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Advice For Undergrads In Over Their Heads

Advice For Undergrads In Over Their Heads

My roommate and I could use some advice. At the beginning of the holidays, our mutual professor in sociology gave everyone a social improvement assignment. The project basically required students to gain firsthand volunteer experience to compare and contrast different assumptions about giving back to a community.

Everyone had about two weeks to identify a series of two or three local groups that we could contribute to as volunteers. My roommate suggested that we find a soup kitchen. I had zero experience doing this kind of stuff, so I didn’t object. We’ve now volunteered together at a local urban garden for at least three or four weeks, twice a week.  

Last week, one of the program assistants asked us if we’d help them throw a new community event. We felt pressured to help, even though neither of us knows anything about promoting events. It’s too late to back out now. We need basic guidance. Please help!

It’s important to remember that while your dilemma is certainly pressing, nonprofits and other charities rely heavily on the labors of their volunteer workforce. Much has been written on this subject. The Guardian openly questioned what charities have to do to engage more young volunteers. Answers have been elusive, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable. Consider this a learning experience. 

Based on the nature of your question, it’s probably fair to assume that neither you or your roommate know too much about event management and promotion. Remember that an entire academic discipline and professional industry is devoted to the topic. Having realistic expectations is the first key to success. Writers at EventBrite published an insightful beginner’s guide to hosting a compelling event. Some of the suggestions might prove irrelevant, but you can sure that having a firm grasp of your audience is vital no matter what. 

Don’t be afraid to explore more unconventional tactics. For example, with some expert salesmanship, it’s possible to earn sponsors and have food and beverages donated. Since you’ve been asked to support an existing organization, it’s reasonable to expect that some resources could be made available to you. When it comes to pre-event marketing and promotion, there’s no shortage of proven strategies. You might opt for digital channels (e.g., social media, newsletters, etc.) or traditional ones (e.g., local radio ads, flyers, etc.). What you choose will ultimately depend on your target audience. 

Research what you can concerning event marketing and promotion in order to compile a list of viable options. Eliminate those likely to be time- or cost-prohibitive, and discuss the remaining possibilities with the responsible organization. Say, for instance, you decide that distributing flyers to local community centers and homeless shelters is the best way to inform your target audience. A logical next step would be further investigating the best print designs for nonprofits or charities. Why reinvent the proverbial wheel when you can simply stand on the shoulders of giants? 

Don’t hesitate to tap into experts and other collegiate resources, either. You’re probably not the first two student volunteers to be given more responsibility than they feel like they can handle. 

“Spontaneity is one of the joys of existence, especially if you plan for it in advance.” -- Alan Dean Foster

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