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How to Create an Effective Volunteer Program in Your Community

Written by CivicPlus

Volunteer participation is critical to citizen engagement.
Fact Sheet: 12 Marketing Tips for Parks and Recreation

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Community volunteerism is the ultimate form of civic engagement. When your citizens give back to the community in which they live, and volunteer their time to improve the lives of their neighbors, it demonstrates a true commitment to civic progress and community growth. According to the Corporation for National & Community Service, there are 62.6 million volunteers in America that have serviced 7.8 billion hours, at an estimated value of $184 billion. 

Establishing volunteer opportunities in your communities is an essential step in stimulating engagement, and in deepening the connection between your citizens and your community. Follow the advice below to harness the power and enthusiasm of your civic-minded residents to help bring key initiatives into reality.

Start with a Needs Assessment

Your leadership should determine in what areas civic volunteers could make the biggest impact in your community. Before launching any formal programs, make sure you are focusing your efforts where you’ll see the greatest return on investment. Consider both existing programs in need of additional resources, and areas that are currently under-represented and could benefit from a newly established volunteer program.

>>Civic Tip: If your community hasn’t already established a Citizen Emergency Response Team (CERT), click here to learn the steps necessary to create one.

Brand It

Create a brand for your civic volunteer program. It will give community members an entity that they can identify with, and a cause that they will want to rally behind. It will also help you better recruit volunteers if you are doing so under the umbrella of an established and organized branded program. For example, in Cocoa Florida, the city has established the Cocoa Involves Volunteers in our Community (C.I.V.I.C) volunteer program.

Recruit Volunteers

Use every available channel to recruit volunteers for your newly established program. Your marketing efforts should include:

  • A press release to your local media.
  • Posters and postcards at key community facilities, offices, and inside the locations of community business partners.
  • Information prominently displayed on your municipal website.
  • Social media posts sent at least once every other week for several months with a link to download a volunteer application.
  • Flyers included in utility bill stuffers.

Make sure your communications clearly state the mission of the program, the benefits that volunteers will receive by participating, and how their efforts will benefit the community. Click below for more marketing tips and best practices.

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Establish and Follow Guidelines

Make sure your program protects your community, and all involved citizens. To ensure such protections are in place:

  • Run background checks on all applicants before accepting them into your program.
  • Create a volunteer handbook and require all members to read the policy and sign a written agreement form.
  • Have an initial, and ongoing orientation process that gives volunteers a chance to ask questions, and gives leaders a chance to reiterate important policies and rules.
  • Conduct safety training. Whether your volunteers will be cleaning up community parks, packaging canned food donations, or painting murals on playgrounds, safety training should be provided to minimize the risk of accident or injury. All volunteers should sign a waiver form as part of their onboarding process.
  • Ask all volunteers to sign a media release form that gives you permission to use their name and likeness to help promote their efforts in press releases, in social media, and on your municipal website.

Let Your Volunteers be Leaders

Once your program has been successfully established, allow your staff to transition from active management roles to supervisory roles, and turn over direct management responsibilities to qualified citizen volunteers. Not only will this free up your staff for other assignments, when citizens take on civic leadership roles, they become even more invested in the success of the program, which ensures everyone succeeds.

Invest in Volunteer Management Tools

Once your vision blooms into a successful program with hundreds (or even thousands) of volunteers, you’ll need an automated system to help you manage volunteers, their assignments, and associated paperwork. A robust parks and rec software solution can help you automate the data management of your volunteer program to ensure your program is a success, without overburdening your staff.

If your current parks and rec software does not offer you a robust volunteer management module, click below to learn what else you should be looking for when switching recreation management software.

What to look for when switching recreation management software