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Running Group Trips at Boston Area Gleaners

12 Nov 2020, by Admin in Volunteer Relations
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Running Group Trips 

Boston Area Gleaners runs private volunteer outings throughout the season for corporate teams, schools, faith-based organizations, and other community groups. Planning for these trips is very ‘hands-on’—while the Leadership and Operations teams typically manage the public gleaning schedule, the Outreach Coordinator is largely in charge of organizing private group outings. These trips can have rosters upwards of 30 people, many of which are engaging with the organization for the very first time.

A previous model that BAG had used was to have associated scheduling fees for these events and, for larger corporate groups, a required corporate contribution (scaled to the group size). Larger contributions might warrant BAG t-shirts for the group as well as lunch, if the group had interest in that. This model was still being developed in the 2019 season, but was largely a success and a great source of support from corporate groups.

BAG’s 2020 group trips plan (necessary during the era of COVID) is a more scaled-back version of the previous model—hosting community groups only, in small sizes, with a few predesignated time slots available each week. The aim is to relaunch corporate outings and larger group trips when public health precautions and capacity allow.

INITIAL COMMUNICATIONS

Interested community groups will often reach out directly to the Outreach Coordinator by phone or email. In the past, the first step would be to direct these groups to a Service Workday Application on the Boston Area Gleaners’ Website. The application is no longer live, due to current low capacity for private groups, but in previous years the app was a very helpful way to streamline the process and screen groups—and it would be worth re-implementing when there is room for more requests.

Whatever the format, it is important at the outset to check in with the Operations team regarding group requests and the team’s current capacity before proceeding. Notes on successes and challenges with previous year groups are archived and should be referenced whenever a group is being considered.

Given the go-ahead, the Outreach Coordinator should then contact the group to gather some basic details. Contacting by phone is recommended, because the scheduling process is a bit involved to explain. Information to gather from the group (if not already given in an application) includes: Group name, contact person (with phone and email address), age range of group, group size, and 3 preferred dates/time slots for the trip. On the last point—groups can choose a morning (9-12) or an afternoon (1-4) time slot. Depending on the outlook for the season (how much capacity the team expects to have for hosting groups), BAG may predesignate a select few weekly time slot options in advance. In 2020, for example, groups were given the option of scheduling on a Friday morning, Friday afternoon, Saturday morning, or Saturday afternoon.

During this initial correspondence it is also important to give a brief overview to Boston Area Gleaners, the nature of BAG volunteer projects, and the scheduling process. Some may not in initially realize, for example, that BAG does not have a farm of its own but rather partners with 80+ farms across eastern MA.

The scheduling logistics are a key piece to explain upfront—because BAG’s model requires extreme flexibility from groups. Gleaning is necessarily a flexible and responsive activity, so folks need to be able to respond to wherever and whatever the opportunities in the food landscape are! The exact day and time of a trip, based on what is available from the groups’ preferences, can be reserved (after consulting with the team), but the location and crop may not be able to be confirmed until the week of the trip. The group might be scheduled at any one of BAG’s partner farms, depending on farmers’ short-term needs and volume, or may end up processing & packing gleaned produce at the BAG Headquarters in Waltham. Groups can state their general location and project preferences, but again, crop availability, weather, and staff capacity also influence the process. The group will be provided with an online sign-up form for the trip as soon as a date is confirmed, and once a crop and location are identified, all those on the roster will be updated with the full trip details.

Finally, the group should know that because projects do need many hands, if the roster does not fill significantly in the days before the trip, BAG may open up the trip to the public, so that other volunteers can sign on and ensure the glean is successful.

THE SIGN-UP PROCESS

Once a date for the group outing is confirmed, the Outreach Coordinator will create a trip using the Gleanweb volunteer platform. Unless more details are known, the site location will be set to “TBD Group Trip,” and the Outreach coordinator will be designated as leader/main contact person linked to the trip. Private group trips are designated as “Closed” on Gleanweb so that they are not visible to the general public when browsing.

Staff can then send a formal introductory email to the group leader that they can then forward to their group. This message template lives in Boston Area Gleaners’ shared cloud drive, and should include the basic details known (most likely just date + time), as well as detailed instructions on how to sign up. As with any other BAG trip, volunteers must both be registered in BAG’s volunteer system and complete a sign up form for a particular trip in order to sign up for an outing. Because many folks in these groups are new to the organization, being as specific as possible about the steps to the online registration process is key.

As the trip approaches, the BAG Coordinator must both be in touch with the BAG leadership team for updates on location, and with the volunteer group to ensure the roster is filling. Two weeks out, reach out to the Operations Team reminding them about the upcoming trip, and one week out, be in contact to ensure that the outing has a location. On that same timeline, send a screenshot of the current trip roster to the group leader two weeks out, and again one week out, to encourage them to fill the seats and make sure there is no discrepancy between who they think has signed up and who is actually on the roster.

The day before the trip, send a message out to all on the roster giving a final reminder about the trip and update on weather, parking, and any other relevant details.

DURING THE TRIP

The Outreach Coordinator should attend group trips, continuing their role as a liaison between the group and BAG. They will be accompanied by an Operations Team Leader. Having these two trip leads proves useful for private groups that tend to have many first-time volunteers. The Outreach Coordinator should give a brief intro to the organization and extend a special thank you to the group during the initial talk in the field. They should assist the management of the trip, and should also be prepared to take photos of the group in action.

At the close of the trip, it’s important to take a group photo that they can take with them! The leader should also thank the group for their support, explain how they can continue to stay involved with the organization, and, if time allows, leave some time for the group to reflect on how they felt and what they enjoyed during the project.

All photos from the trip can be uploaded to BAG’s shared Volunteer Photo Stream. The Operations team will send an official “Thank You” through Gleanweb after the trip, featuring harvest stats as well as a link to the volunteer photo album.