Reaching out to potential volunteers in underserved populations, effectively, requires special considerations.  These resources can help reach people in specific communities:

  • The poor and people of color.
  • Under-served rural communities.
  • Native American communities.

The Poor and People of Color

Research has found that service creates opportunities for volunteers, especially for the poor and people of color. The benefits of volunteering make people in these populations more likely to choose careers in public service, gaining an advantage in the job market and a higher likelihood of serving throughout their lives.

However, people in these populations previously have been underrepresented in nationally operated community service programs. Creating volunteer programs in these communities could help to alleviate poverty and solve related community issues—by helping both the community and individual volunteers.

These recommendations, compiled from roundtable discussions and detailed in Engaging the Poor and People of Color in Organized Service: Challenges and Opportunities, can help in starting volunteer programs in disadvantaged communities:

  • Consider your organization’s demographics and how they affect your perspectives and the volunteers’.
  • Get to know the people you wish to engage. For example, do not assume that poor and minority communities lack the capacity, will and/or resources to effect change. People who are poor often are extremely resourceful.
  • Be sensitive to the community’s demographic makeup and its effect on engagement.
  • Grow custom projects that fit a community; do not rely too heavily on best practices research.
  • Empower volunteers and give them ownership.
  • Consider principles of engagement like authenticity, innovation, readiness, collaboration.
  • Recruit volunteers by sending an empowering message of community change and/or personal development.
  • Build relationships and trust.

Under-Resourced Rural Communities

In rural areas, people may not “volunteer,” but they help their neighbors, says Volunteering in Under-Resourced Rural Communities. Rural culture includes this service ethic as well as independence. Rural communities also may face social issues such as changing demographics, industry restructuring to spur job growth, increasing education and high poverty rates.

Rural residents often support issues that are locally focused and relate to people’s basic needs, such as health and family needs. Volunteers in rural organizations perform similar types of work as volunteers in more-urban areas, including indirect and direct service on a range of issues such as healthcare and hospices, employment preparation, fire and police.

These factors produce unique recommendations for developing volunteer programs:

  • Consider the community and its needs. Design your program and recruitment strategies specifically for the locality, especially when reaching out to low-income populations.
  • Engage residents to create locally relevant, targeted programs.
  • Help build the capacity of neighbors to serve neighbors. Promote a mix of informal and formal volunteering.
  • Communicate a localized need, make the need relevant to people’s lives and allow the community to own the issue and solution.
  • Strengthen relationships, collaborate and partner with local community stakeholders.
  • Celebrate and encourage innovation to overcome barriers and bridge gaps.

Native American Communities

For many years, the Corporation for National and Community Service conducted outreach to federally recognized Tribes on a variety of programs, including assistance to elders.

If you are interested in partnering on or seeking funding for a project for Native American communities, view its list of federal agencies and organizations that can share information on current needs and opportunities in these communities.


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