So, you want to know how to build a team of volunteers?
If you already have people willing to pitch in with your project then that’s a great sign – its clearly a worthwhile undertaking! Ensuring that you have a stable and enduring support network can be tricky though – you need to establish a solid foundation to work with.
In 2011 I launched an urban experiment in sustainable living – Sustainable Housing – in Manchester, England. After spending six months trying to locate a house and suitable tenants, I got the project off the ground – but due to my lack of experience I allowed myself to be rushed by our landlord, and the results weren’t what I’d hoped for. In my haste to plough on, I failed to clearly define the project’s objectives and opted to “allow the project to unfold organically”. The primary problem this caused was that in the team (12 people in all) several different ideas emerged of what we were trying to achieve, which ultimately led to a situation that was unsuitable for me.
In 2014 I had another go at building a team of volunteers – this time with The Local Veg Box, which I was a great deal happier with.
So how do you go about it?
Let me share with you what I’ve learned:
- Be clear about the aims of the project and what you expect of volunteers from day one
- Clearly outline your decision making procedures from the start
- Provide a thorough induction to any existing working practices
- Build flexibility into your schedule – things don’t always go to plan
- Provide volunteers with tasks to engage and motivate them from the start – whether independently or as part of a group
- Ensure that they’re aware that you’re always available to support them
How about some tips on what to avoid?
- Don’t allow yourself to be rushed when moulding your vision, whether by others or by self-imposed deadlines. Whilst there’s something to be said for just getting on with a project, don’t allow others to force you to compromise your objectives – it’s your creation
- Don’t take on too much at once. This is especially important for us do-er types. We want to tackle everything!
With Sustainable Housing, I took on more work than I could reasonably manage and, as a result, I wasn’t particularly choosy about the people I picked to fill the rooms. Not that there was anything wrong with them – I learned a lot from them – but we were in different places in our lives, working towards different goals. As a result, the overriding culture that grew in the house didn’t mesh with my personal objectives, so in early 2012 I moved out to focus on other projects.
The most valuable thing I learned from this experience is that if you want to create a cohesive community, you need to establish strong foundations from the start. A shared culture is vital – read this article for more information.
Here’s your chance
Tell us what exciting project you’re involved with at the moment.
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