Ritchard Ledgerd, the World Federation of Occupational Therapists’s programme coordinator for promotion & development, first had the idea to add a service element to World Occupational Therapy Day. Around the same time, fellow occupational therapist Dr. Karen Jacobs had a similar idea on how to pair promotion of the profession and volunteerism.
Each year, thousands of Occupational Therapists (OT’s) participate around the world. Examples of their activities include:
Holding a day long free OT screening and evaluation for children with special needs (Philippines)
A bike-riding event for children with special needs (India)
OT students collecting donations for a shelter that provides domestic violence and rape crisis services and providing supplemental information regarding OT. (USA)
How you can do it
Adding volunteerism into your own work can be easy to execute! Ritchard and Karen have some suggestions on how to get started:
Collaborate. The executive team—of which Ritchard is a part—is made up of volunteers, so when someone has an idea, it’s their responsibility to run with it. Still, he collaborated with the rest of the team and decided to incorporate volunteerism into their celebration of World OT Day, as one way practitioners could contribute time, skills, and expertise to their local community.
Promote your initiative early and often. You can never start too early. People lead busy lives, and it’s important that they hear about the coming event more than once, and as early as possible.
Ask for professional services. Ritchard and the WFOT engaged a company to design their logo for free, and as a result the organization has some great branding to use each year.
Take advantage of the cost-effective nature of online engagement. When Karen launched the OT Global Day of Service, she did so through word of mouth and social media alone, getting involved on LinkedIn, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, and her website. Additionally, she also identified those in the OT space with large social media followings to help her get out the word. Through these methods she reached over 10,000 people in the first year alone.
Form partnerships. Karen’s social media and offline connections helped spread the word about the Global Day of Service, but having the WFOT endorse her efforts really helped.
Create materials and guides on how to replicate action. The WFOT created this guide so that anyone can around the globe can have the building blocks to put their own spin on World OT Day.
Measure your success and share the results. The WFOT and Karen track sign-ups and gather feedback each year, and to see that groups and individuals are following through on their intentions. They share the results in their newsletter and on Promoting OT’s site, which motivates participants to send in their success stories, knowing their projects will be featured. From free evaluations to painting pumpkins with older adults, they present a range of activities for people to use and adapt in their own communities.
In 2012, they reached 10,000 members of the occupational therapist community. Over 2,500 volunteers from 24 countries participated in the day of service. Online, they had over 4,000 visits to their site from 101 countries, with videos receiving 3,000 views combined.
By 2013, they were able to reach over 30,000 people in at least 25 countries. In the social media realm, they have thousands of friends and followers.
Karen’s one big piece of advice is: make it easy! If it’s too complex, that’s a barrier for people that are already so, so busy. She also says to let people have autonomy. Give examples and ideas, then let people be.
Ritchard says not to overthink strategy. Work on social media, your logo, and other branding, then choose a date and run with it. And promote the event all year!
If you’re interested in setting up volunteerism within your group’s ongoing work, Karen Jacobs would love to give you advice.