Volunteer Relations with SoSA Florida
SoSA Florida’s diverse volunteer base runs the demographic and geographic spectrum. Throughout the entire state, our volunteers represent various ages, religions, orientations, creeds, and ethnicities. Outreach and recruitment efforts reflect this variety. In person outreach occurs at hunger related or environmental conferences, religious services, volunteer expos, schools, and community meetings. Digital outreach like social media accounts in coordination with emailing list servers elicit support and entice new volunteers as well as media coverage and public service announcements. The best tool in volunteer recruitment and outreach is word of mouth from current volunteers and their recommendations are invaluable.
The 3rd year AmeriCorps member has created and cultivated several volunteer lists and databases outside of SoSA’s general records. For example, the AmeriCorps member compiled a complete list of United Methodist Church (UMC) congregations in the state of Florida. Data points include the name of the church, address, geographical region, and key staff members such as lead and youth pastors. The UMC database was created in order to effectively recruit volunteers at the UMC Conference in Lakeland. Letters and emails were sent out in advance, and the VISTA tabled at the three-day event. Similarly, the 2nd year AmeriCorps member created a list of Northern and Central Florida Presbyterian churches to prep for the annual Presbytery, in addition to tabling and distributing information. Such databases and research act as a volunteer relation sieve, allowing the AmeriCorps member and future SoSA staff to effectively locate, gather, and reach out to these and similar volunteer bases.
Retention is more of a challenge, as getting volunteers to return is far more of a commitment than giving gleaning a try. The Gleaning Calendar works wonders for retention, allowing volunteer groups to pick a date to commit months in advance. The combination of low-level commitment and simple planning allay anxieties related to the event. Student groups have excellent return rates as well, needing hours for graduation or scholarships. The produce itself is great for retention.
Food agencies and patrons have very high return rates, as they are allowed to take food to their families and community. In sum, the more benefits offered at the greatest convenience lead to the highest retention rate. Additionally, proper volunteer appreciation feeds into recognition. Appreciated volunteers are far more likely to recommend the program to others and return to serve. At each glean, the field supervisor reminds volunteers of the impact of their service, and how SoSA’s mission is impossible without them. Following the event, pictures and a thank-you are posted on our social media pages. Appreciation is a year-round activity, but once a year SoSA takes time to celebrate and say thanks.
For the past three years, SoSA organizes volunteer appreciation events such as auctions, concerts, or hosts a Simple Supper event. A Simple Supper event is an annual event in which SoSA gathers volunteers throughout the state to recognize and commemorate their continued dedication to fighting hunger in the state of Florida. Moreover, hosting volunteer appreciation events allows us to recapture and reignite their passion to serve and improve the community.