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Perk Up Group Work

Energize, Inc.

Many organizations have work that is best done by groups of volunteers all at once. Often this is some form of manual labor, whether sorting donated items, constructing a playground, filling food baskets, preparing a mass mailing, or painting a room. Even if the volunteers regularly help you and/or know one another before they arrive at your site, don't assume they'll spontaneously work well together or that everyone is feeling the same about the work. You have multiple challenges:

  • Getting the work done - and done right.
  • Making sure that everyone knows what to do.
  • Creating an environment that is upbeat and motivating.
  • Making friends for the organization.

That's a lot to accomplish in only a few hours! Here are a few ideas to spark up a group work session.

Don't assume everyone enjoys the same tasks. Set up "work stations" that allow volunteers to select the activities they most enjoy or are best at doing. Almost every job can be divided up (this is the assembly line principle) in some way. If you worry that some stations will not be selected, consider rotating everyone ever 20 or 30 minutes. The variety will keep energy going.

Make people laugh. Fun is an important reason why people do group volunteering, so make sure it's enjoyable. Get a clown or a mime (even if it's you, in costume!) to stop by for a little while at some point and interact with individual volunteers while others watch. It may sound silly, but try leading "singing while we work" sessions, possibly with moldy-oldie songs that people might remember from their childhood. Of course, some volunteers will hate this idea, preferring the chance to talk with one another. In that case, either only do the singing for a short while or - even better - do this only if sub-sets of volunteers work in different rooms or locations, so that people can choose to sing or not.

Add food. I've volunteered for annual "S&M Parties" for a Philadelphia group. That's not a naughty admission! It stands for "stuffing and mailing," and also for a potluck dinner. Everyone works hard and eats hearty. It's ok to ask volunteers to bring along a plate of their favorite cookies (you supply the drinks) or a full potluck dinner dish. Having the chance to relax and socialize after doing communal labor is immediate satisfaction.

Arrange for visitors. First, have your executive director or other high-ranking person welcome the volunteers (maybe even help out for a little bit). During the course of the work period, encourage others to pop in and say hi. Recruit a jazz combo to play a few numbers as a mid-way break. Ask someone from a local fitness center to lead stretching exercises.

None of these suggestions is that unusual, but I guarantee that adding this sort of spark will make it much easier to recruit volunteers to do group projects in the future.

Finally, be sure to end the work session with applause and cheers - let people celebrate the accomplishment of their tasks. This can be rowdy or subdued, depending on your group's style, but even shy people enjoy the chance to hear "well done," as well as to recognize everyone else, too. And don't neglect telling everyone about other volunteer opportunities available, both more group projects and individual assignments.

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About the Author:

Energize is an international training, consulting and publishing firm specializing in volunteerism. Please visit their Web site, a cornucopia of over 1000 pages of information especially for leaders of volunteers. Call for a FREE catalog of Energize materials: (800)395-9800 [in Philadelphia (215) 438-8342], or fax (215) 428-0434. Or write to Energize at: 5450 Wissahickon Ave, Box C-13, Philadelphia, PA 19144.

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