4h Wildlife Stewards Logo

4H Wildlife Stewards
Bringing Science and Nature Together...one school at a time.


"The most important thing our school has learned as a community is how willing our community is to support student projects."

-4H Wildlife Stewards Member School Teacher

One of the keys to success for creating and sustaining a Habitat Education Site on school grounds is recognizing that you can’t do it alone. Any successful project will require the collaborative efforts of students, teachers, school administrators, custodial and grounds staff, community partners and parent volunteers. Time and time again, the projects that failed or could not be sustained over time were the projects in which one or two people tried to do it all. Even the most enthusiastic and committed individuals cannot promise that they will always be there to carry out the project. People get sick, move away, or just burn out. If one or two people are trying to carry the ball by themselves and something should happen, then the ball will drop and the project will fail. A Habitat Education Site that is abandoned and not maintained can create substantial damage to the credibility of the school and outdoor learning centers. It will make it more difficult for someone to try and restart the project later. It is well worth your time to identify, recruit and place volunteers into various roles in your project.

Identifying, recruiting and supporting other volunteers can seem like a daunting and overwhelming task. However, it doesn’t have to be. You are not asking people to help you with your project – you are providing them the opportunity to make a difference in their community and with youth. Many people are more than willing to help if you ask them. So, what are you waiting for – ask them!

But wait! First it is important to have a plan. There can be nothing more frustrating to a volunteer who shows up to help and there is nothing worthwhile for them to do. They may leave out of frustration and never return or even worse- they may tell others about their frustration.

The first step to recruiting other volunteers in your program is to identify your volunteer needs. This could be a good planning session for your Habitat Team. Some of the volunteer roles that 4-H Wildlife Stewards Member Schools have developed include:

  • Project Notebook Coordinator - provide leadership to the upkeep of the Project Notebook which is the historical journal of the project
  • Bulletin Board Coordinator - give them guidelines of what to include on the 4-H Wildlife Stewards bulletin board then let them do it
  • Work Party crew leaders – crew leaders work with large groups of students and families at major work parties
  • Phone Tree - calls other parents and volunteers to remind them about special events such as work parties
  • Resource Librarian - secures, inventories and maintains all the 4-H Wildlife Stewards libraries
  • Speakers Bureau Coordinator - someone to contact special speakers and events to visit your school and make presentations to the students on special topics related to their Habitat Education Site
  • Materials and Supplies Coordinator - identifies and secures donated materials and supplies (plants, soil amendments, rocks, etc.) for the site
  • 4-H Wildlife Stewards Member School Newsletter or Website - this is a great way to keep the entire school community updated on the progress of your project. The newsletter editor or web designer could work with the students on this project. It’s a wonderful way to encourage students to develop their language arts skills
  • Artist in Residence – many parents have special art skills. They may be willing to share their skills with students to create an art mural on the school wall facing the Habitat Education Site or help students design artistic signage for the habitat.
  • Summer Maintenance Crew Leaders- assign families one week each during the Summer months to visit the Habitat Education Site and water and weed if needed. This is especially important the first summer when new plants were planted in the spring.

The list is endless. It will all depend on your project needs. Keep in mind that this list will need to be revisited from time to time. As the project grows and develops, your volunteer needs will also grow. Keep this list in a place where you can easily access it and that it’s publicized to other parents and community members.

Once you’ve decided the volunteer roles you need, you need to decide how many hours per week or per month this job will take. A work crew leader will only need to commit 3-4 Saturdays per year for 4-5 hours. The Project Notebook Coordinator, however, needs to be involved year round. However, the Project Notebook Coordinator will probably only need to devote 1 hour a week at most. Whatever your team decides, you need to be prepared to answer “How much time will this involve?” In today’s world everyone’s lives are busy. They need to know what the time commitment will be. More importantly, they need to know that this will not be an endless job – there is an end. The more specific you can be about the volunteer role, the better you will be able to attract volunteers.

So now that you have decided what volunteers you need and the time they will need to commit, how do you recruit these volunteers? There are a number of ways that 4-H Wildlife Stewards have had success recruiting volunteers. A combination of all of these ideas is what, in the end, will work best. Like managing a stock portfolio it’s best to diversify.

  • Probably the best approach to recruiting volunteers is a personal invitation. People are more willing to volunteer if they are asked. Your Habitat Team can brainstorm who some of the people are that might fit well into one of the volunteer roles. It is important to keep in mind that you want to match the volunteer with a role that matches their personal passions, time availability and personality. An artistic or creative type might enjoy updating the 4-H Wildlife Stewards bulletin board each month. The stay-at-home mom with small children at home may find that making phone calls to other parents is a good way she can get involved with her time constraints. A mother or father with a hobby of carpentry, gardening or other skills might be good work crew leaders.

    When inviting someone to join “the team” remember, you are providing him or her an opportunity – an opportunity to make a difference in his or her community. Approach them with enthusiasm and be prepared to share your vision for the project. If someone can see your enthusiasm and how they can fit into this vision you have a good chance of recruiting them. You can also offer them to come up with their own role in this project. Perhaps they have a special skill or passion that they would like to contribute that you haven’t thought of. Sometimes some of the best volunteers were the volunteers who emerged once the project began because they saw something they could contribute.

  • Prepare a Presentation for your PTA, Back to School Night or Neighborhood Association: The 4-H Wildlife Stewards Office can help you with publicity materials and loan you a video tape to make a presentation to one of the local community groups to recruit volunteers. Call the president of the local group and ask to get on their agenda. In most cases, they will only allow you 5-10 minutes. So you will need to develop a compelling and persuasive talk in a short amount of time. Pictures say a thousand words. So, if you have pictures, slides or videotapes it will help others get excited about your project. Also, consider inviting 1-2 students to help you make your presentation. Not only will students get the attention of your audience, but it will help students develop their presentation skills. Or perhaps the thought of getting up in front of a group terrifies you. Recruit someone from the school – a teacher or another parent volunteer to deliver the presentation. At the end of the presentation be sure to pass around an interest form so people can sign up if they want to be contacted for volunteering.

  • Organize an Information Meeting: Several 4-H Wildlife Stewards have had tremendous success organizing and hosting a Habitat Education Site Information Meeting. With the support of the school principal, flyers were sent home with each student announcing the information meeting and inviting parents to come and find out more about the project. Keep the meeting to no more than 1 hour. A meeting that goes long may scare some people away who are already feeling over-committed. Give parents a tour of the site or potential site and help them see the vision for the project and how this project will benefit their entire school community. You might also invite a special guest such as a local wildlife specialist or some parents from another 4-H Wildlife Stewards Member School who can share their experiences. It’s a good idea to have light refreshments. If the meeting is held in the evening, some people may be coming directly from work and will be hungry. It’s important to have volunteer sign-up sheets for everyone who attends. Be sure each person completes a volunteer interest form even if it’s to say no they cannot commit at this time.

  • Display flyers, posters and other information in the school newspaper, the 4-H Wildlife Stewards bulletin boards and other areas where the community members and parents coming into the school can see. Advertise to everyone that you are looking for volunteers and provide a phone number where they can get more information.

  • Sell Key People on Your Ideas: There are key people in any community that have the respect and influence from those around them. They also have a large network of friends and acquaintances. When they speak, people take notice. This person might be the school principal, the president of the local Kiwanis Club or a parent who is active in many areas of the school. If you can win over and convince these key individuals your need for volunteer help, they can spread the word and be a key ally in your volunteer recruitment efforts.

Be sure to recognize and reward your volunteers: Sustaining and retaining your volunteers over time is just as important as recruiting new volunteers. The more volunteers you can keep active in the program, the less time you will need to devote to recruiting new volunteers. Recognizing and rewarding volunteers is important to retaining your volunteers. However, different people like to be recognized in different ways. Therefore, it’s important to know a little bit about the personality and motivations of your volunteers and then find ways to recognize them that takes into consideration their needs. It might be a verbal praise, a certificate, a personal note from you, a letter from the school principal, their name published in the school newsletter or on the 4-H Wildlife Stewards School bulletin board or an invitation to a volunteer recognition party. There are countless ways to recognize your volunteers. Remember, everyone appreciates recognition and it will go a long way toward building a strong volunteer program.

Probably the most important step you can make toward recruiting other volunteers is recognizing that volunteers are critical to the project success. The more people you get involved the more likely you will experience success. Recruiting and retaining volunteers is like creating, using and sustaining Habitat Education Sites on school grounds – dream big but start small.


4-H Wildlife Stewards, Sunnyside Environmental School, 3421 SE Salmon 1209,
Portland, OR 97214 - 503-916-6074, e-mail: wildifestewards@oregonstate.edu
Copyright 2002-2009. All Rights Reserved.