How to Organize a Birding or Nature Festival
Nancy S. Millar See more about Nancy Millar
Make the Planning Fun
Having a handful of dedicated volunteers is of paramount importance. It will not be possible to implement an event of this scope without volunteers who are willing to spend a good deal of time and effort dedicated to the festival.
- Important keys to finding and retaining volunteers are to make the meetings energy-filled, productive and fun.
- Don’t be afraid to do little things to make the volunteers smile. We have had happy interruptions for special guests, surprise birthday pinatas and cakes, and pauses to celebrate birding milestones, among other things.
- Be sure that the meetings move ahead at a good pace- although, being realistic, you can expect the first meetings to be long ones. There are lots of details to discuss!
- Also- and this is vital- make sure the volunteers feel needed. Have specific duties for each to accomplish, even before the timelines are finished and distributed. Give them time at the meetings to report on their work and progress.
- If you have more volunteers than you do committees, consider appointing some subcommittees based on the talents of the individuals. Remember that people want to be a part of a committee in order to make a difference.
- Consider having chairs-in-training for the most vital or difficult committees.
- Be wary of asking too much of any one person. Volunteers may be scared off if too much is expected of them, especially when working with a brand new event.
The volunteers will be very uncomfortable if they feel the people in charge haven’t sufficiently covered all bases enough to really have a handle on how the big picture should look. That is not to say that you need to have come to decisions on everything. But if you can offer some forethought to a situation as it is being discussed, astutely judging possible ramifications of a decision or action, the group will be able to make more informed decisions and will certainly be more comfortable.
Don’t take all decisions to the group. Especially in the first year, make the basic decisions yourself, with the chairman, or with the executive committee. Having every single decision made by a committee can also slow down progress to a standstill. And too many decisions can be overwhelming to the volunteers who, after all, are also novices at planning a birding festival.
The Importance Of Bonding
Bonding with the group is very important. It will increase the volunteers’ desire to work harder, and will definitely make the project more enjoyable for all. Consider beginning with a birding trip to familiarize the non-birders with what it’s all about. It will be educational (remember, not all of your volunteers will be birders), probably a lot of fun, and an important bonding opportunity.
You may also want to try “dry runs” of some of the field trips you will offer, depending on the group’s comfort level with the different destinations. This is another opportunity for bonding.
Finding The Best Volunteers
Keeping The Volunteers And Other Partners Once You’ve Got Them
- Start with a core group. Grow from there. Include birders, organizers, people well connected in the community, a marketing expert. If you can attract professionals (attorneys, CPA’s, others) whose services could come in handy, all the better.
- Remember that people who have staffs they can offer for projects can be doubly valuable from a man power point of view.
- The Great Volunteer-Attracting Secret: Make it fun!
- Joint projects- time intensive details that have to be taken care of- can be a great opportunity. Plan “parties” to take care of big projects such as signage preparation (Poster Party), registration package preparation (Ticket Party), or similar projects which are large. Just turn up the radio, add soft drinks and pizza to the quotient, and the work will fly.
- Encourage inside jokes. We have had several over the years- some just silly, many related to incidents that were funny and involved committee members. You may even want to appoint a “spark plug” who can keep the positive activity flowing.
- Energy! Have it! Volunteers are like anyone else- they would rather be doing something that is fun than something that is boring. A lively group will attract more interest and therefore more of the “go-getter” volunteers that you will need.
- Match talents carefully with jobs. If you solicit volunteers and offer them something to do that is right up their alley, they are much more likely, obviously, to want to be a part of it all.
- Identify hard workers and ask them for ideas on others who may want to volunteer. Hard workers tend to hang out together.
In the corporate world, it is a well-known fact that it costs less to maintain a worker than it does to train a new one. The same could be said of volunteers and paid workers. And though you may not be talking about maintenance costs in the traditional sense, there certainly is a time cost in training a new person. There is also a loss of history, of course, when a volunteer or worker leaves. And you of course will want to keep sponsors happy. So it makes sense to try to hold onto good people when you have them. Here are some ideas:
- Fine tune continually. Listen to your volunteers, speakers, trip leaders. They will have valuable input.
- Take what attendees say with a grain of salt. You will of course pick up ideas on improving the festival for the following year; however, remember the adage, “You can’t please all the people all the time.”
- THANK your volunteers thoroughly. Acknowledge them privately and publicly as much as possible. Give volunteers every opportunity to shine. Quote your chairman and other appropriate volunteers in media releases when you can. Allow them the camera time, if they are comfortable with it (be sure they are properly “primed,” however, on what to say).
- Thank your sponsors and keep them in the fold by including them as much as possible in events and publicity.
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