Community of practice: Finding others to share the load

@tschumilas posted this to slack but I think this is something we all struggle with at times and it would be fantastic to share what has and hasn’t worked around the world.
Some of Theresa’s points:

"What strategies can I use to recruit some additional OFN volunteers before that? I need someone to do promo/marketing and platform support functions as a minimum. Suggestions? How can I recruit some people?

I have extensive networks - and lots of people ask me how they can help - but as soon as I say what I really need is for someone to start onboarding and supporitng users, they run away. Where can I find these volunteers?"

At a recent Open Food Network Australia get together we talked about how we came to our current roles, both what made us care about food systems or networks, etc and how that then led us to committing time to Open Food Network. I think (there was wine involved and it was late) that we observed that our two main avenues in were personal networks, and getting inspired by hearing Open Food Network presented at events such as a food hubs conference.

I think we were quite split between coming onboard with open-ended volunteering, and coming onboard to help with one thing - e.g. an event, a report, a particular project onboarding people.

I think we’ve had similar experiences of investing time into meeting with potential volunteers who seem keen and willing and then disappear without a trace - I don’t think we have an especially high conversion rate at times! @serenity would have a better sense of it having done more of this work over the years.

My observation would be that we have higher retention of slightly older people with another paid job who only want to work part-time and also volunteer or do a mix of paid and unpaid work for OFN, rather than interns or uni students who then want to go on to a full-time job elsewhere, although our interns have been incredibly useful when it comes to a short burst project. I think people have perhaps stuck around more when they don’t have too much crossover with another role, i.e. they have an area/project that is theirs to shape and drive.

In Australia we feel like we’re currently transitioning somewhat to sharing more of the leadership load, but I think it’s very much an ongoing process - it’s challenging to implement even when we’re actively trying to do so! @Kirsten or @danielle do you have any other thoughts on what has led to current transition that would be useful to others?

I think something we’re currently struggling with is how to incorporate new volunteers when we’re geographically distant and co-working less often - being part of a group has been a drawcard previously.

I know many of these ideas are things you’re most likely already doing or would like to do but can’t due to time constraints, but I would love to hear more from others around the world about how they have recruited team members, got people involved, found volunteers when needed, and just generally found others to share the load.

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We struggle with these same issues at the other non-profit I volunteer for. Our best results are with young professionals who are full time employed elsewhere & looking to build their resumes doing something they care about, & alternately with retirees. In both cases you must assign them something to do, as was mentioned above. Give them responsibility/ownership of some part of the machine, & check back regularly to ensure they haven’t pushed it to the backburner. Much like the #thisweek tag on slack where people are called out to say what they are doing this week & that buddy system is enough to keep them showing up & doing something.

Thanks @Jen, it’s so useful to learn from your experience. In the US we also have wonderful people pop up for a bit, get pretty excited, and then get pulled away by other things. We seem to be pretty good at getting people’s attention, but not as good at keeping it. Maybe a paycheck would make a difference, but I think if we get better at directing people (which also takes time, sigh) and helping them feel connected through a buddy per @MSFutureFarm’s suggestion, we’ll have more and longer-term company to help get the work done. I’m curious too about the difference physically meeting people or real-time co-working makes.

One of the things that would help me (maybe others?) would be to collaborate on writing a set of OFN volunteer job descriptions. I wonder if we could ‘parcel out’ doable tasks, and then describe these. I think we have similar enough needs, that we could do this collectively and not re-invent each other’s work. For example: communications volunteers, a communications volunteer coordinator, on-boarding/support volunteers, - or how would others divide things up?
And… sorry if it seemed like i was whining. I was, but I recognize its not just my whine.

Volunteers are always a tricky lot. In my experience over the last couple of decades, you get a core dedicated group who go flat out for years, and burn out. In between, a handful will drift in and out. Many will say they want to volunteer - until it comes time to actually show up. Even on our CLFC board, there are only two of us who have been there since the beginning. We have two open seats right now, and we’re struggling to find people who want to step up and fill them. Another non-profit board I’m on has a lot of turnover year-to-year as well. I think this year was the first year where multiple first-time nominees actually were elected to a seat. The other non-profit I’m involved in (not a Director, but on the committee) has seen even the committee size shrinking.

So it’s a pretty universal issue, it would seem. I wish I had some good answers.

I’ve always found marketing and social media engagement types particularly difficult to find. Social media especially. Everyone is on it, but nobody really seems to know how to make it actually do anything useful. “Likes” do not equal sales. A seven word comment does not equal actual engagement. It can be tough to find someone to just put together a weekly email newsletter.

I guess it’s the distinction between ‘volunteering’ being something people can do on and off, when the mood suits them and ‘volunteering’ to do something regularly, consistently, and often with deadlines. Maybe because when it hits that point it feels like ‘work’ and people expect they should get paid for it instead? I don’t know. Just thinking out loud.

Volunteering is tough, often thankless work. Thank heavens there are people like all of you out there fighting to make a difference!

@tschumilas I would collaborate with you on writing volunteer job descriptions! As Brandy @MSFutureFarm has pointed out, the better defined and “do-able” a task is perceived to be, the more likely it is that it will get done. You have/had a couple of interns, don’t you? Can we start with those position descriptions?

For the other non-profit I volunteer with we have an all volunteer online magazine with a strategic plan that describes the volunteer positions and what they entail. See the bottom of the Earthzine strategic plan here . We could create a general/boilerplate type of strategic document for OFN instances that they could start from and modify for their specific instance. I started one for the OFN USA instance here . I would be happy to continue working on it with anyone who is interested and expanding upon the specific duties of the roles we all define to create this boilerplate document.

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An Aus example:

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@tschumilas @lauriewayne1 were there any volunteer job descriptions developed since you last posted on this topic?

Hey @ferrazfil - we have a job board driven by airtable. To my knowledge, no one has ever contacted as a result of its existence, but I do point people to it sometimes. :slight_smile: here’s the link: OPEN FOOD NETWORK

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thanks @lauriewayne1 this is great :slight_smile: