A Neighborhood Improvement Journal - Summer 2021


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Promoting Neighborhood Volunteerism


By Fred Gillette







Americans are eager to volunteer.  We are, in fact, the most volunteer-prone citizens on the planet with estimates of 44% of people over 21 participating in some volunteer experiences in a given year.  Regardless of where one may fall on the socioeconomic or political spectrum, apparently vast numbers of us truly and deeply do want to help each other. 



Our desire to get involved and volunteer our services is facilitated by a large array of organizations…some seeking help for themselves or for their clientele, and others whose sole purpose is to match up those in need with those wanting to volunteer.  Those groups desirous of volunteer help for themselves often have well developed methods of recruiting and organizing helpers. This occurs with national organizations such as the Salvation Army and the American Cancer Society and at local levels with entities such as neighborhood improvement organizations and religious groups.  Among those organizations whose main purpose is to facilitate volunteerism are Volunteer Match and United We Serve.


Individuals seeking a place to volunteer their services may thus make use of a variety of referral sources.







Why neighborhood focused?



Aside from work that one may admirably do for organizations that span a vast service area, there is abundant reason for funneling at least some of one’s volunteer efforts toward the needs of people in one's own neighborhoods.  Doing so may come to serve the triple purposes of giving needed aid, becoming personally more involved in your own neighborhood, and making your neighborhood a better place in which to live.  There is also increased flexibility and adaptability of a project with a narrow geographic focus.  Management is enhanced by simplicity and proximity.  If services are needed unexpectedly, a very local provider is in a better position to respond more rapidly.  If you are participating in securing or identifying resources for people, you are more likely to be able to efficiently do so in a familiar environment in which you may personally have convenient leads to such resources.  Travel time and energy expenditure are also minimized.  Finally, helping turns out to be especially satisfying, and perhaps often even more appreciated, when it’s motivated and actuated at more personal and familiar levels. 









Promotional methods:


 If you are a member of a neighborhood organization, you may have already been involved in promoting your own group and facilitating participation in carrying out your group’s mission.  You have likely employed common methods of announcing your needs such as using your organization’s website, blog, newsletter, flyers, postings or social media connection. Your neighborhood organization may also be taking on neighborhood improvement tasks somewhat beyond your founding mission, such as helping with or organizing a neighborhood park clean-up or assisting another existing organization or social entity with a project that they have originated in your neighborhood.  The Deschutes River Woods Neighborhood Association provides a good example of an organization devoting part of its web presence to the listing of an array of local volunteer opportunities. http://www.drwna.org/docs/volunteer-opportunities/VOLUNTEER-OPPORTUNITIES-41411.pdf .  There are, of course, a number of ways to incorporate volunteer recruiting appeals in your organization’s informational media outlets, be it a website or some other periodic promotion or announcement piece.  Of prime importance is that the listings of volunteer opportunities appear with regularity and in a consistent place and provide enough information to help one determine if this commitment is for them.


Promotion can be expanded by employing other local media outlets such as by running stories in a local news website or neighborhood newspaper about the works of a volunteer-seeking organization along with the specific kinds of help or skills being sought.


Even in the most basic listing, it’s always best to specify needs and job descriptions as precisely as possible, such as including desired overall time commitments, days and times that services are needed and an indication as to whether  the job is of limited duration or ongoing.  Visual supplements, especially photos, get the entry much additional attention.  Even if a phone contact is given, it’s always best to include an email contact.  Many potential respondents will find this to be a safer way to get more information while carrying a reduced risk of being talked into a commitment with which they are not yet comfortable.


Rather than wait for those needing volunteer help to come to you, you could directly approach local neighborhood organizations and institutions and ask if they have any such needs.   If you do wish to supplement your own research by making use of the national volunteer facilitation organizations, you may find United We Serve to be among the easiest to use and most comprehensive in its listings.  Especially important is the ability it gives you to identify your target locale by zip code and then set a mileage radius for proximity of the area of need to your neighborhood.  You may want to still further narrow the geographic limits or eliminate some resultant listings as inappropriate, but at least you will be working from a far shorter list than the vast findings displayed by some of the other volunteer databases. Finally, one could also use a search engine to look for “volunteer (your neighborhood’s name)(your town’s name)”. 










 Your efforts to publicize volunteer opportunities will doubtless get attention.  But be prepared to accept refinements to your process.  You need to periodically assure that your listings are up to date and that listed needs are current.  Don’t always expect an organization to take the initiative to inform you of an expired need.  You don’t want to frustrate your users with dead ends.  You should also ask the visitors to your listing or database to provide you with improvement suggestions. 










 Promoting and facilitating volunteerism is, itself, a needed activity and worthy cause. Volunteering can allow one to become a part of a wonderfully immense diversity of people working together cooperatively toward common goals. Volunteers often have as much to gain from the experience as do the recipients of the service. This is true whether you’re doing your volunteer work just down the block or if you have to travel across town.  But it is, finally, worth making special efforts to promote volunteerism near home.  The highest levels of satisfaction, and probably effectiveness, are achieved when we’re helping those closest to us…our families, our friends and, of course, our neighbors.







Examples of neighborhood organization volunteer listings:



-        St. Charles Church





-        Timrod Park Neighborhood Association





-        Waunakee Neighborhood Connection





-        Deschutes River Woods Neighborhood Association















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