Yesterday, we talked about how to integrate aspects of neighboring into your volunteer program. Today we have some tips to engage local residents in community projects.
1. Understand the language and nature of volunteering locally.
Learning the language and understanding the history of the community is critical to working effectively in every community.
Volunteers are abundant in even the toughest neighborhoods and have a long history of helping, but residents generally do not refer to themselves as “volunteers” and often don’t volunteer as members of formal nonprofits.
2. Overcome barriers to volunteering
Barriers to volunteering include lack of time, financial resources, child care, transportation, as well as low self-esteem and confidence, negative perceptions of volunteering or of volunteer organizations, and cultural and language barriers.
These must be addressed in order to engage local residents.
3. Empower communities to help themselves
Residents must own the issues and solutions and must witness the benefit of their involvement in solving their community’s social problems.
Outsiders cannot be “parachuted” in the community to rescue the residents.
Residents must be part of the planning and decision-making process.
4. Cultivate community members’ skills and talents
The gifts and talents of the local residents need to be identified and translated into important assets needed to accomplish a project’s goals.
Some residents believe they have no talents or skills to bring to the table.
Help them understand their own unique potential to create change.
5. Strengthen existing community leadership
Organizations should identify existing leadership, and help develop new community leaders.
The involvement of local leaders helps build community trust and ensures that the local perspectives and experiences are considered and understood.
6. Acknowledge that volunteering is an exchange
Volunteers need to be rewarded for their contributions in ways that make sense and have meaning to them.
In low-income communities, for example, an appropriate exchange could include meals, services such as tutoring, childcare subsidies, and job opportunities.
7. Ensure community readiness
Building community relationships and involvement takes time.
It is a process that needs patience and flexibility.
Communities may need help resolving conflicts or problems that are preventing residents’ involvement.