I have been training regarding volunteer management topics since the late 1990s. A frequently asked question I have gotten in my trainings is, “How do I get more black American men to sign up as volunteers with our program?” This question has come from a variety of nonprofits and schools. When I started training in the 1990s, I had zero ideas – I could not answer this question. I have had a lot of black American women in my audiences, but not men, especially when I was based in Texas, so I decided to ask some of them what their thoughts were in answer to the question. Two said the same thing to me on two different occasions: “I have no idea. When you find out, let me know.” I gathered ideas over the years, but never had the opportunity to put my own ideas into practice.
I did not, and I do not, for a second, believe any particular ethnic group is less inclined to volunteer. I do believe that different groups help their communities in different ways, and a lot of unpaid help to communities isn’t called volunteering – black men in the USA are giving back, but the ways they volunteer often go unrecognized. I also believe different groups face various obstacles to traditional, time-intensive volunteering: conflicting work schedules, family care needs, lack of transportation, lack of information about volunteering and language barriers. When I say lack of information, what I mean is that the volunteer recruitment message via one particular channel often does not reach everyone you want to reach. For instance, if I put volunteer recruitment messages only in the local newspaper, the majority of the community, which does NOT read the local paper, will never see it. If I put the messages only on Facebook, it’s unlikely teenagers will ever see it. When I say language barriers, I don’t always mean people for whom English is not their first language; I mean that certain words don’t mean the same to absolutely everyone. Volunteer doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. Community service doesn’t mean the same to everyone. Mentor doesn’t always mean the same thing to everyone. So in constructing a message, you have to think about who you are talking to and what words might appeal to them.
With all of that in mind, the recent success of a middle school in Dallas, Texas in recruiting black American men to be mentors in their school has been inspiring and enlightening to me:
According to this web site, 68.4% of the student population at Billy Earl Dade Middle in Dallas identify as African-American – drastically different from that of a “typical: school in Texas which is made up of 12.6% African-American students on average. To qualify for free lunch, children’s family income must be under $15,171 in 2015 (below 130% of the poverty line), and 85.5% of students at Dade Middle School receive free lunch. To qualify for reduced lunch, children’s family income must be below $21,590 annual income in 2015 (185% of the poverty line). 3% of students at Billy Earl Dade Middle receive reduced lunch. As of 2016, the percent of students at this school who pass the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) across all subjects was significantly lower than average for Texas. In short, the student body at Billy Earl Dade Middle School was largely “at risk.”
Parent involvement in a child’s early education is consistently found to be positively associated with a child’s academic performance (Hara & Burke, 1998; Hill & Craft, 2003; Marcon, 1999; Stevenson & Baker, 1987). A 2002 report from the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, A New Wave of Evidence, found that students with parents involved in their schools and their school work, no matter their income or background, are more likely to:
- Earn higher grades and test scores, and enroll in higher-level programs
- Be promoted, pass their classes and earn credits
- Attend school regularly
- Have better social skills, show improved behavior and adapt well to school
- Graduate and go on to post-secondary education
In December 2017, Billy Earl Dade Middle School ran into some difficulty when planning its annual “Breakfast with Dads” event. The school’s community liaison, Ellyn Favors, told the school’s Site Based Decision Making Team that student participation had been low in the past due to young men not having a father/father-figure available to attend the event. Kristina Dove, a community member on the team, decided to post a call for volunteers on Facebook in the hope of finding 50 male mentors to accompany the middle schoolers at the event:
This post was shared by several of her friends, including Stephanie Drenka, a popular blogger and photographer. The post was shared and reshared over and over, more than 125 times by the day of the event. They needed 150 men to sign up. More than 600 men showed up for the event. The event had to be moved from the cafeteria into the gymnasium because of the response. The event was so successful, so powerful, that it was covered by national media and online stories were shared over and over on social media.
Why was this volunteer recruitment so successful? Based on all that I’ve read:
- It was a simple way to get involved: just one hour of commitment at the school, with no requirement for anything else.
- Why their attendance was so important was boiled down to simple, inspiring wording – easy to understand and oh-so-inviting to be a part of.
- It was so simple to sign up.
- It was oh-so-simple to share this message, and apparently, everyone on the team did so, to start.
- The team had strong, trusting connections with key members of the community, so when they shared that message on social media, it reached those key members – who amplified it even more.
Had any one of those bullet points been missing from this equation, I’m not sure the recruitment would have been as successful.
What will happen now?
- I hope the names and contact info of everyone who signed up is in an excel spreadsheet or database program, for easy reference.
- I hope a variety of volunteering opportunities are created to entice these men to continue to be involved and accommodate their schedules, opportunities that range from more just-show-up episodic volunteering to more one-on-one, higher responsibility opportunities (and these will, of course, require more training and screening).
- I hope the school is revisiting its safety policies and ensuring those are being followed.
- I hope things are being put into place right now so that, in six months and a year from now, all of these activities can be evaluated, and successes can be bragged about and attract much-needed funding for the school so those successes can be amplified.
Congrats to Dade Middle School for getting it right. I’ll aspire to do the same.
- Managers of volunteers & resistance to diversity
- Recruiting Local Volunteers To Increase Diversity Among the Ranks (also explores the WHY)
- Welcoming immigrants as volunteers at your organization
- Why Should the Poor Volunteer? It’s Time To Re-Think the Answer
- Screening Volunteers for Attitude
- My consulting services