We have identified seven strategies that individuals, organizations, and businesses can use when working with under-resourced communities to engage and empower local volunteers and to build effective partnerships with the community. By integrating these strategies into planning and implementation of programs, whether it is a short-term volunteer project or a long-term community initiative, we can effect real change!
1. Understand the language and nature of volunteering.
• Learn the language to seek understanding.
o Low-income community, disadvantaged, underserved, disenfranchised
o Block captain, community workers, community leader, community organizer, street walker, neighbor
• Understand the history and culture of the community.
• Include youth, immigrant communities, seniors, faith communities, and refugees.
2. Overcome barriers to volunteering.
• Understand the community obstacles.
o Lack of time and/or financial resources
o Lack of child care
o Lack of transportation
o Low self-esteem or confidence in skills
o Negative perceptions of volunteering or of external volunteer organizations
o Culture and/or language barriers
• Understand the organizational barriers.
o Racism, sexism, classism, ability; agencies’ stereotypes and assumptions
o Cultural blindness, i.e., a belief that differences of color, culture, are irrelevant
o Lack of political support and/or resources and skills to implement change
o Long-standing biased, exclusive system
3. Empower the community.
• Create space for residents to own their issues and develop solutions.
• Support residents to witness the benefits of their involvement.
• Engage residents in the decision-making process.
• Mobilize residents around issues that impact them directly.
• Host community meetings and provide examples of success.
4. Cultivate community members’ skills and talents.
• Acknowledge and build on existing community assets.
• Help members identify their own skills and talents.
• Allow residents to have a real role in the partnership.
• Encourage residents to plan and lead projects. • Show the relationship between residents’ skills and project outcomes.
5. Strengthen existing community leadership.
• Cultivate leadership and the internal capacity of community members to lead and engage in community activities.
• Help develop leadership and recognize different leadership styles.
• Identify volunteer leadership development training.
• Encourage leaders to have a leadership role in the partnership.
6. Acknowledge that volunteering is an exchange.
• Offer volunteers something in exchange for the time, talents, and efforts they contribute to bettering their communities.
• Help people see the benefits.
• Understand that it’s okay to receive something in exchange for volunteering.
• Develop mechanisms by which residents receive tangible outcomes such as tutoring, child care subsidies, and job opportunities.
7. Ensure community readiness.
• Participate in building the internal capacity of communities to partner with outside organizations and engage residents in community activities.
o Organized neighborhoods
o Prioritized issues
o United residents
o Committed leaders
• Be patient; community building and resident involvement takes time.
• Remember that relationship building is a process.
• Be flexible; survival issues demand time and attention.
• Help communities resolve conflict that may be preventing involvement.
• Set your community up for success but accept if it is not ready.
To secure volunteer opportunities contact the Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley at firstname.lastname@example.org or (319) 272-2087. Volunteer opportunities may also be accessed at www.vccv.org.
Thanks to HandsOn