“I never heard about it!”

This statement from volunteers is truly a frustrating one, especially when it feels like I’m constantly reminding people about events and programs. There’s always that one person who, no matter how hard I’ve tried to reach them, doesn’t answer his or her phone or email and is left out of an event or situation. This makes my heart break! As someone who always likes to be in on the action, I hate when I feel left out, and I NEVER want any of our volunteers to feel that way. Can anyone relate?
During my CVA experience at the River Raisin National Battlefield Park, I have strove for continued communication and transparency with our volunteers. We are such a young park that we do not yet have complete tried and true training methods set in place where we can also explain what is happening, and our volunteers have varied forms of preferred communication. We are still in a temporary Visitor Center, and we are attempting to look ahead to our long range expansion plans while still preserving the history of the past. Volunteers are pertinent, so I have often given some one-on-one training, which helps me build more relationships with our volunteers, and has been extremely rewarding. However, to finally create a sort of orientation/inform people of steps our park is taking so that they feel involved, this past week I helped plan and invite VIPs and the public to an information meeting called “A Peek into the Future.” This event was also open to the public, not exclusively volunteers, so that the surrounding community could get excited about our future plans and we could recruit new volunteers.
I used numerous methods to invite people to our info meeting. I sent emails, called those without email, and created a press release for the local media. I was tempted to just leave it at that, and go on with my planning, but I still had only a half a dozen people say they were actually going to come. This led to a question I have been dealing with for some time.
Do I have to always remind people? They’re adults, shouldn’t they make a note of it themselves?
Yes. The short answer is yes. If you’re going to get your optimum number of participants, REMIND.  A week before the event, I called and contacted everyone I had not yet heard back from. This was not an RSVP event, and I never want to be annoying when I remind people, but a bunch of my emails bounce and are not delivered properly. Therefore, if I have not heard back from someone, even if there is not an RSVP required, I feel comfortable saying, “I just wanted to make sure you were informed of this event happening, because I haven’t heard from you, and a lot of emails haven’t gone through, so I wanted to make sure you weren’t left out.” Often I have volunteers profusely thank me for thinking of them (I think the “not wanting them to be left out” part really gets to them). So… I went from a handful saying they were attending, to 20 saying they were coming and some “maybes”, to 40 people actually attending! Yes, reminders pay off! I just have to keep reminding myself to send reminders!
The event turned out splendidly! We had new volunteers, random citizens, and people of all ages. It was only an hour long, and we STUCK TO THE SCHEDULE, with social time, snacks, and questions after.
–Park Superintendent Scott Bentley welcomed the group and unveiled proposed maps for the new Visitor Center.
–Toni Cooper, Executive Director of the Battlefield Foundation, announced a September 16, 2017 Jeep event, in which a special edition River Raisin National Battlefield Park Chrysler Jeep Wrangler will be raffled off as a fund raiser for the Foundation. Raffle tickets will be $50 a piece and are scheduled to begin being sold in April.
–Dennis Moore, a new member of the Battlefield staff, discussed the new Living History program which will be premiering during field trips this spring.
–Jami Keegan, Park Guide, expressed the need for volunteer help as guides at the field trips, and for future front desk help.
–I explained the following forming volunteer teams: the parade float team, Battlefield Bloomers (garden club), Cosplay Contest team, and upcoming kayak team. The River Raisin NBP has received a $25,000 grant to certify volunteers and update kayak supplies to take volunteers and the public kayaking for free this summer. Etc. Etc. Etc.
Why go to all this trouble you ask? For one, we are such a small park (40 people at one meeting is HUGE) that any training or volunteer hours with that many people significantly increase our hour amount, which in turn later helps the budgeting in our park and VIP program. Also, this was a chance to get people excited for upcoming field trips and programs, so that they can go and be ambassadors of the park outside of staff just telling people. And thirdly, we have some things coming up where we are in desperate need of additional front desk help and other assistance. This way, we were able to write down names of people who were interested in certain volunteer positions, which helps ease the amount of work on our staff, and, yes, makes me look good 🙂
I hope these info sessions continue. I heard numerous comments about how included people felt, and how they would like to do this again. Even thought my year-long internship will be coming to a close, I  will do everything in my power to make our program sustainable.
Our Amazing Volunteers! (Est. 2011)