(This blog was adapted from resources created by Realized Worth. Want to learn more? Dig into further resources here on briefing and debriefing your corporate volunteers.)

The two most important tools for making the volunteering experience meaningful for members of your group are a good introduction to the activity, cause and organization and a good debrief.  A volunteer experience can move from being a transactional event to a transformative experience for volunteers by employing these techniques.

During the brief, do these 4 things:

  1. Thank everyone for coming
  2. Explain why they’re there, and why that’s important
  3. Outline the logistics of the day
  4. Remind them that there will be a short debrief at the end of the event.

These 4 things are critical, whether you are working with a community partner, or doing a kit building or other activity without a community partner present.  If you are working with a community partner, agree on elements of this briefing and who will do which part.

1. Thank everyone for coming.

This may seem like common sense, but expressing genuine gratitude for your volunteers is something that often gets lost in the activity. Let them know that no matter how much they accomplish at the activity, the act of “showing up” matters.

2. Explain why they’re there, and why that’s important.

Setting expectations is vital. If people aren’t told what to expect, they will make assumptions and become frustrated.

Many volunteers will evaluate the activity based on their own personal productivity. If they got a lot done after the day is over, they will feel like it was a “good” event. If they didn’t accomplish anything, they are likely to feel frustrated.

Your job during the brief is to adjust their expectations. The activity is NOT about how much work is accomplished; rather, it is to communicate value to the community being served. Volunteering happens in places where people don’t have access to the help that they need; your employee volunteers are there to say, “We believe you are valuable and you are worth our time.”

Explain to your volunteers that the most important thing they will do at the event is give their time to the community. That day’s activities are not going to solve any long-term problems, but they will say, “You (or this cause) are worth my time.” Remind your volunteers: “The value of the people being served is not based on what they have or don’t have; what they do or don’t do – and neither is yours.”

3. Outline the logistics of the day.

Another part of helping volunteers feel comfortable is making sure they know the basics of where to go and what to do at an event. Take a moment to point out who’s in charge and welcome volunteers to approach those people with questions.

Point out other important information. For example:

  • Where to pick up tools
  • Where lunch and/or snacks will be located
  • What time the event is scheduled to end
  • Where the restrooms are
  • Where the 1st aid kit is and review health and safety items

4. Remind them that there will be a short debrief after the event.

Volunteers will need a reminder at the end of the event to take time to reflect and consider how their volunteering experience affected them. Let them know during the brief that you would like them to gather for 10 minutes after the volunteering activities are over to do a group debrief. Tell them where you would like them to gather. It is likely that some people will need to leave early to attend to other obligations. Ask those people to check in with you before they go and try to debrief with them.

Tips for a powerful debrief

Meaningful reflection (the kind that motivates change) is not always natural or easy. Your volunteers have put their time in; they have completed the task; and now they have to get going. Here’s a quick and easy method that provides a safe space for people to reflect:

Bring people together in an informal huddle for 5-10 minutes and ask them the following 2 questions:

  • What did you experience today?
  • Was it what you expected?

The goal of transformative volunteering is to create the space for the individual volunteer to experience an epiphany. All too often, volunteering can seem disconnected from the cause. After all – someone has to pack those boxes, sort those receipts or cut those carrots. Framing the experience before one of these seemingly mundane tasks will connect the volunteer to the greater purpose, the bigger picture, the grander context. And reflecting on it afterwards enables the individual to make sense of what just happened. These elements are absolutely critical in creating a lasting impact within the individual.  Only a few people will offer their reflections.  A conversation may even occur.  But even those people who choose not to share have been ignited to consider their experience.  In any of these people, it is likely to change the way the think about the activity and themselves, possibly their conversations at home or with friends, and how they choose to act in the future as a member of their community.