Imagine being able to send out a call for help, and not long after, a team of benevolent superheroes arrives at your door to lend a hand. If you’re a not-for-profit or community organisation in Perth, Australia you can basically do just that. Well, almost. The superheroes just happen to be enthusiastic volunteers eager to get their hands dirty to make a difference. One day they’re cleaning up gardens for the elderly, the next they’re running a school program for kids with autism. But this isn’t your grandma’s volunteer program.
Thanks to the young and energetic team behind Big Help Mob, a nonprofit social enterprise, helping out in the community has been rendered not only fun for young people, but also a cool way to socialise with friends.
“The idea behind Big Help Mob is really to make doing good as mainstream as cheeseburgers and breathing,” says Basha Stasak, of Useful Inc., the parent organisation of Big Help Mob.
Although people of all ages are encouraged to volunteer with Big Help Mob, most who do are young—between 16 and 25.
“For me, it was very much about trying to find a way to make this idea of doing good for others a mainstream idea, something that wasn’t just out on the side, but something that people, particularly young people, did as a genuine part of their lives,” Stasak explains.
“So when you walk down the street it wouldn’t be unusual to ask a question, ‘Do you volunteer?’ It would actually be a normal part of conversation,” she adds.
So how does Big Help Mob get teenagers and twentysomethings fired up to help out in their community?
Here’s how it works:
Say there’s a local nonprofit that wants to restore a massive abandoned nursery. The nursery has the capacity to grow 400,000 native seedlings per year, which means creating another 400 hectares of revegetated bushland every year. But the job is huge and there aren’t enough hands. What to do?
Easy. The nonprofit sends out a distress call to Big Help Mob, who throws out the “mission” details to their community of volunteers. What happens next is a sort of flashmob-for-social-good situation: After seeing the mission on the website or via the super slick app, available volunteers (referred to as ‘sidekicks’ in Big Help Mob lingo) sign up, check in, and get the mission accomplished.
That’s it in a nutshell.
And that example above? True, by the way.
Over the last year Big Help Mob has completed 126 missions and worked with 57 organisations. More than 600 volunteers have contributed their time. Whether the mission is planting trees, cooking up meals for senior citizens, setting up sporting events at local schools, or cleaning a submarine (yes, that last one was actually completed), if there’s a call for assistance with a tangible social impact, Big Help Mob wants to be able to answer.
“We want to grow it to a point where we’re able to respond to every kind of legitimate request,” says Stasak, spoken like a true superhero.
Being a social enterprise, Big Help Mob does charge a small fee to the organisations requesting help. There’s a one-time set up cost of $40 and then it’s $2 per volunteer, per hour. The money is nowhere near enough to cover the cost of running the organisation, but as a nonprofit, it also relies on funding from grants and donations. And they’re looking to the corporate sector too as a way to raise more money and engage more people in volunteer work with fellow employees.
There are a number of qualities that set the Big Help Mob model apart from traditional volunteer recruitment agencies. For one thing, in order for a mission to qualify it has to be able to be completed in one day. Usually this means it must be done and dusted within six hours, although larger tasks can be broken down into a series of projects. In addition, the work must not require volunteers to have a specific skill set.
“We’re really about giving people a taste of volunteering,” says Stasak. “We want to give people an opportunity to do some really good work to make them feel there is an impact behind the volunteering.” Volunteers can join jobs that fit into their schedules, even if it’s just two hours here or there. “You sign up for that length of time and that’s your only commitment,” she adds.
Not having to commit huge amounts of time over the course of weeks or months perhaps makes Big Help Mob’s missions-that-don’t-take-long-to-accomplish more palatable to young people, whose schedules can sometimes be erratic. And that a prospective volunteer doesn’t have to sift through volunteer opportunities hoping to find the one that fits his or her skill set takes some of the potential hassle out of the search. Ultimately, it makes it easier for people to donate some time, energy and enthusiasm.
Another point of difference comes from the way Big Help Mob seeks out volunteers. The team ventures down the traditional routes, holding talks at schools and other organisations to spread the word, but Stasak points to another mode of attracting help: peer networks.
Instead of relying on people who are already interested in volunteer opportunities, Stasak focusses on another way they recruit people who, on the surface, may not have volunteer work on their radar at all. “What we’re trying to do is attract people who aren’t going to an online directory and going ‘I want volunteer.’ They’re getting these recommendations through social media and through their friends, and they’re saying, ‘Oh, I did this cool thing on the weekend. You should come along and do it too,'” she says.
“It started with a smaller group and people going, ‘Yeah, I had a really great time,’ and then recommending it to their friends, either through a conversation or through social media or whatever it may be. And that’s really how Big Help Mob grows because that is definitely the most effective type of marketing.”
“If your friend mentions something, you’re more likely to buy into it than anything else.”
But why help? Why do people—especially young people—want to spend what precious spare time they have helping others?
For them volunteering means hanging out with friends or meeting new ones, and all while being a part of something that makes a palpable difference, no matter how small. Plus, they just feel good when the job’s completed.
“For some people it’s that they’ve got spare time and they’re looking for a way to fill it and they find that doing something out there with their friends can be really, really powerful and really exciting, and something a little bit different,” Stasak explains.
She says she often hears people say, ‘My friend invited me along and it was a way to hang out,’ as their reason for joining.
Making volunteering as common a social activity as grabbing lunch is not an easy ask, but it’s certainly something to aspire to, and really, why shouldn’t it be as natural as other things we take for granted?
Every city needs an organisation that makes it easy to galvanise people, young and old, into making a difference. And with Big Help Mob’s fun, interactive flash-mob of superheroes, volunteering is inspiring people to not only volunteer more, but to consider alternative degree programs, careers choices and collaborate with other volunteers.
Here’s hoping more volunteer programs like Big Help Mob pop up in cities across the globe.