“Not all efforts will succeed, keep trying. Not just about getting volunteers (though that is important) it is also about being PART of your community.”- Lewis Park Steward
How do Seattleites learn about volunteering at a Green Seattle restoration site?
In a Forest Steward orientation last year, attendees shared how they learned about Green Seattle. Some visited their neighborhood park and saw another volunteer weeding or planting. A restoration sign announcing progress attracts some. The most common way to become involved is via friends, neighbors or online social networks. A few Stewards have become involved because they wanted to build their skills for a future career. Knowing how people come to be committed volunteers helps inform strategic outreach and engagement.
How do Green Seattle volunteers transform into dedicated Stewards?
In a study from 2010 Green Cities Research Alliance, Puget Sound volunteers said they were motivated to become stewards by social connections, wanting to learn, and caring about the environment. The longer people volunteered, the more motivated they were to care for the environment. Over the past few years, Green Seattle has hosted several Steward-only workshops on outreach and engagement. Stewards share their ideas about building community and engaging with volunteers at their restoration site. Four themes emerge from their ideas.
Build a Relationship
Stewards who create a fun and welcoming volunteer event leave a lasting impression on volunteers. Volunteers often do not know about ecological processes, or how to use a shovel, but they want to help and be involved. They will remember how they felt during the event, even if they can’t remember what a Tall Oregon Grape is. Volunteers are most likely to come back if they leave with positive memories and information about the next work party.
Try different approaches and strategies
Outreach and engagement strategies vary from site to site, and person to person. Some Stewards borrow a table and materials from GSP to attend neighborhood events, some write monthly newsletters to their volunteers, some keep a blog with progress photos, and some request donations for free coffee and snacks. Try a few different strategies and document your results. Ask your volunteers how they found your site.
If it’s fun, keep doing it
Remember, this is a volunteer endeavor you have chosen! If you find that sending inspirational photos to your volunteers keeps everything going, keep doing it. If you find the effort to get free coffee donations results in awake and engaged volunteers, keep doing it. If you find yourself no longer enjoying the restoration process, review your motivations and needs. What is lacking or could be improved? What little thing could make your work time more enjoyable?
Sometimes it can feel like you are battling against a never ending onslaught of blackberry. Or, all those flyers around town only resulted in one new volunteer. Stay positive and know you are contributing to a larger effort.
Steward Education Collaborator, Washington Native Plant Society/GSP
Elizabeth supports the Green Seattle Partnership through her consulting firm Our Future Environment and as a St. Mark’s Greenbelt Forest Steward. She provides services to integrate the benefits of natural, restorative, digital, and open spaces in urban environments.