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Give back at back-to-school time

SUMMARY: No matter our age, when it’s back-to-school time, we all start thinking about the “new year.” It’s a perfect time to create some new-year resolutions. 

Resolve to involve your congregation in a friendly competition to give back to the community. Start a “Fall for Volunteering” contest. Some members already volunteer but want to do more. Others might like to donate their time but need encouragement.

An easygoing competition could be just the ticket to talk about “paying it forward” and to put it into practice throughout your church. If you do not want to do a competition, just do an autumn volunteer drive and follow similar steps.

Get input from the congregation. Make an announcement, post on your Web site and include information in your bulletin that your church wants to start a volunteering campaign. Ask for people to participate and for organizations or individuals who could benefit from volunteers’ time. Ask members to take the first volunteer step and offer to work on a committee to organize the contest.

Establish a framework. Once you recruit a committee, determine duties and assign each person to oversee a particular aspect. This group establishes ground rules, monitors progress and creates a reward system. Determine beginning and end dates—six weeks to three months. If your volunteer drive is too brief, people might hesitate to join because they lack the time in that window. If it is too long, people will forget or will not keep up the competitive stamina. Consider allowing people to sign up any time throughout the contest.

Connect with service providers. Your church probably has volunteer relationships with organizations and individuals. Add to your existing connections and identify other nonprofits and individuals who need assistance whether it is for a few hours or weekly. Take notes so you can create a booklet or an online post that identifies all volunteer opportunities.

Administer the competition. Allow members to register, commit to volunteer activities and report what they do. Distribute and collect registration forms at services. Include forms on the church’s Web site for online registration.

Set up a separate e-mail account for the contest (i.e. VolunteerTexasUMC@yahoo.com) and ensure all participants know they should submit their names, service projects, dates and hours to that e-mail each week, every other week or monthly—whatever period you determine. Persons who lack e-mail can fill out a form to drop off at Sunday service or the office.

Once participants identify what they’re doing—and what they did—contest administrators can post names, total volunteer hours and so forth on a chart updated frequently so people can see the good work happening.

Share volunteer opportunities. After identifying volunteer opportunities, post the list (including the project, estimated hours necessary, organization and contact information) at the church, in e-newsletters, on the Web and through other communications vehicles. Remember opportunities that allow homebound members and friends to participate too.

Offer alternatives for those who cannot commit time. Everyone can participate. If they do not have the time or ability, suggest they donate cash or supplies for volunteer projects. Create a separate “needs” list to accompanying the volunteer project list.

Promote the competition. Share the good word about the contest, and enthusiasm will spread. Inform local media. Talk to area churches and neighborhood organizations. Perhaps start a community “Fall for Volunteerism” competition. 

Honor everyone. Have an awards celebration at the end of the competition. Recognize all who participated with a certificate or other small token of appreciation. Award prizes in both predictable categories (by age for most hours volunteered, most projects completed) and fun categories (best volunteer idea, worst job, friendliest volunteer).

Do not stop. Consider making the volunteer competition an annual effort. Both your congregation and the nonprofit community will recognize your church is all about giving back.