The My House Arabianranta event of September 2012 was organised mainly by volunteers consisting of residents, architects and artists. Other local interest groups (such as students of the local universities) were also involved.
Brainstroming for ideas
It’s a good idea to invest some time and thought into the first brainstorming session. Once the first session is over, you’ll be able to form a project group with those who want to be involved and allocate tasks and responsibilities. It’s good if there is a small team of two or three for each tasks – this is for the project group but particularly for the volunteering residents in the houses that feature in the event. This way there is always more than one person who knows about things, nobody has to work alone and things don’t pile up on any one person. In addition, you get to know new people and get to spend time in good company.
The initiative as a whole needs one contact person who is in charge of the entity. It’s also a good idea to have two contact persons for each participating house who spread information and answer questions. Having two people for each house means that progress doesn’t stop if one of them is down with fever or has something else come up. Have the names and contact info of these people easily accessible.
In an initiative that consists of several subprojects, the roles might become unclear: who’s supposed to do what. It’s a good idea, then, to talk regularly about 1) what the co-ordinator of the entity does and what is for others to do 2) which decisions the co-ordinator has already made and which decisions are made together and which decisions are up to each individual and 3) what is the minimum level of input required to organise the event and what is the preferred level of input the volunteers are hoped to contribute. Go through these things together, especially if you are many, and write the answers down for organisational guidelines. Knowing your responsibilities removes unnecessary stress.
Discussions and giving thanks
As the preparations proceed, have a variety of meetings where you can see how everybody’s doing and do some problem-shooting together. Everyone could tell briefly where they are with their tasks. Having a one-on-one discussion with the initiative co-ordinator helps you to see your own role and the difference you’re making with your input.
Giving thanks in any form is like fuel for everyone involved. A word of acknowledgement keeps you warm the whole day! There can’t be too many thank you although sometimes expressing gratitude requires a bit of organisation and funds. We were donated some cruise tickets but unfortunately not enough for everyone. Everybody involved is getting a free canvas bag with the event logo for their troubles, though. It’s good to take the time to celebrate all successes you achieve as a group, it brings a nice closure for completed subsets of tasks. We had a free lunch together in Dylan, for example, and there was a small party at the end of the event. It’s also nice if you can meet once after the whole thing and eat and drink together.
When the group meets, go for 1) brainstorming followed by decisions and allocation of tasks 2) workshop-like meetings where you finish a certain task together and 3) updates: everyone doing ok with their tasks? We prepared the signs as a workshop mission and it was over very quickly.
Decide the dates of all meetings in the beginning, that way everyone knows when to come even if they miss one meeting. If you’re inviting people through Facebook, for example, tell what is the purpose of the meeting and what you will be doing. And remind others about the fact that no special skills are needed, everyone are welcome.
Put some thought into where you’ll meet. We met in the club rooms of volunteers’ houses, the community centre Kääntöpaikka and the local library.
Allocation of tasks
Keep the to do list up to date and divide it into smaller groups of tasks. Have it on an intranet if you’re using one or in another place where everyone can see it. This helps everyone keep track of what you’ve already achieved and what you still have to do. Strive to organise things so that everyone would finish one, even small, task during each of your meetings (like writing a memo, welcoming people when they come, making invitations, handing them around, taking pictures…). What happens otherwise is that a few enthusiastic and energetic people do everything and others have difficulties finding their own role in the group.
Even though this is voluntary work, it’s not necessarily a bad idea to monitor the hours you put into it. If there is a ton of things to do, you’ll benefit from a schedule that defines the timeframe for the completion of each group of tasks and the time when you can kick back and enjoy other activities in your personal life.
Translation by Pigasus Translations.