Do It Yourself (DIY) volunteering
(aka entrepreneurial or independent volunteering)
This page will walk you through some strategies for crafting your own volunteer role or project.
- Step One: Figure out what you want to do
- Step Two: Create the parameters and/or responsibilities
- Step Three: Think about your project's structure and community partners
Maybe you've looked for existing volunteer opportunities that match your interests and availability but have come up empty handed. Or you already knew that you were looking for something a little more choose-your-own-adventure. Maybe you are already volunteering somewhere but would like to propose something new to try there. All of these are examples of DIY volunteering!
Step One: Figure out what you want to do
If you haven't already, read "How Can I Volunteer?" to determine your volunteer interests.
Then, if you haven't already, do a quick search for existing volunteer opportunities that might meet your criteria.
There may be an ideal volunteer opportunity already out there for you to try, thus saving you the work of creating the project from scratch as well as providing the support of an existing organization. At a minimum, doing this search can be a great first step for crafting your DIY volunteer project or role as you'll likely learn a bit more about which organizations are doing similar or complementary work in your area.
After your search, if you still haven't found the volunteer opportunity you were looking for—or if you found an organization doing interesting work but not the specific volunteer role or project you had in mind—move on to Step Two.
Step Two: Create the parameters and/or responsibilities
Now that you have a better picture of what's already out there, as well as a clearer idea of what types of activities you'd like to undertake, time commitment you anticipate, and issue or cause you'd like to address, you're ready to start thinking through the specifics. Here are a few questions that you'll need to answer:
- What are the key activities that need to take place? This will likely be a little different than the assessment you did in Step One above as some of the activities that need to happen in order to be successful may not be what you're interested in doing (for example, if you're planning a neighborhood block party, you may need to go through a city permit process that bores you to tears but is nonetheless required).
- What do you need in order for these activities to go well? This can be tangible stuff like tools or other supplies, or it can be more intangible like advertising time or online space to get the word out.
- Who do you need in order to be successful? Is this something you'll take on by yourself or will you be looking for fellow volunteers? How many volunteers might you need to make your idea happen? What specific skills or political/social/community connections would be an asset? How might you partner with existing organizations, staff, and volunteers (we'll talk more about this in Step Three below)?
- How long will it take to achieve your goals? What is your timeline like? Do you have benchmarks or goals in place to measure how you're doing once you get started? How will you measure and evaluate your progress? How will your project or role be sustained should you decide to move on—will you recruit a volunteer to take it over, seek to integrate it into an organization?
- Why this project or role? Be prepared with research and reasons to explain why your project or role is needed, as well as, if applicable, how it doesn't duplicate any other efforts. For example, if you're starting a new wildlife census program and one already exists in your area, you'll need to be able to explain to potential volunteers, funders, or media contacts why you've created a new one and how it's different.
Consider checking out these toolkits to help you work out the details of your project:
- Get Involved – HandsOn Network
- Start a Project – HandsOn Network
- Volunteer Self-Organizing – The Resource Center, Corporation for National and Community Service
Step Three: Think about your project's structure and community partners
Hopefully you now have a plan for the what, when, why, where, and how of your DIY idea.
One final step before you can dive in is to think about structure and community partners.
Specifically, is your project something that you want to run on your own, like an unincorporated grassroots organization?
Or is it something, especially in the case of a DIY volunteer role, that might fit really well in partnership with, or under the umbrella of, an existing organization?
If you plan to propose your project or role to an organization in the hopes that they take it on, here are few things to keep in mind:
- Be as specific as you can, especially on what you might need from the organization and how your project or role fits with their mission. The more details you can provide, the more likely they are to take you up on your idea as it demonstrates that you are passionate about their cause, have done your research, and have thought everything through.
- Be ready to talk about what skills, experiences, and connections you can bring to the table. This helps make the case as to why you're the right person to implement the project or take on the role.
- Be ready to commit. If you've got a great idea for a volunteer role or project but aren't entirely sure you can follow through on what you promise, it may be a good idea to wait. Just as successfully creating and launching your independent volunteer role or project can be a great relationship and resume/CV builder for you, dropping the ball or doing the job poorly can potentially result in a damaged reputation for both you and the organization that invested in your vision (for more on the rights and responsibilities of volunteers, click here.)
- Be aware that not all organizations will be ready to give your proposed role or project a go: some may be hesitant because, frankly, they just don't know you yet. Others may not have the capacity for, or perhaps even the interest in, your idea. Don't let this get you down though; simply go back to the research drawing board to identify other potential partner organizations in your area and give them a try. If you've got a great idea and a plan to make it happen, chances are you'll find a good fit somewhere. And of course, if you still can't find a good partner...
- Don't be afraid to go it alone. While in most cases it would be ideal to partner with existing organizations—they often have significant experience, connections, and resources that would greatly enhance your DIY project (as well as help you avoid duplicating efforts or reinventing the wheel)—you may in fact find that you're in unchartered territory. However, if you've done your research and have a pretty clear idea about what you'd like to do and why it's important, it's worth taking the leap on your own.