Modeled after “speed dating” (in which pairs of potential romantic partners are given only a few minutes to meet and talk before deciding if they want to proceed), volunteer speed matching allows lots of potential volunteers to “meet” lots of organizations in the span of one morning or afternoon. Learn how you can hold one of these fun, engaging, and useful events.
In 2013, Sydney’s Centre for Volunteering held a volunteer matching event and panel discussion that brought out over 100 people and 12 organizations. The following year, in an effort to expand, they partnered with the City of Sydney to present an event with a similar goal, but based on the principles of speed dating (where participants have “dates” lasting a few minutes each and decide at the end who they’d like to see again): at their event, participants had the opportunity to get a brief overview of many organizations in search of volunteers, and organizations in turn had the chance to recruit volunteers and network with each other.
How you can do it
Tony Frew, the Centre for Volunteering’s General Manager, gave us some great ideas about how to plan your own volunteer speed matching event:
Begin early. Tony and his team started planning about a month after the previous year’s event, with work intensifying about two months out.
Decide on a structure. The Centre for Volunteering structured their program based on previous successful events; they didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. From best practices, they planned for each round to last seven minutes, with five or so participants per organization: two minutes for an icebreaker, three minutes to make a pitch, then two minutes for Q&A and volunteer sign-up. To encourage participants to mingle throughout the room, they gave them “passports” with information about all the participating organizations, and cloth bags for collecting the orgs’ materials, which were sponsored by a partner. All other major components of the event—like whether to provide food or beverages—should be considered at this stage as well.
Consider partners. Think about the resources in your community: Do you have a volunteer center? Do you think some folks in local government might be willing to help you put on your event? Take stock of your resources and ask potential partners to be involved—whether it’s through a cash or in-kind donation, helping to get the word out, or something else. If you do get help from outside agencies, make sure you think of ways to acknowledge them in your promotional materials and on the day of the event.
Secure a venue. Since The Centre for Volunteering partnered with the City of Sydney, they were able to hold their event at city hall—but of course that option might not be available to you! Again, think about who you know who might have a large enough space to accommodate you, and start asking around. Once you’re set with your location, be in touch with the venue’s management about when you can arrive, when they need you out, any accessibility issues, etc. Think forward to the event itself and what kind of signage you might need, if any, to help direct people from the entrance to your event space.
Spread the word. Think about methods in your community for getting the word out about events—to organizations and participants alike. In Sydney, Tony found that direct marketing and word of mouth were the best ways to spread the message. Create promotional materials you can distribute in your community.
Secure the RSVP process—or not. Consider how you want to handle your RSVP or sign-up process. The Centre for Volunteering set up an Eventbrite page, but only received about 100 registrations that way, out of about 500 total participants. As it was a public event, and they didn’t want to bar anyone from participating, they didn’t require checking in or registering; it was most important to them to have as many people involved as possible.
Prepare your organizations. You may want to create materials to share with the organizations that will be attending your event, letting them know how to prepare and what to expect. The Centre for Volunteering created a detailed information guide that shared the logistics of when to arrive, how to get there, where the loading dock was, how electricity would be provided, and so on. Additionally, they shared a minute-by-minute schedule of the day, as well as tips on how organizations could use their time most effectively.
Make sure details are ready to go. A few weeks prior to your event (at the latest!), make sure you have everything in place: any food or refreshments you’re ordering, signage, a bell or other sound that will signal the end of each round, etc. And make sure you’ve confirmed the details with all the participating organizations.
Ask how it went. Surveys are crucial to learning how your event was perceived by participants. Consider passing out paper versions right after the event, or send out a digital version afterward. To encourage completion of its surveys, The Centre for Volunteering offered an iPod Touch to one lucky respondent.
The Centre for Volunteering’s March 2014 event was attended by approximately 500 participants who got to hear from 23 organizations about their diverse volunteer opportunities. Survey respondents overwhelmingly reported that they came away knowing much more about organizations in their local community; met someone new; felt more a part of their local community; and were now more likely to get involved with local activities and groups. Over 90% of participants surveyed said they would recommend the event to others. Wow!
Plan ahead. The Centre for Volunteering began planning about a year out from the event. The lesson here? There is no substitute for time.