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The Volunteer Experience: Ten Keys to Keep Them Coming back!

Many of us work as volunteers and continually encourage others to do the same. New faces show up to your event, but then you never hear from them again. Shame. So what needs to change for people to continue to want to give their precious time to your cause?

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do you make a specific effort to meet, greet and continue interfacing with these new folks during the event?
  2. Do you give them a reason to feel part of the activity?
  3. Do you go out of your way to help them feel comfortable?
  4. Do you ask them questions about their background, interests and general life prior to telling them how great you and your organization are?
  5. Do you keep asking them relevant questions as the event proceeds?
  6. If there is a meal, do you ask them to sit with you?
  7. Do you encourage your fellow volunteering peers to do the same?
  8. At the end, do you tell them they were a huge help and hope to see them again?
  9. Is there any kind of follow up with these people?
  10. Is there a personal outreach from you or other members prior to the next event to include them and send a special invitation?

Recently, we volunteered for an Arizona Antelope Foundation conservation project in Elgin, Arizona.  People come state wide to help in changing the last rung of the barbed wire fence on a very kind ranchers property, the Rose Tree Ranch. Typically folks know they are in for a day of backbreaking work. And they all understand the purpose of the work as the morning recap explains why the fence modification is important to help the migration of Pronghorn Antelope. These animals generally will go under a fence, not over. So if the bottom rung is barbed or two low, they can become victims of predators like mountain lions and coyotes.

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This newly created travel corridor helps ensure that up to 40 Pronghorn antelope in the Davis pasture have improved access to the western foothills of the Mustang Mountains.  It will contribute to completing the critical south portion of the overall pronghorn Santa Cruz Plains pronghorn corridor improvement project. This information was provided so volunteers had a good understanding of the value.

We had many new people attending this event. When I saw them, I introduced my self and asked them if the knew there was bottled water available, where the Porta-a-pottie was located, that there was a wonderful dinner served Saturday night and to please stay for the feast. We wanted to make sure they had a memento for their hard work so make sure they had a great t-shirt!

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Changing the barbed wire, working fence, and doing the hard labor is not my strong suit.  Instead my husband Al and I take our Polaris Sportsman 500 ATV and I load it up with a cooler full of ice and bottled water.  I put extra tools and equipment on the bumper seat behind me.  I run the fence line making sure people have plenty of hydration, ferry them back to camp when they need and pick up needed supplies as requested.  Getting messages from one end of the fence to the next is important too because this is a three mile plus long fence being worked.  Checking project leads John Millian, AAF Field Project Manager and Glen Dickens, AAF Past President, and making sure the volunteers are distributed in the correct places is part of the job too. This way no one is ever bored!

Prior to lunch, I run back to camp, trade in the ATV for the Ford 250 extended cab truck so people can again be ferried to camp for lunch. Of course part of this ride is to move them back out to the fence line after lunch.  Then again the truck is traded for the ATV, and I’m back out making the rounds up and down the fence.

We had two young men who are University of Arizona students focused on Wildlife Management as new volunteers. That young blood is fabulous because these guys knew how to work! Having never done this kind of project, they were open and eager to learn.  After the hard day of work, we were back at camp and I asked if they had enjoyed themselves.  “YES!” they exclaimed “And everyone is so friendly!” Not sure what they expected but that comment thrilled me.

We are looking forward to seeing these fine women and men back at our next work project. The question I am looking to answer now is what else can we do to encourage them and others to volunteer again.  Yes the T-Shirts are a nice give a way, but is that enough to bring back volunteers?

Marsha Petrie Sue, Chair, The WOMA

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