This post is for all the volunteers stuck in the cycle of pancake breakfasts (going 8 years of coordination for me), soup suppers, 5Ks and golf outings. This is for the volunteer who watches another community organization hit a home run with a unique fundraiser that receives a lot of coverage online and in local media. People talk for days about how amazing that was. I’ve been there, happy for the cause that benefits, but thinking, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
Here’s the good news. One of the hallmarks of being a volunteer is that we support one another and that includes sharing good ideas. The next time you see a good idea flash through your newsfeed, all is not lost. Here a few tips on how to borrow a GOOD idea.
- Ask the event organizers for the details. Call up the event chairperson and say, “Hey! Awesome job on your XYZ fundraiser. People are still talking. Here at ABC we’re looking for something new to energize our community awareness effort. Can I ask you a few questions about your event and how it worked for your organization?” Volunteers do not volunteer for a big prize or thank you. However, being recognized for good work is a definite feather in our caps. So, your phone call praising the event is welcome and nine times out of ten, the event organizer will be more than willing to share the how of their successful event. After all the volunteer mantra is ‘work-smarter-not-harder’.
- Tell the event organizer you are thinking of coordinating a version of their event for your organization. Imitation is a form of flattery. Some volunteers will truly be flattered. Others, maybe not so much. However being honest about your intentions of borrowing their good idea will lead to less small-town chit-chat than if you plow forward with no fore-warning. AND may lead to a great relationship based on sharing even more great ideas.
- Change the event! This is especially important if you are borrowing an event from an organization in your own community. Every event is not guaranteed to win among your core supporters or audience; therefore, tailor the activity to fit your organization’s mission. Give it a name that resonates with your audience. Instead of a dinner, try a breakfast. Instead of black-tie, go for BBQ. While you may have the structure of the event laying in front you, plugging in your own who, what, when, where and why will definitively separate the two activities.
- Schedule the event months after the original. This should go without saying, but just in case . . . Don’t borrow an event and schedule it for the weekend after the original. Just by changing the time of year, you create a different set of circumstances under which folks will be participating. This alone sets your event apart and will give sponsors and participants a break from golfing, eating, or run/walking.
- Create your own promotional plan. Your call with the event organizer may have gone amazingly well. So much so that he or she offers to share their event flier, registration form, press release, etc. This generosity is NOT an invitation to cut and paste. Plagiarism of any kind is not okay. The creator of those documents took precious time from their every day to craft a message specific for the cause for which they were working. Respect that. Instead use these items as a guide for your own. Take note of what information the group included, then put the items away and sit down to a blank sheet paper to build your own document. Some will council you to not even accept these items for fear that subconsciously you might copy the work. That is a decision for you to make. The take away is, to make a borrowed event truly your own it has must stand out. Copied text does not do that.
What other suggestions would you have for borrowing a good idea? Please share in the comments. And good luck on your next volunteer opportunity.