Finding group volunteering opportunities on or around Thanksgiving in the USA, on or around Christmas, or anytime between these holidays, is much harder than most people imagine. Why is it so hard?
- So many, many people want to volunteer during these holidays that organizations that involve volunteers during these days book their volunteer openings quickly, often months in advance (some food pantries and soup kitchens are booked with volunteers for Thanksgiving and Christmas a YEAR in advance!).
- Most economically or socially-disadvantaged people find family to be with during the holidays. Even most people staying in homeless shelters go to a family member’s home on Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. That means that many shelters and soup kitchens don’t serve many people on Thanksgiving or Christmas.
- It is very hard for a nonprofit organization to develop a one-time, just-show-up and volunteer activity that is worth all the expense (staff time to supervise the volunteers and supervise them, particularly since the volunteer may never volunteer again); often, it’s cheaper and easier to simply let the staff do the work themselves. In addition, group volunteering activities are also quite difficult to develop, for similar reasons.
- Staff at nonprofits often suspend all training of new volunteers the week of Christmas, through January 1 – or even for all of November and December. This is to allow staff some time off to be with their own families for the holidays.
If you are absolutely determined to find ways to volunteer during the holidays, you should have started looking in August. I’m not kidding! If you didn’t start back in the summer, then you can use this advice for finding volunteer activities during the holidays. Also see:
If you are tech-minded, you can help a nonprofit, or a group of nonprofits, to develop a One(-ish) Day “Tech” Activities for Volunteers, where volunteers build web pages, write code, edit Wikipedia pages, and more. These are gatherings of onsite volunteers, where everyone is in one location, together, to do an online-related project in one day, or a few days. Because computers are involved, these events are sometimes called hackathons, even if coding isn’t involved.
If your organization wants to involve groups of volunteers over the holidays in meaningful ways – not just busy work that isn’t really essential to your organization, have a look at this advice for creating One-Time, Short-Term Group Volunteering Activities.
The rush began weeks ago: people calling soup kitchens, homeless shelters, Meals on Wheels, hospices, animal shelters and other places providing meals and shelter for people (and others) in need, asking if they can help serve food in November and December, specifically on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Look on the Community Service board on YahooAnswers and you will see messages from various people, teens in particular, trying to line up a simple volunteering gig for the winter holidays — one that will take just two or three hours to do, and not clash with their own Thanksgiving meal.
The vast majority of these potential volunteers will be turned away, because of the extreme popularity of short-term, fell-good volunteering activities at Thanksgiving and Christmas — there simply is not enough of these kinds of non-critical, easy tasks for all interested volunteers to do.
The reality is this:
- Organizations that serve food to groups have their openings for volunteers during the holidays booked months in advance.
- Most economically or socially-disadvantaged people in the USA find family to be with during the holidays. Most people staying in homeless shelters go to a family members home on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day (varies from shelter to shelter, but overall, this is, indeed, the case). That means that many shelters and soup kitchens don’t serve hoards of people on Thanksgiving or Christmas.
- Most organizations don’t have activities available that people can waltz in, do in two or three hours, and leave, never to volunteer again until next Thanksgiving. Just as with for-profit businesses, there are few assignments “laying around” at nonprofits, waiting for just anyone who might have some time to do; tasks that need to be done at nonprofit organizations require capable people who are properly supported and supervised, to ensure work is of the highest quality; nonprofits and those they serve deserve nothing less!
For volunteers: here is a detailed resource on finding short-term volunteering during the holidays.
For nonprofits: You know more than anyone that it’s very difficult to develop a one-time, non-critical, just-show-up volunteer activity that is worth all the time expense, particularly during November and December. But developing these activities can be worth doing if you can focus the activity on cultivating support for your organization and its work beyond the just-show-up-for-a-few-hours task (micro-volunteering). Think of an environmental organization that sponsors a beach clean up: yes, there’s a clean beach at the end of the day, but there is also a database full of contact information for people who are potential financial donors and volunteers for more substantial, critical activities. Looking at this resource for volunteers can help you think about developing a simple activity for volunteers during the holiday you can leverage to cultivate longer term volunteers and donors — or, at least, to educate more people about the work your organization does and its impact in the community.