Sustainable urban forestry requires far more than a single department or organization responsible for a community’s trees. It requires a partnership of all interested people, young and old, professional and non-professional. Volunteers can fill this need. Some of the benefits when using volunteers include:
1. Obtaining skills that may not be on staff. Volunteers typically include a cross section of the community: lawyers, landscapers, writers, artists, business people, teachers and many others. Their talents and contacts can add depth and power to any forestry program.
2. New ideas. An array of vocational and cultural backgrounds is sure to bring ideas. Some may not be workable, but others can lead to great new projects or the success of old ones.
3. Public support. Volunteers can serve as a conduit between urban foresters and their constituents. They can speak up for funding, defend management decisions, challenge politicians or special interests, and serve as a link with broad segments of the community.
4. Extra hands, more work. Whether it is pruning young trees, planting, or staffing exhibits and educational programs, volunteers expand the urban forestry work force. More can be accomplished, benefiting the tree resource, citizens of the community, and the volunteers themselves.
According to the National Arbor Day Foundation, there are five important tips to working well with volunteers:
1. Work with existing volunteer groups when possible instead of creating yet another organization. Or, if you are involved in the leadership of a group, aggressively recruit members. Of course, be open to all who are interested, but also personally ask people to join who you know would add strength, balance, diversity and the kind of talent needed to accomplish your goals.
2. Provide direction. Most volunteers want guidance and do not want their time wasted. Use an agenda at meetings, assign specific doable tasks complete with deadlines and a clear idea about the expected outcome or product. For specific positions (secretary, treasurer, etc.) develop job descriptions just like those for paid positions.
3. Provide orientation and training. Orientation can be a presentation or at least a manual. The manual should include the history, mission and goals of your organization; policies; a directory of who’s who; and basic information about tree care and urban forestry.
4. Supervise. An important part of successful volunteer management is trust and delegation of duties. Train and explain, then step back and let the volunteers do their jobs. However, provide helpful feedback as needed and plenty of positive reinforcement.
5. Thank! Virtually everyone likes to be recognized for the good works they perform, especially volunteers. Often, this is the only pay they receive. Express appreciation often and sincerely, including written notes, formal letters, plaques or other tokens of appreciation.