I tweeted about an idea I've been thinking about for awhile last night and got a lot of interest, so I'm going to outline how a Groupon for volunteering could work. The four key pieces are a really great organizer, a metro area to focus your efforts around, an email/twitter/facebook list, and a local charity.
As the organizer, you find a local charity and work with them to develop a "deal," which is a project that could be completed in a weekend if they just had enough volunteers to help out. Like renovating a community center, or making a newly disabled person's house handicap accessible. Be really creative, the more interesting and compelling the story and project, the better the "deal."
An email goes out on Tuesday laying out the deal, and if enough people sign up, the project is on for Saturday (or Sunday). The email could include a link for folks to donate to cover food or other incidental costs associated with the event in case they can't actually come themselves.
A second email goes out on Thursday with more specific details on logistics, tells everyone about all the people coming (we're on!), and encourages more people to signup (don't miss out!), tell their friends, and/or donate to defray expenses. You can even be a little fun with it and gently poke at people that helping someone else might be a great thing to do before they cash in their latest 50% off spa treatment deal from Groupon.
The project happens on Saturday. People are taking pictures, tweeting about it, meeting new people, having fun, and doing something awesome and amazing too. All the people seeing that activity will want to get in on the action next week. You send out an email on Monday with pictures and highlights from Saturday. Then when the next deal hits on Tuesday, people will be less afraid to go. So three emails a week. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday.
Once you get some traction, people will start bringing their ideas for deals directly to you. They wouldn't even necessarily have to be based around local charities, it might end up just being a family who needs help. Obviously, you can tweak this flow and make it your own. The days are somewhat arbitrary, etc.
Here's why I think this will be successful.
- Volunteering is all about making friends with people who share your values. But it can be scary going to volunteer without knowing anyone or feeling like it might be boring. This is exciting, something is happening, there will be a lot of people there, I don't want to miss out. I can see people doing this frequently just because they want to see all their new friends.
- It exposes people to the work of local charities in a very personal and emotional way. Some of those people will stick around and become long-term supporters of that charity.
- It builds an email list of active volunteers, everyone loves building email lists.
- In success, it will inspire copy cats all over the world, just like Groupon has.
The good news is that whoever wants to get this started can just start it in their local community. Even if you don't already have an email list, a fair amount of outreach and old fashioned organizing can get you enough attention for your first deal and start building that list.
At 3dna, we are crazy busy with NationBuilder, a toolset that helps organizers do this sort of thing, but this idea is really about being a great organizer and not any specific technology you might use. Please take this idea and run with it!