Today's volunteers increasingly seek flexible opportunities to help and greater assurance that their time will be well spent. With no immediate pressure to make long-term commitments, ''episodic" volunteers are free to explore many ways to become involved. This type of volunteering often leads many to a committed practice of community service and intentional citizenship as volunteer leaders, donors and fundraisers, pro bono consultants, non-profit board members, and even paid staff. Others are participating in town meetings, advocating for causes, contacting elected officials and encouraging others to vote.
Bay State agencies in the movement to end homelessness report that the intangible benefits of engaging the general public can pave the way to concrete results. Engaging the public in educational workshops builds their understanding of homelessness and its root causes, opens minds to potential solutions and encourages them to get involved.
Ways in which the general public engages around the issue of homelessness include:
- Volunteering (one time and on-going opportunities)
- Mentoring/Tutoring (for young people and adults)
- Serving as non-profit Board members, committee members and pro-bono consultants
- Advocating for issues surrounding homelessness
- Fundraising/Donating (through walks, appeals and giving campaigns)
- Raising awareness and Educating (through forums and workshops)
Challenges to Engaging
Strategies to overcome these challenges
Agencies often emphasize only long term volunteer needs (i.e. mentoring) while many potential volunteers are not always able to make a long term commitment
Recognize that for many people, long term volunteer commitments are not feasible but they want to be involved and can be via traditional "done in a day" service projects. For example:
Programs should utilize these experiences as embolden volunteers around larger challenges to end homelessness. www.bostoncares.org
Opportunities to help often are during daytime hours when many people are at work
As major conveners of volunteers, employers can stimulate volunteerism through employment practices. Just as some companies read to kids through Power Lunch programs to promote literacy, companies like Comcast work to end homeless through their Comcast Day of Giving at House of Hope, Inc. At least 25% of charities need more daytime volunteers, which could be addressed in part by flexible work schedules or paid leave to serve.
It can be hard to get new people involved
Take advantage of "seasons of service" days to increase involvement & visibility around volunteering to end homelessness, for example:
These "signature days" of service are also well suited to "serve & learn" activities through which volunteers can learn more about the issues.
Top reason people give for their lack of involvement:
Ask! The two most effective ways of communicating with today's volunteers are via old fashioned word of mouth and new technologies. 80% of people say they will volunteer if asked by someone they know. Volunteers already working to end homeless should be encouraged to invite others to join them in service. At the same time, technology offers many accessible and effective tools for engaging and educating an increasingly tech savvy public; from online social networks, to text messaging, to websites, and viral marketing.
Without context for the tasks they are performing, volunteers may become disengaged
"Serve & learn" opportunities generate knowledgeable volunteers who evolve into ardent advocates. A 15 minute workshop with a staff member and/or shelter resident can be life changing - and highly motivating - for some volunteers; as can sitting down with a resident for a cup of coffee, after serving meals. Simple personal connections can accelerate and deepen civic engagement. www.bostoncares.org
There are not enough opportunities for the general public to tackle homelessness' root causes, such as education, economic stability and employment
Replicate or adapt high impact volunteer opportunities that prevent homelessness and promote housing stability.
There are not enough resources to recruit and manage volunteers
Partner with young professional networks to engage their members as fundraisers and volunteers. More and more networks of young adults are volunteering together and organizing fundraisers for the places at which they serve. Partnering with these groups can provide homelessness programs with supporters who offer short and long term time and talent. The On Your Feet Project is one example of many such networks. http://www.oyfp.org/bos