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Building Sustainability for Volunteer Groups
by Judith Rogers
by Judith Rogers



I am a freelance garden writer with a weekly column ‘The Gardener’s Corner’ in the Innisfil Scope and quarterly articles in the regional magazine Footprints.

I began a blog lavendercottagegardening.blogspot.com to journal my home and garden life at Lavender Cottage. The art of afternoon tea has been a pleasure of mine for years and ‘Tea with Friends’ has become a weekly post with ladies I’ve met through blogging.


October 11, 2009

Horticultural societies formed in the past (many are over 100 years old) when folks with a common interest came together. Their purpose was to volunteer in the community for civic beautification, compete in flower shows for designs and display prized specimens from the garden. The monthly meetings would include an occasional speaker on specific flowers and memberships were large as not too many women worked outside of the home.

Today, there are still the monthly meetings with speakers but unfortunately a dwindling interest to participate in the floral competitions. There is also very few to carry on the responsibility of planting and maintaining flower beds in the community. And, this is because the majority of members now have white hair and are physically unable to do the work or are plain burned out. Younger women are part of a two-income family, a necessity in today’s economy and along with being involved with their children’s activities; really don’t have any extra time to volunteer. This predicament is not solely related to horticultural societies and garden clubs but any struggling volunteer groups such as the Women’s Institute etc. where the members are aging.

Years ago women volunteered as a sense of duty yet now they are being selective and looking for something of value to be offered in exchange for their precious time. Reva Cooper is a volunteer specialist consultant from Kitchener, Ontario who believes strongly in the power of volunteerism to strengthen communities. Her training program is a result of over 20 years of writing and research to achieve a method of training and development to maximize volunteer involvement.

Cooper’s recruitment strategies reflect the quote by Peter Drucker; ‘Strategy converts a non-profit institution’s mission and objectives into performance.’ In the busy world we live in, she says that groups must target potential members from people who have time, skills and motivation. Flexibility and results are key issues and although people may not join a committee, they may be willing to complete specific tasks or be part of an action group. It is also crucial to match members’ skills with the things that need to get done.

So why do people volunteer in the first place? The organization may be a cause they believe in or a place where they’d like to use their skills and experience to gain personal achievement. Or, it may be an opportunity, especially if having just moved to a new area to meet other people interested in the same things and have fun.

Even though we have the technology to communicate quickly and efficiently with the use of computers, the personal touch is still a valued means of recruiting new volunteers. People do want to connect with others and Facebook is a sure-fire way to do it but physical interaction still needs to take place.

Telephoning or inviting a person face to face to come to a meeting and ensuring they are acknowledged when they arrive reassures them that their presence is important and appreciated. Board positions within a group should have a written description for members considering taking on a new role.

When specific volunteer tasks need to be accomplished, they ought to be defined to the members so they know what to expect. Duties can also be broken down into ‘bite-size’ pieces to complete a bit at a time by one person or a committee so as not to appear overwhelming. Good communication within the whole organization is crucial so that the full membership is in the loop.

Finally, Cooper suggests being imaginative when soliciting new volunteers for a group. Take advantage of organizations already in place such as Welcome Wagon and have something prepared that can be included in the retirement package retirees in the area receive.

There are lots of folks out there who may like to join a volunteer group and whether a horticultural society or not, they may just be waiting to be asked.

Visit my website at http://lavendercottagegardening.blogspot.com

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