How do you get a volunteer to stop working?

NCC staff and volunteers pose for a photo (Photo by NCC)

NCC staff and volunteers pose for a photo (Photo by NCC)

December 5, 2013 | by Kailey Setter

I usually catch people off guard when I tell them that during our Conservation Volunteers (CV) events my job is often not to motivate the volunteers, but to find ways to get them to stop working. They laugh because they think I’m joking or that I’m just over-praising their dedication. I’m not. Believe it or not, on several occasions I’ve needed to employ an entire arsenal of tactics to coax our volunteers into taking a break during a work day.

(Several of which, I sheepishly admit, involve enticing them with food.)

“Who wants a granola bar???” has become my personal catchphrase as Conservation Volunteers Coordinator. I even carry a stash of them in my tool belt, ready to tempt volunteers into taking a little breather. An unusual tactic, but a necessary one when faced with a group of focused individuals.

“Who wants a granola bar?” has become my personal catchphrase as Conservation Volunteers Coordinator. (Tweet This!)

At one event in Alberta this year, our volunteers stayed an extra hour to finish clearing and maintaining a mile of fence line that was in a bad state of disrepair, despite already having been on site for six hours. At another, Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) staff had to stop the volunteers from tackling invasive blueweed during a community weed pull so they could make it back to the staging area in time for the free BBQ supper.

“Just let us get this last patch,” they entreated. (Sometimes enticing them with food isn’t even enough.)

There are countless examples from this, and past CV seasons, which demonstrate our volunteers' amazing commitment to conservation and their desire to help NCC get as much stewardship work done as possible when out on our properties. In filling out our online post-project surveys, a few volunteers even indicated that they felt the work they did over the course of one day wasn’t enough:

“(I would like to) have more opportunities to come out and stay longer,” wrote one volunteer.

“Why not try a two-day event to make better use of volunteer hours?” suggested another.

From many, the statement was simply, “I would love to do more!”

Whether its weed pulling, or site clean-ups, our volunteers always go above and beyond the call of duty. Like a herd of Energizer bunnies, they show up ready to work and keep going, and going, and going.

So if I have to shamelessly coerce our volunteers into taking a cheesy group photo in order to give them a little break, that’s what I’ll do. When the biggest challenge in your job is getting your team to stop working, you’re in good shape!

Kailey Setter

About the Author

Kailey Setter is the national manager of conservation engagement at the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Read more about Kailey Setter.

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