By Jessica Ballard

They say many hands make light work and we couldn’t agree more. It takes so many loving and able hands and bodies to keep our gardens growing at GreenHouse17, and we are so thankful! We rely on a lot of volunteers to keep our farm program strong, and while it may seem like volunteers are an easy source of free labor and service, it takes respectful and consistent management to ensure mutual benefit for both the participants and the organization.

I have been coordinating with volunteers and service groups for a long time and at a number of different sites and have gathered some helpful tips along the way:

  • First and foremost, let your volunteers know who you are and tell them a little bit about the mission and history of your organization, garden or program. Let them know how thankful you are for their support and why their service helps your program.
  • Find out who they are. Understand why they took the time to come share their skills with you. Get a little information about who they are, why they are here and what interests, and skills they possess and would like to share.
  • Do your best to find a time that is good for you AND the volunteers. (Remember, they WANT to be helpful). If you bend over backwards to make a time work that is super inconvenient, it’s harder to enjoy the spirit of service and community that they want to share.
  • Be on time and be respectful of your volunteer’s time.
  • Set appropriate time frames for work. You may find volunteers are so eager to put in a full day working outside when you are scheduling them and some groups may do really well for a long day. I often find, however, that scheduling volunteers for 2-4 hours can be a lot more productive. People often leave with a sense of accomplishment and some extra time left in their day.
  • Set reasonable goals to accomplish within the set time frame. Make sure that participants will be able to see the progress they have made by the end of their time with you. This helps them feel a sense of accomplishment and leave on a more positive note.
  • Make sure volunteers have easy access to restrooms and water.
  • Provide necessary training for each task.
  • Specify appropriate clothing and equipment needed for work beforehand.
  • Try to direct folks to tasks they are comfortable with. Don’t be afraid to lovingly redirect if necessary.
  • If you have long term volunteers, meet with them early on to coordinate scheduling and identify their interests and skill sets. Try and plug them in in a way that is empowering to them AND to your organization.
  • Gratitude! Gratitude! Gratitude! Say thanks often! Remember these folks are giving of their personal time and energy to work for you. Recognize the awesome job they are doing!

Good work can be hard to find (especially for free), so do your best to create a positive, respectful environment for those who are serving your organization. Working with volunteers is an excellent way to accomplish big goals, while building a spirit of community and educating the public about your particular project or organization. Maintaining respect and integrity with volunteers and service groups is key to building long-lasting relationships and gaining the much-needed and much-appreciated love and support your community has to offer.

Many thanks to all of the volunteers that support us at GreenHouse17 with special thanks to LexMark and the University of Missouri Alternative Breaks team for getting our 2015 season off to a great start!