How to Make the Most of MLK Day of Service at Your Nonprofit

On Monday January 18, 2016, many people in the U.S. have a day off work. Why? It’s MLK Day, the National Holiday to honor the courage and service of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

MLK Day of ServiceRather than take a day off, however, many are choosing a day on as a way to honor Martin Luther King’s legacy. They’re choosing to spend MLK Day in service to their neighbors and their communities.

As a nonprofit organization committed to community service, how can you attract these people to your mission on January 18th? We have a few suggestions.

Be Prepared

MLK Day volunteers are not necessarily looking for a long-term volunteer commitment (although some may be!). Think of a project that your organization needs help with that can be completed in a day – including any necessary training. And if you offer these types of volunteer opportunities on a regular basis, prepare the staff and other resources necessary to accommodate an influx of volunteers on January 18th.

Add Your MLK Day Opportunities to VolunteerMatch

Adding a new post to VolunteerMatch brings your listing to the top of the search results. But that’s not all. If you include phrases such as “MLK”, “MLK Day” and “Martin Luther King”, your post gets populated into a special page promoted to people looking to volunteer on MLK Day. Your post will also show up to people searching volunteer opportunities on that specific day, rather than a flexible opportunity. More visibility = more prospective volunteers.

Follow Up Immediately

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

As soon as someone reaches out to you via VolunteerMatch expressing interesting in volunteering on MLK Day, get back to them. Don’t wait until you have a group and send out a mass email. With less than two weeks until January 18th, people want to get their plans set. Time spent sitting on prospective volunteer requests can equal lost volunteers who have taken their good intentions elsewhere.

Keep in Touch

Remember – volunteers not only want to help, they want to see the impact of their actions. Show them the impact they’ve had – both day of, and by following up with them in the future. If they had a great experience with you, they’re more likely to volunteer again, or even donate to your organization in the future.

And let’s not forget the reason for the day.

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.


3 Engaging Ways to Honor Martin Luther King’s Legacy of Service and Social Justice

Guest post by Ann Saylor

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shaking hands with Hubert Humphrey while Coretta Scott King looks on.Once in a while, a seemingly ordinary person rises up to be a hero, changing culture forever. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of those men, and we now recognize him as a renowned American civil rights leader. He was hugely influential on American culture through his campaigns to end racial segregation and promote racial equality.

To honor his legacy, the third Monday of January has been named a federal holiday. Though students are out of school and federal employees are off work, national service organizations have adopted this slogan: “A Day On, Not a Day Off”, challenging Americans to rally together in service.

Here are 3 ideas to engage your community’s volunteers in a way that honors Dr. King’s values and the ways in which he served:

1. Go serve together.

Take the day at your nonprofit to work side-by-side with your volunteers. Dr. King said, “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve…You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” Where can you share a little love in your community? Pick an issue dear to the hearts of your staff and volunteers and address that need together.

2. Explore the roots of an issue more deeply.

Dr. King wisely believed, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” As you study a community issue that’s important to your organization and its volunteers, such as homelessness, illiteracy, recreational drug use, apathy, or hunger, push to go deeper. Identify one of the root causes and develop a targeted action plan that will inspire change and strengthen impoverished areas of your community.

3. Seek justice through advocacy.

Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) volunteers at an MLK rally.

Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) volunteers at an MLK rally.

Learning to speak up about issues that are important to your agency and challenging others to take action is a necessary skill if we’re going to impact true change around us. Challenge your volunteers to ponder and then act deliberately on Dr. King’s words: “Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But, conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.”

What message needs to be conveyed by your organization to the world? What issues do your volunteers care about? Work with your volunteers to craft a plan for how they can spread the word about the issues your agency is tackling and start speaking up for truth – even if it’s risky and uncomfortable.

Want more strategies and activities on how to make the most of MLK Day? Get a FREE copy of the Seasons of Service Curriculum, complete with three half-day experiences for leading an MLK Day event. It also has 12 highly interactive lesson plans to help young people explore ways to use their gifts and talents to change the world. Finally, it outlines 11 half-day engaging and empowering service-learning experiences to introduce youth to meaningful service. Request your copy by emailing

How is your organization engaging volunteers to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy? Share with us in the comments below!

Ann Saylor is a nationally recognized trainer in positive youth development, service-learning, and play with purpose as well as the co-author of 7 books, including her latest, Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth, (published in September 2014 by Search Institute Press). Learn more through her website and her blog, or reach her at or Twitter @TheAssetEdge.

Celebrating a Day-On: An Inspiring MLK Service Day Collaboration With New Sector Alliance

Monday, January 20th, the National Day of Service commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was a day of innovation for VolunteerMatch. Unlike past Days of Service where the VolunteerMatch team served at outside organizations, we switched things up by bringing volunteering to us. Twenty New Sector fellows were invited to brainstorm and discuss ideas for VolunteerMatch to creatively engage volunteers, nonprofits, and business leaders in 2014.

So what is New Sector?

At the heart of New Sector Alliance’s mission is empowering young leaders while strengthening the social sector. Partnered with Americorps, New Sector’s Residency in Social Enterprise (RISE) fellowship program allows 25 talented individuals to hold full-time positions at nonprofits of their interest. The fellows also meet as a group to learn how to professionally apply their unique skills to address social dilemmas. This Day of Service at VolunteerMatch was an example of the diverse activities that the young leaders get to experience for the duration of their fellowships.

We will recap the event and talk about how you can implement the key points from this informative discussion into your own volunteering initiative.

1. Let your values guide you to skilled volunteers

Ideally, your organization gathers people who share your values to engage in a meaningful volunteer activity. In order to best reach that ideal, you need to first be able to find those individuals.

Use videos that clearly outline your mission while demonstrating the social benefits of your work to attract volunteers to your organization, as well as testimonials to speak for your credibility. Social media is another great way to engage skilled volunteers, where live updates and photos will get people excited to come out to your next opportunity. And, of course, VolunteerMatch’s network of volunteers and nonprofits is another useful resource.

2. Build genuine relationships with your volunteers

Creating and maintaining meaningful relationships was one of the most important and recurring concepts of the discussion. Whether you are holding a one-time event or an on-going opportunity, it is very important to establish a relationship with your volunteers and engage with them to make their experience special.

One great idea that arose from the discussion was the concept of VolunteerMatch ambassadors. Volunteers with a strong passion for their work would be selected for these positions, serving as spokespersons and champions for VolunteerMatch’s mission and resources in their local communities.

You can similarly empower your volunteers and add color to your organization: give your stand-out volunteers special titles, and encourage them to build their own unique identities while feeling like they are part of an impactful network of leaders.

3. Show your appreciation for your volunteers

One of the New Sector fellows mentioned newsletters and in-person meetings as ways to make the organizations who provide service and learning experiences for the fellows feel appreciated and involved. When an organization hosts a fellow, being able to see tangible evidence of their impact on that fellow’s career is a great way to encourage the organization to continue its sponsorship.

Similarly, by letting your volunteers know that you appreciate them, they will have much more of an incentive to continue lending their time. Here are a few ideas of how to show your volunteers how much you care:

  • Showcase inspirational volunteer experiences on blogs, newsletters, and social media
  • Assign leadership roles and give responsibility to passionate volunteers
  • Send volunteers thank you notes, holiday and birthday cards, and small gifts of appreciation

Our Next Steps

The concept of ambassadors, passionate champions of VolunteerMatch’s work, resonated well with the VolunteerMatch team. As our staff holds subsequent follow-up meetings, we will keep the three points listed above in mind while continuing to brainstorm ways of implementing an ambassador program. For as important as our own expansion and improvement is, creating meaningful experiences for volunteers and organizations remains the number one goal.

Your Next Steps

While thinking about how to apply the three points listed above, ask yourself some questions throughout the new year:

  • Are our volunteers providing positive feedback from their experiences with our organization?
  • What are the qualities we value in a volunteer, and are we clearly expressing that criteria?
  • Are we using our existing resources and social media platforms in the most efficient manner?

Thank you New Sector!

Finally, we would like to thank the New Sector fellows for donating their time and thoughts for our discussion. It was a very fun and productive way to truly bring “service” into an MLK Service Day. Thank you.

Have other creative ideas for engaging volunteers in 2014? Share your thoughts below!

3 Creative Ways to Engage Volunteers during the Holiday Season

3 Creative Ways to Engage Volunteers during the Holiday SeasonThe holiday season is a popular time for volunteering – and nonprofit organizations know it. In order to stand out from the pack and attract dedicated volunteers who are a good fit for your organization, you need to get creative about how you engage all of the folks looking to help out between now and the end of the year.

By engaging volunteers in new ways, you increase your chances of finding people who will form a more authentic, lasting connection to your organization. So here are three ways to cut through all the volunteer recruitment noise this season to engage great supporters:

Everyone Loves Food

This is absolutely true – but to distinguish yourself from all the other organizations engaging volunteers to help with food-related tasks during the holidays, find volunteers who can do more than packing and serving. Appeal to Foodies to help with fundraising and cultural events, like this opportunity with Food Truck Festivals of New England, or create your own Top Chef-style challenge for amateur chefs like the African People’s Education and Defense Fund.

Appeal to Their Dramatic Sides

With all the good food, pretty lights and time off from work, volunteers want to have a little fun over the holidays. Engage the artists and performers in potential volunteers and give them a chance to shine in the spotlight. Whether it’s caroling during a holiday concert, face painting to cheer up sick children, building a holiday balloon arch, or transforming into a magical elf, tapping into volunteers’ creative energy will get them even more excited to help you during this busy time.

Give Them the Best Jobs

Too often we end up recruiting volunteers for the “leftover” tasks, while paid staff does the fun stuff, or the most directly rewarding stuff. This holiday season, engage volunteers for some of the best jobs at your organization, like calling donors just to say thanks, or attending fun concerts to raise awareness.

What are some creative ways your organization engages volunteers during the holiday season? Share in the comments below, and post your volunteer needs on!

Earth Day Gone Virtual: Web-based Volunteering with Environmental Nonprofits

The volunteer experience on Earth Day is changing now more than ever. The Internet has become a great way for Earth Day volunteers to share stories, collaborate efforts and spread general awareness about environmental issues. Using the connectivity of the web, environmentally-focused nonprofits can engage volunteers in a multitude of creative ways on Earth Day and throughout the year.

The Earth Day Network
An excellent online Earth Day resource is the The Earth Day Network, the same group that founded Earth Day over 40 years ago. The nonprofit has developed a number of innovative web-based environmental campaigns for volunteers.

For Earth Day 2013, the group has embraced the challenge of engaging millions of volunteers from around the globe with The Face of Climate Change social campaign, which showcases user-submitted pictures and inspirational stories about people, animals and places directly affected or threatened by climate change.

Launched in 2010, The Earth Day Network’s A Billion Acts of Green is the largest environmental service campaign in the world to date. The campaign encourages volunteers to pledge, donate and commit through various virtual initiatives including Protect Our Clean Air, Recycle Your E-Waste and Restore the Canopy. The Earth Day Network uses its own platform as well as other nonprofits from around the world to spread awareness about a wide array of environmental issues.

Other Great Virtual Volunteering Resources
The Arbor Day Foundation and Toyota are promoting volunteerism this Arbor Day by creating the Volunteer Center, which allows nonprofits, businesses and civic groups around the country to engage volunteers in all 50 states. Through the online tool, volunteers can more easily learn about and share conservation projects in their communities. The interactive database is made possible by support from Toyota and a partnership with VolunteerMatch.

VolunteerMatch is a great resource for virtual volunteers. With the advanced search section, volunteers can narrow their search for virtual opportunities in a wide range of causes, including the environment.

The Environmental Community is nonprofit organization that has developed a unique environmental platform to create new waves of eco-activity. They use VolunteerMatch to find virtual volunteers with a variety of skills to help with environmental projects.

As The Earth Day Network has shown, the Internet can be an effective tool to engage volunteers. As a nonprofit, consider using the web to connect with virtual volunteers. An active volunteer can play a vital role in the health and sustainability of a community and the local environment, and millions of virtual volunteers from around the world can have global impact.

This Earth Day and beyond, use VolunteerMatch as a resource to recruit volunteers who can help you create a sustainable, more livable world – not only for us, but for generations to come.