Volunteer Relations at Good Cheer Food Bank
Good Cheer relies on over 3,000 hours of volunteer service each month, performed by around 200 volunteers. Whidbey Island is a tight-knit community; news travels mostly through word of mouth, and relationships are key to engaging and retaining volunteers. Many Good Cheer volunteers started because a friend or neighbor invited them to join, or because they were newly arrived to the island and looking for new friends and a sense of community. Volunteers are sorted into teams (garden crew, truck drivers, food bank check-in) or choose where they would most like to work (kitchen, garden, thrift stores, etc.). All volunteers are given a 25% discount card to use at the Good Cheer thrift stores.
Volunteer recruitment tactics used have included posting to Drewslist (Whidbey Island’s version of Craigslist), social media (Facebook and Instagram), the Volunteer Match website, posted fliers, and community outreach & networking. The Gleaning program has hosted an outreach booth at the Whidbey Island County Fair and local farmer’s markets. The most successful have been the booth at the Fair, Drewslist, and social media.
As with any program that relies on volunteers, retention is a challenge. Over the last two seasons, the VISTAs have been able to add a few new regulars to the core group of gleaning volunteers. There are numerous community organizations and non-profits on the South end, all in need of volunteers to keep them running. Being on the demand side of the competition when there is a relatively short supply of available volunteers drives home the importance of making the volunteer experience engaging and meaningful. Also crucial is ongoing appreciation, acknowledgement, and reward. Nurturing a sense of family and community, accepting people as they are and for who they are, and accommodating their needs are key elements of volunteer relations, along with fostering a sense of ownership in the success of the organization, and encouraging autonomy.