Here’s some tips on starting and growing a community project – some things I learnt the hard way

There are few things in terms of volunteerism that I haven’t tried.  After having found something that I love and have worked on for the past eight years, I have learnt some valuable lessons about running a community project and a lot about me.

If you’re thinking about getting involved as a volunteer or starting your own project, here are some of the most important lessons that I have learnt that may help you on your journey.

Find your passion

It’s all very well having a great idea but you have to be truly passionate about it to avoid losing interest and to make it work. Your own values, talents and purpose need to be invested in the idea for it to flourish. Be clear about what you want to do and why you’re doing it.

It’s not about you

If you’re getting involved for recognition or reward, don’t.  You’re wasting your time and you’ll be disappointed. That’s where the passion comes in – you won’t care about anything but the bigger picture if you truly believe in what you are doing.

Also, you don’t have to like everyone who volunteers their time to the project. If they’re adding value, you have to suck it up and make it work.  People who have the right skills for your project and who are prepared to give up their time, are rare. They’re precious.

Things will go wrong

You will have a vision of exactly how things should go and chances are, in the beginning, they won’t go the way you planned.  You will receive lots of criticism.  Learn from it and don’t give up.  Use each setback as a lesson.  You’ll be surprised how creative you become in order to overcome challenges.

Just keep going

No matter how passionate you are about your project, there will be days when you won’t feel like putting in the effort or giving up your one day of the week late lie in, but when you do, you will be revitalised and have a great sense of satisfaction.

Do be afraid to try new things

Not getting things right the first time is not sin, it’s learning. When something’s not working, change it.  When new opportunities arise that fit in with the purpose of the project, try them out.  If they don’t work out, that’s ok.  If they do, what a win!

Keep it real

Don’t make promises you can’t keep.  Before you commit to the members of the community you are working with, make sure you have secured necessary funding or means to deliver.  Chances are that they are already vulnerable and you don’t want to lose their trust and disappoint them. The old adage ‘under promise and over deliver’ is your safest bet here.

Ask

Ask for help.  You will be pleasantly surprised how many people are looking to get involved in or donate to a good cause.  The worst thing that can happen is that they’ll so no.  If they do, that’s ok too, don’t judge or condemn.  Remember that people’s passions may lie elsewhere or they may be going through something and cannot commit time or money at that time.  If you get one person in a hundred that shares your vision and gets involved, that’s success.

Mind that ego

Even if you’re the one who started the project and nurtured and grew it, accept that there are people who know some things better than you and who have skills and ideas that you don’t.  Assign responsibilities to those best suited to certain tasks. Build a team, share the load with other volunteers that you trust.  Let them shine.  You’ll be delighted at how things grow when you let others in.

Know when to move on

When the time comes that you no longer feel the fire in your belly that was there the day you launched, move on. It happens and it’s fine. You’ll limit the possibilities if your heart and soul are no longer in it. Chances are, if you have built up a great team, there will be someone who will be ready to pick up where you left off and take the project to bigger and better things.

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