by Colleen Kenny, Upper Dublin Township Parks & Recreation
A few weeks ago, I wrote this blog post about managing invasive plants. One key element of many successful management programs is capitalizing on volunteer involvement. So, whether managing invasive plants, running events, or helping with other department programs, how do we make the most of our volunteers?
Host volunteer events often
While it may take some extra work up front, holding regular volunteer events can help your volunteers to become more self-sufficient. Think of them as training events. After just two events, my regular volunteers remember their plant identification and begin independently assessing where work is needed. Regular events also allow your “super volunteers” to rise to the top. They can build excitement and momentum around your volunteer program, generating more interest within the community.
Identify and enable your “super volunteers”
Wherever I’ve worked with volunteers, a few individuals have always risen to the top. I like to call them my “super volunteers.” These individuals are deeply invested and willing to shoulder a greater number of tasks. As they grow confident in their work, they can often begin leading volunteers on their own, allowing us, as professionals, to magnify our impacts. To best enable these volunteers, consider a few questions:
- What training do they need?
- What certifications or waivers are required?
- Can they access tools and equipment to share with other volunteers?
Explain the “why”
When kicking off events, remember to explain why we’ve asked people to come out and do all this work. For invasive plant removal events, I remind volunteers that they are helping native plants and wildlife. Are you supporting a good cause? Hosting an event that builds community value? Remind your volunteers why their work is so valuable.
On the flipside, many people do not necessarily come out for the cause, but for the sense of community they feel when volunteering. Remember to work opportunities for community building into your event. Schedule in time for your volunteers to gather around a coffee or snack table. Engage strangers in conversation together to get them talking. These small things can go a long way toward developing a richer volunteer program.
Remember, your job is to manage
Many of my best volunteer days haven’t involved lifting a tool at all. While it may be tempting to focus on the task at head, remember that we as leaders are there to manage the people. Rotate through groups, check on any needs or questions that come up, and take lots of photos. It’s often a different kind of work day than you may be used to, but will help your program to run more smoothly.
Take lots of photos and share them on social media with a thank you to your volunteers. A little thanks goes a long way!