Toolkit for Working with Rural Volunteers

"A one-of-a-kind toolkit needed by rural organizations to build sustainable volunteer management infrastructure."

The OSM/VISTA Teams completed a pioneering three-year research project on rural volunteerism throughout Appalachia and the Rocky Mountain West with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds. After engaging in place-based research in 34 rural communities, we created the Toolkit for Working with Rural Volunteers to share approaches to volunteer recruitment, management and retention that are successful in rural settings. It also contains one-of-a-kind tools needed by rural organizations to build sustainable volunteer management infrastructure.


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Case Study #6: Support from Community Service Volunteers

Based on the work of
Lackawanna River Corridor Association
Northeast Pennsylvania
Lackawanna River Corridor Association (LRCA) has worked with the local magistrate and county probation office for over eight years to recruit community service volunteers. These volunteers have performed activities ranging from database management and graphic design to electrical work and office landscaping. LRCA performs an upfront screening interview that is critical before assigning tasks. It has benefited from the various skills of these volunteers.

Tested by
Coal Creek Watershed Coalition
Western Colorado
Coal Creek Watershed Coalition (CCWC) wanted to work with community service volunteers to fill crucial needs in remediation work: the watering of re-vegetated slopes and maintaining other Best Management Practices (BMPs) to reduce erosion along Coal Creek. CCWC hopes that the BMPs will enable the stormwater collection and distribution system along Kebler Pass Road to more effectively filter and deliver water to Coal Creek. Various BMP measures extend across an eight-mile stretch of the watershed. Maintaining and continuing this work requires volunteer help beyond CCWC’s current capacity and is crucial to the success of this remediation work. While LRCA found office skills such as bookkeeping and graphic design helpful to them, CCWC worked mostly with volunteers on targeted field work projects.

CCWC first secured status as a participating non-profit organization in Gunnison County’s Alternative Services program. CCWC had a specific project to recruit volunteers for the summer, in addition to volunteer opportunities that arose in day-to-day work. At LRCA’s advice, CCWC set up a process of finding and screening volunteers to gauge how comfortable and experienced volunteers were with outdoor work, which involved coming up with a new set of questions and practicing close observation in the field rather than in an office. CCWC began working with community service volunteers to install erosion-reducing Best Management Practices (BMPs) along Kebler Pass Road. Installing BMPs requires large teams of people in order to be successful. The community service volunteers they worked with became instrumental in helping staff and contractors reach an appropriate number of participants. The community service volunteers were also helpful in teaching new participants how to install the BMPs.

“While we have long had a relationship with Gunnison County, based on our work along its roads, implementing this trial practice has helped us develop relationships with new departments of the County, who we worked with in applying for and in managing the community service volunteers. The trial practice has also helped us establish relationships with volunteers who represent facets of the community we have not worked with in the past, and with Restorative Justice, a local non-profit organization that helped us begin the process of applying for a spot in the County’s community service volunteer sites.”

“Having a variety of different types of tasks— from large group work to individual projects that can be done at any time—would probably make implementing the trial practice easiest.”
– Coal Creek Watershed Coalition