Volunteer Recruitment: Pre-Planning

Before you start recruiting, learn as much as you can about your playspace so you can determine how many volunteers you'll need and how to organize them. You'll need to consult your co-chair(s) and construction captain to learn about build timelines, choice of building and surface materials, and any other side projects you plan to complete on the Build Day in order to determine the number of volunteers needed. First, gather your thoughts about your mission and vision in building the playspace. It'll help you communicate your message when you're recruiting volunteers. Consider walking through our online Roadmap so you can visualize the steps the whole planning committee will be taking along the way, and how volunteer recruitment fits into that picture.

Next, gather information about the following:

Your mission and vision
Estimating the number of build volunteers
Volunteer tasks and FAQ
Other planning teams

Your mission and vision

In the months ahead, it will be your job to convince people to give up a precious resource - their time - for a project that may seem insignificant. You'll need to convince them that the goal IS achievable, that play IS a necessity for children's well-being, and that they'll be making a real difference in the community.

Take a moment to consider the following questions and put the playspace vision into your own words.

  • What does the word "community" mean to you?
  • Why is play important?
  • Why does your community need a new playspace?
  • Will the playspace solve specific problems? Which ones?
  • Who will benefit from a new playspace/safe community space?
  • Why is it important for everyone in the community to work together on this project?
  • What long-term effects will a community build have, beyond just getting a new playspace?

"What children look for more than anything else is play. So why not be a part of play, where you can bring in positive play and you can let a child know that you care?"
- Rose Warfield-McGill, Texarkana, AR

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Estimating the number of build volunteers

This is the moment of truth...how many volunteers do you need to build a playspace?

If you're planning on a one-day, 6- to 8-hour build, bank on 100-150 volunteers. That's assuming you're using pre-fabricated equipment and loose-fill surfacing for an approximately 50-foot by 50-foot site. If you're using poured-in-place rubber surfacing, you can get by with 50 to 80 volunteers. If you have a smaller playground or are taking more than one day, you can also use fewer people, but you can always use more! There's plenty for people to do on Build Day, from assembling playground components (pieces), to manning the food and registration booths, to cleaning up at the end of the day. The more the merrier! The value of a community-build playground project can only increase as more neighbors turn out to work side by side, so keep track of how many interested volunteers you have beyond your target numbers, and plan extra activities like side projects to keep them busy contributing to the space on Build Day.

Download this sample Build Day matrix to see how to organize volunteers into teams.

Next, let's break those numbers down so you can break your volunteers into Build Day teams. Here are the factors to consider:

The size of your playground structure.
Talk with your construction captain about how many components (slides, panels, climbers, other parts that attach to the decks and posts) your playspace has. You'll need a "decks and posts" team with approximately 12 people to put the skeleton of the structure up. Then you'll need several "component" teams, each with 10 to 12 people. Each component team should be responsible for assembling about four to five components. Talk to your construction captain and even the equipment manufacturer about the difficulty of assembling each component - make sure to give each team a mix of easy and hard assemblies. Don't forget the free-standing pieces like the swings!

The type of equipment you'll be installing.
Are you purchasing your equipment, or building it from scratch? Pre-fabricated equipment (metal and plastic structures) can be assembled relatively quickly using only hand tools; therefore, lots of unskilled volunteers can participate with minimal safety risk. If your build requires sawing and/or power-tool use to build a wooden playground from scratch, your construction captain may want to limit the number of volunteers on site, or designate a separate area for potentially dangerous tasks. Building a playground from scratch also takes longer - count on a small group of core volunteers, or invite large numbers of people to work in shifts.

The type of safety surfacing you'll be installing, and how much.
If you're using "loose-fill" surfacing for a playground such as engineered wood fiber (EWF), sand, or rubber mulch, you'll need about 60 volunteers to transport the surfacing onto the play area by hand using tarps or wheelbarrows. That's assuming you'll have 150 to 200 cubic yards of EWF. You'll need to coordinate with your playground installer, co-chair(s) and construction captain to order the right amount of safety surfacing to cover the use zones for your playground equipment. Before moving the surfacing, a base material (usually landscaping fabric, which should be provided with your EWF order) will need to be laid down and border timbers installed to hold the surfacing in place. Hauling loose-fill surfacing is by far the largest, most time-consuming task on a playground build...the more volunteers you have, the faster it will go! Projects with "unitary" surfacing materials (e.g. poured-in-place rubber and rubber-tile systems) require fewer volunteers; these materials are installed after the playspace is completed, usually by professionals.

The number of side projects you plan to complete.
From butterfly gardens and shade structures to a paved tricycle path, additional playspace projects can be a great way to involve older volunteers, hobbyists, youth, or hordes of unexpected volunteers in your project. Get detailed instructions and volunteer recommendations here. Each side project requires a small handful of volunteers (usually 5 to 10), and can transform the space around your playground area into a real community gathering space that will appeal to people of all ages.

Timing.
Are you planning a one-day playspace "barn raising," or will your build be stretched out over several days? Shorter builds require a large number of highly organized volunteers, working simultaneously. As mentioned earlier, plan on 100 to 150 volunteers for a one-day build. Longer builds are usually broken into volunteer shifts, and this can be a great way to involve busy professionals and parents. A word of advice: try to get people to commit to at least four hours at a time. Too many people coming and going can create utter chaos!

Tip: In our experience, around 30 percent of confirmed build volunteers will stay home for various reasons. So always recruit more people than you need! (But be prepared for a full turnout, just in case.) To maximize your volunteer turnout, follow these three easy steps: (1) Don't be satisfied with verbal commitments...make volunteers sign on the dotted line! (2) Try pre-assigning each person to a specific task. (3) Be sure to make confirmation calls the week before the build; tell people what to wear and remind them that there will be free food, drinks and fun!

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Sample volunteer tasks

Here are some of the many jobs that build volunteers can do:

  • "Deck and Post" assembly
  • Component assembly
  • Border assembly (for surfacing)
  • Mixing concrete (to secure posts)
  • Installing surfacing liner/drainage
  • Hauling surfacing
  • Painting
  • Landscaping
  • Site set-up (tables, tents, etc.)
  • Site Clean-Up
  • Food service
  • Registering volunteers
  • Supervising children's activities
  • Posting signs/banners
  • Monitoring site safety (coordinate with your fellow team captains)
  • Running errands
  • Tool distribution/collection
  • DJ/performing music

Tip: Every team of volunteers - the surfacing team, the concrete team, each component team, side project teams - should be led by a trained build captain. A knowledgeable community member, such as the construction captain, will be responsible for their recruitment and training. To get all the teams organized at the start of your Build Day, consider putting stickers - each corresponding to a certain team - on name tags. Each volunteer will pick up a nametag at registration, and then whatever sticker volunteers have on their name tags will dictate which team they serve on. At KaBOOM! builds, we ask the build captains to hold up a poster when volunteers arrive that matches the stickers their team members will have on their nametags.

Playspace FAQ

Q. Do volunteers need construction skills?
A.
There are no specific skills that are absolutely necessary to build a playground, skatepark or sports field. Although there are many types of community builds, the KaBOOM! model involves purchasing easy-to-assemble equipment from a certified playspace manufacturer. Assembling this type of playspace is like putting together a puzzle, and the most common tools are hand-held tools like ratchets and wrenches. You'll have detailed directions - make sure the volunteers read them! To ensure proper installation, many play equipment companies will also provide or refer a professional community-build installer to oversee the construction. He or she can be responsible for leveling decks, orienting components, tightening bolts and so on. Keep in mind that for warranty and liability purposes, the final product needs to be inspected and safety-certified by a licensed professional. You can find a local Certified Playground Safety Inspector to perform your playground audit by emailing the National Recreation and Park Association at certification@nrpa.org.

You may need a small number of skilled volunteers or professionals for site preparation, particularly if it involves heavy machinery such as a power auger. On KaBOOM! site preparation days, we dig holes for the playground posts using a bobcat with auger bits, which is operated by a trained professional. Talk to your construction captain about specific site preparation tasks that you'll need to complete. You'll also need to consult closely with your co-chair(s) and construction captain if you are planning to build your own playspace from scratch. There are rigorous safety and accessibility guidelines for public playgrounds.

Q. Do the people working on the playspace need to be really strong?
A.
No - although having some "muscle" never hurts! A community-built playspace project relies on teamwork for results. Remember - what might be a strenuous task for one person is an easy task for four people. Energy, stamina and cooperation are the most valuable qualities a volunteer can have.

Also keep in mind that a community build involves a lot more than ratchets and bolts! There are children's activities, food, registration, and side projects. Work with your fellow team captains to plan your build so that people of all abilities can participate in some way.

Q. What volunteer skills can I use for my playspace project?
A.
There are ways for skills and experience of any kind to be put to good use!

  • First-aid
  • Fundraising/Grantwriting
  • Meeting facilitation
  • Leadership
  • Construction/repair
  • Food prep/service
  • Organizing
  • Child care
  • Communication skills
  • Cleaning
  • Transportation (cars, trucks, machinery)
  • Music/art
  • Marketing/PR
  • Landscaping/gardening

For ideas of where to find folks with these skills, visit the Community Involvement section of our Toolkit.

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Other planning teams

Over the next several months, you will be in constant contact with your co-chair(s) and fellow team captains. If you don't already know them, introduce yourself now! Ask your co-chair(s) for a complete listing of everyone's names and contact information, including the best time to call. Read below for each team's roles and responsibilities.

Children's (and youth) activities team:
Gets children and youth involved in every aspect of the project, including planning Design Day and Build Day activities for young people, as well as child-friendly fundraisers and promotional events and arranging child care during meetings.

Construction team:
These are your build overseers; they'll be well-versed in the playspace equipment, hardware, tools, safety surfacing and site. They are responsible for preparing the build site, including testing the soil for contaminants. The construction captain may also be responsible for recruiting and training build captains - volunteer leaders who will supervise specific build tasks.

Food team:
Feeds volunteers during planning meetings, Design Day, fundraisers and the playspace build. They will be soliciting food donations throughout the community.

Fundraising team:
Raises all of the cash needed for the project, including ongoing maintenance of the playground after the Build Day - a huge job! Because both of your teams will be working to build enthusiasm and visibility for the project, it's important to coordinate your activities. Every fundraiser is a chance to recruit volunteers, and every volunteer may be willing to donate money or materials! This team may also need your help staffing large fundraisers.

Logistics team:
Works behind the scenes to make sure everything runs smoothly - they arrange for meeting spaces throughout the planning, plus Build Day parking, restroom facilities, electricity and water access for the build day, tents, tables and chairs.

Public relations team:
These folks are the project bullhorn! It's their responsibility to make sure that everyone in town knows about the upcoming build (which will help you recruit volunteers.) They will be working closely with local media and will also produce all project flyers, banners and posters - including those for volunteer recruitment.

Safety team:
This team has two main responsibilities: making sure that the playspace build is safe for everyone involved, and educating local children about playspace safety. They'll secure hard hats, work gloves, caution tape and other safety materials. They will recruit a certified first aid person to be present on the Build Day, create an evacuation plan and map the route to the closest emergency medical facility, just in case! They'll also be responsible for creating safety-rules handouts, monitoring volunteers' health during the build, and providing a skill-level tagging system for volunteers.

Tip: It's also important that you double up your recruitment efforts with the fundraising, children's, construction, food and safety teams, who will be soliciting project donations from local businesses and organizations. Every sponsor should be given the option of contributing money, materials and/or volunteers! A coordinated effort looks more professional and reduces project fatigue among donors.

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