Last Thursday night, Jay and I volunteered together for the first time in a long time. We signed up through Community Volunteer Network to volunteer for the 5th Annual Help the Homeless Holiday Gala hosted by Arlington’s Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN).
NOTE: More Great PHOTOS from Clifford on Flickr.
I had come to learn about A-SPAN’s work through their Director of Development, Jan Sacharko, who is very active on social media and has really amplified the voice of A-SPAN in the short time he has worked there. Although Arlington is well known for its high median incomes and low unemployment rate (around 4% even during this Great Recession), affordable housing and homelessness are still issues that face many Arlingtonians. Many families are one pink slip or health crisis away from losing everything they have. A strong safety net is vital so that children’s lives are not uprooted and so that men do not freeze to death on the streets in our community. These are real consequences of a broken support structure that I became aware of in the last community we lived in. Arlington manages to keep the safety net intact with a lot of dedication from individuals like those present at Thursday night’s gala.
Interested in giving to A-SPAN?
Interested in volunteering with A-SPAN?
Our Volunteer Experience
As a volunteer experience, Thursday night was primarily positive (and would have been overwhelmingly positive if we had been able to arrive sooner and enjoy the event more). CVN offers a great way for young people like Jay and I to volunteer on a flexible schedule with people that we know. They have an ongoing calendar of volunteer events as well as happy hours where you can meet other volunteers. Through my position at Volunteer Arlington I have worked closely with CVN for 2.5 years so we knew most of the CVN volunteers working Thursday night.
The event was split into two shifts, which is absolutely crucial for special events. First, big events take a lot of energy and therefore a 2 or 2.5 hour shift is long enough (especially since all of the volunteers were coming straight from a full day of work). Also, one of the main attractors to volunteering for a special event is getting to take part in it for free. The shifts allowed us to participate before or after our volunteering was complete. This is great for the organization as well, since none of us would have been able to afford the $100 ticket, but now that we know what the event is about we could spread the word next year or maybe attend in the future when we earn more money.
Jay and I were stationed at the front entrance. We welcomed guests, answered questions, and opened doors. This role suits me well since I enjoy direct customer service. Jay said he felt out of his element at a “gala”, but he was excellent at the job and seemed to enjoy himself.
For next year, or for similar gala events I would recommend:
Offer a service club the opportunity to coordinate the coat check in exchange for keeping any tips they make. Two volunteers handled the coat check and turned away tips all night. They did not feel comfortable taking any money, but the guests did not mind paying and that would have been a great way to raise more money for the cause or for another community group.
The bulk of the money raised came from auctions (silent and live). There is a lot of interesting social science behind raising the most money from an auction which is worth researching. For example, in a live auction, should you have the auction items get steadily more valuable? How many auction items are ideal for netting the greatest amount of money and good will from your donors? What is the effect on giving when large donors are publicly recognized in front of their peers at the event? Are there methods for real time feedback to the participants about who is bidding, how much, and why they give? In addition to the giving itself, how can the payment process be streamlined so that donors have a positive experience throughout the event?
CVN has actually volunteered at several fundraisers that featured auctions this year. We have discussed how CVN volunteers could serve as volunteer consultants to the nonprofits based on our first-hand knowledge of auctions and what we have observed to work best.