Running A Successful Volunteer Potluck Program

A large crowd sits around tables outdoors eating.
A sanctuary potluck can be a great time!

Many sanctuaries regularly host volunteer potlucks to bring the community together and introduce newcomers to longtime volunteers and staff. These events are a great way to show the interested public what your organization is all about in a less formal format than more ambitious endeavors like open houses or major fundraising events. Because longtime volunteers are typically encouraged to attend, prospective volunteers have an opportunity to ask questions and feel more empowered to participate. Existing volunteers can get the opportunity to connect in more relaxed circumstances than the sometimes-challenging work at the sanctuary and build community together.

Running a successful volunteer potluck can be broken down into three important phases:

Promoting A Potluck

This is by far the most difficult part of any event. Nobody is going to show up to your wonderful event if nobody knows about it! Sanctuaries can promote potlucks through a few different channels in order to make sure those most likely to be interested will learn about it.

Firstly, you could announce the potluck (with a few follow up reminders) well before the event is scheduled in both volunteer newsletter and public newsletters. You may want to make sure that you have a healthy mix between old and new faces! It can be more successful to have potlucks on evenings when more folks are typically available but not necessarily during activity-competitive times like weekends.

You could also promote the potluck on social media platforms a few times leading up to the event to capture a population who may be sympathetic to your cause but who possibly haven’t engaged with you directly yet.

Anytime a visitor expresses interest in volunteering, you could follow up with encouragement to attend the potluck as well. You could have flyers on hand for walk-ins and for posting in supportive regional establishments and community centers.

You can craft promotional materials are careful to point out that all food and beverages contributed must be plant-based out of respect for your residents. This can be a big draw to those in the area leading a plant-based lifestyle looking to connect with like-minded community.

To track who’s planning on attending, you can have all interested parties RSVP via an online service. This lets you track not only how many folks to plan for, but also provides an opportunity to review how effective different promotional tactics have been, as well as the general trend of potluck popularity throughout different seasons. Data helps you make better decisions!

A graphic of a volunteer potluck flier. It reads "It's time for another volunteer potluck! Already? Oh heck yeah. Join us on Sunday February 18th, 6-8pm, Right here at Luvin Arms (hosted inside the Compassion in Action Center, aka, the blue house). Bring a dish to share (100% plant-based, please!). We'll also have some arts & crafts materials available in case you want to make a belated Valentine for one of your resident loves <3. RSVP at luvinarms.org/visit.
A potluck flier

Running The Potluck

When guests arrive, make sure to log who actually showed up (and who showed up without RSVPing!) to accurately track your event numbers. It’s always exciting to see what people bring to share!

Once most people have settled into their first plates, you can make announcements and updates about your sanctuary, residents, volunteer achievements, upcoming events, unique volunteer opportunities, and other information to get attendants excited. You could also plan to have live demonstrations of sanctuary construction techniques or animal care information, as long as they’re appropriate for an eating public!

Most potlucks tend to run about 2-3 hours, depending on the crowd and weather. Even if few newcomers show up, it’s still a great way for current volunteers to pull off their boots and feel appreciated!

Potluck Follow Up

Appropriate follow up is an important component of the potluck program. New faces should receive some form of communication from your volunteer coordinator within a few days of the event in order to confirm a volunteering orientation time if they’re still interested. You can also review the data of your promotional tactics versus who RSVP’d for the event versus who actually showed up in order to optimize how you’re getting our message out and if any part of the process needs tweaking.

Ask yourself less data-driven questions as well: what worked at your potluck? What was awkward or uninspiring? How can you make the experience even more rewarding and getting your star volunteers to keep coming back with that incredible chocolate avocado mousse? These are all important questions to ask if you want to make your potluck a signature part of your community engagement!

Updated on August 6, 2020

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