by Alivia Acosta, ATC Volunteer Development Coordinator

One Club’s Strategies for Increasing Volunteerism

The Georgia Appalachian Trail Club (GATC) is altering the ways they engage with new volunteers. ATC’s Volunteer Development Coordinator Alivia Acosta connected with GATC’s Trail Supervisor Jason Gotch to learn about some of the Club’s recent efforts to augment their volunteer coordination structures.

Have any new positions been made to help increase volunteer engagement?

Yes, we now have a few additional volunteer roles that did not exist before.

I have created a new Section Maintainer Coordinator position. Their role is to place individuals who are interested in becoming a Section Maintainer with a District Leader. They are also responsible for following up with the interested individual to ensure that they have been assigned to a section in a timely manner.

I also added a Work Trip Coordinator position whose role is to assist work trip leaders. Their responsibilities could include helping work trip leaders set up online registration forms, identifying work sites, writing reports on the work trip for our newsletter or other mass email communications, or serve as a co-leader, and more.

I have also created an Assistant Trail Supervisor position. This helps relieve some of the workload associated with being a Trail Supervisor and allows the individual in the position to learn the responsibilities of a Trail Supervisor so that they may someday step into the position. This strategy helps identify a replacement and prepares the incoming individual for the position in a smoother transition that reduces the learning curve and allows them to accomplish more after assuming this leadership position.

Having recently increased our number of work trips offered each year from 12 to 54, these roles have been crucial. More people are coming away with exposure to volunteering and are showing an interest in continuing their engagement.

How is GATC structuring its volunteer workdays?

We have been placing new volunteers into separate groups during work trips. In the past, 40 to 60 people would volunteer during our third Saturday work trips and new volunteers would be mixed in with experienced volunteers. Without a ton of training beforehand and little direction to follow, new volunteers would continuously work on the same task all day. When people come out with us it is because they are interested in getting involved and without structured engagement, it was hard for new volunteers to learn about all our volunteer opportunities.

This method of separating new volunteers into their own group allows for new volunteers to learn about how to get more involved with the Club while also working on several different tasks during the day and receiving the proper training from their crew leader. They can also easily socialize amongst each other thanks to this structure. The ultimate task for these groups during the day is less about having a productive day but more about engaging them. One possible outcome from this is that we have seen our number of section maintainers increase from 160 to 205.

What are the benefits of these changes?

Having more people-power is one benefit. This helps increase the quality and productivity of our trail work. With more volunteers, there is a higher chance of engaging with people who can offer valuable skills, such as construction experience or computer expertise, for example. Tapping into those skills could improve our Club’s functions. There is also the community impact. If someone works on the Trail they often take on a sense of personal ownership and the more people that have that experience the more the importance of these natural spaces will spread.

What are the challenges?

Trying new engagement strategies can also be challenging, but there is not much risk involved. Finding practices that are effective is important. The way I think about it is if something you are doing is not effective, consider tweaking it or rolling it back.

The challenge is that the same people are always volunteering their time. We need to recruit more people to become leaders so that we can delegate the growing workload.

Thankfully, there are great people within our Club helping, and a lot of people have taken on new responsibilities and roles that did not exist in the past.