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Connect volunteers to opportunities at a service fair

SUMMARY: Communities have many talented people, but few share those talents with organizations that need them. Take the lead and have your church host a community service fair.

Such an event can unite your congregation with the community and put skilled people to work for a good cause. Reach out to organizations or service projects to see if they are seeking volunteers.

Several months before the event
Look around. Ask organizations with which you work regularly, but be sure to contact others through letters or e-mails. If a sufficient number are eager to participate, start planning.

Choose a date. Choose a date and time of year that will attract the most people. Avoid busy holiday seasons and the vacation-heavy summer months. January/February or early autumn may be the perfect time because people are getting back into their regular routines. You also may benefit from stay-at-home moms who find they have free time once their children go back to school. As for a time, consider hosting your event after regular Sunday services since your congregation already will be there. If that is not doable, select a time outside of traditional work hours.

Schedule a place. Reserve an area of the church to use on the selected date. Not enough room at your church? Find a central location big enough to accommodate the fair.

Select leaders. Designate a small committee to plan and execute the fair. Make sure to include members from your church as well as people from the community. Assign duties such as publicity, set-up/clean-up, liaison with participating organizations and refreshments.

Make it a family affair. Ask teen volunteers to watch children whose parents are visiting the fair. Offer face-painting, craft projects and games to keep the little ones busy. If your church does not have enough teens to do this, have games with small prizes at each booth.

Promote inside and outside. Spread the word within your church and the greater community. Post event information on your Web site, in the newsletter and through other communication vehicles. Give fliers to participating nonprofits so they can help share the news. Reach out to local media as well.

Several weeks before the event
Warm up the copier. Help participating organizations to prepare printed information to distribute during the fair. Make sure each organization’s booth has a sign-up sheet ready for anyone who wants to register on the spot.

Get out the markers. Make signs that clearly spell out the name of each group. If the group goes by an acronym, include that too. Have a “sign night” where volunteers gather to make signs.

Continue to publicize. Create signs and posters to tell your community about the upcoming fair. Send notices to local colleges and high schools to attract students looking for volunteer opportunities.

Day of the event
Feed the hungry. Serve refreshments like cookies, doughnuts, coffee and tea. People may linger longer if they are not hungry.

After the event
Celebrate success. Send thank-you notes and follow-up information to all attendees as well as participating organizations. Consider using an online survey to evaluate what attendees and participants thought about the fair and incorporate their feedback into your plans for next year.