nonprofits attract groups of volunteers, but the smaller nonprofits may be just as needy.
Ready to get started? First, peruse this list of local nonprofits that have at least half a staff person devoted to managing volunteers. Then contact them and be very, very understanding. Have fun!
Austin Diaper Bank – Sort, count, and package diapers to be distributed throughout the community.
Boys & Girls Clubs – Provides a supportive after-school environment for children with limited resources. Very organized group volunteer sign-up, help makeover a room, put on a performance, run a game day and more.
Caritas of Austin – Serves veterans, refugees, women and children in crisis, often in homelessness. Check out their opportunity to serve food in their community kitchen.
Habitat for Humanity – The classic, offers opportunities for groups of 5 to 25 people to build a home alongside a family in need.
Foundation Communities – Provides affordable, supportive housing. Check out their opportunities with the supper club, “welcome home” baskets or any of their projects that help clients attain financial stability.
Texas Parks & Wildlife – Outdoor projects like cleaning up parks or being guides to indoor projects like helping botanists archive their findings.
Austin Pets Alive! – Tuck in animals, feed them, sort donations, do some laundry… lots of opportunities for large and small groups here.
Dress for Success – More than just women’s suits, DFS also provides mentoring and coaching to help women achieve financial independence. Your small office can help mentor other women about career and budgets.
Austin Parks Foundation – A public/private partnership to keep our parks great; help clean them up and keep them thriving.
Ronald McDonald House Charities of Austin and Central Texas – Helps provide a home-away-from-home for families who want to stay near children hospitalized. Adopt a family or cook and serve a meal for the entire house. It’s a well-oiled machine at RMHC.
BookSpring – Believes that no child should grow up without books. Help sort, label and deliver books to children in need.
Central Texas Food Bank – Your classic food sorting. It’s a winner for a reason. Check it out!
Inside Books Project – Help read through inmates’ requests for books and get them ready to send.
Also, make sure to reach out to United Way’s Volunteer calendar, which specializes in listing and organizing group volunteer activities, and GivePulse, which lists activities and helps you track your hours.