Managing volunteers to achieve high quality trail stewardship work for land managers is not easy. Learn from three organizations about the tools and resources available to you that will help you start, expand or enhance your outdoor stewardship volunteer program, achieving your goals, and providing exceptional service to land managers.
10:00 am (Pacific Time)
** This event has passed **
Cost (RECORDING):FREE for members
Including volunteers as part of a well-planned and managed recreational trail project is increasingly viewed as providing numerous significant benefits. Yet effectively engaging and managing volunteers is challenging. Learn from three organizations as they share information about resources and tools available to develop your own volunteer stewardship capacity or more effectively partner with others.
Anna Zawisza from Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (VOC) will share information from VOC's recently launched online Toolkit based on 35 years of proven experience in managing volunteers for achieving high quality stewardship work for land managers. Anna will provide tangible examples of how VOC is working with partners across Colorado to build their capacity for outdoor stewardship.
Anthony Duncan from the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) will provide a high-level look at the tools and resources available with IMBA that benefit volunteer organizations and their partners. IMBA's educational materials span a variety of topics. Not only does IMBA provide expert assistance with trails, but organizational capacity is an important part of the organization's mission. Competent and educated advocacy organizations are crucial to trail projects and their volunteers play an important role in land managers' recreational trail management goals.
Malin Clyde manages Nature Groupie, an initiative fostering a culture of stewardship in New England that is based at the University of New Hampshire Extension. She will focus on three areas that relate to trails stewardship: sharing Nature Groupie's experience launching a Stewardship Trail Library that provides free loans of stewardship tools such as weed wrenches, volunteer workday supplies, and trails tools; providing insight into the unique aspects of collaborating on trails projects with private land trusts and small towns; and thirdly sharing lessons learned for how to welcome new volunteers to stewardship and trail work: what works, potential pitfalls, and free resources.
Anna Zawisza serves as the Director of Community Outreach and Strategic Partnerships at Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado. Prior to joining VOC in 2015, Anna spent seven years at the Alliance for Sustainable Colorado, the last two as their Executive Director. Throughout her career, Anna has worked to further sustainability through climate change mitigation initiatives, making higher education possible for low income students, and engaging in the community to further environmental stewardship and human services. When she’s not working, she spends most of her time in the outdoors.
Anthony Duncan, IMBA Local Program Manager, International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA)
Raised in a small town in the Southern Appalachian mountains of Virginia, and now based in Tennessee, Anthony grew up with an appreciation of the outdoors and the adventures it provides. Anthony came to IMBA in 2014 after an eight-year career in marketing and PR as a graphics project manager and a former president of SORBA Tri-Cities, an IMBA/SORBA chapter straddling the Tennessee/Virginia border. Anthony runs the Local Program at IMBA, designed to assist mountain biking advocacy organizations with administrative tools and resources that help promote mountain biking and build capacity.
Malin Clyde has been training and leading environmental volunteers for the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension since 2000. In 2012 she launched Nature Groupie, a regional initiative to foster a culture of stewardship in New England. Focused on mobilizing volunteers in both environmental stewardship and citizen science research, Nature Groupie connects thousands of new volunteers each year to volunteer experiences hosted by over 250 conservation partners across New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont. Nature Groupie promotes caring for and studying the environment through a weekly volunteer bulletin, quarterly partner newsletters, social media channels and volunteer training materials and workshops. Malin is passionate about connecting new people to the outdoors through volunteer action in forests, fields, waterways, coasts, and our own backyards. She holds a BA from Yale University and an MS from the University of Washington College of Environmental and Forest Sciences.
Nature Groupie website: https://naturegroupie.org/
Nature Groupie Stewardship Tool Library : https://naturegroupie.org/resources/stewardship-tool-library
Software used for tool library: MyTurn.com: https://myturn.com/
Nature Groupie Volunteer Training guides : https://naturegroupie.org/training-guides
Nature Groupie Directory of Trail Professionals & Organizations (New England): https://naturegroupie.org/trail-professionals-and-organizations
Resource: Drafting a Volunteer Position Description: https://naturegroupie.org/resources/drafting-volunteer-position-description
Nature Groupie: Tips for Working with Stewardship Volunteers: https://naturegroupie.org/resources/tips-working-stewardship-volunteers
Nature Groupie: Engagement Initiative Report (Stewardship Needs) from 2013: https://naturegroupie.org/resources/stewardship-network-new-england-engagement-initiative-fall-2013-report
Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (VOC)
• Toolkit website: https://steppingupstewardship.org/
• Training calendar: https://www.voc.org/leadership-training-calendar
• Training course descriptions: https://www.voc.org/training-course-descriptions
International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA)
• Plan & Design: http://americantrails.org/images/documents/IMBA_Planning-Design.pdf
• Trail Building Schools: https://www.americantrails.org/images/documents/IMBA_TBS.pdf
Maria asks: How did Nature Groupie get partners involved in using the website? How long did it take to get organizational buy in?
(Malin) Nature Groupie was an outgrowth of the conservation community providing feedback that they needed help with environmental stewardship, and wondering if Extension volunteers could help. We searched for a model from other states, and found examples such as those at VOC (in Colorado) and the Stewardship Network (in Michigan). In 2012 we partnered with the Stewardship Network on a grant to the US Forest Service to adapt their model -- of collaboration across conservation groups in working with volunteers to care for land and waters – to New England. We held stakeholder meetings in 2013 involved 80+ groups (see report: https://naturegroupie.org/resources/stewardship-network-new-england-engagement-initiative-fall-2013-report) to determine priorities of work. Recruiting new volunteers was the highest priority, so since them we have invested most of our effort into our technology platform that connects volunteers to projects. Organizational buy-in was strong from the beginning since we were offering to help solve problems many groups had, with a shared solution that didn’t require any additional meetings or money. But that needs assessment was really important – and we are still working from those original priorities outlined in the 2013 report. Other outcomes have included our tool sharing programs and Stewardship Training Guides – because a need for tools and need for trained volunteers also emerged as strong shared needs.
Jim asks: Are you aware of other resources like the ones presented in the webinar?
(Anna) Before we launched the Toolkit, we researched existing resources and found two groups putting together similar things: Nature Groupie and IMBA. Hence, when we had the idea to do this webinar, we reached out to these two partners to offer them an opportunity to showcase their resources.
Camille asks: What is the main challenge your organization faces when working with volunteers in the outdoors?
(Anna) There are many challenges in working with volunteers in the outdoors and at VOC we work to identify and then overcome those challenges through experimenting with new strategies. A consistent challenge is to retain volunteers and move them into trained leadership positions. It is impossible for us to run our projects without skilled leaders, especially crew leaders. And not every volunteer can be a crew leader. So, we need to first ensure that people return to our projects within a season or year over year, then identify these returning volunteers as having the leadership skills we need in order to move them into a trained role, then have them commit to doing a training with us, followed by a mentoring experience – all that before they can assume their new role. This is an extensive commitment, one that seems to be more difficult to sustain than when VOC was founded in 1984.
(Malin) I hear from our partners that recruiting new volunteers is the biggest challenge. Traditionally, they have relied on long-term, heavily committed volunteers who are now “aging out” of their volunteer programs. Replacing them with the next generation is a challenge, as the world has changed, and many potential volunteers are not going to commit to open-ended volunteer roles until they’ve gotten a taste of the work (and even then, people just don’t commit for as long term as they used to). Recruiting volunteers through creative partnerships, using social media, and engaging non-traditional volunteers are paths being explored by some of our partners.
Jason asks: What’s the biggest barrier you’re aware of two people using your resources?
(Anna) Time. Everyone seems to be so busy these days that many people download our guides but do not actually read them and put them to action. We want to make the information accessible, but people also need to carve out the time to read, engage, attend training and follow through on using the resources we offer.
Stephanie asks: How can the trail community do a better job in getting users to understand their impact and need to be involved in stewardship?
(Anna) The million-dollar question! At VOC we believe one the best way is for the trail community to have common messaging and even a shared public education campaign. Think Smokey Bear and his message about wildfires. Imagine if we had a Smokey Bear of stewardship? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to know more about what we’re doing to make this a reality.
(Anthony) Storytelling plays a big part in this. People volunteer for different reasons and talking often about the positive impacts your organization has, the better they see the impacts their participation has. This method will attract and help retain those who believe in giving back to their community. Recognition of their efforts also helps them realize their impacts. Consider a volunteer recognition program where you reward standout volunteers. Make announcements about those volunteers and talk about their contributions.
(Malin) I think we need to make it easier for people to participate in the stewarding of our trails and environment. Focusing on being welcoming organizations is a great start. Many volunteer organizations are “clubs,” which aren’t super inviting to new people. Younger generations are much less likely to be interested in club membership and their affiliations are more fluid (think Meet Up or Facebook Events). Trail signs and social media that promotes easy ways to volunteer or how to practice good stewardship – without guilt and blame and focused on happiness and joy – are good messaging practices.
Dick O’Brien asks: How do we attract younger (age 20-40) trail volunteers? Our current group consists primarily of those over 40 and we have not been real successful in recruiting younger volunteers.
(Anna) A few strategies that have worked well for VOC include: 1. Create an Instagram account – young people are not on Facebook 2. Engage with Young Professionals Groups or College Service Clubs or other resources that focus on this demographic. 3. Recruit young board members and ask them what will work to get their peers out – then implement their recommendations, see what works, and continue to use the most effective strategies. 4. Use photos showing younger volunteers and consider a project for the young professionals to come and network – offer an opportunity to socialize after your project.
What do you find to be the most successful methods to attract trail volunteers?
(Anna) Lots and lots of community outreach (see our Community Outreach guide on the Stepping up Stewardship website in the Marketing & Communications module and Recruitment Methods guide in the Volunteer Engagement module). You have to get the word out about your offerings and then showcase what’s in it for the volunteer to join you – we call this your value proposition. Once you answer the question of what they will get out of it, keep advertising with that language clearly stated.
Kyle Lawrence asks Anna: Why did you decide to make the free resources only available with login and placing in cart then "checking out" of the site?
(Anna) In order to be able to offer free resources, we need funders to help underwrite the program. In order to keep funders engaged, we need to be able to demonstrate outcomes and impact of the Toolkit. If we don’t know who is using it, then we are unable to get that information, making the entire program unsustainable.
Terri Burch asks and stated: How is the Volunteers for Outdoors CO funded? Loved Anna's presentation and can't wait to check out the website.
(Anna) Thanks Terri. VOC has very diversified funding. We are very transparent about who funds us including a high level overview at https://www.voc.org/how-were-funded and details in our Year End Report inserts found at https://www.voc.org/library.
Dana Backer asks Anthony: Can an individual or two join a scheduled (1) OSI trainings vs hosting one of their one trainings. What is the cost? (2) Do you offer OSI trainings outside of Colorado?
(Anna) Yes, our OSI trainings are open to the public. Typically trainings cost between $40 to $80 per person per training. However, scholarships are available so please let us know if you are interested. We only offer OSI trainings outside of Colorado if they are solicited by a particular group who is willing to fund our travel, instructors, location, etc. Costs range between $2,000 and $4,000 depending on location. Part of the cost can be offset by user fees to attend the training. If you are interested in the OSI program please see https://steppingupstewardship.org/training/
Janet Philips asks Malin: What do you do about insurance for volunteers? Both injury and liability. Especially for children?
(Malin) We find that all of our partner organizations have different policies and practices when it comes to volunteers. State rules vary, but New Hampshire’s laws are very protective of landowners who make their land available for volunteer activity (most liability falls on landowners – so depending on where a project is will determine which group has the liability). The Land Trust Alliance hosted a detailed webinar on Jan. 15, 2019 that provided advice on developing volunteer liability waivers. You could reach out to them about ordering a copy of the recording (I couldn’t find it on their website, but it was posted earlier this year).
Jennifer Jenkin asks Malin: I would like to know about how the online tool library was set up and what software was chosen and why?
(Malin) We are using My Turn (https://myturn.com/) software since it is specially designed for libraries of “things” as opposed to books. You can read more about our Seacoast Stewardship Tool library here: https://naturegroupie.org/story/stewardship-tool-library-breaks-barriers
Happy to answer any specific questions you have about it – you can email me at email@example.com
Rick Nye asks Malin: What agreement do you require of groups borrowing items from the tool library?
(Malin) There is an agreement form that is part of the My Turn software that people have to digitally sign before they can check out tools. We ran it by our university lawyers. We have not had any issues to date. All tools are hand-tools and not, in themselves, very dangerous. Some saws and blades are sharp, however.
Eli Smith asks: How do I search to see if there is an IMBA local program organization in my area?
You can search on our website at https://www.imba.com/engage/find-your-local-group?param=chapter to find if your Local group. If there isn’t one, we’d be happy to work with them to provide some level of support.
Is Nature Groupie reaching their goal of recruiting "next generation" of volunteers?
(Malin) We have strong anecdotal data from partners that the volunteers recruited through Nature Groupie are younger than existing pools of volunteers (who are often long-standing and retired). We will begin asking for year-of-birth information as part of volunteer registration in the coming year in order to collect better demographic data on who is volunteering through Nature Groupie on an on-going basis. We have done smaller data-collection efforts related to age (and found a broad distribution of ages), but we want to have this for all volunteers. I believe VOC has a “year of birth” on their volunteer registration form, so they may have some data as well.
Joseph Rozsahegyi asks: Any special advice or experience developing water trails?
Khiet Luong asks: To what degree/how do you vet walk-on volunteers?
(Anna) We typically do not offer walk-on volunteer opportunities and have strategies designed to discourage this. Still it happens. If they are under 18, they must be accompanied by a parent or (guardian. All volunteers must sign our waiver (we have paper ones available for walk-ons). We ask for their contact info so we can follow up with them after the project. We also make sure that they have the bare necessities for working with us safely and effectively – closed toed shoes, long pants, day pack where they can carry water and food (that we provide).
(Anthony) Orgs who are using our virtual volunteer training materials use that as a vetting source for volunteers who want to work on trails outside of scheduled workdays. If there are first-time or inexperienced volunteers at an organized workday, they hear the same safety talk all of the other volunteers get. Generally a show of hands can determine inexperienced volunteers and crew leaders can assign those tasks accordingly. Also as part of our volunteer program, our volunteer management software provides background check capabilities if you need that level of vetting.
Do you let people bring their own tools? If so, what would happen if folks damage their own tools and seek reparation?
(Anna) We provide all necessary tools to complete the project. If someone wants to bring their own tool, they assume all responsibility for it if it’s damaged.
(Anthony) Lots of volunteers tend to have their own tools, particularly the more experienced ones. Crew leaders can always mention during the safety talk that they would be responsible for the condition of their own tools, including any damage to their tools from use. You could also include such language in a waiver.
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