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Possibilities for International Volunteer of the Year

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Just so that no one can complain that I am urging everyone else to be creative without proposing ideas myself, here are a few possibilities to get you started in your own community. Again, forgive the USA focus, but I really have no business suggesting projects for other countries. On the other hand, if you like an idea, “translate” it!

For me, the most important thing about IYV2001 is the chance to change people’s image of volunteering--to show the scope, the impact, the facts about us. Any of the ideas below (and others) will make the greatest impression if the SAME activity occurs throughout a region, state, (country!) etc. throughout the course of the year.

1. Take the UNV “photo quilt” idea and make it local. Collect as many photos of volunteers at work as you can and mount a mural/collage in some central place (the more visible, the better). Emphasize diversity of “faces” and tasks--with special consideration for volunteer activities that confront stereotypes or are “unexpected.” In small, rural communities, set a goal of showing EVERY citizen doing some volunteer work and see if you can erect a roadside “billboard” introducing your active community to visitors.

2. Pick a day and several wide-open-space sites around your state and hire a plane and a photographer. At designated times, try to round up as many volunteers at the closest site as possible, look up, and be photographed or videoed! Post these images to a Web site, get someone to print them up as a calendar, etc., etc. (This idea was actually suggested during a conversation with UNV.)

Now think about this. If every state in the union liked this idea well enough to participate, it could have a Hands-Across-America spirit to it, but each state would pick one week to be in the limelight, allowing for continuous coverage throughout 2001. The 51st and 52nd weeks could be given to the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the various territories.

3. In January 1999, Energize ran a pilot test of an idea for UNV, which we called the “I’m a Volunteer, Too!” project. More than a year later, it has not been continued (though it still might be), but the concept can be applied by anyone. Here’s the concept:

When people attend professional conferences, they naturally register “under” the name of the organization they represent for the conference--usually their paying job. So that information is placed on their name tags. But just about everybody also does some sort of volunteer work--which is generally a hidden identity, particularly when they are in the context of their paid work. So this project “surfaces” people’s volunteer roles in order to:

  • eliminate the false dichotomy of “us” and “them” when it comes to talking about volunteers; we’re all volunteers at some point in our lives;
  • demonstrate the diversity of people who do volunteer work--men, women, all ages, all races, all nationalities, etc.;
  • highlight the incredible range of activities that people identify as “volunteering”;
  • make people aware of IVY2001 and that it means them, too;
  • begin an ongoing tally of volunteer roles that, by the end of 2001, will accumulate into an incredibly long list of real people with real faces and self-identified volunteer activities (sort of a global “chain” of volunteers winding from one conference to the next, from one location to the next, etc.).

The “I’m a Volunteer, Too!” process is quite simple:

a. Pick any conference you like and ask to participate in the exhibit area. This can be repeated at as many conferences in town as possible--a great project for a DOVIA, for example.

b. Create a table-top exhibit proclaiming the theme and with any sorts of handouts you wish. Come with a roll of pre-printed, self-adhesive stickers that can be placed on a conference name badge or ribbon (the prototype is already available!) The sticker has the IYV logo and the words: “I am a volunteer, too!” There is an open space for marking in the person’s volunteer activity.

c. Recruit a team of volunteers to “work” the conference. In order to obtain a sticker, a conferee must officially “declare” his or her volunteer activity to a team member and allow it be recorded on a master log/record for the conference.

d. Once the person has been recorded, s/he receives the sticker, clearly inserting the volunteer activity named in the blank space, and then “sticking” the label onto the person’s conference name tag. (So the effect is: Hi, my name and official representation are on this badge, but “I’m a volunteer, too” and here’s that identity to share with you.)

e. The team captures the information and keeps a record of volunteer activities. Reporting can be done at the end of the conference or even in daily “batches” with an ending grand total. The exciting part is that, as more and more conferences get “labelled,” more interest is generated in the concept.

Energize has a great deal of additional information on this process and would be happy to share it electronically with anyone interested.

Here are still other ideas:

4. Run a contest for the most unusual volunteer assignment in town and publicize the heck out of all entries!

5. Sponsor a “Telling Our Story Day” and send delegates to municipal, county, state and national legislators, explaining: the scope of volunteering; the obstacles of costly and time-consuming background checks; the wish for more tax deductions, whatever.
Then do the same thing with FUNDERS, especially Community Foundations, stressing that we need volunteers and money.

OK, your turn......

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