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Bay Area Bird Blog » Where have all the volunteers gone?
5th 2008
Where have all the volunteers gone?

Posted under activism & volunteer

Remember last year’s oil spill in the San Francisco Bay?  Remember how many thousands of volunteers came out to clean up the beaches and rescue oiled birds?  Remember how many people were frustrated that they weren’t allowed to help without special training?  Hearing those stories, you would have thought there were thousands and thousands of people in the Bay Area who are motivated to devote time and effort into an unpleasant task, in order to try to reduce environmental damage in the Bay Area.  You would have thought that, and you would have been wrong.  Or at least, you would have been somewhat misled.  Volunteer-oriented groups, like Golden Gate Audubon Society and the Sierra Club, didn’t see their volunteer efforts swell with hundreds or thousands of new people.  Almost all of these organizations rely on the same, rather small, groups of dedicated volunteers that they had before.  Sure, some new people show up, but some regular volunteers drop out, and the numbers stay about the same.

 I don’t really understand what the problem is.   The would-be oil spill volunteers really did want to clean up the oil spill and help rescue oiled birds, I’m not questioning their desire to help.  But for some reason oil-spill cleanup is the ONLY unpleasant jobs most of them are willing to do to help the environment.  Is it because the oil spill got lots of press coverage?  Is it because the oil spill was so visible?  

Is there any way to get potential volunteers fired up to devote the same kind of energy to projects that are more mundane but even more important than oil spill cleanup?   (For instance, whether the City of Richmond sets aside 20% or 80% of their shoreline as protected open space has environmental implications way, way, way bigger than an oil spill, but doesn’t get 1% of the press coverage or volunteer interest.  It’s hard to get a dozen people to show up at a City Council meeting, never mind a hundred people or a thousand people). 


One Response to “Where have all the volunteers gone?”

  1. M. on 07 Aug 2008 at 9:13 pm #

    I think each of those things contribute. But it’s also the case that the Bay Area is full of people who work crazy hours and have crazy commutes. There is little time left for long-term volunteer commitments, however much we may wish to make them. More and more groups are requiring that volunteers commit to, e.g., multiple weekends/month, lengthy trainings, etc. The groups need to know who they can expect, and when, and that the volunteers will be able to work independently. But sometimes those requirements filter out a lot of potential volunteers.

    Perhaps those folks who want to volunteer, but can’t make the commitments required, leapt at the opportunity to help in a crisis? Just a thought. I know that was my inclination, so maybe I’m just projecting!

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