What Motivates the 300-Hour Volunteer?

It’s exciting when you witness someone discover their passion through volunteering. Kathy Kelley started volunteering a decade ago at the Morton Arboretum, a 1,700 acre outdoor living museum in suburban Chicago. Through the years, her identity and pride as an Arboretum volunteer has grown tremendously. So, what made volunteering there take root? 

We sat down with her to learn more about her incredible volunteer experience and what keeps her coming back, year after year.

 

What inspired you to start volunteering at the Morton Arboretum?
Kathy: This is my 10th year volunteering at the Arboretum. One of my good friends was volunteering one weekend at a big fall festival and I got hooked on it. Now, the process of becoming a volunteer is much different; you apply and have an interview. The Arb has 1,592 volunteers in all capacities. They have people who work every week taking out invasive species. They have people who help with mailings. They have all ages. You find your niche. My first year, I did 3 hours and 30 minutes. The second year I had 27 hours. This year, I will have over 300 volunteer hours.

 

Do you get any perks as a volunteer?
Kathy: You’re considered an active volunteer if you volunteer 40 hours or more a year. You get 20 percent off at the store and free admission for two people for the year. Every quarter you can get 20 percent off a class and every year they have a big volunteer appreciation dinner. You get a voucher for a free drink every time you volunteer for a coffee or soft drink. They provide special volunteer parking and entrances. They’re always saying ‘Thank You.’ Even when you’re driving out, there’s a sign that says “Thank You Volunteers.” 

 

What’s your relationship with the volunteer coordinators like?
Kathy: They’re wonderful. There’s two people – Kristin and Lucy – and they’re very appreciative. They’re very accommodating. I always bring them a box of candy at Christmas, just because when you’re working with 1,500 volunteers you get some crankypants. You log-in and post your hours on their volunteer portal, but it’s interesting because I work now a lot with special events, so they’ll text me and ask if I want to work certain things. 

 

What motivates you to volunteer so much?
Kathy: It’s my happy place. I love walking there every week, and their mission. As my professional and caregiving responsibilities lessened, I have had more time to give. [The Arboretum] is where I have chosen to spend my extra time. It’s a beautiful place, it’s a calming place. It’s also less than a mile from my house, but I know people who drive in from all over. It’s social. Some people you’ll work with just once, but others you get to see regularly and know. There’s also pride in ownership, when I take on tasks, like overseeing 5K shirts. It’s a self-motivation. I always try to see if I get a few more hours. I like working special events. I like being able to be part of the experience. 

 

Why is volunteering important in your life?
Kathy: I’ve always been a volunteer. It was instilled in us when we were little. It’s the way we were brought up. I don’t have a lot of the financial means to support something, although the Arboretum is where I have donated, but I have always thought it’s just a way of supporting an organization you believe in.

 

 

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Cutting the Paperwork

By the time you’ve printed out schedules, one sheets and waivers for your event, it can feel like you’ve decimated a small forest.

So, what can you do to digitize your event and cut back on your paper? We’ve rounded up some of our top ways to bring your event into the electronic age and minimize the amount of times you have to pick up all the papers one of the volunteers just knocked on the ground.

 

Waivers

They’re a necessary evil, but at least they don’t have to be the physical embodiment of one. Throw those waivers online and not only do you make it simple for volunteers to fill out before even getting to your event, you have an online database of every waiver you’ve received. Emailing is simple enough, though we’re partial to a folder on your desktop with all the signed waivers and an excel document checking off which volunteer has sent theirs in. But that’s just us! You do you.

 

Sign Up

This one’s a no brainer. There’s no need to have volunteers calling you, signing up on sheets, etc. Just get that puppy online! Simple, easy, and on the internet, which means it will live forever and you can never forget who signed up for the next shift.

 

Tutorials

Gone are the days of the one-sheets that explain everything you need to do. Instead of a typed up document telling volunteers how to do a job, why don’t you show them? Quick video tutorials are easy to shoot on a cell phone and can be emailed, uploaded to your event’s Facebook group or even just texted to the people who need to see them.

 

So there you have it, team. Save yourself some time printing and lugging papers all over and digitize what you can.

 

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Defining Accountability for Your Volunteers: Five Things to do Upfront

“What were they thinking?!”

 

If you’ve ever thought this at the end of a volunteer’s job, you know things can get ridiculous when volunteers decide to go rogue. If you think back though, maybe they didn’t have a clear understanding of their expectations or some accountability to back that up. So, what can you do to avoid more “what the heck?” moments in the future? 

 

Like many things, it starts with clear communication. This communication may be in an email, in a meeting, over the phone, or face-to-face, but know that it has to happen. Volunteers need way more than “welcome to the team,” so this is the perfect opportunity to lay out some expectations and opportunity for accountability. This will not only give them the direction they need to get started, but also will give you more peace of mind and a greater confidence in your volunteers. 

 

Top five things to define with volunteers as their volunteer coordinator: 

 

Role

When a volunteer first starts, let them know what they will be doing. Will they hand out t-shirts or be responsible for the entire check-in table? Will they be in charge of the design concepts or will they merely be using assets already created to make a flyer? Let them know what they are responsible for so they can fulfill their duties. Ask if they have questions, and then ask them to tell you their plans to carry out their mission. Having a discussion or some form of response will give you both an indicator of whether or not you are on the same page.  

 

Goal/Impact

Although it may sound redundant to you, communicate the goals and impact of what they will be doing and the goals and impact of the event overall. Maybe they know their role, but they don’t understand the big picture. Realizing how their part impacts other volunteers, the organization, and even the community will create a sense of ownership and accountability for the volunteer. That way, they know that if they back out last minute or miss a deadline, several people will be negatively impacted. 

 

Timeline

While you’ve got spreadsheets and lists and everything you might need as the volunteer coordinator, sometimes you forget to tell the volunteer what their timeline is. Add in a bit of buffer time, but then tell the volunteer when something is due. For instance, if someone is working on a newsletter for you, let them know when the first draft is due, when you need the revisions back, and when you want to send it—not just the final date you want to send it by. Or, if they are working a shift at an event, let them know when they’ll be done. No volunteer likes to stand around waiting to see if you or someone else will return to let them know if/when they can go home. Without a clear idea of start and end dates, volunteers may bail on you. 

 

Supervisor

Tell volunteers who they should first report to, especially if it isn’t you. Explain the role of the supervisor or person above them and then provide contact information for them. Volunteers need to know who to go to if they have questions or problems, but supervisors also need to be given the introduction in order to show authority when needed. 

 

Checkpoints

If you have a long project or even a long shift, make it clear what your checkpoints will be throughout the process. That way volunteers know you will be available for questions and you continue to communicate the vision of their role throughout its duration. After the duties have been completed, be sure to follow up for feedback in a survey or meeting to provide accountability for both you and the volunteer. 

 

Defining everything volunteers need to know ahead of time means you have to be organized, and you have to communicate. That means you can’t be running around doing everything last minute yourself. Instead, you’ll need to be focusing your attention on empowering your volunteers. In the end, it’s worth it when volunteers not only complete their tasks but do so with a clear understanding of their goals and expectations—minus the frustration or miscommunication. 

 

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Quick Tips to Cover Your Bases When Planning an Event

Have you ever had an event go 100% according to plan? We wish it weren’t true, but we’re guessing your answer is probably no.

 

While it’s impossible to plan for every single thing that could go wrong, making sure you have adequate backup plans in place can help minimize the stress on the actual day of the event — especially if something does go awry. Here is a list of 5 quick tips to help you prepare and make sure you have those bases covered! 

 

Standby Volunteers 

People get sick and things come up. Have a specific sign-up for “standby” volunteers. Make sure to let them know that if they haven’t heard by a certain time the day of the event, they can assume they’re not needed and can get on with their original plans. 

 

Weather Plan

If you’re organizing an outdoor event, make sure you plan for mother nature. Do you have tents or shelter that can be utilized so the event can stay outside, or do you need an indoor space as a backup? Or can you set a “rain date?” There are a number of options, just make sure to have chosen one beforehand! 

 

First Aid 

Regardless of your event, make sure to have a first aid kit ready in case someone gets hurt. In general, check out the space (indoor or outdoor) and correct any potential safety hazards. For example, if you’re organizing a volunteer race, don’t choose roads with lots of potholes. 

 

Prepare Your Volunteers & Attendees 

Communicate helpful tips to volunteers and attendees. For example, if your volunteer race is on a trail that may have uneven surfaces, let them know. If you’re doing an activity that would be best with closed-toe shoes, make it required. 

 

The Right Volunteers 

Think carefully through the types of jobs you’ll need volunteers for leading up to and during the event. Then make specific roles for volunteers instead of just having everyone sign-up for a general “volunteer” position. Giving volunteers autonomy will be motivating to them, and will also ensure you’re utilizing their skills for the right thing. 

 

No event will ever be perfect, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive for the best possible experience for both your volunteers and your attendees! We hope this list helps your planning and we’ll cross our fingers that you’ll never actually need to use any of these tips. :) Happy planning! 

 

 

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An Interview with Lisa Barnes, of Summer of the Arts

It’s July, and summer is officially in full gear! Across the Midwest, that means picnics, road trips, and short nights. For Iowa locals, that means Iowa City Summer of the Arts. We couldn’t think of a better time to reach out to Lisa Barnes, the Executive Director, to hear more about her organization.

 

Since 2005, Summer of the Arts has created an incredible summer of entertainment, right in the heart of Iowa City, IA. Events include family-friendly festivals and weekly events like the Friday Night Concert Series and the outdoor Free Movie Series (bring lawn chairs!) As an Iowa City local myself, this organization has made summers come alive in a truly special way. 

 

How did Summer of the Arts get started originally? Is there a mission or vision that has guided you as the organization grows? 

Summer of the Arts was formed in the fall of 2005 as a way to bring together three long-running events (Iowa Arts Festival, Iowa City Jazz Festival and Friday Night Concert Series), and to share resources including fundraising, marketing, operations, etc. In 2005, there was a pilot program for the Free Movie Series, which became the 4th event added to the organization.

 

Our mission is to build community by bringing people together in the heart of Iowa City to experience, learn about, and enjoy free arts and cultural programs.

 

How have the events and festivals changed over the years?  

Over the years we have produced additional events (Downtown Saturday Night/Saturday Night Concert Series, Sand in the City, MusicIC, Celebrate the Season, Landlocked Film Festival), and in 2013 we started producing the Iowa Soul Festival, which is now the Soul & Blues Festival.

 

With the four core events, each year we review the event and discuss ways to change or improve the event. A lot of this comes down to layout and programming and what our community wants to see. We are constantly striving to bring changes and something new to each event, while maintaining the quality people have come to expect.

 

Do you know how many people usually attend these festivals? Which festivals seem to be the most popular? 

Since we don’t have tickets or primary entrances, it’s impossible for us to accurately estimate how many people attend each event, but based on what we’ve seen, we estimate a total of 100,000 people throughout the course of the summer. 

It’s hard to guess which event is the most popular as they all have their own niche – jazz fans LOVE the Jazz Festival, movie fans enjoy the Free Movie Series, general community members who enjoy live music love to get together and dance and experience the Friday Night Concert Series, families and all backgrounds enjoy the diversity of things to do at the Iowa Arts Festival and our diverse community embraces the passion of the Soul & Blues Festival.

 

How many volunteers do you usually have for an event and how are they involved? 

The only event we produce which doesn’t have volunteers is the Friday Night Concert Series. For the Free Movie Series, we typically have around 5 volunteers who are needed to help set up our inflatable screen. For the Arts, Jazz and Soul & Blues Festivals, we have anywhere from 25-250 volunteers who help in a variety of areas like setup/teardown, staffing hydration stations, bike parking, merchandise booth, beverage garden, Eco Stations, etc. We also have our year round volunteers who serve on our board of directors and the various festival committees.

 

Are there any festivals or performers that you’ve been particularly excited about this

summer?  

For me personally, each festival brings something fun and different. I am very excited about Friday night at the Jazz Festival with The Nayo Jones Experience (vocalist) and Jane Bunnett and Maqueque (all female band with a Latin flair).

 

Thank you, Lisa! For more information about the Summer of the Arts, please visit https://summerofthearts.org .

 

 

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