April Toolshed: Tips for Garden Leaders

Getting Garden Volunteers Off to a Good Start: 


Group-BobbinMillWorkParty-2015

When managing the communal work of your garden, preparing your garden volunteers early in the season will help keep them engaged for the long term.  Get these volunteers off to a good start by…

  • Setting up systems for effective communication that are easy to use and manage. Determine what is important to communicate, how often you’ll be checking in, and your preferred form of communication.  Pick a style (or multiple styles) that works for your group—while some groups prefer to communicate using Facebook, email, or online chat groups; others will be more comfortable offline with chalk boards and garden log books.
  • Orienting your volunteers so that they know how systems work, where tools are found, and a general “lay of the land.” Tour the grounds together and make it fun!  Match new gardeners with people who know the site well as tour guides.  Hold a scavenger hunt that asks new comers to find key features in the garden.  (Kids will love it and adults too!)
  • Clarifying expectations—be clear on what’s expected of volunteers (i.e. following guidelines, number of hours required) and what they can expect from you (i.e. supplies and other support offered). See this tip sheet for developing garden guidelines (a.k.a. agreement, rules, or pledge) that will get everyone on the same page in terms of expectations.  A Welcome Packet can also contain this information and much more—here’s a sample from University of Missouri Extension.
  • Developing clear job descriptions that spell out the tasks and commitment required (i.e. time, frequency). Here’s a worksheet to get you started.
  • Matching volunteers with jobs that hone in on their skills and/or interests. This goes a long way in keeping volunteers engaged in an activity that interests them and in which they can be successful.  Including skills and interest questions in your garden application or an initial volunteer survey can help you make the perfect match.
  • Building in support for your volunteers. Be available to answer questions and receive feedback.  Pay attention to where guidance is needed—through signage that helps orient, workshops that build skills and knowledge, or just a friendly face around when needed.
  • Welcoming each volunteer into your garden community. Although this is listed last, it is perhaps the first thing to remember.  While many of your garden tasks may be specific and can be easily done by a single person at a time, most garden volunteers will want to feel they are a part of something bigger.  Offer opportunities for volunteers to work together as well as celebrate—building a cohesive community of gardeners is key to creating a joyful garden environment as much as it is effective in getting the work done.  When gathered together, take these opportunities to recognize the work that’s been accomplished and your volunteers for making it happen!

Dig deeper into the topic of engaging and managing garden volunteers this spring at a Grow It! workshop near you.  For dates, locations, and online registration go to: http://vcgn.org/what-we-do/growit/.