The AmeriCorps VISTA has been responsible for performing consistent outreach via Facebook, Instagram, and a MailChimp newsletter to inform supporters and recruit volunteers for maintenance and harvest activities throughout the year. The VISTA has increased program visibility and volunteer recruitment by participating in highly attended community outreach events such as Earth Day, EcoFest, National Get Outdoors Day, Recycled Arts Fair, and regional farmers markets throughout the summer. The 2018 VISTA helped launch the first annual Pick-a-Pear-a-thon, a combination volunteer and per-pound pledge drive, that has been continued in 2019. This event has since consistently drawn 100+ volunteers and $1000+ in donations. The 2019 VISTA also coordinated a Pick-a-Pear-a-thon Kickoff Party at a local pub with donations of local produce for a special menu, live music, and a raffle with door prizes that raised almost $600 and generated community excitement for the harvest. Posting flyers for larger events, like the summer fundraiser, helps reach residents in highly trafficked areas such as bars, cafes, grocery stores, and libraries.
Urban Abundance also uses a number of online platforms to raise awareness about the program and engage potential volunteers. Hosting events on Facebook, encouraging supporters to “Like” and “Share” posts, hosting events on EventBrite, and sharing events to public calendars such as The Columbian newspaper and Clark County Green Neighbors newsletter, enables people seeking volunteer opportunities to find the program. Media coverage of events is also a great tool to spread awareness of the program. In 2019, a reporter from KGW-TV came out to Pick-a-Pear-a-thon to film a segment, and several volunteers have noted that they found out about the program via reading the paper or watching the news.
Urban Abundance also connects with school, youth, service groups, and businesses that might participate in our events en masse. The VISTA has presented directly to several local Rotary club chapters, neighborhood associations of neighborhoods containing community orchards, school clubs, and more. The VISTA also reaches out to staff at local community colleges to bring student groups to volunteer to fulfill service hour requirements. As volunteers communicate enthusiasm for the mission or particular interests aligned with the program, the VISTA makes direct calls to those individuals, recruiting them for future activities. As with most organizations or volunteer activities, word of mouth from satisfied participants is the most successful recruitment tool.
Urban Abundance’s main forms of communication with existing volunteers and supporters are the MailChimp e-newsletter platform and Facebook page. Contact information from volunteer waivers and sign-up sheets from tabling events is promptly entered in the MailChimp account. MailChimp contacts receive regular updates, reminding supporters of upcoming events (minimum one monthly update, more as possible). Post-event updates, showing photos and sharing specifics of what volunteers accomplish generate significant viewer engagement. It’s important to offer year-round opportunities to engage volunteers.
One of the main ways to retain volunteers is to ensure participants have a positive experience at events. The event organizer provides for volunteers’ basic needs: snacks, water, and restroom access wherever possible. Organization staff and/or volunteer leaders attempt to get to know volunteers and learn their reasons for getting involved, and make them aware of other opportunities with the organization or others in the area that align with their interests/skills/schedule. Leaders answer volunteers’ questions during events or provide them with resources after the fact so they walk away having learned something. Event leaders illustrate the volunteers’ impact by doing a group ‘wrap-up’ at the end of events and staff send a recap email or post a Facebook recap sharing specifics of what volunteers accomplished.
Volunteers who feel appreciated for their contributions are not only more likely to return for a future event, they are also more likely to encourage others to contribute to the program! Volunteers should receive a thank you for signing up — ideally, this would be an automated email response to an event RSVP or e-newsletter subscription. Leaders thank people for coming out at the start of volunteer events, thank them for their time and contributions at the end, and thank them throughout the event for the impact they are making! Staff send a follow up email and/or make a Facebook post to show appreciation for those who participated and help them grasp how necessary volunteers are for accomplishing the mission. A volunteer appreciation event can be held post-harvest season and/or a kickoff event at a local business, offering deals, discounts and/or swag as prizes.