Community Service Event Guide
“If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But, recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, on 4 February 1968.
In 1994, Congress designated the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday a national day of community service further commemorating a man who lived his life in service to others. As a tribute to that legacy and to the very real needs of our nation, the President-elect and Vice President-elect are calling on citizens and volunteers across the country to plan, organize and stage non-partisan, volunteer community service events in their neighborhoods from Saturday, January 17th through Monday, January 19th, 2009 to celebrate the life and lessons of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
While this call begins with service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, President-elect Obama is asking for more than just a single day of service. He is calling on all Americans to make a continued commitment to service. This is an excellent way for volunteers to engage their community and collaborate with local organizations to create service opportunities.
This guide was assembled to assist volunteers and local organizations in planning community service events, providing all the resources needed for a successful event. Though the guide is designed to provide thorough planning for mid to large sized events (30 100 volunteers), portions of the guide may be helpful for smaller events.
The planning process in this guide is divided into four phases. Please read through all of them to help ensure a successful event. You can find all the documents included in this guide in our Resource Library. Good luck!
Initial Planning and Set-Up
Partnering with an Organization: Partnering with a local organization to plan and implement the event is strongly recommended, but not required. Many organizations have considerable experience in hosting service events. Seeking their input and involvement can help in planning, logistics and execution. This will help to ensure that the service time and effort improves and builds relationships within the community. When creating the partnership, make sure to be clear about responsibilities, roles and any financial considerations.
Suggested Service Activities: There are numerous organizations with which volunteers can partner to organize a service event. Most of these organizations fall into one of six general categories, which include:
Environment (Non-profits, youth organizations or schools can be partnered with for beach and/or park clean-ups)
Think about community organizations that fall into these categories and where a need for service may exist. Build a list of community organizations that may be interested in collaborating and contact these organizations to discuss their needs and possible service events. For further ideas, you can check out this list of event ideas we have created.
Consider the Time Available to Plan: The service projects quality is more important than the size. A well planned event with 20 participants is more valuable to the participants and community alike, than a poorly planned event with 100 participants. Considering how much time is available for the planning process is a key to success. In some cases, it may be more efficient for volunteers to partner with an organization that has already planned or has the infrastructure in place to easily plan an event.
Set Attainable Goals: Along with considering preparation should be the establishment of challenging yet attainable goals. Everyone involved in the event will feel better about their experience if they see tangible results from their efforts which are reflected in the previously established goals.
Goals should be set for the volunteer leadership team as well as the volunteers participating in the event. Clearly stating the specific goals of the event helps event organizers and participants to stay focused and keep everyone accountable for their assigned tasks and to one another.
Post the Event on Our Website: After you’ve set the events basic structure, post the event on the USAservice.org website so people can sign up to participate.
Event Details and Logistics
Day of Event Timeline: Draft a detailed timeline that lays out the different parts and logistics for your event. We’ve created a sample timeline that can serve as a model.
The timeline should be a working plan that can be added to and adjusted. As event preparations progress, add in details about items such as food, materials, or transportation. Continually share this updated document with other volunteer leaders and event partners to keep everyone informed.
Site Walk Through and Questions to Ask: One of the best ways to plan the details for an event is to visit the event site and walk through the events different part. During the walk through, be sure to ask several questions:
How accessible is the site for parking, public transportation, and the handicapped?
Once you are able to answer to these and other questions, add the information to the timeline in order to clarify the event details.
Materials List: Most service events will require you, your partners, or participants to provide some additional materials. Some events may require just a few items, while others may require over 50 items that need a well thought out transportation and distribution plan. Start your materials list early and add to it as planning progresses. A sample list to start with includes:
Keys to access the site and/or the bathrooms
Assign Roles and Responsibilities for Leadership Team: Establish a leadership team that will plan and run the event. Depending on the size of the event, the leadership team can be as few as two or three people or as large as 10 – 15. Create a list of leadership roles (here’s some suggestions) and responsibilities necessary to plan and run the event. Assign specific tasks and outcomes for each leadership position so that all team members understand their responsibilities and expectations. Keep in mind that the titles of the roles are not as important as the responsibilities and tasks being completed.
Volunteer recruitment can be one of the most challenging and most rewarding parts of putting on an event. Reach out to people of different ages, genders, races, and faiths. Bringing diverse people together for a common cause is one of the best ways to strengthen a community. Below are some suggestions for how to recruit volunteers. We’ve also created a list of recommended recruitment tactics that you may find helpful.
Start Early: The earlier you start recruiting volunteers, the more successful you will be.
Promote your event: Using our Sample Event Flyer as a template, build your own flyer and hand it out as part of a local canvass operation. Remember: don’t give it out and walk away. That will help build a crowd, but the size will be unpredictable, and good organization is key to a successful event.
Recruitment is a Team Effort: Recruiting 25 volunteers for a service project could be difficult for an individual, but perfectly manageable (and fun) for an Event Lead who shares responsibility with others. If possible, Event Leads should establish a small team of Recruitment Captains to help. Captains can be friends, co-workers, acquaintances, volunteers from another organization or political campaign, or staff members from a partner organization that is helping to organize the event. Make sure to confirm that Captains have the time to commit to recruiting event volunteers.
Set Goals: Work with your team and partner organization to decide how many volunteers are necessary to participate in the service project. Use The Three Cs to work backwards and figure out how many people need to commit to attend.
Commits: In order to get the number of volunteers to actually show up, how many people need to commit to attend? In general, expect that about 60% of the people who commit to attend will actually show up.
Three Important Elements of Recruitment Conversations:
Ask for Commitment: When inviting someone to attend a service project, it is not enough for them to express interest and say they “might attend”. Ask for a firm commitment: “Can I count on you to be there?” Make sure it’s clear to volunteers that it is very important for the event and the community that they show up. In order to keep an accurate count, “maybe” should not be counted as a commitment.
Keep Records: Print out the community service invite list document from the web site, and use it to create a list. When calls are made to invite someone to the event, use the document to keep track of whether or not people were spoken to, and if they said “yes”, “no”, or “maybe” to attending the event. After the calls are completed, record the results in a spreadsheet or database to keep the information for future calls.
Confirm, Confirm, Confirm: Confirmation calls are essential. People are much more likely to attend a service project if they are called and given a quick reminder about the event. Confirmation calls work best when calls are made three or four days before the event and then again the day before the event. Confirmation calls are also the perfect opportunity to provide any last-minute updates about what volunteers should wear or bring to the event, and to answer any questions that volunteers may have. Make sure to confirm volunteers who signed up online, too.
Event day should be exciting and gratifying for all involved. There are a few keys to remember that can help your event run smoothly:
Stay on Schedule and be Flexible: Stay on time so that no one feels that their time is being wasted. If there is part of the day that needs to be adjusted to save time or changes that need to be made to the agenda, consult with the Team Leaders and other volunteers before you make the necessary changes.
Be Enthusiastic: The project participants will only be as excited as those organizing and running the event. It is important that the volunteer event team works together to create a positive and fun environment. If a problem does arise, avoid expressing anxiety about logistical issues to the participants. Stay positive and troubleshoot.
Keep the Introduction and Training Interesting and Concise: Create an outline of what needs to be said during these parts of the event and use it to stay on track. Make sure Team Leaders are trained in advance on how to train other volunteers. Also, ask participants to hold questions until the end of the training.
Be Prepared to Work With Those Who Show Up Late and Those Who Leave Early: Identify a event team members who is ready to sign in, orient and train late arrivals. Also, make sure to communicate with those who leave early so that they can still provide feedback about their experience.
Make it Inspiring: Often times, what motivates participants to attend a service project is not the task itself, but rather the interaction with other volunteers and the purpose and inspiration behind the project. Encourage volunteers to engage one another by threading the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the excitement of the Inauguration throughout the day. Be creative: use motivational speakers, ask people to share stories, have someone give a speech, or show a brief video of one of Dr. King’s or President-elect Obama’s his speeches. See the list of video links on the website for some ideas about speeches that can be used during the event.
Be Prepared for Infrastructure Challenges: Make sure to have the names and numbers of any necessary maintenance or security people and building managers in case there are issues with the venue.
Delegate Responsibility: The day of the event may get very busy, and unexpected tasks may arise. Make sure to delegate these tasks as they emerge so that no individual becomes overwhelmed by their responsibilities.
You can get a sense of how each of these keys fits into the day of your service event by looking at our sample timeline.