Nature Canada

NatureKids BC Harnesses the Power of Volunteers

How do you pull off nature programming in a couple dozen cities on a modest budget? You harness the power of volunteer leaders.

NatureKids BC has blazed a trail by flipping the script. Most organizations use volunteers to support staff, but NatureKids BC uses staff to support volunteers.

“They are the bread and butter of what we do. They are what make things happen,” says Christina Chowaniec, who works with volunteer leaders at NatureKids BC.

The organization runs nature programming for kids and their families via its local clubs, numbering about 25 around BC. Each club is led by a pair of volunteer leaders, usually parents of younger kids. The clubs put on “explorer days” for families where they visit local nature areas and do fun activities together, sometimes with the help of local naturalists.

Club leaders have a lot of responsibility, and also a lot of autonomy. “They get to run things as they see fit,” says Christina. They are given an email account, a nature club manual, promotional materials, insurance coverage for events, and some assistance for events and regular check ins, but the rest is up to them. They recruit local participants and stage the events.

Christina likes to give orientations to new leaders over Skype so that they can see one another face to face. Club leaders also have their own Facebook group where they share best practices, and the organization puts on a couple of webinars each year to train on things like photography – how to capture great pictures of events.

Each club is supposed to have two volunteer leaders to share the responsibility and also to ensure some continuity over time. Leaders do leave, particularly if they are parents and their kids are ageing out, and Nature Kids BC does ask them to recruit their own replacements if at all possible.

It’s not all smooth sailing all the time. Leader recruitment and retention is an ongoing challenge, and moving into towns without clubs can be difficult if leaders aren’t emerging organically. So far, word of mouth has been the biggest way that new leaders enter the picture.

Overall, NatureKids BC is a great success story of an organization putting volunteer leaders front and centre in the delivery of its mission.

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