Urban Abundance uses a number of platforms to raise awareness about the program and engage potential volunteers. Hosting events on Facebook and encouraging supporters to “Like” and “Share” and hosting events on Eventbrite enables people seeking volunteer opportunities to find the program. Posting flyers for larger events, like the summer fundraiser, helps reach residents in highly trafficked areas such as bars, cafes, grocery stores, and libraries. Sharing events to public calendars, such as The Columbian newspaper and Clark County Green Neighbors, increases program visibility to the community and can even prompt media coverage of events! Presence at highly attended community events such as Earth Day, National Get Outdoors Day, etc. facilitates connection with potential volunteers, fruit tree owners, and other community partners.
Urban Abundance connects with school, youth, and service groups that might participate in our events on mass. The VISTA presents directly to the local Rotary club and neighborhood associations containing community orchards. The VISTA also reaches out to staff at local community colleges to bring student groups to volunteer. As volunteers communicate enthusiasm for the mission or particular interests aligned with the program, the VISTA makes direct calls to those individuals, recruiting them for future activities. As with most organizations or volunteer activities, word of mouth from satisfied participants is the most successful recruitment tool.
Urban Abundance’s main forms of communication with existing volunteers and supporters are the MailChimp e-newsletter platform and Facebook page. Contact information from volunteer waivers and sign-up sheets from tabling events are promptly entered in the MailChimp account. MailChimp contacts receive regular updates, reminding supporters of upcoming events (minimum one monthly update, more as possible). Post-event updates, showing photos and sharing specifics of what volunteers accomplish generate significant viewer engagement. It’s important to offer year-round opportunities to engage volunteers. Thankfully, community orchards benefit from year-round seasonal maintenance, so work parties in orchards are a possibility outside of harvest season.
One of the main ways to retain volunteers beyond regular communication is to ensure participants have a positive experience at events. The event organizer plans to provide for volunteers’ basic needs: snacks, water, restroom access. Organization staff and/or volunteer leaders attempt to get to know volunteers and learn their reasons for getting involved and make them aware of other opportunities with the organization or others in the area that align with their interests/skills/schedule. Leaders answer volunteers’ questions during events or provide them with resources after the fact so they walk away having learned something. Event leaders illustrate the volunteers’ impact by doing a group ‘wrap-up’ at the end of events and staff send a recap email or post a Facebook recap sharing specifics of what volunteers accomplished.
Volunteers who feel appreciated for their contribution are not only more likely to return for a future event, they are also more likely to encourage others to contribute to the program! Volunteers should receive a thank you for signing up -- ideally, this would be an automated email response to an event RSVP or e-newsletter subscription. Leaders thank people for coming out at the start of volunteer events, thank them for their time and contributions at the end, and thank them throughout the event for the impact they are making! Staff sends a follow-up email and/or make a Facebook post to show appreciation for those who participated and help them grasp how necessary volunteers are for accomplishing the mission. A volunteer appreciation event can be held post-harvest season and/or a kickoff event at a local business, offering deals, discounts and/or swag as prizes.
Urban Abundance, a program of Slow Food Southwest Washington (501c3), has been helping to harvest and tend Clark County’s backyard and community orchards since 2010. Recognizing the abundance of fruit trees in Clark County going unharvested, early leadership formed a volunteer group to help collect and donate fruit that would otherwise go to waste. Produce is donated to the Clark County Food Bank, which distributes to a county-wide network of over 40 partner food pantries and meal programs. The program has been historically facilitated by Slow Food leadership, funded by a recurring charitable donation. Urban Abundance shared a part-time Americorps VISTA with the Clark County Food Bank in 2011, and in 2018, Slow Food Southwest Washington was awarded an Americorps VISTA to coordinate Urban Abundance full-time.
In the winter/spring of 2018, Urban Abundance held a series of Fruit Tree Steward workshops and work parties in community orchards, covering topics such as fruit tree pruning, sheet mulching, fruit thinning, and pollinator promotion. Each workshop was followed by a work party during which participants helped with seasonal orchard maintenance activities aligned with workshop topics. The Americorps VISTA has been responsible for performing consistent outreach via Facebook and a MailChimp newsletter to inform supporters and recruit volunteers. The VISTA has increased program visibility by participating in highly attended community outreach events such as Earth Day, EcoFest, National Get Outdoors Day, Recycled Arts Fair, and regional farmers markets throughout the summer. The VISTA helped launch and promote the first annual Pick-a-Pear-a-thon, a combination volunteer and per-pound pledge drive. Over 100 volunteers participated in the pear harvest and Urban Abundance earned over $1000 in small donations. During the 2018 harvest season, the VISTA organized weekly harvest parties at community orchards and residential harvest sites. Harvest party volunteers gleaned apples, pears, Asian pears, and grapes for donation to the Clark County Food Bank and were invited to keep some for themselves.