If you are launching a community engagement program or organizing a community outreach event, participation will be critical to its success. So, what next?
Follow these three tips to increase participation:
1. Time vs. money vs. stuff
A big decision you’ll need to make when organizing a community outreach event is, “What do you want to donate?” Do you want to donate your time or your money or something else entirely? Here at IP Services, we’ve tried a variety of events. Our experience is that people enjoy volunteering their time, but it doesn’t always work out with their busy schedules. Everyone is already pulled in a hundred directions every single day, so finding a time that works for more than a few people is a challenge. You’ll need to be a scheduling master to make it work!
Donating money is easier for most people, because they can do it without having to make a dedicated appointment on their calendar. A good example of this contrast is when we donated to the Walk to End Alzheimer’s last year. A good handful of folks volunteered to attend the walk to raise awareness, but far more people were able to donate money to go toward Alzheimer’s care and research.
What gets people really excited, though, is donating stuff. It’s nice to see the dollar signs add up in a monetary collection, but there’s nothing quite as thrilling as looking at a tower of collected canned goods or mountain of new socks that just keeps growing! And this can really help to increase community outreach participation.
It’s important to get to know your group, and to learn what type of event they prefer. Not everyone is going to have the same preferences, so it’s a good idea to try all types of activities and see what works best for you.
2. Timing is everything!
Have you ever noticed that people are less inclined to get out and about during the cold months? If there’s snow on the ground, not many people want to venture outside more than they have to. They’d much rather stay inside and keep warm. When you’re planning outdoor volunteer events, that’s something to keep in mind. If you’re looking for a good turnout, it’s probably better to wait until the sun is shining and the birds are chirping before you plan anything outside.
If you’re really organized, a good idea would be to time your events to holidays. You could plant trees for Earth Day, for example, or donate to the Native American Rights Fund for Columbus Day.
Another timing issue to keep in mind is space between events. In our experience, one event per month is really the maximum you can go. Even then, you’ll want to make sure to leave some months without any events at all. That will give folks enough down-time that they don’t feel cramped or overwhelmed by one event after another. Our donation drives usually run for two weeks at a time, so we try to put at least that amount of time between events, too. The last thing we want is for our employees to get burnt out from volunteering and donating!
3. What are the issues that matter?
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the number of people in the community who need help. It’s equally easy to be demoralized when you can’t help them all. A good way to narrow down the options is to determine what issues really matter to your group. If you’re not sure what those issues are, polls are always a good idea. Or you might also consider putting together a mini focus group to brainstorm.
A lot of folks may already have a favorite charity – somewhere they volunteer or donate to on their own time. The benefit of this is two-fold: you have built-in support before even hyping up the event, and you’ll only need to do minimal research about what the charity needs from you.
You might also look at the community at large to determine what issues are most important. If a tragedy or problem is making headlines, chances are you’ll be able to garner a lot of support for an event related to that issue. Or if you know of an issue that isn’t making news but is still important enough to address, make sure your group is well-informed about the scope of it. Sharing numbers and statistics or – if possible – pictures or anecdotes about the issue will really grab attention and boost participation in your community outreach events.
Stay tuned for future updates. We have some great outreach events up our sleeves, and we can’t wait to share them with you!
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