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From the Executive Director: Thank You for Your Hours!
The amount of volunteer time put into a project speaks to the value the public gives a project.
I’m reading a fascinating book by Florence Williams called The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative. It says a lot about why people love trails and are motivated to give back by volunteering. At the Trail Conference, many people say volunteering is fun and even more say it is deeply satisfying. But we hear from very few volunteers, if any, who like the paperwork involved.
In our efforts to recruit a greater number of volunteers to meet the needs of our public trails, we’ve been advised more than once that it might help to eliminate the requirement to record and report hours of service. We understand it’s not a desirable part of volunteering, but we do it because volunteer hours are a key measure of the Trail Conference’s success. A broad range of entities are interested in the scale and scope of the efforts of Trail Conference volunteers. Some of our park partners need work reports so they can provide liability and workers’ compensation coverage to those who serve on their land. Our work on both the Appalachian Trail and New York State trails are an example of this.
Grantmakers often want reports to chronicle volunteer hours and accomplishments. Agencies in New York and New Jersey recently began allowing grantees to report volunteer hours to meet matching requirements for funds. So, for example, every verified hour of volunteering with the crew at Bear Mountain last year provided $27.50 in matching funds to fulfill the conditions of our grant.
Public officials are very impressed when they see so many of their constituents donating their time to a cause. They interpret it as a good indicator of the magnitude of public interest. They are also impressed by the taxpayer savings when volunteers are involved. The scope and scale of the Trail Conference’s work is often what gets it a place at the table on important issues.
The amount of volunteer time put into a project speaks to the value the public gives a project. This is the internet’s all-important “social validation”—the more people use, like, or rank something indicates its value to others. Similarly, it is a strong vote of confidence in the Trail Conference that more than 2,000 individuals are volunteering almost 100,000 hours annually. When someone is thinking about volunteering, becoming a member, or supporting our efforts, it helps to know that they are part of a broader movement.
Finally, the Trail Conference’s strategic plan has made total annual volunteer hours the organization’s key metric for volunteer engagement. The bottom line is that volunteer hours are a proxy for everything that is good about volunteering. As a volunteer organization, we will, at a very high level, be judging ourselves based on increasing our total volunteering.
Under these circumstances, reporting volunteer hours is not going to go away—but we are going to make it easier. We’re working on streamlining reporting formats to be less complicated and quicker to complete. We are also developing direct online reporting options. Our goal is to test and perfect these in the second half of 2018 and make them more widely available in 2019.
I hope this gives you a better understanding of how important volunteer hours have become for the Trail Conference. Thank you for building a volunteer-powered organization with your passion, dedication, leadership, and … reporting!