Your Circle of Resources

By Susan J. Ellis
From The Volunteer Recruitment (and Membership Development) Book, Energize, Inc, 2002

One of my favorite suggestions for volunteer recruitment is also one of the simplest: start with the resources in closest proximity to your agency. What untapped treasures might be across the street or on the next block?

Picture your facility as the center of a bull's eye, with concentric circles around it. Now do the following. If you are in an urban area, walk out your front door with a clipboard and pen (take along a volunteer for company). If you are more rural, do this by driving. The point is to walk completely around the block (or drive in a tight circle) and write down everything you see: stores, businesses, parking lots, churches, apartment houses, schools, etc. A "Proximity Chart" worksheet for your use is on the next page.

It is vital to actually do this action physically, even if you feel reasonably sure that you know what is in your neighborhood. Why? Because you will soon discover that: 1) you tend to be aware only of the things that are present in the one direction that you take to work every day; 2) after a while you no longer see what you are looking at; and 3) some of the things you see may not be identifiable. An example of this last point is passing a company with the name "Mighty Corporation" emblazoned on a large sign. Do you know from that name what work this company does? Probably not.

After you have inventoried everything on your street, the two side streets, and the street in back of you, move on to a two-block radius and do the same. As time permits, keep going in widening concentric circles. If you are driving, keep taking right (or left!) turns and inventory a quarter- mile radius, then a half-mile radius, etc. Note that if your offices are in a high-rise building, your first task is to take the elevator to each floor and see who your neighbors are above and below you.

You may be skeptical about this recommendation, but I assure you that you will find a number of "neighbors" that you did not know you had. And this means potential resources.

Now that you have your list, analyze it. If there are mysteries such as "Mighty Corporation," find out what happens there. Your goal is to identify any number of ways your neighbors might help you to accomplish your goals:

  • Might there be business people who could volunteer at your site on their way to or from work, or even at lunchtime? Might there be students or seniors with daytime hours available? Might any of your neighbors have an interest in community service projects of any sort?
  • What professional skills might be tapped at neighboring businesses or schools? (Be sure to watch for sole practitioners such as artists, consultants, accountants, and others with valuable talents--and who control their own work schedules.)
  • Might there be access to other types of resources beyond volunteers: donated goods or materials, storage space, parking space, use of various loaned equipment, etc.?
  • Do any of these neighbors share your service goals, an interest in your client population, or have anything else in common with you that might lead to collaboration of some sort?

Making contact with your neighbors is much easier than approaching resources across town. After all, it is always legitimate to make the acquaintance of folks nearby. Develop a special flyer or letter introducing your agency and address it to: "Our neighbors." Explain the services you offer (include a brochure if you have one) and, if appropriate, welcome visitors. Depending on your comfort level and on the culture of your neighborhood, mail the materials in small batches and follow up within a week by phone, or go in person to deliver the material.

Do not feel that these are "cold calls." As a representative of your organization, you want to spread the word about the good work that you do. It will be of benefit to your neighbors to be better informed about an agency in such close proximity. And, for both sides, there is great potential to share resources. Your opening line is: "Hi. Do you realize that we can see your top floor from our backyard?" Or some variation on that theme.

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