Volunteerism: strengthening the backbone of your park group

Community Park Groups need a strong, core group of volunteers. The challenge is that attracting and retaining volunteers can feel like an endless and arduous task.

I interviewed Doug Bennet from The Friends of Sorauren Park to find out how his park group has been so successful at finding and keeping volunteers. Doug has been part of Friends of Sorauren Park from the beginning. The well-established group hosts a variety events such as gardening, movie nights, the adopt-a-park-tree program, and much more.

Here are some of Doug’s tips for groups who are looking to attract and keep volunteers engaged in community park groups regardless of your size or capacity.


Make time to focus on volunteer recruitment

Finding volunteers takes time and intentionality. Doug believes that the key to his group’s continued success is having a strong and diverse core of active volunteers. With 11 core volunteers, they have enough human power to host a variety of events and activities, which in turn, attracts new volunteers and diverse park users.

However, early on, Doug and Friends of Sorauren Park realized that volunteer recruitment was continually landing at the bottom of their agenda, making it easy to ignore They altered their approach to volunteer recruitment by dedicating entire meetings to the topic and deciding the key steps they would take to engage more volunteers. The strategy helped get volunteerism on their radar and keep it there.  

Focus on a few events that attract many

If your group does not have the capacity and human power to host several events, Doug suggests focusing your efforts on a couple of key, popular events. If your event is well marketed and executed, it will attract a lot of people. This way you can use events to attract people interested in joining your team.

When you host events, be sure to collect e-mail address via a sign-up sheet so you can keep community members up to date on your activities. Finding new team members does not happen overnight, but the more people that know about your group and stay in the loop, your projects, and your needs, the more likely it is that they will eventually  want to join the team.


Ensure volunteer roles offer varying time commitments

At the beginning, it can seem overwhelming for a new volunteer to join a committee that meets regularly. Early on, people are often more willing to take on a very specific volunteer task like maintaining a social media account or planning a cleanup event.

For example, when Doug Bennet stepped down from the Chair position at Friends of Sorauren Park, he was followed by Joël Campbell. It’s worth noting that Joël had run the group’s adopt-a-park-tree program for several years before taking on the Chair role. Joël had already built a relationship with Friends of Sorauren Park, which made it easier for him to take on a leadership role.

Make it easy for people to join your team

Picture this, someone just attended your Clean up event and loved it. They know about your group but don’t really know how to volunteer with you. How could your group leverage this momentum and make it easy for people to connect with you? Here are some options Doug shared that have helped his group keep communication lines open.


A genuine thank you goes a long way

Once you have your team of volunteers, don’t forget to acknowledge and thank everyone for their efforts. Volunteers care about the positive impact they are having in their community, so make sure you thank them and show them how their efforts are contributing to the bigger picture.

Friends of Sorauren Park acknowledges volunteers in big and small ways. On the large-scale side, they had a sign posted in the park thanking volunteers. They’ve also partnered with a sponsor to host an appreciation event that brought volunteers and supporters together.

Depending on the size of your group recognition might look different. However,  the key is to be genuine, focus on the impact, and have some fun.

Thanks to Doug at Friends of Sorauren Park for great insights that come from years successful work with volunteers.

Remember, once you have people interested in volunteering, make sure you have a way to welcome them into the team, assess their skills and interests, and decide how you can work together. Don’t feel like you have to do everything at once. Take some time to see how these tips apply to your community park group and choose one or two next steps you can take to have more people join your team.

For more resources on volunteer engagement visit Volunteer Toronto, Grassroots Growth. If you have specific questions about challenges, feel free to reach out to me at baspinall@parkpeople.ca and 416-583-5776.


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