Friday, June 22, 2012

Central Ohio Community Gardens Are Currently Seeking Volunteers

2012 Season Opening Day Volunteers
There was a time – before this summer – when I was known as Rebecca of Sunnybrook Lane. Now, I am the grouchy garden lady. When I kibitz with other community garden managers, we all express frustration with how overwhelmed we are and how we could be doing so much more – and be more patient with the neighborhood kids -- if we only had more volunteers to help us with the very glamorous work of planting, weeding, watering and harvesting. It was a recurring theme during our last Hub Garden meeting in December, when I ask other community gardens how I could help them, and even at the last GCGC meeting. Like many of you, I post volunteer opportunities on the Garden’s website, promote the volunteer and gardening opportunities in This Week Community News, post items in the church bulletin, post on volunteer websites (like Earth Day and Hands On Central Ohio) and reach out to area non-profits. You already know that Urban Connections has provided volunteers to help on occasion. As for my other efforts, I only get some phone calls in response to website postings and newspaper articles, but no actual volunteers. So, to maintain my mental health and reclaim my sunny disposition, I thought it would be worthwhile to find an expert to provide some tips about how to improve our collective recruitment, management and retention of volunteers.  
2010 Season Opening Day Volunteers

Hands On Central Ohio (f/k/a First Link) is part of a national organization that exists to link people who want to volunteer with non-profit organizations that need volunteers. In addition, it also provides lots of training specifically for non-profit organizations on a variety of topics, including volunteer recruitment, management and retention. As it happens, I’m friends with the Vice President of Training and Volunteer Services, Beth Eck. Beth has provided some tips (some of which are summarized below) and is willing to provide a 60-90 minute FREE seminar to community garden leaders summarizing best and worst practices from non-profit organizations all over the country. (Email me if you would be interested in attending this FREE seminar and I will work with those who express an interest to schedule a time and place).  
2009 Upward Bound Volunteers

According to a study of 500 non-profit organizations conducted by the Journal of Volunteer Administration for its Fall/Summer 1999 issue, many organizations lose potential volunteers by making a poor first impression in the first contact with the potential volunteer:   
  • 50% did not receive “How can I help you?”
  • 70% did not get the name of the person answering the phone
  • 25% not referred to the right person
  • 48% asked for call back information
  • 30% were called back
  • 16% not thanked for calling the agency
One of Beth’s tips: Don’t bowl alone. Stop spending so much time trolling for lone-wolf volunteers and instead spend your limited time more wisely by working with organizations that can supply small groups of volunteers or have a volunteer work ethic (like Young Professional Groups, Rotary Clubs, Alumni groups, clubs, etc.) where their members want to volunteer together as a social outing. Yes, there is work involved in networking with these groups.
2010 Earth Day Litter Pick-Up Volunteers

 Have you tried to target your recruitment efforts to a particular demographic group? Different age groups use different media and respond to different motivations. You cannot rely on one-size-fits-all recruitment methods. Also, ask your volunteers why they volunteer and what would make it more meaningful, how it could be easier for them, and how they could help you recruit even more volunteers.
Did you know that:
• 65% of volunteers are episodic (less than 100 hours per year) 
• Most non-volunteers fear the time commitment required for volunteering
2010 Season Closing Day Volunteers

Of course, it is easier to maintain an existing volunteer than to recruit a new one. These are some of the most common mistakes organizations make in managing volunteers: 
  • Fail to ‘strike while the iron is hot”
  • Fail to provide effective orientation, training
  • Fail to provide support
  • Fail to treat volunteers fairly
  • Fail to foster two way communication
  • Fail to be inclusive with newer volunteers
  • Fail to welcome and utilize their multiple skills and new ideas  
    2012 Urban Connections Volunteers
  • Fail to provide meaningful jobs
  • Fail to empower them
  • Fail to connect their actions with critical needs
  • Fail to recognize their effort
 Beth has Three Keys to Maintaining Volunteer Commitment:

1. Effective matching  
  • Why do they want to volunteer HERE?
  • What skills can be utilized?
  • What are they interested in doing?
2 On-going support 
  • Understand the job
  • Support in performing the work by forming a organization/volunteer partnership to succeed
  • Provide opportunities for leadership and expect project ownership
  • What do they do when something goes wrong?
 3. Express gratitude in a variety of ways
  •  Communication at all stages of the relationship

Remember, people are loyal to other people (and you want to be one of those people who instill loyalty). Respect and social interaction builds loyalty. Policies and procedures are necessary, but you will be more successful in concentrating on the interpersonal experience.

Again, these are just some of the useful nuggets that could help you improve the volunteer recruitment and retention efforts of your community garden. If you are interested in hearing more useful tips (and identification of other potential mistakes), email me at and if enough people respond, I’ll set up a Free seminar for Central Ohio community gardens.

 If you have read this far and are not managing a community garden, I hope that you realize that we need your help. There are community gardens all over Central Ohio and likely is one near where you live or work. Contact the garden (or just show up at the garden and ask how you can help). You need not come every week or even every month. You can work for an hour or more. You do not need to know anything about how deep to plant a seed, about how to tell the difference between a weed and a flower, or about how much fertilizer to apply. Any time you can devote will help us accomplish something that otherwise would have been left undone. Many hands make light work. 

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