As school counselors we often encourage our students to participate in community service activities. “Looks good for colleges.” “Helps develop a well-rounded individual.” These are some of the statements that we make to encourage student volunteerism.
However, for some students the task of finding the right opportunity is not apparent. To meet the needs of students, consider hosting a volunteer fair in your school. Here are tips on how to create a successful event.
Start the planning process early. I would advise you to start at least five months ahead of time to secure presenters. You also need time to get the word out about your volunteer fair. In addition, share your ideas with the building principal to make sure he or she is involved.
Identify the organizations to invite
There are several national organizations with local offices as well as local organizations in need of volunteers. Finding organizations related to students’ interests is important. Local animal shelters, Special Olympics, senior citizen facilities and food pantries are potential participates.
Confirm and secure the date, time and space for the event
Keep in mind that there is not a specific time of the year that you have to host this event — whatever works for your school is best. If your volunteer fair will take place during the school day, stay away from dates where large numbers of students are going on field trips or will be out of the building. The ideal locations should be large enough to accommodate displays and any other materials the organizations may have. Large tables, similar to a college fair set up, works nicely. Students can see each table and get an idea of what each community service activity has to offer.
Once you identify organizations, reach out to them personally with a phone call and ask if they are interested in participating. The volunteer coordinator or an executive director is the best point of contact. For your first volunteer fair, approximately 10-15 organizations is a good start. Two months before the event, follow up with a formal letter indicting the format and topics to be covered. For example: organization history, volunteer opportunities, requirements to volunteer and a typical volunteer experience. Also, encourage organizations to bring promotional items and handouts and let them know that special set ups can be accommodated. Lastly, ask them to RSVP.
Once you get a final count, a quick email should be sent before the event indicating what time to be there, the format of the event, where to park, etc. A volunteer brochure listing all of the organizations participating with their contact information might also be a nice addition.
Plan to provide light refreshments for participants. Tea, coffee, juice, muffins, fruit and bagels are great options. This gesture serves as a thank you to the organizations in attendance.
Marketing your volunteer fair is a very important piece and is the key to a successful event. For best results, use different methods. Your website, emails to teachers and students and Twitter are all valuable resources to get the word out. Create a volunteer flyer which you can post around the building. Teachers are also a valuable resource — they talk about the fair in class and also bring classes down to the fair. In addition, invite your central office administrators.
Day of the event
Use this checklist to make sure everything is in order for the day of the fair:
• Make sure the fair space is set up properly.
• Check on parking for the representatives.
• Have copies of the brochure available for students so they know what organizations are available to speak with.
• Check on the refreshments.
• Enlist the help of individuals that can direct organizational representatives and help with students.
• Take photos.
• Tweet if you have a Twitter account.
After the event
Follow up with these tips:
• Send out thank you letters or emails to all of the organizations in attendance.
• Request feedback.
• Ask that they come back for future events — perhaps even next year’s volunteer fair.
• Post information about the success of the event on the school’s website.
• Post links with all of the information obtained that day. This ensures that people who did not attend get information that was provided.
Verdel A. Jones is currently the District Director of Guidance and Student Services for the Plainedge School District in North Massapequa, N.Y. with over 20 years experience in education as a teacher, counselor and administrator.