Volunteers Relations in Colville with Northeast Washington Hunger Coalition
In rural areas, working with local volunteer groups, especially ones with similar missions, is often easier than recruiting volunteers by other means
Having quality volunteers requires an established incentive structure for gleaning events (i.e. volunteers need to know they will be allowed to take home a certain percentage of their harvest ahead of the event)
Volunteer recruiting sites (such as VolunteerMatch.org) are much less effective in rural areas
An email marketing service (such as MailChimp or Constant Contact) can do wonders for event announcements and other messages to volunteers.
A number of approaches for volunteer outreach were utilized over the first two years of the Harvest VISTA project in Colville, WA. First and foremost, this effort involved reaching out to an established group of gleaning volunteers in the area to create a mutually beneficial partnership. Ultimately this has proven to be a simpler and more sustainable strategy than any other form of volunteer outreach. The gleaning group has benefited from grower relationships cultivated by the Farm to Food Pantry program and the Harvest VISTA project has gained reliable and experienced volunteers with a minimum of time and resources put toward recruitment.
Harvest VISTAs have also attended meetings held by local 4H, Rotary, Kiwanis and church clubs, with the goal of engaging these local organizations to help glean as part of their community service.
Despite broad initial interest, this approach was far less successful, with only one club actively involved in the project’s first season. One of the many challenges to working with already established groups is a lack of direct contact with the individuals attending prior to the gleaning event. For example, the Harvest VISTA would be expecting five individuals for a project with the 4H club, but then ten volunteers would attend.
An email-marketing service like MailChimp or Constant Contact is extremely useful for event announcements. At no charge to small organizations, you can create and send professional-looking emails which can be set to post automatically to social media pages. These services also allow the user to see data on message open rates, among other metrics. Furthermore, current and potential volunteers have the ability to automatically subscribe or unsubscribe to a mailing list at any time.