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The NUI Galway Volunteering Fair is a collaborative event between the ALIVE volunteering programme and Student Services. There have now been five annual Fairs following a pilot Fair in January 2005. The Volunteering Fair has become a major recruitment event for new volunteers, a platform of our community partnerships and showcase of volunteering activity at the University.
NUI Galway is committed to its student-centred ethos through career development, health promotion and a positive student experience as important features. Likewise the University is committed to its role in the wider society and impact within the local community. It is within this context that the concept of volunteering has been supported and acknowledged by the University and within various departments. The Volunteer Fair evolved from these two priorities.
The pilot Volunteering Fair in January 2005 marked an informal launch of the collaboration of ALIVE with Student Services and other internal volunteering pathways. This first Fair showcased existing volunteering opportunities on and off campus, including: societies, the first-year mentoring programme, clubs, student radio and newspaper, as well as with local, national and international community organisations. Prior to this collaborative outing, volunteering fairs were held by the individual partners independent of one another. A joined up approach to the Fair has resulted in many benefits and positive experiences.
The Fair is organised by a committee including: Careers, University Press Office, Chaplaincy, Student Services and ALIVE. The team gained valuable insight into the organising and administration of such an event, as well as the potential for running an annual event. The event was successful enough to warrant a Fair at the start of the academic year in September, forming the main focus of a recruitment and publicity drive.
The Volunteering Fair has become a major drive and focus for recruiting volunteers and sharing the work of the community organisation. A number of methods are used to promote the event, including:
At each event there are over 40 stands for the various organisations, including:
Invitations are sent to the community partners that the ALIVE programme has developed relationships with over a number of years. At the Fair stands are alternated between internal NUI Galway volunteer opportunities and external local, national and international organisations. This layout provides a range of opportunities for students based on their needs and expectations as volunteers.
Some successful features of the Fair include: shared stands, first-come first-serve allocation, food vouchers for community organisations, candyfloss for students, inviting the local Mayor. The local volunteer centre is consulted in order to ensure the perspective of the community is included. The organisers have experimented with the timing of the event.
The Volunteer Fair Booklet produced for the event had the purpose of providing information about the stands at the Fair. Each stand submitted a brief description of their work and volunteer roles. This provided attendees with a snapshot of the organisations’ aims and to help them decide whether they would be interested in volunteering with them. The booklet had a long life, as it was distributed throughout the year by various departments to students interested in volunteering.
The Fair created many synergies and revealed itself to be a vehicle for staff and students to come together and discuss potential avenues of collaboration. For example, the Chaplaincy in meeting Habitat for Humanity at the Fair have developed a collaboration whereby an annual NUI Galway team of volunteers participate in the Global Village Project in Africa.
In the first two years of the Fair it was acknowledges that the Fair was a collaborative venture. However from the outside, that is the community and student perspective, there was confusion regarding who is the organiser and who is the point of information for follow-up queries.
It was decided that the University designated ALIVE as the volunteering programme and as such the clear branding for the event would be ALIVE to ensure clarity for the students and community, while behind the scenes the organisation of the Fair is shared.
Each event is evaluated by students attending the Fair and community organisations exhibiting. The evaluations provide feedback and an insight into the experience of the attendees of the Fairs and offers ideas for improvements in subsequent years.
Feedback from the Fair suggested that certain organisations that were expected to be there did not turn up or were not invited. For example students indicated that they wanted to see more international opportunities to volunteer. As a result, the pool of organisations invited was expanded.
Volunteering Fairs are not innovative on their own, many examples of fairs are held using various models, (ie. Alternative Careers Fairs).However the NUI Galway Volunteer Fair is innovative in its approach to collaborate with the various partners on campus as well as off- showcasing a huge variety of opportunities.
It met the objective of developing a coordinated approach to building relations with the local and wider community. For example students involved in societies may want to link their society activities to a community organisation (ie. fundraise). It has increased the profile of NUI Galway with the local community groups. The scale of the event and its attendant and media coverage has helped to raise the profile of volunteering activity which is an objective of the ALIVE programme.
Additional Example Volunteer Fairs
Volunteer Fairs organised by community and voluntary organisations are held nationally in Dublin, Limerick, etc. UCD, TCD and DCU held a Volunteer Fair in 2009.
Warwick University’s Warwick Volunteers holds an annual Volunteer Fair each October since 2003. It is quite similar in its approach but there are a few distinct characteristics:
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